Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Response to Sandy Hook

I've heard that now is not the right time to talk about gun laws, that we should grieve and allow the families of those killed in Newtown to grieve.


Trouble is, once we've begun to get over our national grief, we'll forget to have the conversation that it's too soon to have right now. We won't remember this conversation until the next massacre, when it will (again) be too soon to have the conversation.

I'm beginning to believe that there can be no better time than right now. And I'm interest in honest conversation. I'm not interested in folks regurgitating what they've seen on a liberal website or heard on a conservative talk show. Of course, if that's all you're able to say, and it's what you believe, then say it … but after you say what you have to say, then listen honestly to the response. Don't listen for a place to make your next point – listen for the truth that is being spoken by the other person.

So, here's my contribution … my seven readers should feel free to disagree, but please keep the conversation respectful.

I'm troubled, like a lot of people are, by how easy it is for almost anyone to obtain weapons that are incredibly destructive. Bear in mind, I learned to shoot before I was a teenager, and enjoy guns a great deal. I think it's ethical to hunt for food, provided it's done responsibly and within the parameters of the law. And I think it's fine, for those who feel the necessity, to keep weapons around for self-defense.

But I absolutely don't believe that it's necessary for an average and ordinary person to be able to legally obtain high-powered assault rifles and 100-round-capacity clips.

No, I'm not trying to take away anyone's constitutional rights. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is still important. But what does the Second Amendment actually say?

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms. And in my reading, the right to keep and bear arms is for self-protection, particularly from an authoritarian or oppressive government. Which, given the geo-political situation in the late 18th century, we can understand.

The Second Amendment seems to be designed as a guarantee that individuals and households would be able to acquire the means by which to protect themselves. The trouble, though, is that keeping guns for self-defense would preclude the necessity to keep assault weapons. See, assault weapons are not designed for self-defense, but for attack and aggression (hence the name 'assault' weapon).

The Second Amendment also ties the right of gun ownership to a well-regulated militia. From my perspective, we don't have any well-regulated militia. I know that there are militia-type groups around which seem to either operate off-the-grid and away from regulatory bodies, or are monitored by the FBI as potential hate groups.

Right now there is nothing well-regulated about any militias. I wonder if those who advocate for fewer restrictions on gun ownership would be willing to accept the 'well-regulated' portion of the Second Amendment.

The thing is that almost every single gun owner I've talked with is a proponent of safe and responsible gun usage. They're in favor of responsible citizens having access to firearms, and those who can't be trusted to be safe with guns (felons, the mentally unstable, young children, etc.) to not have that access.

What I don't understand is why gun-advocacy groups are so very worried about adding appropriate regulation. Why not pass laws relating to guns that mirror automobile laws? Both are useful tools that, used irresponsibly, can be deadly weapons. What would it be like if we required gun owners to be trained, licensed, and insured?

Let's have the conversation now, and not wait until the next tragedy.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Incarnate Word

I get lost in language;
liturgical repetitions
theological machinations
religious incantations

too much is repeated too often
and I ignore, or don't see
the Divine right in front of me

we tend to get lost in words
buried in our precious books,
clever theological manipulations
of language pointing to ourselves

words have power, to be sure
in the beginning was the Word ...
and words, language, theology
tell us who we are

Child of G-d, Beloved of God
Given, Shed, for You

sticks and stones may well break us;
words can tear us down

and Incarnate Divine Word
can, and does, rebuild
what is now broken

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Post-Election Prayer for a Christian? Nation

The election is over, and we know the results.  This is good news even if for only one reason ~ that we won't be inundated with political advertising until at least after the inauguration.

Like many of you, my seven readers, I've been sickened by the amount of partisan bickering that we've been exposed to over the course of this election cycle.

More than that, I've been sickened by the amount of money that has been spent on advertising.  What if only 10% ... or even just 1% ... of that money had been set aside for the poor and vulnerable instead of going to line the pockets of executives and investors?

Now that the campaign and election are over, I suppose that my prayer would be this:
  • that no matter what laws are passed or repealed; 
  • that no matter what policies are implemented or what compromises are struck; 
  • that no matter which person or party is seen as the winner or loser on any particular issue 
  • that, above all, the priority of the government, and of our nation, would be to care for the poorest and most vulnerable populations.  
This alone, in my opinion, would make us a Christian Nation.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday Lunch at the Deli

I snuck in for a quick sandwich
in between Sunday obligations
they occupied a few tables,
family groups pushed together,
community spilling over
after morning worship
occupying physical and social space

their clothes, their look
gave them away ~ different from
how the collar gave me away

teenage boys with belts at their
waists (instead of knees), &
girls more fully vested than
at last night's dance club
dads in uncomfortable suits
and ugly sweaters, moms in
(sorry to say) really big hair

as I finished my sandwich
and they lingered over desert,
I knew I'd have been welcome
with them at worship
but it looked like there was
no room at the dinner table

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Simple Plea

For a few days after Super-Storm Sandy, the presidential campaigns were put on hold. Governmental officials, candidates, and campaigns paused their campaigning to deal with the storm. There was no aggressive political maneuvering, no name-calling, no partisan bickering.

I don't wish natural disasters on anyone, but that was a pleasant time in our national political life. It's a shame that it took a natural disaster to scale back the bitterness in the presidential campaign.

But what if the candidates structured their campaigns as if there were a disaster looming? What if they decided to work together, and to treat each other well all of the time?

It seems to me that there's a basic and fundamental difference between the two parties, and between the two candidates. And, as we witnessed in the third debate, there are some substantial similarities.

What would the campaign season be like if the candidates and the parties began the campaigns by celebrating their similarities?

And then, what would the campaign season be like if the candidates each remembered that the other is a beloved child of G-d and treated them as such?

And after that, what would the campaign season be like if the candidates and parties respectfully articulated their differences?

Right now, the candidates seem to be focused on making their opponent look bad rather than articulating what's good about their own positions and philosophies.

It seems to me that one side wants to paint the other as a greedy, self-serving, uncaring, out-of-touch rich person who has no idea what regular people are like. And it seems to me that the other side wants to paint their opponent as an un-american socialist who only wants to destroy our nation.

Neither of these is a true portrait of either individual, but these are the messages we're sending. What if we, as a people, decided to send a different message?

Right now, the message from politics is that it's perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to denigrate someone else, to paint them as the embodiment of evil with no redeeming qualities. I'm not sure that's a message I want to hear, and I'm sure it's not what I want to teach my children.

What would the campaign season, and our national life together, be like if we did less tearing each other down and more building up of us as a whole?

What if the candidates structured their campaigns as if there were a disaster looming? I believe they ought to, because I believe that if we don't change the tenor of our national political conversation, a disaster is looming.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

On the Road

On the Road
Kerouac wrote compellingly
linguistic paintings
of the places they travelled
liturgical articulations of a
generation's ethos

On the Road
Willie sings a familiar
nomadic melody of
musicians travelling highways
where rhythm and life and
rhyme collide

many roads define culture, and the
borders of nostalgia
while Jesus' road
leads to suffering
   to death
      and then (& now)
to fullness of life

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pre-Debate Thoughts

I'm getting ready to watch the second presidential debate tonight. I watched the first, but wasn't able to watch the Vice-Presidential candidates debate, and am glad to live in a place where we have the opportunity to freely express our ideas, whether or not we agree with our neighbor or our government.

During the debate, I expect to see a few things. I expect to see the candidates not really answering the questions they're asked.

I expect to see the candidates highlighting their opponent's weaknesses more than they highlight their own strengths.

I expect to see the candidates act cordial to one another while their political machines work overtime to exploit any shortcomings they see in their opponent's performance.

I expect to see, in the aftermath of the debate, each candidate villainized by the other by way of advertising (we don't really believe that the so-called independent political advertisers and organizations are actually independent, do we?).

That's what I expect to see, but it's not what I want to see. Here's what I'd love to see in tonight's debate.

I'd love to see the candidates actually answer the questions they're asked.

I'd love to see the candidates respectfully disagree, even to the point of acknowledging the strengths of their opponent's position.

I'd love to see the candidates articulate the strengths of their own position rather than the weaknesses of their opponent's position (or character, or anything else).

And I'd love to see, in the aftermath of the debate, political advertising that points to strengths rather than sensationalizing weaknesses. And most especially, I'd love to see advertising that doesn't demonize any candidate or the supporters of that candidate.

What we seem to forget in our political discourse is that the person who holds a different position from mine is still a person ~ no better or worse than any other person.

In the language of my own tradition, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican … whether you're a Conservative or a Liberal … whether you're a Socialist or a Libertarian … no matter who you are, you're a beloved Child of G-d, and so is your opponent. We'd do well, I think, to remember that during the debate.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

We Are Not A Chrisitan Nation

Ok, let's just get this out of the way right now. The United States of America is not a Christian nation.

We all know that there are lots of folks who think it is, and we all know that there are lots of folks who wish it was. But it's not.

Feel free to argue, but let me articulate (probably poorly) why this is true.

Sure, we might have the decalogue printed on plaques and pillars which adorn public spaces. Arguably, though, that makes us a Jewish nation, since Christians don't have exclusive (or primary) rights to the Ten Commandments.

So, what would make us a specifically Christian nation? The first place I'd go would be the Gospels … you know, the accounts of the life of Christ. Let's take a look at the Beatitudes (Matthew's Gospel, chapter 5; Luke's Gospel, chapter 6). Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.

In our nation, the poor and hungry are more often reviled, looked down on, and dismissed than they are blessed. In our nation, the meek don't get squat – a person has to be aggressive if they want to get anywhere in life.

Further, after some religious extremists attacked the financial and military centers of this country on September 11, 2001, we were most certainly in mourning. What was our response? Did we consider ourselves blessed in our mourning?

We most certainly did not. In fact, our response not been to show mercy; our response has not been to create peace. We pursued, aggressively, individuals and groups who are enemies of our state … and we pursued them whether they had anything to do with the attacks on 9/11 or not.

In the years since that horrendous attack, we did not turn the other cheek. Rather, we poured more and more dollars into the military, killing many more people than would be appropriate even if we followed “an eye for an eye, a life for a life”.

Our foreign and domestic policies are designed to place us in the best position relative to the rest of the world; they are not designed with the best interests of our neighbor in mind, as Luther instructed in the small catechism (now my roots are showing).

There are, I'm sure, many more examples of how we are not a Christian nation. However, there's just one more I want to point out from this coming Sunday's Gospel text. If we were a Christian nation, we would take seriously Christ's instruction to place the little children first and at the center. When social services that help children and their families are cut; when education funding is being cut left and right; when huge percentages of the homeless and hungry are under the age of 18, we cannot say we are placing children first.

We as a nation most certainly do not follow the example of a G-d who allows the death of the divine rather than exert power over the creation.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to argue that we, as a nation, have done or are doing anything wrong. Whether we're wrong or right is perhaps a topic for another post.

All I'm saying is that if we're going to be a Christian nation, our national policies should reflect the teachings of Christ – and right now they don't. So let's either change our policies, or admit we're not a Christian nation.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Commuting by Bicycle

Every so often, I commute from home to my office by bicycle. I almost always really enjoy the ride, and I have an almost entirely pleasant route to take. I ride from my house through some beautiful neighborhoods for a few miles. Then, I hop onto a bike trail that takes me along a creek for seven or eight miles. The worst part of the commute (worst = most dangerous and unpleasant) is the one mile between the bike path and my office.

That first part of my route is in the city. The second part is on a dedicated bike path. The final part is in the suburb.

I'm no expert in the history of urban and suburban development, but here's what I think. Urban areas, which were designed and engineered in the days when more people would walk to where they needed to go, are easier to navigate on a bicycle. Suburban areas, though, were designed in the days when 'regular' people were beginning to be able to afford cars; and more recent suburban areas were designed in the days when having a car is the norm, when it's unusual to not have access to an automobile.

Suburban areas were designed with cars in mind ~ to ease the traffic flow for cars by creating fast-moving arteries that could handle lots of traffic. These arterials do a great job of moving automobiles very efficiently. However, they make it considerably more dangerous to navigate on a bicycle.

We've built our road system around the assumption that everyone will have a car, and that those who don't will work to get a car.

Recently, social media has provided for me some interesting food for thought. I've been learning about the new(ish) bicycle superhighway system built in the city of Copenhagen. It may be because I've lived my whole life in USAmerica, but it's somewhat inconceivable that a government would invest so heavily in infrastructure for cycling.

It turns out, though, that at one point, Copenhagen was just as clogged with automobile traffic as any other city. A few decades of investment in cycling infrastructure has led to 50% of people in the city using a bicycle all the time for transportation.

One difference between Copenhagen and most cities in our country is that they've decided to value cycling; and further, they've decided to value the health of their citizens. We don't do either.

When we assume that everyone will, by default, commute by automobile, we're assuming that most people will be overweight and unhealthy because they sit in their cars for far too great a percentage of the day.

We further exacerbate the problem of obesity and early-onset diabetes by the ubiquitous access we provide to ridiculously cheap and ridiculously unhealthy “food” (a topic for an entirely different post).

Copenhagen has chosen to invest in cycling infrastructure. The result is that more people cycle. The result of more people cycling is that fewer people are obese or overweight (which leads to reduced healthcare costs). I would suspect that Copenhagen's investment in the health of its population is also paying off in lower prevalence of mental health problems, decreased dependence on foreign oil, and a greater sense of individual and communal satisfaction and well-being.

We in USAmerica have made the default assumption that most people will be unhealthy. We make the default assumption that there will be a continuing increase in the prevalence of asthma and other respiratory ailments caused by the increase in pollution from tailpipe emissions. We make the default assumption that because more people can afford to travel by automobile (and pay for the requisite insurance, upkeep, and fuel costs of an automobile), that we're better off.

I'd like to challenge those assumptions. Of course that may well mean challenging everything we hold as sacred in our society.

Of course the solution to our problems is more complex than simply getting everyone to ride a bike. I mean, cycling isn't some sort of magical activity. Though, when I first learned to ride, it felt like it … in fact, sometimes cycling feels magical even today.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Faster Pastors, Ragnar Relay, and Malaria Relief

There's a point at which the relationship that two people have with each other changes. Sometimes it's after they've been friends for a few years. Sometimes it's through particular shared experience. Sometimes it's the result of embarking on an adventure together.

Last weekend I undertook an adventure ~ an experience that was an adventure, and at the same time a very particular experience that I had the privilege of sharing with some of my colleagues (and I feel honored to have been part of this adventure with them).

So, here's what we did: one of my pastor friends convinced eleven other Lutheran Pastors, myself included (we call ourselves the Faster Pastors), that it would be a good idea for us to run the Ragnar Relay ~ a 189 mile relay through the Colorado Mountains.

We did this because it sounded fun … and also because it gave us an excuse to encourage people to make financial contributions. We have been encouraging people to pledge and give money to the ELCA MalariaCampaign in support of our efforts.

So, to raise money for malaria prevention and treatment, we committed to spending 48 hours (or so) in close proximity with one another (six or seven people in a mini van for the weekend). We committed to encouraging and supporting one another in our celebrations and in our struggles. We committed to looking at each other, and listening to each other, and smelling each other. We committed to eating and drinking together ~ for these couple days, we've made a commitment to being community together.

Because we made these commitments, we had the opportunity to have an amazing experience together. But what was more fun (for me at least) was to tell people what I was doing, and then watch for the look of surprise or amazement or “you know you're crazy, right?” on their face … at which I had the opportunity to tell them that we were raising money for the ELCA Malaria Initiative.

See, malaria kills approximately one person every 60 seconds … but it's tremendously preventable and treatable. $10 buys a medicated bed net that prevents mosquitoes from infecting a person while they sleep. And when people are infected, $2 buys a treatment.

So we did this crazy thing to raise money for malaria relief. During the course of the entire event … not just the 29+ hours we were running, but the time before when we were raising money and awareness … we were building community.

Sure, there was the community in the vans, and the community build with and among the other participants. But hopefully we've also built community with people across the globe ~ children of G-d whose malady is more obvious than our own maladies.

And hopefully our efforts have gone a little way toward relieving the malady of malaria in other parts of the world, and the malady of affluenza, wealth, and greed here where we live.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Faster Pastors

In exactly one week, I'll be approaching the ½-way point of a 36-leg relay ~ a running event through the mountains in Colorado. I'm excited about participating in the Ragnar Colorado Relay; I think it'll be a fascinating experience.

The way it works is this: running the thirty-six legs of the relay is shared between twelve people. You can do the math, but it works out to each person running three legs of varying distances … if you're interested, I'll be running third (the third, fifteenth, and twenty-seventh legs at 8.9, 5.0, and 4.4 miles).

I'm stoked for this event for a few reasons. First of all, I'm on a team with eleven other ELCA Lutheran pastors. I don't know about you, but when I think “Lutheran Pastor”, I don't usually think of someone who's capable of running 10 to 20 miles in the space of 30 hours. But we found a dozen of us to team up and do this together.

In addition, I'm stoked because our team, the Faster Pastors, is raising money to be given to the ELCA Malaria Campaign (you should donate …). Malaria is a deadly disease that can be prevented fairly easily through the use of medicated bed nets. These cost about $10 each (you should donate …). There are also anti-malarial drugs to treat the disease once it's been contracted. Delivery and administration of these drugs (of course) takes money. You really should donate.

Finally, I'm stoked about this event because I'll have bragging rights. Sure, the personal bragging rights are pretty nice. But what's more important is that we who have run this event will have better leverage in our congregations to encourage healthier eating on Sunday mornings and at potluck suppers. We'll more readily be able to encourage people to exercise and to keep their bodies fit. It's disingenuous to give someone else instructions or advise that you're not willing to take yourself.

If you feel inclined to make a contribution (you really should …), you can do that here: 

And you should probably give more than $0.02

Thursday, August 30, 2012


There's a very basic conversation that ought to be happening in our nation these days. It's a conversation centered on whether government ought to be larger and have a more significant role in daily life, or whether government ought to be smaller and have a more limited role.

The trouble right now is that the only potential conversation we're even thinking about having is related to how much we ought to hate the other candidate. I've heard that one of the candidates for president is too wealthy, and therefore out of touch with the realities of the everyday life that most of us live. I've heard that the other candidate hates America, and all of his policies are designed to ruin this great country of ours.

I've heard that both are hypocritical ~ that they make promises they have no intention of keeping. I've heard all these things and more … plus, I've heard similar accusations thrown back and forth about the vice-presidential candidates.

I'm sick of all this accusatory nonsense, and I imagine I'm not the only one.

Part of the problem is that when we hear the major candidates and their surrogates vilifying their opponent, we feel like we have permission to do the same. When our co-worker has a different opinion from ours about foreign policy, or taxation, or abortion, or who ought to have the right to get married ~ when we disagree about anything, we have permission to hate our co-worker.

Obviously we don't actually have permission to hate our neighbor ~ but our political atmosphere seems to tell us that we do.

I would love to have an national conversation about the role of government. I would love for that conversation to be respectful, polite, and rational. I would love for people on opposing sides of that (and any other) issue to recognize that the other person is a real person.

I would love for to recognize the holiness of our opponent ~ in my own Christian language, I would love for us to recognize each other as children of G-d.

I would love for each side to remember, and to believe, that their opponent truly does have the best interest of our nation and of generations to come at heart.

I'm not holding my breath.


Monday, August 27, 2012

G-d and Government ~ a scattered, and perhaps incoherent, post

I may be wrong about this ~ for that matter, I may be wrong about almost everything, but that's a discussion for another day. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that there's an interesting confluence of church and state in some corners of our USAmerican society. There are some folks who are quite vocal about their concern that G-d has been kicked out of our public life.

Stereotypically, these folks want to to have prayer in schools; they want talk about G-d to be pervasive in our governmental systems and structures; they want the world to acknowledge the (false) truth that the founding fathers were conservative and evangelical Christians.

And it seems to me that this group overlaps with the group who keeps resurrecting this continuing kerfluffle over whether President Obama is a Christian or a Muslim.

I don't mind passion for a cause. I don't even mind folks who are passionate about a cause with which I completely disagree. That's part of the beauty of our societal and governmental system ~ we are each entitled to our own opinion, and we have the right to voice our opinion (no matter how well- or ill-informed we are).

Part of what confuses me, though, is how some people read and interpret the constitution. A lot of people are quite familiar with our First Amendment rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution grants all people freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious freedom, freedom of assembly, and right to petition. We are allowed to say what we want, to publish what we want, to worship (or not) as we wish, to gather together with others, and to bring grievances to the government in order to have conflicts resolved.

I'm no constitutional scholar, but the way I interpret this amendment is that everyone can say and believe what they want; further, no one is allowed to restrict the right of others to say and believe what they want.

So, it seems to me that there are quite a few Christians in this country who are concerned that their religious freedom is being taken away when they aren't allowed to lead public and all-inclusive, specifically Christian prayers in schools and other public venues. I've also heard these Christians complain that this is tantamount to religious oppression.

What seems to me to be more religiously oppressive is when someone leads a prayer on my behalf that I would never pray … and I'm Christian. I can't imagine how much more ostracized Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and everyone else must feel when Christian bullies impose their prayers on everyone.

It also seems to me that the folks who are worked up about prayer in schools are some of the same folks who are worked up because they believe President Obama is Muslim ~ and because they believe having a Muslim president is problematic. What's interesting is that they seem to be ignoring Article VI, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (not an amendment, the Constitution), which states in part that “... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office of public Trust under the United States.”

So, to those who are worked up about Mr. Obama being Muslim I say, “So What?” The constitution specifically and obviously states that it doesn't matter whether he is Christian or Muslim or Atheist or Satanist.

Those Christians who are so very vocal about valuing the religious freedom granted by the First Amendment for themselves don't seem to value religious freedom granted to others who aren't Christian.

It seems to me that we are left with two options: We can either be a pluralistic nation, embracing and embodying religious freedom for all; or, we can be a Christian nation. We have the government set up to be pluralistic. In order to be a Christian nation, we'd have to rescind significant portions of the Constitution … and I don't think there are many people who would be on board with that.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Incarnate Word

We get to see, on occasion
      the face of G-d
   usually nothing more
      than a glimpsed,
   "was that ... ?"

We get to hear divine vocalizations
   ancient chants echoing
      from cathedral stones
   hawks' screeches, diving
         toward prey, echoing
      from canyon walls
guitars through amps as
      culture meets Christ
   or a still small voice in the silence

We get to smell, often
         (but do we know it?)
      holy aromas
   incense rising with our prayers
      and body odor from society's margins
   freshly-fallen rain
      and the warmth of bread in the oven

We get to touch,
      hold in our palm
   the hand of G-d
      as we shake our neighbors hand
         embrace those beloved to us,
      "Peace be with you"
   and as we touch the world
      we are ourselves embraced
         by G-d's Holy Spirit

We get to taste
         (honey on our lips)
      Incarnate Word
   in berries' sweetness,
      tomatoes warm from the garden,
   peaches, melon, rhubarb,
      sweet corn, apples heavy on the tree
   now burdening summer's table
      as friends gather around
         eating, creating community
   And we taste Incarnate Word
      Bread and Wine
         burdening tables with
            Body & Blood ... given and shed
   we eat together, being
      made ourselves into
Word Incarnate

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Main Stage Speaker, from behind the stage

It was fascinating to watch the aftermath of the first night of the youth gathering. Nadia, my tremendous wife, was the main speaker for that one night, and the work she did to create her presentation (based on the reaction from the gathering) was well worth it. I've been to a few of these gatherings, and the speakers are always good. She seems to have had a more significant impact, though, than many of the other speakers I've heard over other years.

Obviously I may be biased, and I'm certainly not trying to take anything away from the other speakers from other years. I've always appreciated what they've had to say. What I notice, though, is that the youth who are at the gathering felt more of a connection with her more than they did with other people.

And I think I have an idea why. I could be wrong, but I think I have at least part of an idea why.

Nadia's not afraid to tell the truth. She's not afraid to tell the truth about the world, about herself, and about G-d.

In addition, she has a compelling and engaging way of connecting those three things together.

It seems to me that one of the things that young people (who are trying to figure out where they belong in the world) need and desire is adults who will tell them the truth. But it's not enough to tell the truth ~ young people also need adults who will listen to the truth about who they are, to the truth about what it means to be a teenager in their location in the world today.

In the wake of her talk last night, Nadia has been continually approached by youth and adults who have shared with her how much she meant to them. I didn't argue with any of them, but I'd be willing to bet that they're less moved by Nadia and more moved by their encounter with G-d.

Because that's what I experienced from the event last night ~ the speaker on the stage telling young people the truth about themselves, and the truth about G-d, in a way that gave them enough permission to be able experience Holy Spirit as more than the excitement of a huge gathering ~ and which gave them the vulnerability to allow Holy Spirit to have an impact on the deepest parts of their being.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Youth Gathering Culture

Any time I go to a new city, I try to pay attention to the ethos of the place. Each city has a different character, and (since I don't like to appear to be a tourist) I try to fit in as well as possible. I'm fully confident that I regularly fail; nonetheless, I try to pay attention and make myself belong.

I've arrived last night in New Orleans for a part of the ELCA Youth Gathering. I've been to these events before, but always as a leader with a group of students. This is the first time I've been completely free to be an observer.

Most of the time, a convention doesn't change the character of a city. Smaller conventions might meet in smaller cities, where they'll be noticed … but life will continue in that place with relatively little interruption. And when smaller conventions are in bigger cities, there's even less impact. When bigger conventions happen, the city might notice (especially if there's something particularly unusual about the convention-goers … think Star Trek conventions); but even if the city notices, there's not a huge amount of impact.

However, most conventions don't attract over 30,000 participants. And this event, the ELCA Youth Gathering, might be the only regularly-held event that brings in 20,000 high school students into the same place. So it's notable in that regard.

But it's also notable from another perspective. As much as I might try to blend in to the culture of the city, that's impossible to do as part of this gathering. See, the culture of the city has been transformed simply by the presence of so many young people walking around its streets.

And beyond that, the Youth Gathering has its own culture, which gets superimposed onto the city where the event is happening. For instance, in most cities you go to, people don't walk down the street greeting strangers; people don't give gifts to each other, or receive gifts from each other, on a whim. Youth gathering culture says that it's ok to give and receive gifts, to talk with complete strangers as if you've known each other for years, and to ask for hugs from people you've never met before.

It's fascinating to me to see the relative anonymity of an urban center temporarily pushed aside by the anonymous familiarity of a youth gathering.

It has to be empowering for high school students, even if they don't recognize it, to have such an impact on a city. I'm sure it must give them a sense of agency that allows them to break out, even just a little bit, from the mold in which they find themselves. Whether the mold in which they find themselves is 'geeky-chess-club-member' or 'cheerleader,' 'valedictorian' or 'drop-out,' 'music nerd' or 'popular jock,' or any of the myriad others that students find and create to categorize one another, this kind of gathering gives them a chance (even if they don't experience any different in the context of their own youth group) to experience that box cracking open some.

For the impact that gatherings like this have on the cities in which they're held, I give thanks to G-d. And for the impact that gatherings like this have on the lives of young people, not as much today as five and ten and twenty and forty years in the future, I give thanks to G-d.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Ritual, Change, and Growth

I've said for a long time that people are shaped by ritual, by liturgy.  We yearn for the predictability of routine.  Consider, for example, how you brush your teeth.  I'd be willing to bet that most of us do that in exactly the same way every single day, and that some of us could probably brush our teeth blindfolded without any problem.

We are creatures of habit, and while ritual is infused into much of our existence, it may be most obviously apparent in our religious life.  The rituals of our daily life, and of our faith life, shape who we are and who we are becoming.

So I was surprised yesterday morning, after having been on vacation and away for only one Sunday, that I felt like I didn't quite have my feet under me as I was helping to lead the liturgy (our worship rituals).

Then I remembered that I've felt this way before after having been gone.  It seems like it doesn't take much to change something deep within me, even when I didn't feel different and didn't realize that I'd changed (only so slightly, though ... it was just vacation).

Sometimes, for our faith to grow, it's good to be jolted (in more significant ways than vacation) out of our routine and into a deeper life of faith ... which is part of the reason individuals and communities take part in events like mission trips and silent retreats and youth gatherings.

Wednesday, the ELCA (my denomination) youth gathering will begin.  This event, over 30,000 youth and caring adults gathering together in one city, can be a significant 'jolt' from ordinary routine.  Plus, because it's a faith-event, it may well help many young (and older) people experience the patterns and rituals of their own faith community differently.  At least, that's the hope I approach the youth gathering with.

The question, and struggle, will be to translate the faith experience of the youth gathering into daily life in some kind of meaningful way that can also be transformative for life in community back home.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Exuberant Joy

I got to spend the day today at a water park with my two kids, three of their cousins, and my sister-in-law.  The best part of the day, for me, was the time I spent with my niece, the youngest of the kids, and the only one who had not been to a water park before. 

The two of us started the day together.  We went first to a big wave pool.  My niece warned me that she doesn't know how to swim, and so I planned to keep a close eye on her.  I especially planned to watch her closely in this pool where the waves can be pretty powerful, especially if you're 7 years old. 

At first we stayed back where the waves aren't quite so high or strong.  But for the next set, she wanted to be in the deeper water.

As the second or third wave of that set approached, I could tell that it would cover her head and push her around quite a bit.  But for that wave, I was a few feet from her, farther away than I arm-length.  I made my way up next to her as she disappeared for a third time under a wave.  When she came up out of the water, I looked closely at her face (watching for signs of distress).  What I got, though, was nothing but joy and delight.  This pleased me a great deal.  See, my own children are old enough that they're often often not too impressed by much, so I really enjoyed watching my niece experience such delight. 

This is one of the things I enjoy about youth ministry.  The opportunity I have, on occasion, to accompany young people as they grow and have the opportunity to experience new aspects of and angles on their life of faith fills me with joy. 

Next week, at the ELCA youth gathering, there will be lots of teenagers (and some adults) encountering for the first time the wonder of being with tens of thousands of other people who are also having a similar sort of faith adventure to one another.

Unfortunately I don't have the opportunity this year to accompany a group to the gathering.  However, I will be able to spend a couple days at the event, during which time I hope to be able to see for myself a different angle on the good work, and spiritual growth, that happens in that kind of setting.

And hopefully we'll all get to experience for ourselves something like the all-consuming joy and wonder of a 7-year-old at a water park for the first time.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Intellect and Experience

I wonder, sometimes, if we aren't too concerned and preoccupied with intellectual knowledge about theology, about what's in the bible, and about what the bible means. I wonder if we don't too often neglect experience in favor of knowledge.

I'm spending the week at summer camp this week, with middle school students, and I've started to wonder if that isn't part of the point of camp ~ to move beyond intellect to experience; from knowledge to faith.

Obviously there's nothing wrong with intellectual exploration of the divine. At the same time, there's more to a life of faith than the mind. At camp, young people get the opportunity to explore that life, even if they don't know it's happening.

But what about at church? What about our regular congregational worship life? What about in the life of the congregational community? Do we, in the mainline traditions of Christianity, too often reduce faith to intellectual assent to that which is basically unbelievable?

Still, though, the intellectual is important. Without the intellectuals of history, our life of exploring the divine with our minds would be stunted.

So, then, what would it be like for us to intellectually explore the divine while at the same time we allowed ourselves to be carried away by and experience of the divine that is beyond and apart form the simplicity of our mind?


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Church and Politics, Again

The last post on this blog was criticized for being too pious and self-righteous, apparently because I didn't indicate what issue the caller was promoting.  I can see the person's point, even though my intention was simply to steer clear of charged political issues.

I was not attempting to make myself out to be better, or more spiritual, or more pious, or more enlightened than someone else.  I apologize to that person, whoever it is, that was offended by what I wrote.

+++   +++   +++ 

Here, perhaps, is what I should have written about that encounter.

While I was in my office the other day, working on Sunday's sermon and a couple other things, I got a call from a political operative.  This woman, who was very polite (and I presume, kind as well) wanted to know if I would consent to having some petitions available on Sunday morning for the congregation I serve to sign.

The petitions she wanted to bring are in support of the 'personhood amendment' (an amendment which would constitutionally define the beginning of life as the moment of fertilization).  She may not have been, but she seemed baffled that I (a member of the clergy and a student of scripture) would not want to support this amendment.

To tell the truth, I do not support this amendment.  I believe that there are many matters more pressing on us as a society, which (I believe) need to be dealt with before we're ready to broach this subject.

At the same time, if someone were to approach me on the street with this petition, I'd sign it ~ see, I believe that signing a petition in support of having an issue on the ballot is not the same thing as agreeing with the promoters of the petition.

But this is not why I refused to allow these petitions to be available at the congregation I serve.  The reason is that the membership of my congregation has not decided, as a congregation, that we will support this petition.  And to have them available on Sunday morning would imply that we do.

The question that this petition, in support of the 'personhood amendment', addresses is one on which people of deep faith disagree ~ and to have it available at worship would imply congregational support.  I cannot speak on behalf of the congregation I serve on this issue, and so I cannot make this petition available.

Further, the phone-caller did her best to convince me that Jesus would agree with her, and that I was wrong to not let her send these petitions.  She did her best to convince me that Jesus was a political figure, and that I ought to be working politically on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves.

I, for one, am reluctant to state definitively that I know the mind of G-d.  Others, smarter than I, have said that whenever G-d's opinion and mine are always in sync, I've succeeded in making G-d in my image. 

My reading of scripture leads me to believe that there are more important issues to deal with before this one.

According to an article found on Wikipedia, the population of the world reached 1 billion in approximately 1804.  Today, the world's population is over 7 billion.

The truth is that there are issues which are part of our reality today that those who were inspired to write scripture never could have imagined; for instance, overpopulation, globalization, the capacity of the planet to feed everyone who is alive, the degradation of the environment ~ issues that we are only beginning to recognize and which we have not begun to be able to responsibly address.  

In my opinion, questions of poverty and hunger and housing and environmental degradation need to be dealt with soon (before the question of the moment when life begins). 

Additionally, I see the Torah and the Prophets and Jesus talking way more about the injustices of poverty and hunger than I see them talking about the beginning of life. 

You should also know that I don't think my refusal is based on or motivated by my personal opinion that this amendment should not pass.  For instance, I believe that same-gender couples should be allowed to be married.  However, if someone wanted to make a petition available to my congregation that supports an amendment to that effect, I would also not allow that one.

+++   +++   +++

I hope that's satisfactory, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Church and Politics

I just got off the phone with a very polite, and I'm sure nice, woman who wanted to bring petitions by the church building for people to sign.  The change this group is trying to bring about is one I don't happen to agree with ~ but that's not what kept me from going along with her request.  (I've been known to sign petitions that I don't agree with because I believe the issue should be on the ballot.)

When I told her 'no', she couldn't believe that I didn't want those petitions at church.  Further, she seemed astounded that I didn't want my congregation to appear to support one side of an issue on which people of tremendous faith disagree. 

She tried to convince me that Jesus would have been on her side.  She also tried to convince me that Jesus would have (and certainly did) take on the political leaders, and that because he did, we should also.

Well, Jesus certainly did confront the political and religious leaders of his day.  I'm pretty sure, though, that he never tried to pass legislation to impose his religious beliefs on someone else.

I pointed out to my phone-caller that scripture talks way more about poverty than it does about her issue.  I wish I would have thought to say that I'd love to support her cause just as soon as we legislated away hunger, homelessness, and poverty.

I also wish I would have thought to say that I find it dangerous, in a nation that professes freedom of religion, to legislate beliefs.  In fact, imposing religious beliefs on those who aren't part of that religious tradition borders on abuse.

I don't know if that would have helped, though, since I have a feeling she would be comfortable with (her version of) a Christian Theocracy.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cycling and Church ~ The Accordion Effect

It's harder riding in the very front of a group, since the very front doesn't have the benefit of riders in front of them blocking the wind. But it's also difficult riding in the back, especially if it's a big group.

Here's what happens. When the road is straight and relatively flat, there's no problem. All of the riders fall into a rhythm, settle into a pace, and everyone cruises along just fine.

But then there's a hill, or there's a sharp turn or a tunnel or an underpass that requires more caution. The front of the group slows down (you know, to be safe … or, because the hill goes up) ~ which then causes the back of the group to slow down as well.

However, the back of the group hasn't quite arrived at the hill (or whatever) that caused the front to slow down, which means they're slowing before they really need to.

Then, when the front of the group hits the top of the hill, or gets past the obstacle, they obviously pick up speed. But the back of the group isn't there yet, and so can't accelerate quite as easily. When the back is able to speed up again, the riders in front are farther ahead, which forces the back riders to work harder just to catch up with the group.

It's like an accordion ~ when the front slows, the back bunches up; and when the front speeds up, the whole group stretches out.

I worry, sometimes, that some people in our congregations experience our life together in that way. The leaders are up front, and hopefully are moving along as steadily as possible, so as to not lose people at the back. But inevitably the congregation approaches a hill or a turn or some other obstacle.  

I worry that there's an accordion effect in our congregational life, where some folks who aren't currently in front might have to work hard to keep up, or who might get left behind.

One of the groups I ride with tends to stop and regroup after big obstacles. The other group I ride with just keeps riding, trusting that those who get left behind can find their own way.

I'd prefer church to tend toward the former model rather than the latter.

But it might be even better if congregational leadership would pause every so often to turn around and make sure no one is left behind. A congregation can't spend all its time looking backward. A congregation also probably doesn't serve itself well if it spends all its time looking forward either.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Cycling and Church ~ Sharing Leadership

On the final day of the Fuller Center for Housing Spring BicycleAdventure, I ended up in a paceline with some pretty strong riders. We had all experienced riding with each other through the week, and so we decided on the last day to see how we would do all working together.

We started the day knowing that some of us were faster riders, and some were not quite as strong. The thing is, though, that we made this unspoken commitment that we would all work together.

The way we worked the paceline that day was for one rider to be in front for a minute or two, with the rest of us trailing behind that person enjoying the break in headwind provided by the rider in front of us. After the front rider's minute or two was done, that person would move to the left, ease up on the pedals, and drift to the back of the line.

Obviously, when the front person moves to the back, there's a new front person who spends a minute or two working harder than the rest of us ~ at which point they move to the back, and another person takes over the leadership.

That day, each of us didn't spend the same amount of time in the front of the group. The stronger riders stayed on the front for a couple minutes at a time, and those of us who weren't as strong took shorter turns in the lead.

If we'd tried to keep things equal time-wise, our group would have been slower. Taking longer turns up front and having less time to rest behind the other riders would have worn me out and slowed me down much earlier in the day, and therefore would have slowed the whole group down, especially during those times when I was up front.

We had ridden together all week, but the way we rode together earlier in the week didn't matter at all on that day. I had spent a couple hours one day earlier in the week in the slipstream of another rider, as I worked to catch up with my dad. I wasn't strong enough that day to catch my dad, and he was strong enough to help me.

He was able to help me one day, and later in the week, I didn't have to pay him back. Every day, we started fresh. Every day, we contributed to the group what we were able, and received from others what they offered.


What if, in the church, we didn't hold grudges or keep score? What if we didn't worry about who works more than others, and who seems to just be along for the ride? What if everyone felt free to contribute to the group what they're able and to receive from the group what's offered?

When I ride my bike, some days I feel stronger and some days I feel weaker. Some days I can spend a lot of time in front, and some days I can't be up there at all. But on the bike rides, what I did on Friday doesn't matter when Saturday comes around. We start fresh every day.

What if every day, and every week, and every month, and every year in the church was brand new? That's the promise of our baptism (as Lutherans understand it), that we start new every day. God's promise of grace and mercy and forgiveness is renewed every day.

When someone asks a Lutheran when they were saved, they're just as likely to say “Just again this morning” as they are to say “A little over 2000 years ago” … or that's what they ought to say, anyway.

There has to be a balance, where we can encourage those who are stronger, those who have the gifts, to take greater leadership in the church while at the same time we don't discourage those who aren't quite as strong from taking their turn up front.

Sometimes it seems like church leadership, those who spend the most time and energy on making sure the congregation is in good shape, see their job as providing a service for those who 'just show up'. How would church look different if we were to operate as if we're all in this together?


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Church Conference

I spent the day today at the “You Lost Me – Live” seminar/conference/panel conversation today, which was sponsored by the Barna Group. Much of the day was given to talking about cultural differences between generations. In particular, the conversation revolved around the truth that the mosaic (millenial) generation is coming of age in a world that is ridiculously different culturally from the world Gen Xers, or Boomers, or any previous generation has emerged into.

That part of the conference was good, and applicable across different Christian traditions. However, the other thing I noticed is the cultural differences there are between Evangelical Christianity (in which, it seemed, most of the attendees today are rooted) and Mainline Christianity. There was a great deal of in-group language that I didn't identify with.

To be fair, if any one of the folks who was there today were to come to a Lutheran, or a Mainline, conference, they'd have the same experience as I did today. I imagine they'd hear a lot of in-group language and assumptions, and they'd feel just a little bit on the outside at the same time that I would be perfectly comfortable.

I wonder if we, as church leaders, ought to make a more concerted effort to talk with each other more often. It couldn't hurt to understand our neighbor a little better, could it?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cycling and Chruch: Group Rides

This year, for the first time in a long time, I've spent quite a bit of time cycling with groups. I used to go on group rides when I was in high school, but we didn't have experienced mentors and didn't ourselves really understand the nuances of riding with a bunch of other people.

When we moved back to Colorado and I started cycling in earnest again, I mostly went out on my own. Recently, though, I got connected with group from my neighborhood who goes out twice a week, and have been riding regularly with them.

Not surprisingly, I've been setting my cycling experience alongside my church experience ~ and so, I'm planning to post a series of blog entries to share my insights with you, my seven readers.


Group Rides

Last Friday was one of the group ride mornings. I got up much earlier in the day than I would have otherwise to meet the group. We rode our typical route, which ends up being about 30 miles.

As it turns out, I had free time later in the morning, and I have a (100 miles) coming up in a few weeks.  Together, those prompted me to go out riding by myself after the group ride. My solo course, accidentally, ended up also being about 30 miles.

When I compared the two, what I notice is that my solo ride took ten minutes longer than our group ride. Of course a person could argue that I was tired after the first ride, and so because of that was slower for the second ~ and there may be some truth to that.

But the further truth is that part of the course we ride as a group is the same as my bicycle commute to work; and I go much faster in the group than I do by myself along that route.

What happens is that when you ride in a group, everyone works together so that everyone has an easier time. Here's how that happens:

A group of more experienced cyclists, especially those who are trying to go as fast as possible, will often ride together in a paceline. What that means is that the riders get right up close behind each other to take advantage of the slipstream (relative lack of wind resistance) provided by the rider in front of them. The rider in front works just about as hard as they would be if they were on their own; the riders who aren't in front, though, have a much easier time of it.

The riders in front don't stay in front the whole time. When their time is done, or when they've been up in front for long enough, they move aside, slow down, and make their way back in the group while someone else takes the front position. In this way, the group shares the load, and no one person has to do all the hard work.

Further, every group has a different ethos. The group I ride with during the week rides fast, but doesn't leave anyone behind. Newcomers are welcomed into that group, and are taught the basics of group riding. Still, there are some riders who like to race. They push the pace sometimes, leaving some of the weaker riders momentarily behind, until the next re-group location.

In another group I ride with, though, folks are expected to know how to behave in a paceline. You're expected to be able to keep up with the group when they start to accelerate. And if you're not able to keep up, you're left behind and have to group up with others who are left back, or find your way home by yourself.

And when I rode with the Fuller Center for Housing Spring Adventure in March, each person was expected to make their way from point to point on their own. We were, however, encouraged (as we were comfortable) to form paceline groups when we wanted to, in order to share the workload. On a longer, non-competitive ride like that, you get the chance to spend different days riding with, and getting to know, the different people in the group.


I'm going to spend a few blog posts thinking about the different aspects, and subtleties, of group riding and how those line up with church life. So here's how I see the basics lining up.

When we compare the life of faith in community with an individual life of faith, it's easier to work through these faith struggles in community than by yourself. Of course, some might say that being part of a church community is too much trouble, and that they have an easier time on their own.
Sure, it may be easier on your own ~ it's certainly easier for me to sit on the couch than to get on my bike. But I don't get any stronger sitting on the couch, and our faith doesn't deepen unless we allow ourselves the opportunity to struggle … and that struggle is easier in community.

Plus, in a congregational community, a few people don't have to do all the hard work all the time. In healthy communities, everyone has an opportunity to take the lead for a while, and everyone has the opportunity to step back for a little while to let others lead.

And finally, anyone who's been part of more than one congregation knows that each group has a different ethos. Some are welcoming, and some are more closed-off; some encourage involvement right away, and some allow greater anonymity; some have strong leadership from a few individuals, and some have a more communal leadership style.


Over the next few posts I'll be digging more deeply into different aspects of how group cycling works, because almost every time I'm out on a ride I think to myself, “Church could be better if we could learn better how to _____.”


Monday, May 28, 2012

some mornings

that one moment doesn't last forever
        a few minutes, maybe
    as the rising sun
        begins to warm the ground
an aroma, infuses my senses
        fresh & clean
    from evaporating dew
        or last night's rain that
            soaked the ground, just enough

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memory of the Future

at breakfast, by myself
    eggs & toast, pen & paper
I saw my daughter
    walk by on the street
(she was, I imagine, actually
    in a middle school classroom)

the woman crossing the street
    (going to work, or on
her way home after last night)
    is already grown;
my daughter, not yet. 

    there she was, catching the
corner of my memory
    vaulting me forward in time
as if I'd skipped a decade ~

    and now, seeing her grown
I recall those middle school years
    so long ago.

                         and so I sit
pen & paper, eggs & toast, nostalgic
    for what has yet to come to pass

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Beginning

The earnest presidential campaign, that is.  Of course, the candidates have already been campaigning, but it's beginning to start to ramp up.  I see this, and I hardly every watch broadcast television.

But despite the fact that I don't watch much TV, I still get to hear some of the rhetoric and the name-calling and the political maneuvering and the criticizing of the other candidate's position on whatever issue.

Most of it bothers me ~ but what might bother me the most is the accusations from one to the other of being wishy-washy, or flip-flopping on an issue. 

What bothers me more than the accusations, though, is the reaction of the accused ~ most of the time, the reaction is to try to explain away their previous positions.  I'm sure someone must have done it at some time in politics, but I've never heard a candidate say, "Yes, that was my position at one time.  Now, though, I see things differently.  Let me explain why I've changed my mind, how I've grown, and why I believe my current understanding is better."

Personally, I'd rather elect someone to office who honestly embraces the struggle and the moral uncertainty of real life, and would rather not elect someone who pretends like their positions haven't changed an iota since they were 25 years old. 

Plus, if we were a little more honest and humble about our own position, we might be a little more respectful of someone else's position ~ which just might lead to a growth in civility within our national political discourse.

As I go back and read this post, it seems like perhaps I'm looking and hoping for, dreaming about, honest politicians.  Is it too cynical to say that, perhaps, that's a pipe dream?


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bike to School Day

Today is bike to school day.  To celebrate, my son's school organized a group ride of about three miles, from a park to the school ... complete with police escort (two motorcycles, like they do for funerals). 

It's a beautiful day for riding, and the kids were excited with anticipation as they gathered before the ride started.  During the course of this adventure, I noticed two different people who weren't part of the ride. 

The first passed by our group before we started riding.  He was pretty obviously a bicycle commuter ~ I assumed, looking at him, that he rode his bike to work most days.  He slowed down as he approached the group and asked what was happening.  I told him that it's bike to school day, to which he replied, "How about bike to work day every day."

The second person I noticed also looked like a regular bicycle commuter on his way to work.  He passed us as we were riding.  Since he was going the other way, he didn't have the opportunity to ask about our group.  He did, however, have (and take) the opportunity to clap his hands and shout words of encouragement to the elementary school students riding down the street.

Which of these, do you think, did more to encourage young people to spend more time on their bikes?  The one who focused on, and bragged about, himself and who made us feel inadequate for biking on this one day?  Or the one who was encouraging and supportive?


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Raising Taxes

I just saw a social media comment (you know how it goes on the blue-bordered social media site ~ someone wrote something, and then their 'friend', who has a different opinion, wrote a comment expressing their opinion) indicating that they don't want their taxes raised by asking the rhetorical question, "Do you want your taxes raised?"

Of course, if we heard it as an actual question, rather than one written to make a point, I believe that the typical and natural response would be "obviously not".

See, by and large, we're greedy.  Once we have possession of something, especially something valuable, we tend to want to keep it.  In this case, we tend to want to keep our money, because it's valuable.  With money, we can buy things we want.

My response to the question "Do you want your taxes raised?", though is almost always "Yes, of course".

Don't get me wrong ~ I'm just as greedy as the next person.  When I have money, I want to keep possession of it so that I can buy things that I want.  It's just that in this case, that's exactly what my taxes do.  With my taxes, I buy things I want.  For instance:

The Police and Fire Departments
The Military
Street Repair
Urban Sewer Systems
Student Loan Interest Relief
Food Safety
Public Libraries
Public Education
Parks and Recreation Centers
National Parks and Monuments
The Government

In short, my taxes buy civilization.  If we didn't pay taxes, we'd be much worse off.  Since I like civilization, I want civilization to continue, and so I'm happy to pay for it. 

Of course, we could argue forever about whether tax dollars are spent wisely or not ~ which would be a good conversation.  I, for one, would consider spending much less on the military.  Or, maybe I'd spend just as much, but would spend less on fighting wars and more on salaries for enlisted troops.

I'd spend more on public libraries, more on parks and rec, more on student loan interest relief, and much more on public education. 

But, how we spend tax dollars and how much are we required to pay in taxes are separate (albeit related) questions.

So, to say that we pay too much in taxes is to imply that the government is able to undertake all of the projects that are beneficial to the public welfare without any financial constraints.  And, given the truth that for two years in a row the public education budget in Colorado shrank while enrollment increased reminds us of the problems with this claim.

Some people (motivated by greed) want to pay less in taxes so that they can purchase more things that they want.  I (also motivated by greed) want to pay more in taxes because I'd like civilization, and would like to continue to purchase.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

I saw a billboard yesterday that gave me pause. Once I saw the sign, I realized that I had seen it before; but when I saw it before, it was on the wall of a grocery store instead of on a billboard.

The first time I noticed it (on the grocery store wall), I was standing in line waiting it to be my turn to pay for my groceries. I was standing in the 'I want someone else to scan my groceries' line instead of the 'scan the groceries yourself' line, when the clerk who was monitoring the self-checkout area invited me over there. She even told me she'd help me use the machines.

My response, pretty quickly, was something like “This line is fine ~ I'm not in a hurry”. She got a confused look on her face, and turned back to her work.

It was about fifteen seconds later that I saw the signs on the wall proclaiming 'Faster Checkouts' and 'Less Waiting' and 'Your Time is Valuable' ... or something like that.

Some days I don't really want to talk with anyone in the store, so I make it a point to use the self-checkout. Some days I feel like interpersonal interaction, or I don't feel like looking up the codes to all that produce, so I choose the clerk-operated line.

Sometimes I'm in a hurry and choose the quickest line; but most of the time, those 30 seconds that I save by rushing through the store don't actually matter by the time I get home (especially if I sit at the parking lot exit at a stoplight). And if I'd moved over to the quicker line, I'd have missed the opportunity to have a really pleasant conversation with the woman in line behind me.

Plus, what is it that we're all rushing so quickly to get to? Don't most of us just end up spending those extra seconds, maybe five minutes accumulated over the course of a day, surfing the internet or watching television?

I wonder if hurriedness, and its corresponding malady busy-ness, isn't a sign and manifestation of selfishness. Martin Luther pointed to the truth that the beginning of all sin is self-centeredness, or being turned in on ourselves.

When we are always rushing around, and when we're always busy, we are by default setting ourselves and our own agenda ahead of someone else's, and thereby dismissing the value of our neighbor.

Of course, I'm as guilty of this as many other people. But every so often, I remind myself to slow down by choosing the slower line at the grocery store, or by not trying to pass the slower car in the lane in front of me. 


Speed and busy-ness have their place … but so does slowing down and recognizing the gift of the moment instead of rushing to the next one.