Wednesday, March 31, 2010
When it comes to the gospel narrative the church has come up with one, very powerful, way of telling the story using our calendar. We have liturgical seasons which follow the order of the story events. If we skip a season or do them out of order it destroys the story. Since most people don't come for worship on days like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday they are getting botched versions of the story. They skip straight from Palm Sunday to Easter. Or maybe from Christmas to Easter. This doesn't just diminish the days they missed, this completely undermines Easter.
As such I sympathize with the movement to turn Palm Sunday into "Passion Sunday" in many churches. I don't like it. It is truncating the story in a different way, less damaging, but still inelegant. But if only a few people come on Good Friday then only a few people are getting the full impact of Easter Sunday, so "Passion Sunday" makes sense.
Ultimately, though, I think it is a shame not to really milk this season for its spiritual liquor. It takes having a parade on Palm Sunday, prayers all week, a communal meal on Thursday, and mourning all day Friday and Saturday, for Easter to really come alive. Only once you've lived in a world where God is Dead, can you truly hear the good news that he is risen. It's a story. It can't be glimpsed from a distance. It is meant to be dwelled in.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The President does not write the budget- congress does. But the President makes budget requests, gets to veto the budget if he/she doesn't like it, and is charged with keeping much of the budget that congress eventually delivers. In practice, most recent Presidents have had a strong hand in shaping the budget that comes out of congress. Knowing in advance that I would have to compromise and would not get it all my way, here would be my budget priorities:
I would want to decrease or even eliminate the national deficit primarily by dramatically cutting military spending. The military-industrial complex was kicked into high gear during WWII and it never got shut down. In all previous wars the spending increased for a short time and then was heavily cut back afterward. Not after WWII though and never since. Military spending has increased every year since then. It is out of control. Here is the conservative in me coming out - we should not have a standing army. Individual states should have militias and if congress decides it is necessary to go to war we should create the army through conscription.
Military spending is out of control, but it certainly isn't the only place we could make cuts. I would aim for a freeze on the salary of anyone and everyone in government who makes $100,000 or more. I would ask every office and branch for creative solutions in reducing wasteful spending. Can we do more video conferences and lower travel expenses? etc...
More than cutting costs within individual agencies I would want to take a close look at agency redundancy. Homeland Security? Gone. Solving a bloated bureaucracy that doesn't communicate well by creating the largest bureaucracy ever to oversee the others was a dumb idea. FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, EPA, FDA, FCC and so on... merge them and pare them down. Perhaps create two agencies, one concerned with law enforcement & security, the other a regulatory body for overseeing various industries. In the first year of my presidency I would demand reports from every employee of every department justifying their job. I'd have a logistics and organization planning team going over all of these reports and determining the most efficient way to restructure, eliminating as much redundancy as possible.
To offset the many jobs that would be lost and the impact on our arms industry, I would invest in other areas of the economy. For example, I would aim to lower class sizes in schools by providing funding for more teacher's salaries (teachers, not administrators!). I would create jobs in construction and contracting by spending money on infrastructure, especially efficient mass transit. I would create jobs in the health care sector with a well-funded public option. I would provide federal money to pay for education for doctors and nurses to eliminate the shortage we currently have. I would create jobs in the sciences by increasing the amount we give for research. I would create jobs in the arts the same way.
In fact, one core responsibility of my logistics and organization planning team would be creating a temporary agency for job placement for all of the people formerly employed in the military, the arms industry, and various bloated government agencies, in new jobs created in the fields I described above. It would confound progressives and conservatives alike that when my tenure was finished more people would be employed in the private sector and government would be smaller than it has been in 50 years.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Work before play. - My Dad (and yours too probably)
Nowadays it is conventional wisdom that if you can you should make your hobby into your career. Do what you love. That is what parents are supposed to teach their children. It is what we are told at transitional stages of our lives such as the end of high school or college education. We are supposed to find joy in our work. Work and play are not supposed to be either or, any longer. We are allowed to have our cake and eat it too.
Are we though? Is that just the position of unbelievable privilege? Is it a kind of blindness that we believe every person should be allowed to get paid full time to do something they enjoy? Who would do the data entry then? Who would clean toilets?
On the other side is our deeply rooted "protestant work ethic" which tells us that there are certain things in life one just has to do. No certainties but death and taxes. Bills must be paid. Food must be bought (or grown). Toil is inevitable. For a great many, toil is not only inevitable, but heavy and constant.
Furthermore, there is a kind of joy to be found in hard work as our puritan forbearers attested. Plenty of artists are supposedly in exactly the position we tell our kids to seek - getting paid to do something they love - and yet they are miserable.
What is the the relationship of these things? Is play a privilege? A right? Is work a means to an end or an end itself? Is obligation the antithesis of joy or is there some other interaction between these things? Is there an answer that doesn't sound either fatalist "accept your plight and learn to like it" or myopic and arrogant "it's the right of every white, middle-class, American to be prosperous and happy?"
Friday, March 12, 2010
The POTUS has a lot of power in our system - much more than in most democracies or constitutional republics. Many of the President's powers require congressional rubber stamping, but plenty of them don't. One heavily under-utilized example is the presidential pardon. The President may without rhyme or reason pardon or commute the sentence of anyone convicted of any crime anywhere in the country. Heck, they don't have to be convicted even. You can pre-emptively pardon.
Here is what I would do. Starting on day one of my presidency I would have lists drawn up of every convicted criminal in the country. I would have them categorized into types of offenses and their severity. I would then begin mass pardoning from the least dangerous on upward, with the ultimate goal being emptying our prisons of all but the most dangerous and violent types of criminals.
This would commence in waves for several reasons.
Practically speaking it would be too much work to accomplish in one big push.
A whole bunch of ramifications would result from the sudden influx of unemployed, homeless, former convicts. I would want to give communities time to adapt. Alongside the pardons I would call on aid organizations, churches, and others to get together and strategize how to integrate these people back into society.
I would use the waves as pressure on Congress to demand several things. I would demand legislation aimed at creating jobs and assisting freed prisoners in establishing new lives. I would ask to reorient law enforcement offices around the country in the direction of rehabilitation & prevention rather than punishment. I would demand an end to the war on drugs and changes to federal and state standards for imprisonment - promising to continue pardoning until satisfactory changes were implemented. Each delay would see a new wave of pardons.
I would assemble teams to analyze batches of cases where it would be appropriate to commute sentences rather than pardon if a better result could be achieved. Can murderers and sex offenders be treated psychologically (even permanently in a mental health facility if necessary) rather than imprisoned? Would some benefit from community service? I would commute every single death sentence to a lesser penalty immediately.
Against the threat of impeachment (since this would outrage many people) I would reserve the "nuclear pardon" option to pardon every single prisoner at once on my last day in office if impeached. So long as it remained possible I would continue the slower, more judicious method of pardoning in waves.
By the end of my term I would hope to have very nearly emptied our prisons entirely. Only a small fraction of those currently imprisoned would remain because a better solution could not be found. As such I would hope to crush the prison economy irrevocably. I would relentlessly pressure states and congress to change their laws to utilize alternate forms of punishment beside imprisonment and to create new jobs in social services aimed at overseeing the new procedures of crime and rehabilitation. A few federal prisons would remain as relics for desperate cases where society utterly failed to come up with a better solution.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Saturday, March 6, 2010
“Think of it like a movie. The Torah is the first one, and the New Testament is the sequel. Then the Qu’ran comes out, and it retcons the last one like it never happened. There’s still Jesus, but he’s not the main character anymore, and the messiah hasn’t shown up, yet.
Jews like the first movie but ignored the sequels, Christians think you need to watch the first two, but the third movie doesn’t count. Muslims think the third one was the best, and Mormons liked the second one so much they started writing fan fiction that doesn’t fit with any of the series canon.”
Friday, March 5, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
He makes a solid point - it is pretty tough to have something worthwhile to say on a weekly basis to the same group of people. We don't expect that of many other professions. Most professional speakers and experts repeat the same message to different people even if they speak weekly. Broadcasters who speak a lot, and sometimes to the same audience, do it with a team of researchers and writers at their disposal. A minister is usually on their own. Grab a Bible, sit at your keyboard, write something poignant - go. Now do it again and again and again.
So, yeah, I agree: preaching is hard.
And it is also easy.
It is easy because we don't have to preach an entirely new message every week. We preach the same message in a slightly different way. What is required is a facility with language and metaphor, not a bottomless supply of new ideas and information.
It is easy because sermons grow organically out of your life together in the church. I don't have to pull a sermon out of thin air, I talk about what naturally arises in the course of daily life.
It is easy because we are not held to an absurd standard of polish and rhetorical brilliance. Not every sermon has to be a masterpiece. If you kill yourself over every syllable it will be forgotten just as quickly as if you improvise the entire thing. Being faithful to your purpose in preaching is more important than any amount of technical mastery.
It is easy because there are straightforward techniques one can practice and master with time. Writing is not a mysterious artform. Public speaking is even less mysterious. Practice elocution, pith, and delivery. You will get better.