Saturday, November 29, 2008


The above phrase is an angry mantra spoken by many a frustrated leader trying to confront real problems only to be waylaid by others who are dragging their feet. I have said it publically myself on many occassions. As I get older I save it for real emergencies--which I admit are relatively rare.
If I would list the public things I am most thankful for this year I would place the relative safety and security of living in an American suburb at the top of my list. The impoverished areas of American cities are becoming increasingly dangerous. If you are traveling in DC at night you better say your prayers and travel in a group before going out. Avoid Baltimore except Camden Yard. The terrorist attacks in India's financial district remind us of the dangers that lurk in most places around our globe.
The second thing I am thankful for is that there are only 52 more days of the Bush/Cheney regime. I find comparisons between Hoover, who handed over an economic catastrophe to FDR, and Bush, to be revealing. Both Hoover and Bush were so tied up in their ideological economic assumptions that they found themselves unable to act effectively when the house of cars starting to cascade down. They both seem to hold fast to the "Hoover doctrine" : "the economy is fundamentally sound and the market is always right." Bush and Hoover shared another disasterous distinction: they served when the inequality in wealth and income were at record levels. As Bill Moyers says in his new book :"Inequality is incompatible with democracy." Today the top 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 90%. This is a betrayal of our founding vision--the desire to leave the aristocratic lands of Europe and come to the democratic land of opportunity. Americans have until recently believed that wealth and power that is concentrated in a monied elite is an inherent evil. Thankfully we are starting to recover this founding conviction. A sign of how perverted the prevailing economic ideology of the GOP has become, Senator Obama's proposal to return us to the tax rates of the Clinton administration are labled "Socialism". Teddy Roosevelt--a man from one of the richest families in America, believed in progressive taxation (the stuff called socialism) and adamently opposed the huge concentration of wealth and power in a monied elite. Ironically we have experienced a record "transfer of wealth" in the last 8 years--from the middle to the very top 1%--actually the top 1/10th of 1% has been the greatest beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts.
Before last Wednesday's Thanksgiving Service at Temple Solel us clergy types were meeting to parcel out the assignments for the worship service. Since everyone arrived early the discussion turned to other topics. Rabbi Steve mentioned to our guest speaker, Dr.Crane, that he was enjoying a recent new translation of the Old Testament. Steve shared one well known changes from the prophet Jeremiah. The new translated had changed the old "Justice, justice my people" to "Equity, Equity." Crane agreed that equity (fairness in law and opprotunity for everyone) is the core of a society that is just. Most of a societies problems are the result of great disparity of wealth and the resulting privledge bestowed upon the wealthy.
It has not been lost on most Americans that the government has been quick to bail out the very wealthy captains of wall street and slow to respond to the devastation on main street. Few efforts have been made to stop people from losing their homes. I guess moral hazard only applies to people who bought homes in 2005 and 2006 with loans they couldn't afford and cannot sell in a down market. When Detroit comes looking for assistance to save the auto industry (and 4 million jobs) they are turned away. Yes, they didn't come with a working plan--but neither did wall street. Nor have the bankers started to loan the extra capital they were given. Detroits problems are not entirely self inflicted. They are victims of a health care funding crisis that has pushed most American manufacturing overseas. American medicine is number one in only one catagory: overall cost. We pay twice per capita of any other country and have poorer results to show for it in every catagory: most notabley life expectancy and infant mortality. Will ideology and the outdated term "socialism" once again get in the way of real reform?
The sad reality is that President Bush threw in the towel following the mid term elections in November 2006. Even before that our military leaders have complained that he is no longer as engaged as he was back in 2002-2005. Except for the "dead on arrival' attempt to privitaize social security, he has made no major policy initiatives since his first term. He has effectively blocked any effort Congress has made to initiate legislation. So Bush has not lead or followed, but stood in the way. I am thankful that Mr. Bush is helping with the government transistion..(something Hoover resisted to the bitter end). Bush does his ceremonial duties (like pardoning White House turkeys) while Mr. Obama assures the global markets that competence and non-ideological policy are on the way. Maybe Bush has learned to "get out of the way."
Jesus talked a great deal about money and fairness. His audience consisted mostly of poor people and minorities (including women and children). Jesus talked about the dangers of debt upon the poor. His model prayer, (The Lord's Prayer) asks God to "forgive us our debts" so we can forgive our debtors. I certainly welcome a serious Biblical discussion of economic issues of wealth and poverty and social justice. "Equity, equity" proclaims the prophet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith, education and marriage

There is one statistic that most Americans remember about marriage. 50 percent. Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. This statistic has produced a deep pessimism and fatalism among young people. "I don't want to get married because I don't want to go through all the pain of divorce." Add to this the wealth of research that has noted the severe conomic impact divorce has on children. Most of the Americans in poverty are children and most of them live in single (divorced) families. This is not a pretty picture.

However, as they say, "figures lie and liers can figure." If you go inside the divorce numbers you find one group of Americans for whom marriage is going qhite well. This group--now over a quarter of the population--has a divorce rate that has dropped by half in the past decade. People in this age group rarely have babies outside of marriage. They tend to marry in higher percentages and stay married. This group is defined by one thing: a college education.
The divorce rate after 10 years of marriage has plummed to 16% for college graduates. This is half the rate of a decade ago. Only 4 % of college educated women have children out of marriage.

On the other end of the scale, women who dropped out of high school have seen their divorce rates rise in the past to 46%. Those who completed high school has seen a slowly, but also steady rise, to 38%.
Why do college educated do better in marriage? Surely income is part of it. Marriages fight over money and college graduates tend to make more money and have more stable jobs. But perhaps the biggest thing is that people who attend college tend to get married later. Just putting off marriage to go to college is a plus in terms of maturity. The divorce rates for people of all education levels declines at the age of first marriage increases. Some have argued that finishing college is a testimony to self discipline--you have to do your homework and attend class. Getting through college gives you the skills and self confidence that you might not gain otherwise.
Kay Hymowitz of the Manhatten Institute says that graduates succeed not merely because they master the material in school, but they have learned to master themsevles. College graduates tend to have a life map that they follow. They are more selective of the person they choose to marry. They tend to put off children until they establish themselves and finish their education. When they do have children they in turn supervise and train them very carefully for success--instilling the kind of discipline, commitment to education, a wider understanding of the world and good relationships that lead to a solid marriage.

Another often cited fact is that evangelical Christians have much higher divorce rates and teenaged pregnancy rates then other Americans. this is true, but here again the numbers don't tell the whole story. Christians stress that marriage is about mutual sacrifice and "patience love" (I Corinthians 13). Studies show that evangelical Christinas who are college graudates when they get married tend to stay married longer then non-evangelical Christians. American Evangelicalare on the whole are less educated then the general population. They tend to get married early and have lower incomes. Not surpisingly they have a higher divorce rate, even though they are on average, highly committed to the instituion of marriage and to spiritual growth.

Faith and morality do matter. But education makes considerably more difference in the divorce rate than faith does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Post Election Healing

Two weeks ago I was asked by Doris Kobe, who leads a weekly "health and healing" group at CCPC, to design and lead a worship service on Election Day. The theme of the service : to pray for healing for our nation that is wounded by the long election and scared by the economic downturn. In preparation I did what Karl Barth famously instructed preachers to do: work with the best wisdom of the journalists in one hand and the Bible in the other. What follows is what I observed.
The most startling thing I noticed in the surveys of Obama and McCain voters is that in each group, about 25% of each candidates supporters believed that if the other side won the nations future was imperiled. That is a lot of fear and demonstrates a deeply divided electorate. I believe that both men are very capable (and far more competent then the current White House occupant) and would adequately serve our nation as President. I believe that whoever wins, our people will be more united then they have been during the current Presidency.
There were several positives. 1. I thought that this election cycle more issue oriented then the past two campaigns. Unavoidable problems like two wars and a fiscal meltdown tend to drown out trivial issues. It is to Mr. McCain's credit that he did not play the race card although his campaign managers, mostly holdovers from the slash and burn-do anything to win Rove/Bush team, consistently told him it was necessary to win. Mentioning Rev. Wright is playing the race card.
2. For the most part both candidates showed respect for each other and at the Presidential level the debate was more civil and decent. Maybe the campaigns of personal destruction are over.

There is an urgency that we come together. A large margin of victory will speed the process. We NEED TO HEAL, and heal quickly, BECAUSE THE PROBLEMS WE FACE LARGE AND IMMEDIATE. John Heilmann wrote a blog about the big opportunities and big risks of a possible Obama administration. "The circumstances Obama will face are infinitely more daunting then Clinton faced at the outset of his administration. The recession that fell Bush Sr was already in the rear view mirror. Although the mounting deficit compelled Clinton to abandon many of his planned initiates, the fiscal situation he inherited is nothing like the house of horrors awaiting Obama. Add to that a collapsing real estate market, the credit crunch, and rising unemployment, and Obama (or McCain!) will find himself staring down the barrel of a downturn so steep and ugly that it easily could consume his whole first term. Oh, and did i forget to mention that the country is at war--in not one but two countries?"

The crisis we face will not spare any part of the nation. Jobs are being lost. Homes are foreclosed. Saving are depleted for retirees and for those nearing retirement.
There are many other good things going on. Most significant is the energy and higher participation rates of young people. I remember trying to register college students at my Alma mater in 1976 when I was working for the Gerry Ford campaign in Spokane , Washington. Even with the President's daughter Susan Ford staffing our booth, my fellow classmates had no interest in voting . They were turned off by the Post - Watergate cynicism. By the mid 1980's Reagan brought some young people into the political process, but it was not until the Obama campaigns cutting edge recruitment of this age group that they became fully energized. I asked my son (he is 25) why people his age were not engaged 4 years ago. "Dad, for my age groups entire adolesence we have only had Clinton "competent but sleazy" and Bush "incompetent and intolerant" to look up to. Why should we vote? The rich run things, we don't have health insurance, college costs are rising twice the rate of inflation and government support for higher education has dramatically declined. Of course my cohort is disillusioned and apathetic!"
We will see by tonight if the wave of young people will make a difference in this election.They are important because our nation needs a counter balance to the near sighted and short term policies that have been enacted.

Now the bible part of the preparation. There is only one passage in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) where the writer paints a portrait of the Ideal King. That passage is Deuteronomy 17:14-20 "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me....choose one of your own community. He must not acquire many horses..and he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. when he has taken the throne, HE SHALL HAVE A COPY OF THE LAW WRITTEN FOORM HIM. THE LAW SHALL REMAIN WITH HIM AND HE SHALL READ IN IN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE SO THAT HE MAY LEARN TO FEAR THE LORD HIS GOD, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statues, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandments."
The history of the Old Testament had only a couple Kings who followed the ideal proclaimed in Deuteronomy 17. The classic designation of God's servant leadership here on earth is threefold :that of prophet, priest and king. The King is to be a steward of the land and the people: God warned the Kings to avoid war and to shun greed and to ensure justice and fairness for the people. The King also had a priestly function: to provide opportunities for the free worship of Israel and regular reading of the word of God's law.
The third office was expected to reside outside the king. The prophet was a special role, also chosen by God. The prophet was to speak the truth to the king and to keep the king honest and humble. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says it well:"Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. let not the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that i am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord."
The prophets role then is to declare boldly and plainly the gap between the nations ideals and their current practices. The prophet would remind the King to not be confident that God is an Alie for his agenda, but that the king needs to make sure we are on God's side.
The real hope I have for an Obama Presidency is that he is trying to get us past a 40 year culture war. This culture war has distracted us from addressing real problems. The culture war started in the 60's when America was the unquestioned top of the economic food chain. Liberation movements rose to deal with racial, sexual and gender discrimination. Civil Rights were won for Blacks and women started to gain some semblance of equality in the workplace and in the home. Then the Vietnam War opened huge holes in our social fabric. Those that came to oppose the war are still blamed 45 years later with losing it. A backlash against Civil Rights led the once reliable southern Democrats to join the Repbulican party. Relgious conservaitve reacted to the sexual promiscuity of the 1960's and in the 1980's got involved for the first time in politics. Uner President Bush the social conservative took over the GOP and drove that party far to the right.They maintained power because of the electoral system that give inordinate political clout to the less populated (mostly southern states). For example: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Alaska, Montana has 18 senators (16 currently GOP) who represent maybe 6 million citizens. California and New York have 4 senators representing 80 million citizens. At the height of the GOP's electoral clout in 2004 they had 58 senators who represented 42% of the population.
If you look at tonights Electoral map you might be able to make the argument that the Republican party is no longer a national party. It is becoming a region party that is mostly southern. After tonight they quite possibly will have no congressmen from the 6 New England state, only 4 of 29 seats in the New York state delegation and maybe only 3 of 10 in New Jersey. My question is this: will they change and become a naational party when they face the reality of their second straight crushing defeat? I think people learn more from defeat then victory.

I listened Sunday night to singer Bruce Springsteen talk to a Cleveland Obama rally. Bruce said he has spent the last 35 years as a songwriter (an incredible body of work) sining about America. His songs usually lament the gap between "our the values we aspire to and the current expression of those ideals." He is looking for change because the tolerance and equality and commitment to freedom and justice has reached a disturbingly low ebb. Bruce laments the loss of the American dream and the diminished hopes n the faces of the people who attend his concerts. Bruce is hopeful. I share his hope.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Confession of sin

Each Sunday following the opening hymns and the prayer of invocation, the liturgist invites all worshippers to confess their sin before Almighty God, "first in unison and then (privately) in silence." The time that folows the spoken union confession is perhaps the quietest and holiest moment of the week. I am almost ashamed of myself for breaking this holy time of personal acknowledgement of sin by declaring the forgiveness that a loving and merciful God bestows upon all those "who humbly confess their sin." Confession, they say, is good for the soul. I believe it is also essential for clearing the way for progress towards overcoming the consequences of sin.
I thought about this when I read a transcript of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony on Captiol Hill on Thursday. With the markets in turmoil and many fearing that a devasting world wide economic crisis is yet to come, Congress is doing what it does best: namely, point fingers of blame (but not at themsevles) after the consequences of greedy (read that sinful) behavior has created a mess.They try to close the barn after the horses have all escaped. In this way, Congressmen are like most Americans, when we hear a good sermon or listen to wise words of a prophetic voice, we think others need to heed the advice but believe that warning doesn't apply to us.

In most disasters, be they in interpersonal relationships or in large social contexts, there is plenty of blame to go around. The Apostle Paul said it well in Romans, "ALL sin and fall short of the glory of God." It is only when everyone acknowledges their sin and agrees to modify their behavior and change their wrong positions, that healing can follow. Without an admission of guilt and the acceptance of blame, you cannot begin to solve problems and start over.

Greenspan's reputation was enormous. Bob Woodward wrote a flattering biography titled "Maestro" celebrating his 18 years as Presdient of the Federal Reserve before stepping down in January 2006. During the stock bubble and the housing bubble, he was the voice people listened too when evidence of leaks in the soggy fiscal dykes and excesses were discovered. Greenspan was the "wizard" who pulled countless rabbits out of his hat. He calmed markets. He reassurred nervous regulators and main street bankers. He had the golden touch.
I admired Chairman Greenspan for not dodging this hard question by Henry Waxman, "You had the authority to prevent irresponsbile lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. Do you feel your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?"
"Yes, Mr Greenspan answered, " I've found a flaw. I don't know how signficant or permanent it is. but I have been very distressed by that fact."
No one likes to admit mistakes. Fewer yet admit that the bedrock ideas that have driven their actions are flawed. The ironic thing about Greespan, who lived through the great depression, was that he forgot the lessons of that historic depression. He went along with a culture that looked at debt and risk in ways that were far removed from his childhood. What bothered me about Greenspan was that he used his guru status to give the greenlight to credit default swaps and housing price surges that all serious economists were warning about. Now there is plenty of blame to go around. But someone has to challenge the "group think" that ovetakes a society. Someone with authority has to challenges the myths: that housing prices will always go up, that markets will always safely self correct, that Iraq has WMD. He didn't do it and since he was the "God" of our American system, greedy people in every line of financial profession began to act wrecklessly.

We are entering a period when we will be forced to question all the "group think" ideologices that we have been following so blindly. There will be people who are even more ideologically rigid then Greenspan who we refuse to participate in this evaluative process. We all have our own blindspots: only fools refuse to examine them.
Courageous people use crisis to examine their convictions. As Christian we have the great gift of knowing that God loves us in spite of our sinful behavior. In confidence we can put our convictions and actions up to the light of the gospel and find a new way to live and think. The mistake many Christians make is that they see sin as only an individual matter. They do not see how they contribute to corporate sin. Many followers of Christ have great personal piety and are highly ethical but come to applaud the "group think" of our greedy society.
When you see the air of your ways, take a cue from Alan Greenspan and confess your mistakes. When we do that, the road to healing and health cannot be far behind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Overcoming Pessimism

My reading group is working our way through Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded." Each chapter is rich with information from top figures in the fields of economics, the environment, and science. It seems like every day he is visiting another new place in the world and talking to another groundbreakering leader. I often feel like I have run out of ideas for sermons and this blog (notice how infrequently I write) because I am too tied down to Bowie. If we all traveled as extensively as Friedman we would all be more interesting.

Reading through his chapters on climate change can be pretty depressing. You know you are in for dire news when famed entomoligst Edward O. Wilson is quoted. On page 142 we find this Wilson gem, "Destorying a tropical rain forest and other species-rich ecosystemss for profit is like buring all the paintings in the Louvre to cook dinner." But with 1200 acres of tropical rainforest being destroyed every day, you might consider Wilson an optomist.

The real question is how to get humans to change their behavior? We know from experience people don't change because we tell them they should. People start to change when they convince themselves that they have no alternative. Since most of us don't notice the relentless and subtle changes that are occuring around us, it seems to take a crisis to get us to decide we have no alternative but to change. You know the old frog in the boiling pot analogy. If you take a frog and dump him in a pot of boiling water he will jump right out. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly heat the pot up the frog will just stay in place until he gets cooked.

Thankfully Americans are coming to the realization that we must change our habits. The cost of oil is high and most Americans (not all) believe the high price is here to stay. After watching the Olympics we know that China is for real and with 1.3 billion people aspiring to an American lifestyle you have to be a moron to think oil is not going to be even more scarce and thus more expensive. Once again, we change when we convince ourselves it is the only alternative.

I think we will start to make some long postponed changes. As Friedman says, "later, is over." As one man in our group said, "in 10 years the two parties will be arguing for who gets credit for the shift towards alternative power." Both McCain and Obama are pushing for alternative energy. Only one of the 4 individuals on the two tickets is a climate change denyer. that is a 50% reduction in only 4 years.

The related issue is what to do about the anger that somehow we must punish those people who got us into this economic mess. You can point all sorts of fingers and be partially right. Yes, the Clinton administration pushed for greater home ownership rates for minorities. Since home ownership accounts for most of accumlated family wealth, this was a noble public policy goal. This however started the movement toward reducing underwriting standards. It also opened the door to all sorts of fraud where miniority borrowers were placed in subprime loans when they qualified for conventional loans. And yes, Alan Greenspans cheap money policy encouraged all sort of borrowing and since no one was regulating the underwriting standards and brokers were issuing bad loans and selling them to Fannie Mae and other financial bundlers who then sold them to investors looking for higher fixed income yields, the whole system got out of control. Our bad loans then got sold to the rest of the world so our financial meltdown is taking everyone else down with us. The US stock market is down 21% this year but everyone else is worse.

So here is what I say to the people like Lou Dobbs who want to start punishing people. "let the Wall Street people sufer even if i lose every dollar in my retirement accounts." "we need to teach them a lessons." If it were only that simple. Instead we need to look into the mirror. One of our greatest challenges is that we live in a society that tends to fear jdgment. The "problem" is always somewhere else other then here. The "sin" is always with people other than us.

All of us Americans seem to possess a steadfast refusal to be held accountable for our lack of responsbile stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Seduced my borrowed money

I have not blogged in this space for five weeks. Two of them were vacation weeks--spent mostly celebrating graduations from college by my two daughters. The last weeks is just recovering from vacation.

Have you started to notice the new tone about money in America? Some sanity is starting to reappear. It is still faint but the momentum is building. The old moral structure around money (David Brooks term) from the Puritans and Benjamin Franklin is being reintroduced to public dialogue. Is the virtue of frugality making a comback?
First, let us look at what shredded the old American and Protestant virtues of hard work, frugality and savings. The first thing that happened was the widespread use of credit cards. I remember telling my 3 year old daughter (she is now almost 22) that the reason people were poor and homeless was because they didn't have enough money to pay for food and hosuing. She responded innocently, "Why don't they use their credit card!" Well, you could see by then the genie was out of the bag. Between 1989 and 2007, credit card debt quadrupled --$238 billion to $950 billion. Attitudes toward luxury and instant gratification replaced the older virtues of thrift and temperance.
Government joined the party. Before Reagan, all Presidents of every stripe denounced deficits and restrained spending. Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complexes appetite for spending. Truman set his defesne budget based on what could fit in the budget. Even Jimmy Carter never had deficits over $50.
Then the "supply Siders" took over the GOP. Remember the Laufer Curve? The "supply side argument that we just need to tax less and invest more and grow the pie larger" has been in vogue since Reagan came into office in 1980. The original vision made sense. We overtaxed capital and discouraged investment. The economy was sluggish and inflation was rampant. I would know--try to find work coming out of college in 1979 with 11% unemplyment. Reagan said it well: "a man should not be expected to pay more then half his income in taxes. At the time the top marginable rate was 70%.
Americans used to invest what they saved. Now the savings rate is less then 1% (a few months ago it was negative). Now we borrow to save and use leverage in all our purchases. The foreclosure rate is skyrocketing, not just because of subprime loans and sky high prices--the fact that we no longer put 20% down when we purchase homes is the real culprit. If you put 20% down and then the housing prices drop 15%--distressed buyers can still get out and break even. Now they just turn in the keys. They have no skin in the game. But the nothing down and leverage to the hilt approach to money has been growing for many years. The Federal government during Reagans years started the trend. To hide the skyhigh deficits , Congress did two things. In shoring up social security by increasing rates and raising the retirment ages--they also agreed to unify the budget picture. The social security receipts were added to the general tax revenue numbers (they used to be kept seperate) and also added to the spending numbers. Since the current social security receipts greatly exceed the current payout, this surplus in social security was used to mask the size of the Reagan supply side deficits. Thanks to Ross Perot---the ticking time bomb of social security expsenses when the boomers retire--was exposed and the Bush I and Clinton Presidencies spent all their political capital shoring up the fiscal foundations. Then the costly Iraq War and an idiot massive tax cut made the already dire situation disasterous. Bush II's fiscal recklessness is beyond shameful. Tom Delay is the worst enemy any of our grandchildren and great grandchildren can have. The next 20 years of Presidential political capital will ahve to be spent correcting Bush II's supply side lunacy.
A related moral tale is the states participation in gambling. the lottery is a severe tax on the poor and it feeds financial recklessness. 20% of Americans are frequent players, spending about $60 billion a year. The spendy is regressive. A household with less then $13,000 income spends, on average, $645 a year, roughly 9% of their income. I will not be supporting the initiative on the Maryland to bring more gambling into the state.
We need better usagy laws to protect people from the social habits of instant gratification. Payday lending needs to be reigned in. Banks are finally get needed regulation to curb some pernious practices that brutally punish borrowers.

Several years ago in my last pastorate the school board formed a comittee to come up with core values the schools needed to teach. They put a community board together and my freind, the Reformed church pastor , was a member of the Board. (I got stuck on the sexuality curriculum committee that was meeting at the same time.) My friend Tim suggested that one value we needed to teach and encourage was "thrift." He argued his case but the rest of the community members thought thrift was an outdate and "unamerican" concept. We have a long way to shift our values back to where we honor the values of frutality, thrift, temperance and hard work that amde this nation great. draft 6/12/08 by James

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Spirit of Truth

One of the characteristics the Holy Spirit gives us is the ability to understand the Truth. Jesus says in the beginning of John's gospel that he comes to bring "grace and Truth." Throughout John's gospel he speaks a truth that some (his followers) see while the world ignores it. As he talks about his impending death and offers the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, he says it will bring to them a Spirit of truth.
I won't get into the question: what is truth? I think that the truth Jesus is talking about is centered in a relationship to God that gives us the ability to hear what we need to hear so we can live as God intends us to live. Related to this is the issue: WHO WILL TELL US THE TRUTH?
I read Tom Friedmans column in the New York Times the other morning. Tom wrote the megabestseller "The World is Flat". This widely read book talks about the Internet age and the globalization of the worlds technology and economy. Tom is a big advocate for America to strengthen its educational system and to rebuild our national "soft capital." Friedman is a strong believer that the high price of oil produces autocratic regimes and that until Americans can dramatically reduce our need for oil we are giving the dictators the resources to bully their people and to support terrorists. Some oil company executives have challenged his premise, but they have a vested interest in keeping oil demand sky high.
IN today's article Friedman says that Americans want to engage in nation building. But they want to do it in America, not Iraq. Tom tells the same story my Mother told me when she returned from visiting China. When you go to Asia you leave behind a delapidated American infrastructure and arrive in gigantic, glistening airports. You ride on state of the art public trains. You plug into free Internet portals and see children playing in well appointed play zones. He says it well: "I had "flown from the Flinestones to the Jetsons."
Friendman says we need a President who can tell us the hard truth about who we are and what the world is now like. We are no long the strongest country in the world. We no longer have the resources to control the globe militarily. We cannot challenge Iran because we are bogged down in Iraq. Our public educational system is the weakest in the free world.We need a President who is tough and truthful enough to tell the truth to the American people.
Friedman says it this way:
We are not who we think we are.
We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes.
We still have the potential for greatness,
but only if we get back to work on our country.

I was thinking about a more personal truth telling each of us needs.
Who tells us the truth about the hard spiritual questions in our lives?
Sin leads us to deny the truth about ourselves. We are usually not near the people we think we are. Are we honest about our relationships? Do we really commit the time and attention to making them strong and durable? Are we honest about our habits? Are we spiritually healthy: do we live with integrity and do we take care of our soul?
Jesus said we should know the truth and that the truth will set us free.

We need someone to tell the truth to the American people about the mess we are in. We also need the Holy spirit to open our eyes to see the truth about ourselves. Then we need the courage and discipline to do some nation building and character building.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Does Rev. Wright have it right?

I am very saddened by the appearance of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club yesterday. To call it just another disaster for the public face of American Christianity is too be kind. The church has weathered storms about hurricanes being redirected by prayers. 911 had been called "God's judgment for our tolerance of homsexuals" by one well known White evangelical preacher. The prosperity gospel continues to come out of pulpits graced by white and black preachers. The Pope came and faced up to the sexual abuse scandals of Catholic clergy. It was about time! We have seen worse! Jesus said he would build the church and that nothing would prevail against it. I believe Jesus is the only thing holding the Church together.
We have also seen egotistical preachers use their large followings to influence political campaigns. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson see themselves as kingmakers--as did Bob Jones and Radio broadcast James Dobson. I am saddened that Rev. Wright took it upon himself to sabbatoge the groundbreaking run of one of his parishioners, Barak Obama.The timing couldn't be worse for Obama. The Wright question stopped Obama's move to close the large gap in Pennsylvania. PA was a tough state for him because it is the oldest state (next to Florida) and has a big blue collar population (another Clinton stronghold). PA has few young people (an Obama stronghold) Yet Wright's comments fed all the stereotypical fears American white have about Blacks: they blame whites for all their problems, they are not sufficiently patriotic and oppose American wars of intervention, they are prone to incendiary and irrational views. In sum: they can't be trusted and would attempt to change everything Americans hold dear.
If Wright would have just stayed out of the limelinght for another 10 days Obama would probably become the next President. He was leading by 16% in North Carolina and was ahead 5% in Indiana. If that margin held Ms. Clinton would be hard pressed to continue with no money and no hope to win the nomination. Already the poll numbers have dramatically reversed. It will be bloody but I think Obama is becoing unelectable.
George Will jumped on the "This proves Obama is incapable of being President" bandwagon this morning writing:
"Wright is releveant. He is a demogogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20 year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti black rubbish. His speech demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. HE SHOULD BE."

I fear we will get an old man John McCain who has no interest or knowledge of economic issues, no desire to change course on fiscal or health care policy, and will keep 100,000 or more troops in Iraq for another 10 years. The legedendary fiasco of President George W. Bush would get another term. If you question my logic answer this: What ideas has McCain offered that are different then Bush? I have one--he would bring us back into a cold war with China and Russia. Did you catch that foreign policy speech? John --you are losing it!

The large claim Wright made is a church issue--finally a topic I have some expertise. He said that an attack on him is an attack on the whole Black Church. Wow! Such ego! Since when was "The Black church" only about denouncing America (even echoing Louis Farrakhan). I have spoken to African American Presbyterians who worship here and they say Wright's blame america and Blame white is the central pulpit theme in many black churches. It is not the only theme. Wright is not the archetypal representative of the African American church. Martin Luther King had a whole different message. I spent weeks with Rev. James Forbes of the Riverside church--you don't hear that stuff from him. Self help and using "god's help" to overcome barriers of prejudice is a more comon theme in Black churches i have attended.
Eugene Robinson had a great column in the Post about the diversity of the Black church. He gave examples: The civil rights Methodist church he grew up in. The bible thumping, hell fire and damnation perorations that fill Black Baptist churches that focus on salvation instead of politics. Then there are the Pentcost spellbinders like TDJakes. You will notice Jakes was not present yesterday.
All of the great "ism" that plague American society: racism, sexism, and classism are held together by sterotypes. The people in these groups are touted to not be individuals with all sorts of unique character traits and who share common values with the rest of the country. Instead they possess attitudes and views of the world that are out of touch with "American values." These groups should then be not trusted and "feared." When someone who affirms all these negative sterotypes appears on the scene you just let them run their mouth then when they are finished speaking you only have to say:"Well, what did you expect from THEM."

Robinson got it right about Wright. He is trying to throw Obama under the bus for the sin of questioning some of the more reprehensible things Wright has said. Ego maniacs with his type of self righteous--- "it's white America's fault for all what ails Black in America" are not easily silenced. Too bad for Obama. Too bad for the country. Sadly these self defeating attitudes still persist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What we call sin

I still have not discovered how to edit my posts. I apologize for all the typos and for the factual errors. I mixed up Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Joel who wrote about "Uptown Girl" (Christy Brinkely) being with in love with a "Downtown Boy" (Joel) and all the overbuilding in Long Island ("condo Town") also sung about the steelworkers being out of luck in "Allentown."
The economic meltdown in the rust belt was a 1980's phenomena not an event from the Bush-Clinton-Bush Presidencies. The destruction of well paying and secure blue collar jobs is an old, but still painful story. It is still hotly debated in the "blamestorming" sessions of the political campaign committees.

A new survey came about about Americans attitudes about sin. 87% of Americans believe in the concept of sin. Maybe more now that Benedict got such a warm reception. Here's the percentage of Americans who view certain activities as sinful:
Adultery 81% (seems low)
Racism 74%
Use of hard drugs 65% Its scary that 35% think drug use is OK
Abortion 56%
Homosexual activity 52% which is tied with under-reporting income to IRS
Gambling 30%.

We will soon get to vote on gambling in Maryland. Expect a lot of advertising both pro and con. The pro gambling forces will be well financed. The anti-gambling forces will mainly be churches. It is well known that gambling is effectively a tax on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. A majority of lottery tickets are sold in PG and Montgomery county -- mostly to poorer citizen. Gambling is justified as a NON-TAX INCREASE way to fund government services. Usually it is packaged as a painless way to fund schools or aid seniors citizen.
I have never purchased a lottery ticket. My wife won't let me walk through the casinos when we are on a cruise ship. I will vote against the referendum. I won't rail against it because my constituency that gambles sees it as a modestly expensive form of entertainment. "See a few shows and play some slots and enjoy a few days out of town."
However, I think we are naive if we don't think legalized gambling corrupts the political system. When will we stop avoiding the need to pay (and tax) for services we deem necessary. These "sin taxes" on cigs, booze and now gambling is seen as a harmless way to let those who want to sin--pay for the privledge. some states are building roads and charging tolls so that the drivers (the ones who can afford it) who use them pay the cost. This turns us further into a class system that American has long adhorred. We need road and we need better public transportation. Decide to build adequate infrastructure--compute the cost--levy the taxes---and get on with it. Or will we call driving on a toll road a "sin tax for not wasting hours stuck in traffic."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Let me tell you about real small town life

John Cougar Mellencamp has a song about life in small towns (I was born in a small town). It made him a lot of money hawking GM products. John McCain and Hillary Clinton use the song to seek voters who believe they are the real "peoples candidates."

I found out that John Cougar is an Obama Man like the New Jersey megastar Bruce Sprinsteen. I have Springsteens CD's. In the late 1980's Bruce tapped into the bitterness of the decline in Blue Collar life. America, that produced 50% of the industrial products in 1950 now produced less then 15%. Others could produce our steel and alluminum and coal at lower prices. Bruce spoke of the "bitter" pill of the post industrial American life. His "Living now in Allentown" was about the small towns being boarded up because the mills closed down. Like Obama he spoke the truth "and they ain't coming back." Yes folks, the small towns and almost everywhere in the Rust Belt have seen the mythical American small town that Hillary Clinton (and her $109 million dollar blue collar income) claims was where her grandfather taught her to shoot a gun, fall into disrepair. Memo to the meida and any urban/suburban readers: This is not a new story. The decline in Industrial America was a new item back in the early 1980's. I was in Western Pennsylvania when the steel mills closed their doors and the "Steel City" of Pittsburgh was in real turmoil. Families that could count on good wages and good health care and modest (but guarenteed) pension now were left with nothing but minimum wage jobs. We saw the continued effects of the job drain in Pittsburgh last year on our Hosanna Mission trip. The city looks great but the rank and file worker is not doing well.

What I like about Obama and McCain, is that they sometimes let their guards down and actually speak the truth . Yes, folks, small town people are bitter about the life they have lost. I have troulbe visiting my grandfathers farm in Iowa because little Waverly is a shell of what it once was. without the college my mother attended there it would be nothing but boarded up shops. Only 11% of small town people feel good about their prospects. The ambitious youth all flee to the cities. The churches and other community organizations that served as the glue and gathering places for these decent and hardworking people have had to cut back to part time programming (and usually retired, part time clergy) if they stay open at all. It is sad. Yes, they are often bitter --although they are too proud to use that word.

The real question they have is why is something not done to provide them with decent healthcare and some job protections? the New Yorks Times writter Tim Egan said the small town folks serve only as props in the economic debate. Yes they blame NAFTA and other trade deals. In some parts of the country they get reved up by Lou Dobbs and the Mike Savage and rail against Mexican immigrants. There is real racism--I never heard more N words then in my 5 years in Slippery Rock. They do rail against polticians (Democrats) who might help them with economic issues and health care because "they are trying to take away our guns." I used to get verbally assaulted by the gun nuts because I made a comment on the Brady bill that would limit access to AK47's. "Those are legitamate hunting rifles" one drunken man berated me at a wedding reception.
The issues that some of the media have jumped on Obama for was the comment that they "the bitter folks" turn to god. The God part was poorly addressed and it missed Obama's insight into the roots of racism and religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism (also called Evangelicalism --although not all Evangelicals are Fundamentailists) plays to those fears and they seek to turn back the clock. Put Men back in charge of families. Get rid of sex outside of marriage and killing babies through abortion and if you only got rid of special rights for homosexuals the whole country would get right with god and everyone would be able to gather around and sing "Kum by Yah." Fundamentalims..Christian and Islamic are fed by economic realities of being left behind and jealousy that others are benefiting on their bad fortune. I am sure the news that the top 10 hedge fund managers all made $1 billion dolars or better last years selling short mortgage backed secruitites and gbetting on banks to lose tons of money. Oh, yeah, they also fed the speculation that is driving oil to $120 a barrel. what they should be angry at is the reprehensible spending of the Bush team that has made the dollar little better then note paper around the world.

Who is the most down to earth candidate? My guess is that they are all "elitists." John McCain's wife comes from one of the richest families in Arizonia. It is beer distributer money. Maybe this means that John will be the guy to replace George W as the candidate people would most want to sit and have a beer with. Of course George gave up drinking to salvage his life and got it together just in time to run this country into the ground. I won't repeat my worst President ever comment because no one is left to argue the point. Are Americans as inane as the press makes us out to be?
All of these candidates were well educated at elite institutions. Yes, the Naval Academy is en elite place. Hillary learned to shoot her rifle but then moved on toe elite prep school, to Smith and then Yale Law school. Obama got a scholarship to the Ivy League and his wife was from a comfortable middle class Black family and she recieved an elite education. With books sales the Obama's made over $4 million last year. Paupers they are not.
But do we really need to be led by a President who can yuk it up over pints in Pittsburgh? I wants competence not oh shucks charm. George Bush is well liked by the press--he is a nice guy who like people and would play a pick up basketball game with any takers. But please--get me someone who listens to someone other then "his heavenly father" and thinks that he is the only "decider" in the american constitutional system.
Obama is right. They things are all distractions. The Clintons are working hard to spoil whatever dignity they have left. Thre rap on Hillary is that she will say and do anything to get elected. She proves it more each and every day. Sad to see someone self distruct and take the nation further down the road to "we can't change the system" cynicism. Finaly, don't get me started on the sad "debate" questioning by Charles Gibson. I know the late Peter Jenning's is rolling over in his grave.
Obama offers freshness that is lacking. Maybe if he had the "experience" of running for Presdient like his tow colleagues, he would be more careful what he says and remember to always speak with empty slogans and spend 8 days (yes I am counting Ms. Clinton) harping on the small town folks are "bitter" comment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stop Loss

Andrea and i don't go out to the movies very often. Usually it requires the visit of one of my daughters to get us into the theatre. Before Sunday afternoon the last movie I watched on the big screen was "Juno." It had great--albeit highly unrealistic-- dialogue. However, it was good to see teen mothers who get pregnant (a parents worst nightmere short of suicide or fatal car accidents) be responsible and give the child up to a family which really wants to(and is ready to) raise children.

On sunday we saw "Stop Lost" staring Ryan Phillippe (better known as Reese Witherspoons philandering ex-husband). He plays a patriotic young Texan who serves in Iraq in response to the events of 9/11. He and his Texas friends sign up and serve together in Bagdad. You witness an intense alleyway ambush in a Bagdad neighborhood where three of his army comrads get killed and another gets severely burned, blinded, and loses three limbs.
The young guys who survive are relieved to return home to their girlfriends and families. They had done their duty. They had faithfully served their beloved country. They now want to move on. If it were ever that easy.

Ryans character get reinlisted against his will. He gets "stop losted" ---he get automatically re-enlisted because the army is short of trained soldiers. They tell you in the credits that this mandatory re-enlistment has snared over 60,000 soldiers so far. He has no options short of going AWOL. At first he does this only to discover that the only way to avoid prison time is to permanently leave the country. No family reunions. No re-entry; even to attend a fathers funeral. No one in the government will take your case. At first he does go AWOL. He finds people willing to help him leave the country. But ultimately the price is too high. In the end he makes an interesting compromise.

This is a low key anti-war movie about the cost of the war being born by the soliders and their families. The cost is high. The loss of life is not limited to the 4000 who die. Walter Reed Hospital is the post battle destination of thousands more with combat injries. The war just drags on and there are fewer people to willingly fight it. The pro-war forces of patriotism are still pretty strong today. The anti-war movment is weak. By this time (5 years and counting) in Vietnam the college campuses were engulfed in anti-war protests.
There are many Vietnam similiarities. We are told that this is a domino--that if allowed to fall will turn the whole region into a radical chauldron of fanaticism. The movie has a great scene of the heroes coming home to a rally in the small Texas town. "We are fighting the terroist over there so we won't have to fight them here in Texas." We are told that progress is being made and that our troops are the reason. The evidence is that the reduction in violence is because the cities have been racially cleansed and people live in armed camps being preyed upon by criminal gangs. The elected Iraqi government is very weak. Last week they tried to challnege the Mahdi Army--the Spowerful militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. After having his forces repelled --actually saved by the US and British forces--he called for a ceasefire.
When will someone challenge the myth of progress.Eugene Robinson in the Post said this latest battle in Basra had us supporting one political figure (Maliki) who was trying to weaken his closest political opponent al-Sadr. Reliable sources have al-Sadr living comfortably in Iran.

I am pretty frustrated by the dearth of moral outrage by the Christian church in America. I ahve yet to preach an anti-war message. I feel gutless but marginalized. I am still reeling from the verbal abuse i took 5 years ago when I questioned the run up to the war. Jesus said to "render to Caesar what is Ceasars and to God what is God's." When it comes to war--Caesars call to arms always trumps calls for peaceful restraint.Why do I get the impression we will still be fighting this things in five more years.
Is everyone asleep about this? Does anyone else feel guilty for not pressing for more answers and some real honesty out of the white House and the Pentegon?

I worry about friends and church members who are serving in Iraq. i worry about other patriotic young men who will enlist and go off to serve their country and come back either dead or forever wounded.

The movie is also about the other costs of the war. the nightmere and the violent outbursts that solider carry with them. You hear of a suicide (something that has a very high incidence rate.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Don't Be Angry You Prophets

I used to be a big pro-basketeball fan. Used to be--meaning-- back in the early 1970's when the NBA was expanding and a new franchise came to Portland. Back in those days the league was not widely followed. Most players toiled in obscurity with modest salaries. The Lakers and the Celtic seemed to play each year in the NBA Finals. Heck, the NCAA playofss with its current scintillating 3 week, 65 team format, was a quiet affair (back then always won by Johnny Wooden and his UCLA Bruins) that only the top team in each conference was elegible to play in the NCAA tourney. I remember one year, UCLA was ranked #1 and USC was #2 and USC was not eligible for the Big Dance. Take heart U of M and V Tech fans---.500 records don't cut the mustard. There were not Cindrella stories back in those days .
With this basketball interest in my personal history, I eagerly watched the two night ESPN story on black players and coaches called "Black Magic" that aired Sunday and Monday night. It was produced by Earl the Pearl Monroe--who I used to love to see when he played for the Knicks. I remember watching the soon to be champion 1973 Knicks lose to our woeful Trailblazers at the Memorial Coloseum in Portland. I sat next to the parents of a Knick player that night. "Oh, I asked the mother of the fan seated next to me who said her son played on the Knicks. "Which player." The mother said, "Phil Jackson, he is the first forward off the bench." "Oh, I know him, he has an unsual jumpshot--sort of like Dick Barnett."
Back to the program--and please hang with me--I will get to the Rev. Wright's comments in a moment.
The "Black Magic" series was about the history of racism and prejudice in college and pro-basketball. For many years the Historical Black Colleges were the only place black players and black coaches got an opportunity to showcase their talents. In those days of segregation, "seperate but (grossly un) equal" was the law of the land thanks to the Supreme Court. The Southeast Conference didn't get their first black player until 1967 (it was worse in Football--Alabama and Bear Bryant didn't integrate his team until 1973 after they got their tails hammered by Johnny McCay and his USC Trojans and their star fullback--Alabama native Sam "Bam" Cunningham.
The old college game was pretty boring back in the 1940's and 50's. It was half court and very methodical.Pass it around and wait for the lay up or the long set shot. However, in the Black colleges it was all about wide open fast break style. This entertaining form of basketball which is common today was under the radar. It genesis was with Coach McLendon and Ben Jobe--men who labored in obscurity their whole careers. The two styles only clashed a few time--one was the famous secret game in an old YMCA building between McLendons small black school and the Duke University 1944 varsity. McLendons team blew them out of the gym by over 40 points.

When the wide open sytle emerged in the 1978 Duke team--their coach got the credit for being "an innovator."
What was interesting about the program was how calm the former players and coaches are about the gross injustices of the past. They talk in dispassionate terms about the prejudices and taunting and vicious racism they faced. They got along very well with their white coaching counterparts. When Ben Jobes "Southern University" squad thumped Boby Crimmons ACC champion Georgia Tech team in the first road of the NCAA tournament--Jobe and his friend Crimmons who had coached together embraced a long time. Jobe felt sad for his friend and muted the precedent setting victory celebration--the first tournament victory for a historic black college over a major confere3nce champion.
But not all people just accept years of injustice and oppression with such magnimity. Most of the Biblical prophets spoke the truth to power and didn't mince their words. They denounced the kings who oppressed the people and predicted that "they would rest with their ancestors and dogs would like their blood." The Biblical prophets roles is to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." I know the oppressed like the soothing words and I know the comfortable oppressors usually denounce the prophets words. I was thinking about this as I read the calls for Barak Obama to distance himself from the more angry sermons of his former pastor Rev. Wright. Watching the show"Black magic" got me in touch with plenty of evidence that would easily justify oratorical outbursts like Rev. Wrights "G-d d--- America."
I am reading Howard Zinns "A People's History of the United States" 1492-Present. Zinn is chronicaling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version taught in schools--with its emphaisis on great men in high places--to focus on the street, the home and the workplace.
What Zinn shows is not pleasant. He scholarship is outstanding. Most of my favoirte American leaders don't come off very well. Jefferson, Washington, Jackson all work to maintain the political calculus of the slave holding system.
You get the idea that all legislation to ease suffering and help the immigrant, the working class, woman and African Americans was due to grass roots efforts that became so massive and undeniable that the powerful had to act. One prominent historican said the powerful do just enough to "keep the rioters off the streets."
Gary Wills, hardly a radical historian, writes in his new book that slavery was the organizing principal by which our country was governed. Almost all the Supreme Court justices and President until 1880 were slave owners. The Democratic party owned its strength until 1965 to the white segregationists in the south. FDR refused to pass anti-lynching legistlation in the 40's because he had to hold on to his southern base or lose his New Deal majority. It ain't pretty folks.
We who live in comfort and have not suffered centuries of racism cannot even begin to imagine the rage that lies right beneath the surface in American life.Kings non-violence worked to uncover the ugliness of the racisms in America. When it was shown on televison news--the publc was shocked (and shamed) to action. Bull Conner's fire hoses showed the inhumanity of the segregationists. The Pettis Bridge beatings of peaceful marchers uncovered the depth of hatred and the complicity of southern whites in the system of segregation.

It is sad that Candidate Obama has to distance himself from Rev. Wright in order not jeoparize his campaigns future. Obama has run a campaing based on unity and the sincerehope that we can put the race baiting and sexism and classism of the past behind us and move forward to a new place in American society. This is a tall order given the ugly history of this country. I commend Zinn's book. He makes the case much better then I do.
Until very recently, the historical experience of blacks in America is one of brutal oppression. Why can't we hear that? Now don't get me started on the bail out of Wall Street high rollers and the neglect of homeowners!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Overcoming divisiveness

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my daughters boyfriend come to town and immeidately told me that he had never attended a worship service at a church. I was surprised. "Not even a wedding or funeral?" "No,"he replied, "not in a church." He told me that his family would be making their way to the Lakeside cottage in the summer. He would ask his father as they passed the tall white steeple Connecticut Congregational church: “What happens at a church.” His father would simply say, “We don’t do church!”
My daughter resembles the type of person who attend church in America. She attended worship as a child, got baptized, attended sunday school. Did the Christmas and Easter pageants. Was active in youth group. Hard to remember back to the day she didn’t consider herself a Christian. She was here because she was brought here.
But there are those who resemble her boyfriend. Perhaps they came to faith later in life. They first arrived at church, innocent and uninformed. The bible was confusing. The strange language church people use mystified them. It is as if they entered an alien space.
Some of us have been her so long we feel like insiders. Other of us are still new, fresh, recently arrived and we could be labeled outsiders.
Smaritan woman in John 4:3-42 is an outsider on at least two counts. She is not only a Samaritan, the ethnic group whom faithful Jews regarded as heretics and renegade, her lifestyle was at odds with church teachings. She admits to having been married five times and was not with a live in lover. She was shunned by her community so she had to go get water in the heat of the day when no towns people were around.
Most preaching in American churches is targeted towards insiders. Most preachers are most comfortable with insiders. We are trained to talk to these sort of people and they make up the majoirty of our congregations. The Apostle Paul, the great evangelists to the non-Jewish world were also better with quasi-insiders. His audience was apparently people who believed in the teachings of the Rabbi's and hung around the synagogue. They were people of faith who were looking for a new way to understand who God is. Paul targeted these folks--listened to them. Invited them to dialogue. He worked hard to overcome cultural and social barriers to make them feel welcome --- but they tended to be people with a faith background..although they seemed to be morally on the edge.

One time Paul tried to target the hard core pagan audience. He went to Mars Hill and debated the Greek scholars. Looking at the statues he said, "Athenians I can see you are people of faith. The God's you worship in general find their fullest expression in particular, though Jesus Christ." Paul bombed. He went back to his core audeince and core message, "I preach Jesus Christ—who was crucified and resurrected."
Rick Warren and Joyce Meyers are very good at making the gospel accessible to total outsiders. YOu listen to their preachings and note the cultural references they use. They are great at making the gospel appeal to folks for whom Christ is foreign concept and church is a dirty word.
Jesus appears to have better luck with the outsiders then the insiders. Note that the insiders seek Jesus—Nicodemus is one good example (John 3:1-17) They go to see Jesus and try to figure out him on their terms. Jesus engages them. Many choose to follow him. But Jesus seeks out the outsiders. In fact the gospels are probably prejudiced towards the outsiders. Jesus got into all sorts of trouble for spending time with outsiders…the uniformed, the unfaithful, the uncommitted and those with scandalous personal lives—like the Samaritan woman.
The biggest charge against Jesus was, “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Church consultant Bob White likes to tell his gatherings of church leaders about a dream he frequently has. He arrives in heaven. He walks in thankful to share the eternal life he was promised. But to his surprise he doesn't recognize anyone! Where are my friends and colleagues? the place is instead filled with recovering addicts who found Christ. They are excitedly talking about how Christ helped pull them out of life destroying ghetoo and set them on the road to peace and serenity. Bob shakes his head and thinks for a moment. Jesus not only said that "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the Lost.” He did save the lost.
In any church there are both insiders and outsiders. The insiders know a great deal about religion, or at least they think they do. The gospels depict us insiders as being confused by Jesus who we think we have all figured out.
For example the disciple Thomas, told by Jesus that he was going to heaven and would show him the way, complains, "We don't know the way so how can we get there?" Thomas was very close to jesus but he didn’t get it. The older brother in the Prodigal Son does everything right—knows the moral teachings is steadfast—but cannot comprehend how god, his father, could welcome the lost son back into the household. I guess insiders can still miss out on what Jesus is doing and saying to us. We think we know everything about Jesus but we still get surprised by Jesus.
Outsiders, like the woman at the well just presume they don’t know much. And maybe the presumption of innocence and ignorance is the best precondition for knowing.

Now back to the divisiveness theme. We will only overcome division when we give up the deeply held conviction that our group has it all right and the other side has it all wrong. Like Jesus we need to get out on the streets and listen and talk with people who are not part of our social circles and who don't share our beliefs and opinions. We need to shut off the TV or Radio, which as Dead Fred rightly notes---feed us extreme opinions and demonize the other side. What I have seens as a positive is the campaigning styles of Obama and McCain. They both stand up to the extremist elements in their parties and openly condemn the bigoted opinions and reject their polarizing messages. This is what I find an important first step. Both are appealing to the moderate middle and the younger voters who are far differenet than their self righteous "Baby Boomer " parents. The younger voters, and the younger Christians among them, don't like the polarizing appeals to abortion or sexual orientation. For them authenticity is everything and they think poverty is a real moral imperative, care for the earth a moral mandate, acceptance of all racial and ethnic groups a given. My guess is that "Swift Boating" efforts will backfire this year. Of course...I might be dreaming.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reconciliation is possible

I got an e-mail from a pastor freind who is down in Kenya trying to reconcile the tribal war that is being waged in his Kenyan village. My friend Paul is a brave man. He knows he is risking his life. Several of his tribal members have already been brutally killed. His hometown is almost entirely ethnically cleansed:one tribe holds the center area and the lessor tribes are stuck in the outer slums. Paul fears that unless a deal is reached soon a full fledged Civil War might erupt.Pray for him.
The newly formed "New Baptist Covenant" held a huge gathering in Atlanta a few weeks ago. This group gathered to forge a reunion of the Baptists groups that left the Southern Baptist Convention when the fundamentalists took it over 20 years ago. The 15,000 strong had quite a time. It gave me hope that the warring groups in our Presbyterian denomination can catch the same spirit of reconciliation.
The New Baptist Covenant didn't just show up. It took time to recover from the denominational wars. Hundreds of Baptist moderates had been kicked out of office or fired from their seminary positions or removed from their pulpits. Female pastors had particularly been targeted in the purge. Slowly but surely these people without a church found each other. When they finally had the "numbers" they planned a big event in Atlanta to celebrate.
These moderate Baptists were treated to speeches by two former Presidents and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Bill Clinton told the story of his long journey as a Southern Baptist and attempted to pinpoint the crux of the difference between the Southern Baptist Convention and the vision of the New Baptist Covenant. The former president lamented that infighting, political posturing and un-Christian words and deeds have come to identify Baptists. He, and other speakers, called for a way out of the divisiveness.
Author John Grisham (a baptist from Charlottesville, VA) framed the negative message aptly. "For so long, so many Baptists have worked so hard to exclude so many," Grisham offered Baptists three suggestions for seeking unity.
Restore their good name by respecting diversity, staying out of partisan politics, and most importantly, spend as much time on the street as Jesus did.
I believe that the dark and divisive days of the past 25 years are in their death spiral. The world is too small to have every group and tribe divide up and retreat to their segregated spaces. I believe American denominations are devided because our culture is divided. Yet i believe we are beginning to get tired of divisiveness (although people still buy Anne Coulters books and listen to her show) Most people are too wise to believe that one person or one group can see everything with crystal clear vision and have complete knowledge. Bill Clinton (who might have made a great preacher) said that I Corinthians 13:12 is a good place to start any discussion about unity. Here, right before the Apostle Paul launches into his discussion of the qualities and virtues of faith, hope and love, he notes that on this side of heaven no one has complete knowledge. "We see into a mirror dimly...later we will see more clearly" As I get older I have come to realize that I am often wrong about some things I used to be convinced were right. I think (make that hope) I am becoming more humble. Humility that is combined with trust in God's wisdom and power can lead us out of divisive times into a future of unity.
While in California I talked with some folks who came back from Iraq. The real reason the violence is down is not just due to more troops on the ground. The biggest reason is that the communities have already been ethnically cleansed. The remaining religious majority in these neighborhoods now have complete control. Armed armed gaurds control access to these neighborhoods. With no enemy to left to fight, violence is down. You can't call someone to arms if there is no one around to battle.
Maybe the Baptists and the Muslim groups in Iraq have something in common. They will fight and postures and exclude the other side until they get tired of it. then they will discover that endless fighting is too costly and just stop and take stock of their part in these divisive battles. It is just sad that Able Lincoln was right in his second inaugeral address--we humans don't stop fighting until the body count and the resource drain is too high to ignore.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Woman thou art loosed

I am a political junkie. I admit it. Political Science major in college. I read at least 20 books on American political history a year. When the election cycles come around I check the polls on electoral vote .com and I love the Chris Matthew show.

It should be no surprise that I took the rare opportunity to see a real live candidate in Maryland on Sunday night. These appearances are rare because in Maryland the elections usually don't matter because the winners are largely determined by party affiliation or the States Electoral votes are already bright blue. I went to see Hillary Clinton speak at Bowie State. The crowd was polite and well informed. It was predominately female and had fewer African American voters then you would expect around here. There was little fanfare.For pure excitment you have to go see Barak Obama. She spoke without notes for 40 minutes. You left the place thinking that without a doubt she is the best informed candidate of the bunch. She is bright. She doesn't talk over your head. You believe her when she says that she would be ready on day one to get the job done. I was pleasantly surprised.

The next day I saw the cover of the Post and i was angry. They showed a picture of her and the Governor (and I was in the background next to Barbara Engh and Andrea)pointing to someone in the crowd. The picture was awful. Where they found it i will never know. She smiled or talked from a serious tone all night. Where did they find that snear and why did they print it on the front page? Incidentally, there was a smiling picture of Barak Obama on the front page as well. Coincidence?

I shared my outrage with some women at the Munchin Luncheon. They said that the Post has a history of misogyny. Margaret Thatcher, the grand women who served with distinction as Prime Minister of England in the Reagan years, always appeared with unflattering pcitures. One person who saw her in person was shocked at how attractive she looked. Years of Post coverage had convinced her Margaret was a tough, soar, old maid.

Woman, and many men, who read the bible have often thought that the Apostle paul was hostile to women. I don't think he was but i do think male commentators have taken Paul words out of context and used them to control and diminish women. Women are still not accepted as equal members in many churches in America. I find it embarrasing that Ms. Clinton is the first women who has ever been a serious candidate for the Presidency. Nancy Pelosi became the first Speaker of the House just over a year ago. I can't tell you how many patronizing e-mail jokes I get denouncing her. Heads up to people who send them. I am passing them on to my wife.
Expect a comment.

So much for the rant. I have a strong professional woman for a wife and a formidable sister. I also have two daughters that I have raised to compete and succeed. I long for the day when women get fair coverage in the Post when they seek national political leadership. I was disgusted that they spent so much money prosecuting Martha Stewart when all the high level male misconduct goes unprosectued on Wall Street. Sexism is alive and well in America.

Friday, February 8, 2008

No practice, no progress

Soon after Congress passed the Bill raising fuel economy standards for cars and truck I came across an article in the Washington Post by Warren Brown. Brown noted that the energy problem facing the US is best summarized by one question: is it possible to get consumers to accept changes that require some degree of sacrifice without asking them to sacrifice anything? For an example he cited the 2008 Auto show. Here the automakers unveiled several new cars that promised better fuel economy.
“We are shielding consumers from the truth,” said a GM executive. "The truth is we can’t have effective fuel conservation policy without giving up something—size, power. Consumers have no intention of giving up anything for energy conservation."
Michael Jackson, chairman of retail group that "America needs to get serious...getting serious means asking consumers and everyone involved in the energy development and consumption cycle to accept some degree of sacrifice. Gain without pain is not possible. We need to stop suggesting it is."
Drug maker are advertising pills that they say will enable you to eat almost anything and have no heartburn. Go ahead--eat irresponsibly. Health officials are worried about the cost of obesity. One solution is gastric bypass surgery. The cost is high. $30K. The question is who pays for it. If it is the only way in the long run people to control their weight, and obese people get diabetes which is extremely costly to treat, maybe surgery will be the high cost of saving money on health care.

Christian spirituality normally involves a measure of suffering. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. He was famished. Later when he is facing the cross he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and asks God if there is some way to accomplish his mission without going through the horrible pain of the cross. Is there, he asks, some other way to avoid the fate that lay before him. No. “Not my will but they will be done.”
Those who follow Jesus are called to live a way of life that calls us to live in the ways of the new world God is creating instead of the old world around us. Suffering may take the form of actual persecution. Even in the tolerant modern Western world people can suffer discrimination because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. People tell me of the hostile environment for Christians at work. They are told to keep their beliefs and convictions to themselves.

Suffering comes in many forms: illness, bereavement, moral dilemmas, poverty, tragedy, accident and death. A pastor friend of mine, Paul Machori, will be heading back to Kenya this week. Paul is placing himself in the middle of tribal warfare in his home village. He believes the only way to stop the ehtnic violence is for people of faith being willing to stand tall and even suffer death. Someone has to stand tall and suffer in order for others to see the folly of their ways.
Nobody reading the Nwe Testament or the Christian literature of the first 3 centuries could have accused the early Christians of painting too rosy a picture of what life would be like for those who follow Jesus. But the point here is that it is precisely when we are suffering that we can confidently expect the sprite to be with us.
Jesus was led by the spirit into the dessert and he overcame all temptation. He prepared himself and he stod corageously against the wiles of the Devil.
Americans it seems don’t want to sacrifice for a common goal. It is okay for someone else to sacrifice so they don’t have to. Our people decided to fight a War in Iraq while at the same time giving massive tax cuts. The sacrifices of the war are being bore solely by the military families...and of course our grandchildren who will have to pay for the debt we are racking up.

Back to the American automakers and the false myth they are producing that we can have superior fuel economy without sacrificing comfort, power and performance. There is this firm conviction that technology will solve all our problems. don't make tough choices. Don't tell people they need to change. Technology will solve the problems. Innocation will cure all that ails us.
A man bought a car with GPS. Being technologically challenged, he excitedly asked the machine. How do I get to Carnegie hall? The GPS instantly replied, “Practice, practice. Practice."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mental Muscle

Hard to believe that I am starting my second month of regular and intense exercise. Don't get me wrong. I am never really very far out of shape. I just tend to get disgusted at myself for overeating and overindulging myself during the holidays (or the summer Bar-b-q season, or the summer vacations with family---you see I don't need many excuses) and set out to lose weight and improve my conditioning. I usually go hard for 3 weeks. I lose enough weight to make my clothes fit again and then slack off. I have come to lower my expectations. I accept a higher weight "range."
Regular disciplined exercise that becomes a lifestyle has always eluded me. I would much rather read in my spare time then hit the treadmill and do sit ups at the gym. The morning newspaper is more stimulating then 30 minutes on the exercycle. So it is hit and miss for me.

The reasons for my continued commitment to exercise and watching my diet are many. First, my wife is really working out hard. She has a personal trainer and gets going some mornings before I even get up. Since she has a long daily commute to DC and back and still gets to the gym four times a week I have to keep at it just to be supportive. Secondly, I really believe that SWEATING MAKES YOU SMARTER.
I found support for this in AARP magazine. Yes, that is the American Association of Retired People. I am 15 years (or longer) from retirement but the AARP is one of the most progressive organizations in America. Their magazine is free to members (you can join at aged 50). In an article in the March 2008 issue they reported on evidence that exercise improves memory, concentration and abstract reasoning among older adults, and may even delay the onset of Alzheimers. It works like this:aerobic exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, which nourishes brain cells and allows them to function more effectively. Brain cells, they have discovered, can be regenerated. Exercise promotes this growth.
I'll have to talk to Linda about this: there is a yoga move that is getting attention for boasting brainpower. The movement is called Superbrain Yoga and is being practiced around the country as an antidote to brain drain. To learn more google Superbrain Yoga by master Choa Kok.

The new testament talks about the need to train the body and the brain in order to make us into stronger followers of Christ. Discipline is required to be effective long term. I don't think discipline always requires rigid rules (i.e. you must exercise 4 times a week for 30 minutes each time and double your heart rate) but it does require focused INTENTION. These intentions need to produce regular actions.
We have to train our thoughts because they lead to actions that become habits (good and bad ones) that produce behaviors that create our character. I don't believe we can neglect the interconnectedness between our minds and our bodies. We cannot be mentally fit and physically inactive. We are fools to think we can let our bodies go and think our minds can remain sharp.

Proverbs talks about a folly common to young people. Because their minds are more nimble and their bodies are more flexible, they can come to think that discipline and structure are not needed to perform at a high level. Young people often get by just on talent alone. However, as you age you cannot overcome sloth with raw talent and energy. Disciplined attention to your job or calling usually beats superior talent that is not harnessed. Lessor talent that practices usually beats talent that doesn't practice.
Well, I would right more and welcome your comments. It is after 4pm and i have to get to the gym.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Market meltdowns and herd mentality

I had an atheist friend who taught philosophy at the university in the town I was serving. We occasionally had lunch together while our kids were participating in one of the numerous birthday parties common of 6 year old kids. He was always trying to convince me into becoming a existentialist and I would try to get him to give theism a break. We disagreed on almost everything except politics. He was well read and bright and very outspoken, a rare and welcome combination in that small town. So we tolerated each other.
I will always remember one comment he made. His daughter had attended the community summer Vacation Bible School and came back with a lesson sheet talking about Jesus as the great shepherd of the sheep. He showed the paper to me and said, " see,this is what makes religious people so mindless and pathetic. You Christians think everyone should be like little sheep all following your great shepherd Jesus. You don't teach people how to think for themselves and follow their own free will. Christianity is such an outlandish fraud."
Strangely I thought of that as I watched the stock market plunge on Tuesday morning. Since we had a holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr our markets were closed Monday. Meanwhile the Asian and European markets plunged Monday and so there was plenty of anxiety about what would happen here on Tuesday. I knew that the new Fed chairman would have to act to avoid another dramatic drop in asset prices. I also knew he didn't have many tools at his disposal. We are in for some tough sledding as the housing bubble deflates and the credit de-leveraging works its way out. There are no magic tricks to pull out of his hat.
Sure enough the Fed dropped rates . But 3/4 of a point reduction and before a regular meeting! Then the White House (which until recently has said everything is wonderful in the economy) suddenly agrees with a Democratic type stimulus package (i.e. short term money in the hands of people who would spend it) instead of long term tax breaks that produce no short term advantage (but feed his political base and grow our deficits) In other words---to forestall a panic of investors (who act like sheep although they are called by more carnivorous titles--Bulls and Bears) the top government officials panicked by throwing caution to the wind and in effect saying, "it's worse then we thought---just do something, anything, NOW."

I called my son who works as an economist for Prudentials international investment center.
"What's going on here?" I asked. "The markets are taking what should be good news (dramatically lower rates and a promise to throw $150 billion dollars of cash into the economy) and seeing it as bad news. "
"Well," he answered quietly (apparently not wanting to be overheard). The unspoken word on the street is that the overall bad behavior of the American economy (we are broke, we have unsustainable trade and budget deficits, we are fighting an incredibly costly and endless war, using 4 times as much energy per person as our European friends) has finally caught up with us. The question is how do you slow down the inevitable judgment day and keep the financial markets sound"

"But it must be more then that," i replied. The Asian and European investors are expressing deep distrust and a huge lack of confidence in our country and its leadership. The plunge around the world says they expect things that are already bad (some major US banks are technically insolvent) and assume it is really much worse."
"Well you are close to what we are hearing from our international partners. It is sort of that and then something more fundamental," he said.
"Well, can you state it simply for me," I pleaded.
"Try this," my son responded, " the rest of the world markets look at America to lead. When the Fed and the President suddenly change their well established principals they sense that no one over here knows what they are doing. (Apparently it took them this long to figure it out) Like frightened sheep, they are running for their lives."

So, what should followers of Jesus do as the wealth of Americans continues to drop (housings 20% decline is now matched by financial assets 20% decline) and we will probably see deeper loses? What would Jesus say?

I don't know. In my anxiety (I was wondering how many more years I would have to work to recoup my retirement savings that declined precipitously) I turned to read the Bible. I was reading ahead for the Lenten lessons and i came to the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-10).
Here Jesus takes his four top disciples up the mountain with him. While they are there suddenly Jesus is transfigured before them (he becomes translucent and dazzling white before them).
A voice from heaven tell them, "Listen to him (Jesus)."

This story has lots of symbolism. It serves to show the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah--even greater then Moses and Elijah, the two holiest figures from the Old Testament. It gives the disciples a glimpse of the glory that they will see when he is resurrected. Peter initially gets this right saying, "It is good that we are here."
Peter like anyone else needs affirmation that he is following the right course in life. Seeing the authority of Jesus affirmed in such a dramatic moment was not only inspiring to him but it would effectively eliminate any doubts he might have. Powerful spiritual experiences, from this story we have always called them "Mountaintop experiences," serve to give us confident in our faith and reassure us that god is alive and real in our lives.

Reflecting on the Transfiguration I immediately calmed my anxiety. I realized once again that the things of this world are really transient. I have lived through far tougher and panic stricken economic times . Remember the 25% drop in the markets on one day in 1987? You certainly recall the panic following 9/11. How about the Savings and Loan crisis of the early 90's when the banks lost so much money due to housing foreclosures following the bursting of that housing bubble. Same song different verse!

Our faith is supposed to give us the courage to handle the anxious moments in life. If we trust that Jesus is God's chosen one and we believe that participate in his glory as his followers, then nothing should cause us to panic. Change our habits: yes. Panic : no.

January and February are tough months. The gloomy weather. The post Christmas letdown. More people die in January then any other month of the year. Why? maybe they don't want to face February either. The scriptures have several verses that all essentially say the same thing.
"The Kings and kingdoms of this world may wax and wane, but the word of God is unchanging. god's steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness extends to all generations."

Or it that doesn't work for you. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 3 weeks. and this is going to be the year. Cubs and Orioles in the World Series!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Democracies many faces

I got a sad New Years greeting from the man who pastors a small Kenyan immigrant church that worships in my former congregation in Wayne, New Jersey. Rev. Paul is quite alarmed by the violence that followed the Dec 27th Presidentail elections in his native Kenya. It was a very controversial and competitive race. The incumbant President, a member of the most affluent and numerous tribe, the Kikuyu (20% of 35 million Kenyans) , was declared the winner in a tight race over the popular challenger, a member of a smaller tribe. The exit polls showed the challenger with a comfortable victory but due to obvious election fraud the incumbant was declared the winner and hurriedly sworn into office.
Violence erupted and so far over 300 have been killed and 100,000 displaced. The violence is scary--Tv reports showed a mother being attached by machete wielding men who then grabbed her 3 year old child and threw her into the fire. Some Kikuyu sought refuge in churches which were then set a fire. Rev. Paul asked for prayers and for sanity to be restored.
What is alarming is that Kenya is probably Africa's strongest democracy. The country has high literacy rates and vibrant political parties. There is however a history of dissent has often been crushed when the ruling party started to lose popular support.

This sad news of corrupted political and rigged elections was also on display in Pakistan when a former Prime Minister was assasinated and the government quickly claimed the killing was done by an outside terrorist organization. In Pakistan, like many other demcoracies of long standing, leadership of parties and movment is aristocratic--father passes legacy to son or daughter and then it keeps going down through the generations. You don't throw the bums out because the replacement regime includes members of the same bum ruling families.

What a difference it is in the United States this year. Record turnouts in Iowa. The establishment party candidates didn't fare so well. Both Ms Clinton and Mr. Romney were defeated by outsiders without connections to the party apparatus. When I was in Kenya 4 years ago our hosts asked me if I knew anything about a Kenyan who was running for the Senate in Illinois. I didn't. I do now. His name is Barak Obama. I would hope the news of his stunning victory in a rural state that is 94% white will speak volumes to the rioting Kenyans about how democracies are supposed to elect a new President.
Jim Wallis in his magazine, Sojourners, commented on how dramatically the religious landscape of the 2008 political year differs from 2004. The issue of faith and politics (which really gots its start with Eisenhower and Billy Graham) has witnessed a fundamental shift.
First, in what TIME magazine called a "leveling of the praying field" the Democras now speak as much about faith and values as the Republicans do (except perhaps for Gov Hucklebee). Both parites now have "faith forums" in primary states and all their newsletters talk about faith and values. Edwards, Clinton and Obama speak of their history as lay leaders in their churches. Obama actually speaks like a seminary trained theologian. He even understand Neibuhr and Tillich. The democratic candidates have connected faith to a broad range of issues like poverty and health care, criminal justice, HIV/AIDS, and war and peace.

In striking contrast, Wallis notes, the Republicans who had the corner on religious voters in 2004, now have a "God and marriage" problem. Several of the Republican frontrunners are very awkward talking about religion. Guiliani, Thompson and McCain have learned to avoid it after previous stumblings. They have had their good moments. For example, in the midst of a GOP debate both Hucklebee and McCain defended the humanity of undocumented people in the midst of a blistering attack on "illegal aliens" by the other candidates. John McCain asked his colleagues to remember that the people they are condeming were also "the children of God." Huckelebee later defended his states scholarship program that included the children of undocumented by saying "the US was not the kind of nation that punished children for the mistakes of their parents." I believe that Hucklebee and McCain are rising because of the "character" they have shown in debates. Did you see McCain tell Iowa farmers he thinks corn based ethenol is bad policy? Guiliani is dropping partially because of his support for abortion and gay rights and his serious "marriage problems" but also because the public is tired of candidates trying to scare them all the time. With improvements in Iraq, the candidate Joe Biden called "a noun , a verb and 9/11" is let without a viable platform to run.
Moral values will indeed be a key criteria in this election season. Marylander might even get a chance this year to affect the primary outcomes. I applaud the genuine moral discourse we are getting. I celebrate our nations history of open debate and peaceful transitions of power.