Thursday, March 31, 2011

The day KGAB's Man on the Border crossed the line

I awoke Wednesday morning to big news on facebook. KGAB had a guest who had uncovered the biggest story since we were told Bill and Hillary had killed Vince Foster. Under a headline that read, “Marshall On The Morning Zone: White House Linked to Mexico Killings?” lurked a link that told it all.
John Marshal, KGAB’s “Man on the Border,” a mischievous speculator, a fraud. But he is a fraud with a forum, KGAB. There was a time in America when accusing the President of the United States of murder was serious business. I am old enough to remember the days when one actually had to have evidence before making such a claim. Call me nostalgic but I miss those days. They have been replaced by a 24 hour a day news cycle that allows itself, actually encourages itself, to be filled and fed with bottom feeders like Marshall. KGAB’s “Man on the Border” has just crossed it.
When you take a moment to go to KGAB’s Marshall link, you’ll find an admission he has nothing…all hat and no cattle…no evidence, only incendiary claims. He admits in his own column, “Texas Drifter is not accusing anyone of anything; only asking questions which last I heard are still protected by First Amendment. For those with courage to determine if above coincidences are in fact linear evidence; remember, first to squeal first to get deal.”

In other words, he is a troll, doing what trolls do. John Marshall, itself once a celebrated American name, is trolling for others like him who can come forward with what passes in today’s media for evidence that Barack Obama is not just a Kenyan, but also a killer.

The question they pose with no foundation is dramatic. “Does sufficient probable cause exist to investigate if Obama’s closest staff was recently involved in assassination of one U.S. Federal Agent and attempted assassination of one U.S. Federal Agent in Mexico?” And its media-like legitimacy is bolstered with another equally incendiary but baseless allegation. “Only beneficiary of this assassination would be BATF and Obama’s allies seeking to reduce Second Amendment protections by regulating private gun shows out of business.”

He and KGAB hope you’ll walk away with a clear impression this is something you should worry about. They hope the water cooler conversation will be like, “Wow, did you hear there is an investigation about Obama killing federal agents? It’s true; I heard it on the radio!”

OMG…you mean we may have a murderous, Kenyan, Muslim in the White House who is still plotting a way to take our guns?

What I’d like to know is when did John Marshall, KGAB’s Man on the Border quit beating his wife. I have a 1st Amendment right to ask that question, and his wife will be glad it has finally been asked.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do. ~Will Rogers

I am slowly making my way through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Slowly because it is a remarkably engaging story. I fear the 1300 page read will end sooner than I’d like. As the plot develops, Dumas writes of the King of France, “Kings today confined within the limits of probability, no longer possess the audacity of willpower.”
The audacity of willpower! That phrase fastened itself. Dumas explains, “They are afraid of the ears that listen to their orders and the eyes that watch whatever they do. They no longer have any sense of the superiority of their divine being; they are men who wear crowns, nothing more.”

The audacity of willpower.  Remind you as they did me of Barack Obama’s  The Audacity of Hope? Dumas wrote his a century and a half before Obama wrote his. I’m thinking Dumas’ 19th Century words are more meaningful today.

I often entangle myself in facebook arguments about politics. As the exchanges continue we find ourselves recognizing a couple of inconvenient truths, good news and bad news. The good news we live in a democracy. The bad news is we live in a democracy, meaning we get what we deserve. What we’ve created through our own lazy acquiescence is a political system in which our vote is a rather anticlimactic exercise.

Political campaigns have little or no relationship to real dialogue about important issues. Politicians make certain we know as little as possible about what they really think and what they actually plan to do if elected. Most of us watch the mud wrestling match, some even sling a little of the mud. When it’s over, the winner is so tarnished most of the electorate is convinced he (so far it has always been a “he”) is not qualified to be president, may not even have been born in this country, stole the election or whatever theme almost worked for the losing candidate.

Obama began by giving Americans the audacity to hope things could change as radically as we thought they needed to change. What about the audacity of willpower? What if “we the people” had the audacity to grant the person chosen by a democratic majority the opportunity to use his or her own willpower to lead? What if our leaders no longer had to fear we would be led or misled by talk show hosts and the whims and fears of the moment? What if we actually chose leaders and allowed them to lead with both eyes on the future of the country rather than on the next election.

Is it fantasy to think voters might be audacious enough to allow their leaders to speak openly and honestly, abandoning political operatives who would prefer we made our decisions based on their sound bites?

As the kings of Dumas’ era, presidents today are required by the way in which we do politics to be far more concerned with public opinion than with public policy, wearing the title of leader but not the cloak. If we voters could come to grips with the fact that we have indeed gotten what we deserve, perhaps we could earn the audacity to hope.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The poor Bible has been abused more often than it has been translated.

This question was posed on an internet search engine. “Why must atheists spell "God" with a small "g"? Answer: “I think it's a form of's to show disrespect.”

Those who view God so small that only they can know the Divinity demonstrate an even greater disrespect when they use the upper case “G”!

Is God really as small as they say? They argue for a god so small it could inspire only one book, theirs. Is God so small to have been revealed exclusively to THEM in a simple way only they understand? Is their god so small as to be understood exclusively through their interpretation of a strict reading of the Bible? Is God really so small to have been unable to design a world where species evolve and genes determine individual characteristics such as sexuality? How small can they make their god?
Their spiritual ancestors used the same scriptural idolatry to make the earth larger than the God who created it and the sun around which the earth revolved, branding Copernicus a heretic and burying him in an unmarked grave for 500 years. Their Bible thumping ancestors used the Good Book to justify slavery. "The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example,” preached Rev. R. Furman, 18th Century Baptist Minister, South Carolina.
Some still use it as did their predecessors to support the marginalization of women. All of our ancestors used it to legitimize the theft of land from Native peoples. The poor Bible has been abused more often than it has been translated.
In his Wyoming Tribune-Eagle response to me, Rev. Robert Norris says churches believing what he does are full on Sunday mornings. He may be right. But I never thought the Nielsen ratings were a particularly good way to determine what my children should watch on television. Faith is about challenging our worst instincts not finding scripture to justify them. Challenging people to think makes faith hard, complex, even confusing. A simple message that assures folks they came to the right place to hear an easy to understand message may create a crowd for the church, but not a future.
“After we’ve wrestled with the meaning of scripture on an issue, and come to an understanding that challenges our current beliefs or practices we have a couple of options.  We can either:  (1) change our ways of thinking and living. That’s called repentance.  Or (2) reframe the text to mean something that fits into our current beliefs and lifestyle without requiring anything of us.
That’s called idolatry.” (

A faith built simply on the shifting sands of using a search engine to find just the right verse to sustain an otherwise weak argument is no different than the children of Israel building the Golden Calf when they felt abandoned by Moses. God warned us against any form of idolatry in the 10 Commandments. Jesus resisted the idolatry of scripture throughout his ministry. Jesus role modeled the sanctity of questioning those who would use scripture as a means of building walls and dividing people from a God of love.
It is a theology that reduces God to a mere shadow of the Divinity who created the Universe, ordained the diversity of the earth and revealed purpose through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Monday, March 28, 2011

the great debates between Jesus and the religious fundamentalists of his day

The following is an excerpt from yesterday's sermon at Highland's Presbyterian Church. We are using Lent to study the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

We continue our study of the final week in the life of Jesus. This is Tuesday, the day of the great debates between Jesus and the religious fundamentalists of his day. Jesus enters the Temple on the day after he had cleared it.
As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, scribes and the elders came to him, and said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things?" Jesus said, "I will ask you a question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, `From heaven,' he will say, `Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, `From men'?" -- they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was a real prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
The exchange reminds me of one of the trick questions I get from time to time. “Are you saved?” At other times I am asked whether I believe in the Bible. These are the same trick questions fundamentalists posed to Jesus 2000 years ago. A trick question is when someone asks a question presupposing facts or beliefs not necessarily accepted by those asked to respond. Asking someone whether they’ve been saved presupposes an understanding of what that means. If you say “YES” you’ve agreed to the interrogator’s view of what it means to be saved. If you say no, you condemn yourself.
A similar device is the double-barreled question, a question touching on more than one issue, allowing for only one answer, the strategy of which is to cause the responder to look bad in the eyes of some by appearing to take the side of others.

Example: Mark.12: 13-17: They sent to him some of the Pharisees and Hero'di-ans, to entrap him. "Teacher, we know you are true, and do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Knowing their hypocrisy, he said, "Bring me a coin, and let me look at it." They brought one. He said, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

It is a trick question to ask Jesus in the presence of Roman and church authorities whether it is lawful to pay taxes. The answer would require Jesus to either break Roman law or betray his followers.
So Jesus says, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which belongs to God. In those few words, Jesus has avoided conviction while convicting both groups of his interrogators. The Romans and the religious zealots had created a world where each accommodated the other. The church went along to get along with the Romans. Rome used the church to keep its oppressive grip on the people. What they heard that day is what they wanted to hear, that you could separate that which belongs to God from that which belongs to Caesar.
Jesus knew everything belongs to God. There is no separation.
Here may be a lesson as the nation debates balancing its budget and reduce spending. Is it lawful to pay taxes? At what point does our objection to taxes become a problem in our relationship with God? Whose money is it?

I close with a story about a young mother in Portland, Maine, whose name is Kelly McDaniel. I am hoping we are related. Last month she went to the Capitol to testify as a citizen on the state’s budget problems.
Kelly, a middle class librarian, addressed the budget proposal including tax cuts for wealthy citizens and huge reductions in retirement benefits and cuts in education and social programs.
"I don't think it's moral,” she said. “Taking money from people who don't have much and giving it to people who have more seems, well, greedy," she said. "Greed is frowned upon in every major world religion -- and I don't think agnostics and atheists look too kindly upon it, either."
Is it greedy to take from the poor and give to the rich? Trick question? I suppose it is, but a trick question Jesus might have answered much as he did back then. And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare.

And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made.

The Animal Shelter is holding its annual fundraiser this weekend that causes me to think about the loves of my life. I am sure you can still get a ticket for the Furball, “IMPAWSIBLE” by calling 6402456. It’s one of the more worthy causes you can support. It got me thinking about some of the loves of my life!
Ever notice how an image in a mirror is reversed…“God” becomes “Dog.” I am not surprised. Every dog I have ever owned was forgiving, all loving, and central to the life of our family. Most have gone on but their memories never leave and always comfort.
I once had a dog who loved to hunt so much she’d lose a night’s sleep (causing me to lose a night’s sleep) whenever I sat the shotgun by the door the night before. Though Abby loved the hunt, she hated the taste of the pheasants. Phhststt, she’d say, shaking her head and dropping the bird at my feet. Abby was purchased at a local pet store on a whim because I had read a story about how Springers were such good hunting dogs. I decided to train her though I had never done so before.
I called a renowned New England dog trainer who, upon learning I had purchased her at a simple pet store, advised me to “give her away and obtain a pup (hear heavy English accent) from a real breeder.” But the kids and I were already in love with Abby. She started by chasing rolled up socks and before hunting season, she was unstoppable! She lost her hearing later but she looked over her shoulder for hand signals and followed them right to the pheasant. Abby was such a joy!
The next Springer wouldn’t hunt. She cringed at the sound of a shotgun. Barkley once sneaked home the back way after a training session, crawling below the level of the weeds.  I gave up hunting her after carrying her out of a marsh when she just lay down after hearing the gun.
I once fell in love with another dog who, if given just one more day to live, would have begun speaking English. Rocky was so close. He’d form his mouth and sounds bordering on recognizable words would come. Just one more day, but it was not to be. Yet Rocky gave us the funniest memory of our lives in the afternoon he wildly chased a kite we were flying, barking furiously. He finally caught it and happily tore it to pieces.
Another beloved adoptee suffered from frequent seizures. We’d go for a walk and every time, Gracie would go down. Within a few minutes she’d get herself together and insist on resuming her walk. Though she has been long gone, I still see her rocketing from the bottom of the stairs when I’d get up in the morning.
Jack loved rocks. If I threw a ball, he had no interest. But if it was a rock, Jack chased it…sometimes so fast, he actually ran under it like a wide receiver. Ouch! Looking for rocks, Jack dug holes so big they’d tip over the lawn mower if you didn’t see them first. And there was Cocoa who slept so often by the door, there is still a Cocoa imprint on the old carpet that reminds us of her every day.
After Rocky died, we thought we could not handle losing another beloved. But, you know, a house is not a home without a dog to greet you when you come home. I told Pat that until she was willing to greet me that way, we had to have a dog in the house! After a couple of months we began looking and found the current love of our lives.
Buddy who came via the Springer Rescue, He’d had a tough life, lost in the mountains of Utah, found in bad shape, placed in a shelter and in foster care. When I first heard his name I thought “we’ll be changing that.” But when I met him, I said, “This is my buddy.” Buddy he remained.
Freud felt dogs had a special sense that allows them to judge a person's character accurately. If that is true, I feel a lot better about our chances in the hereafter.

[i] More about cats later!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” A blog about the Blotter Briefs

Occasionally I get unhappy about something and cancel my subscription to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. In a couple of weeks, I miss it and subscribe again. Sort of a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” kind of thing. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this newspaper since I was 13 years old. I learned the value of reading a newspaper as a delivery boy, reading it each morning as I wrapped rubber bands around the paper before heading out on my route. I loved the paper then. Later I became involved in politics.
There were two Cheyenne papers in the old days. The morning Eagle catered to Democrats while the evening Tribune espoused a Republican view of the world. Even though the partisan divide changed when it became the Tribune-Eagle, I still found reasons to love it one day and hate it the next.
The "raison le moment" is “The Blotter Briefs” a daily listing of those who have been charged with, not convicted of a crime. The column does not report on the veracity of the charges. Names and addresses are published with a disclaimer that they may actually be innocent. But they and their families are embarrassed among neighbors, friends, and employers.
The Tribune-Eagle defends it as the “right of the people to know.” Let’s be honest. It serves little more than the right of the people to gossip. Oh yes, it is scandalously interesting. We read it to see whether we know someone whose life is in trouble. But as Oscar Wilde noted, “Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” At the time of publication not one person named in the “Blotter Briefs” has been convicted of the crime with which the column associates them. Even Leviticus, the harshest of the Old Testament books, advised, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” (Leviticus 19:16). But that is what this popular column does. It bears tales!
I have an alternative. Report not on the charges but on the convictions. How many of these folks are found not guilty? Use the reports to study significant questions such as how many of these charges are plea bargained? Was the original charge reduced? Why? Lack of evidence? Lack of resources? Is public safety protected by the extraordinary number of plea bargains in which these cases culminate? Why are so many of the names repeated? Why the revolving door? Why are they not getting the mental health or addiction treatment they require? Why are the courts not using proven practices to close the revolving door?
Those are real stories, not gossip. Those stories serve the public interest. They may be harder to report than simply listing the names and addresses of people charged but not convicted…but scandals made tedious by morality do not make our community safer.
PS: In the interest of a full disclosure, the church I pastor, Highlands Presbyterian Church, uses the column as a mailing list. We invite those named to become a part of our faith community. We are Christians who wish to assure them and their families of our prayers during the times in their lives made even more difficult by the “Blotter Briefs.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

“In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born!” Teno Roncalio was one!

Today I am thinking of Teno Roncalio. This is his birthday. Teno was born on this date in 1916. He died on March 30th, 2003. Teno was my mentor.
When a child is born in parts of Africa, each villager shares responsibility for raising the child. That person is called "Habari gani menta" a Kiswahili phrase meaning “the person who asks, ‘What's happening?" The entire village has a stake in knowing what is happening in the youngster’s life.
The Greeks used a word, as they always used words, to give significance to mythological characters. Mentor is the name of a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Telemachus, Odysseus’ son spends four books of the epic trying to learn about his father whom he has never met. Mentor develops a father-like relationship with the young man. Mentor’s name therefore became proverbial for a faithful and wise adviser. Father-like, faithful, and wise adviser who cares about what’s happening in your life. Mentors.  If we are fortunate, we all have them in our lives. In my life, it was Teno.
I met Teno when he came to the radio station where I worked to be interviewed during his campaign for the US Senate in 1966. He was already a Wyoming legend. He was born poor in Rock Springs to first generation Italian immigrants. His father was a coal miner who collected junk for sale.
Teno became acquainted with hard work early. As a member of his Congressional staff in the 1970’s I met a man in Rock Springs who said, “I get tired of that story about how tough Teno had it. When I was a kid, I delivered papers. On cold, windy, winter days I’d walk by that barbershop and see Roncalio inside shining boots. I thought he had a pretty damn good job!”
Along with many of his peers, Teno went to war and as an officer led men onto the D-Day beaches where he won a Silver Star. Teno knew war firsthand. He told me his greatest regret in 10 years in Congress was his vote for LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Much like the recent search for WMD in Iraq, Tonkin was a largely made up story designed to commit America to the war in Viet Nam.
After Teno was re-elected to Congress in 1970, he invited me to join his Congressional staff. That changed everything about my life. When he invited me into his home, I saw book-lined walls, listened to classical music and opera, and heard stories about and met men and women who made a difference. Watching him interact with his wife Ceil and his children taught me a lot about what it really means to be a man. Teno was a faithful, devout Catholic who never used the Lord’s name in vain by touting his religion as a way to get votes.
I was then in my twenties and like many 20-somethings struggling to figure out my place in the universe. Teno seemed to know when I needed some encouragement and when to ask, Habari gani menta.” Without his encouragement I would likely not have gone to law school. Without his example, I likely would not have developed a passion for advocacy and public service.
Teno always said, “Good public service is its own reward.” He walked the walk. After a remarkable decade of service in Congress, he quietly confided to a reporter one afternoon at a UW football game he would not run again. No fanfare. No big deal press conference. There’d be no dinners or banquets. His lifetime of public service was indeed its own reward. He lived another 25 years doing good for others every day.
I loved him like a father and learned from him as a son.
One day long ago, I read Irving Stone’s book Clarence Darrow for the Defense. I dog- eared one page. There words were written I wish I’d said about my mentor. Darrow once gave a eulogy for a mentor of his, Governor John Altgeld of Illinois. Darrow said, “In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born!”
Teno Roncalio was one. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two competing visions of Christianity

Last week the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle published an op-ed by Dale Johnson, a local fundamentalist accusing me of the high crime of blasphemy because of my belief that gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered persons are as much members of the family of God as he and I. That same day, WTE printed a letter from Tom Lindsey, reducing the humanity of some of our family to the role reserved for those he calls “perverts.” This may only be explained by polytheism because I certainly don’t worship the same God these writers proclaim.
Matthew Fox has issued a call for a New Reformation. Fox is a one-time Dominican priest, an old nemesis of the current Pope, having engaged the then Cardinal Ratzinger in debate about theological issues for decades. Fox has reflected, thought and written long enough about these matters to have earned respect for his opinions. When he posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in 2005, he intended to evoke the response achieved centuries earlier by Martin Luther.
One afternoon in 1517, sitting in his study at Wittenberg University, Luther heard a monk hawking indulgences. "Another penny in the coffer rings, another soul to Heaven springs."  Enough was enough. Luther sat down at his desk and wrote 95 Theses, walked to the door of the Cathedral and posted them, challenging those who saw the role of the church in the life of the people differently.
The 16th Century Reformation was underway and the church would never be the same. Writings such as those posted in the WTE last week signal Matthew Fox is right. It is time for the New Reformation. What would it look like? How would people in pews or preachers in pulpits recognize it as a Reformation?
Fox has a good starting place. He believes there are two competing visions of Christianity. Those who posted their views on homosexuality in the WTE last week represent the angry God of judgment depicted in the Old Testament, a rigid view of scripture, and a fear of the role of science in revelation. Others among whom I find myself represent a view of Christianity based fully on the words, the teaching and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We believe in the grace of a God who did not quit revealing God’s purpose on the day the last page of the Bible was written. We reject a literal reading of scripture that tends to make the Bible as much of a Golden Calf as the one crafted by the Israelites in the wilderness of their spiritual journey.
I would not presume to know enough to write a modern day version of the 95 Theses but Fox has. This is a link to his “posting.” Among them: “God is always new, always “in the beginning” “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves. Thus people who worship a punitive father are themselves punitive” “All are called to be prophets which is to interfere with injustice”  “Fourteen billion years of evolution and unfolding of the universe bespeak the intimate sacredness of all that is” and “no religious institution is to see its task as rationing grace. Grace is abundant in God’s universe.”
Listing a handful of the 95 Theses does not do justice to Fox’s thoughtful expression of a Christ-centered alternative to Chaplain Johnson and Mr. Lindsey’s views. I hope you will read them all, think and pray about them. Decide for yourself whether you worship the God revealed in the writings of folks like Lindsey and Johnson or the vision of God offered by the thoughtful expression of Matthew Fox.

Monday, March 21, 2011

If the church does not use its prophetic voice as did Jeremiah, its tables should likewise be overturned and its money changers expelled.

Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
This morning’s blog is an excerpt from his March 20th Sermon.
This reading from Mark 12 is confusing. Mark uses a literary structure called bookends, two parts of one story designed to help us understand another.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, "Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, "Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered." And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God.
The bookends are a story about cursing the fig tree. Jesus is hungry. As he and the disciples approach the temple he sees the fruitless fig tree. Though it is not the season for figs, Jesus curses the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
He proceeds to the temple and drives out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers…"Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The term “den of robbers” has been misinterpreted as about misusing the temple for commerce, an anti-Semitic stereotype of selling and buying. It is instead a reference to the use of the term in Jeremiah 7: 4-15.
“This is the temple of the LORD. For if you truly amend your ways, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place…Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? 
The temple had become the symbol of religious acquiescence to the power of government. Religious leaders had sold out to Roman power, allowing Rome to even name the chief priests. The religious leaders had accepted the responsibility of making sure church members didn’t criticize the rich and powerful. They had also become wealthy and powerful and the temple had become a symbol of selling out God for personal gain. Anything sounding vaguely familiar?

They had gone after other gods as surely as those who built the golden calf. The story is a part of the Gospel because every generation of the church needs to be reminded that we are not here to stand by quietly while governments make decisions about war, poverty, health care, education and the distribution of wealth. Neither are we to be the quiet beneficiaries of bigotry and hate. If the church does not use its prophetic voice as did Jeremiah, its tables should likewise be overturned and its money changers expelled.

The story concludes, “As they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, "Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered." And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God.”
What holds these two stories together? God’s hope, God’s expectation that we bear fruit…that churches, temples, Mosques are places where people who are hungry are fed, where those who are placed on the margins of society by the government are welcomed. In the process we may have to embarrass the king as David did Saul and Jesus did the Pharisees…but in the final analysis, what good is a fig tree if it doesn’t produce fruit when Jesus is hungry?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Render unto Qaddafi that which belong to Qaddafi

The last time I filled my tank gas cost $3. Today I paid $3.499. The last time I filled my tank Qaddafi was still trying to allay unrest by doubling the salaries of government employees. In the time it took me to use that tank of gas, Qaddafi began slaughtering the opposition and a tsunami hit Japan causing, among other catastrophes, meltdowns at major nuclear facilities on the island, releasing deadly amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.
Libya one day, Japan the next…and less than a year after the largest oil spill in the history of the United States nearly destroyed the economy and culture of the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of this, some members of Congress and the PR machinery of the uranium and fossil fuels producers are on overdrive to persuade us not to be nervous.
Can you spell s-c-h-i-z-o-p-h-r-e-n-i-a ?
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder characterized by withdrawal from reality, illogical patterns of thinking, delusions, and varying degrees of other emotional, behavioral, or intellectual disturbances, including the coexistence of antagonistic identities, or activities, e.g. the national schizophrenia that results from debating energy policy.
Looking for parallels between schizophrenia and the expectation our need for energy can be met without doing serious social, economic or environmental damage, I found a stream of consciousness teaching schizophrenia is not a mental illness so much as “a chaotic and uncontrollable self-organizing process which has been designated as a psycho-spiritual crisis or 'spiritual emergency.” One article concluded, “The apparent 'craziness' of spiritual emergency reveals the passage into a higher consciousness state required for effective adaptability.”
I have no idea of the validity of the theory as it relates to mental illness but it does enlighten a discussion about energy independence. The growing anxiety about what may or may not be happening in Japan, what did happen in the Gulf and legitimate concerns about climate change will not be resolved in the usual context by the usual suspects. Facts are hard to come by when those with huge financial stakes in the outcome have entire television networks devoted to their cause and politicians dependent upon them for campaign contributions.
Is it possible to discuss these events as though they were neither political nor economic, but rather spiritual? What if we saw the crisis in Japan as a “spiritual emergency” and talked about it in spiritual terms?  Our unsustainable existence on the planet is indeed a spiritual emergency. With 5% of the world’s population, Americans consume 25% of the world’s energy…and then we pray God will do something to help feed the hungry Third World! On average, one American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, 6 Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians, and 370 Ethiopians.

There are certainly political, economic and social consequences to this imbalance but unless we start to think of it as a spiritual emergency, there is little chance we can have a productive debate much less arrive at meaningful solutions.

If we spoke of these matters as spiritual, we would talk about a shared obligation of stewardship. Sacrifice rather that exploitation would be rewarded by government policy and public opinion. All of us could readily recognize the difference between wants and needs. Our expectation that someone else will take care of the problem before it’s too late could be replaced with personal responsibility and the exercise of the sort of free-will God envisioned when God first planted that garden in Eden.

“Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and unto God that which belongs to God.” Take those words seriously and there would have no problem viewing these matters as spiritual.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Memo to Al Simpson re: Social Security Solution

Yesterday I received my first Social Security check! I opened up my online banking account and there it was! Tell me, just how do you celebrate that milestone? I thought about burning my AARP membership card but couldn’t remember where I put it. So I thought I’d head over to the senior citizens center for consolation but couldn’t find my car keys. By then it was time for my nap.
One thing I am going to do is stop listening to the great debate over social security. It can make you crazy. I read a column by economist Robert Samuelson calling my social security check "middle-class welfare that bleeds the country.” Wow! That seems harsh.
A Forbes magazine columnist said social security is a “Ponzi” scheme. He made this argument, “Say you’re Bernie Madoff! (YIKES)  You start by convincing a small group of people, say five of them, to each give you say $1,000, with the promise that each month thereafter, you’re going to give them $50 back.   That works out to $600 over the year, or a 60% rate of return.   Not too shabby!   These people are a little skeptical at first, but the promised 60% rate of return seems worth the risk.”   
That’s an interesting analogy. Indeed Charles Ponzi added investors even though a financial analysis would have shown if the new money ever stopped flowing the dominoes would fall. The problem with that comparison is Mr. Ponzi did not have the full faith and credit of career politicians whose re-election depended on their ability to make good on the commitments he Ponzied up!
I get the part about social security being funded by taxes being paid by today’s workers in order to pay the benefits of those of us who are now retired. Since the day in 1964 I started washing dishes at the Little Bear Inn, I have been paying taxes to the federal government so it could pay social security to those who retired before me.
The problem seems to be there are fewer workers today per beneficiary than there were in my dishwashing days. Back then the ratio was about 7 workers paying taxes for every one person receiving a check. Today there are only four. The solution seems clear. Those four just need to get second jobs! Then the worker: beneficiary ratio will be back to its 1960’s level. Right?
I don’t remember a time in my life when politicians weren’t warning us social security would run out. Even so, they sent me a check yesterday. But today it continues to be front and center in the discussion about how to reduce the budget deficit. I can’t tell who knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t. But I figure they don’t dare change what current recipients are receiving. As of today I am one and so the debate is ultimately about someone else, to wit those four young workers who are propping me up in retirement…and I suggest they best get back to work!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Legislature - where laws and friendships are made

This is the first time in 44 years I have not hung around the state Capitol during a legislative session. I have served as  a legislator, covered sessions as a radio newsman, lobbied and been a state agency head. I even acted as Chaplain for the Day a couple of times. It has changed a great deal over those years but some things never change.
A few days ago I had occasion to share breakfast with an old friend and former legislative colleague Bill McIlvain. Bill and I served together a long time ago and we had fun reminiscing about those years. I was first elected in 1970 and served three terms in the House and one in the Senate, leaving the legislature in 1980. Bill was already there when I arrived and stayed long after. He was the Speaker of the House from 1989-1990.
That was so long ago that we served with the fathers of some of the current members. Heck, it was so long ago that Charlie Scott had just arrived in the legislature the year before I left! Bill and I are so old we served in the legislature when they still met for only 40 days every other year. They had no Legislative Service Office back then. Other than receiving my certificate of election in 1970, the only other communication I had other than from lobbyists (and there weren’t many of them in those days) was a newspaper article that said we would convene as the Constitution requires “at twelve o'clock noon, on the second Tuesday of January.”

That first morning in 1971 I drove my new Dodge Super Bee to “work.” It was a snowy day in January and that old Dodge was terrible on ice and snow. Twice strangers came out to push me from snow drifts. In those days there was a parking lot behind the Capitol Building. It is now the courtyard between the Capitol Building and the Herschler Building. Finally I drove into the lot where I was met by a highway patrolman whom I was unable to persuade I was actually an elected member of the legislature. So I parked on the street and walked proudly, though annoyed, into the Capitol for the first day of my 10 years as a legislator.
I was 22 years old and the experience was pretty heady. In those days political action was at the fore of life. The civil rights anti-war movemens , and women’s lib were all at their high tide. At the national level there was a move to reduce the voting age to 18. I was elected along with two others under the age of 30. Dennis Stickley of Laramie was four months younger and John Turner of Jackson a few years older.
In those days I worked at a local radio station and was not exactly getting rich. Legislators were paid something like $25 per day. When I readied to speak against a bill raising the pay, one of my colleagues threatened humorously to expose the fact that I was the only member of the legislature actually making money while serving.
A cup of coffee with Bill reminded me of how much those years meant to me. We made laws but we also made friendships. I met some men and women who would be a part of my life for most of it. Much has changed since those days. The legislature meets annually, has the able assistance of the Legislative Service Office and they are paid better. But some things never change.
Like many of you I spend too much time criticizing what they do or don’t do. But I know from experience these are quality men and women, motivated only by what they think is right for Wyoming. The fact that we may see that differently is the messiness of a democracy, not the fallacy of character.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is it time to audit the auditors?

If you’ve ever worked for a state agency, you are probably familiar with the state legislature’s Management Audit Committee. The Legislative Service Office (LSO) website describes the Committee’s purpose. “The Management Audit Committee (a statutorily created committee of 11 legislators) selects programs to be evaluated. The process culminates in a report that is presented to the Committee. Once the report is released, legislators, agencies, and officials can use the information to improve statutes, policies, and program operations.”

Whether the process actually works or is more of a “gotcha” is a subject for another day. But a recent news story reminds me of what someone once said tongue in cheek. The only stupid question is the one that is never asked, 'Don't you think it is about time you audited my return?' It may be just as silly to expect legislators who may have been “punked” to ask whether it is time to audit the auditors.

An Equality State Policy Center blog ( reports attorneys representing Fremont County’s efforts to deny Native Americans their rights under the federal Voting Rights Act have now used a recent law passed by the Wyoming legislature to support their appeal of a federal court decision that went against them.

This happened despite repeated assurances by key state legislators the law would not be used in that manner. Those assurances heavily weighted the final vote of their colleagues and contributed significantly to the passage of the law. The ESPC blog says, “Somebody lied on the way to changing Wyoming law governing the creation of election districts for county commissioners.”

This case is serious and its implications for the integrity of the legislative process should not be underestimated. It cries for a public inquiry asking just how well are we represented by our legislators, to what extent are the system’s checks and balances compromised by special interests, are ethical breaches negatively influencing lawmaking, and are reforms necessary.

The legislature has been quite willing to audit others to determine whether they are acting appropriately and to assure expected results are being achieved. It will be interesting to see whether they have the same interest in an open and honest evaluation of themselves.

What do you suppose are the odds?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Weak links and common threads

During Lent the focus should not be on Kings and Lords but on ourselves. We are the common thread in these stories.  See the crowd. Keep your eye on the crowd right through Lent and onto Easter. The crowd that gathered to cheer Jesus on Palm Sunday? The crowd that screamed for his crucifixion five days later? We are in both crowds.

I once read an interesting story about crowd mentality and the way it is influenced by context. In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters to the music of a violinist playing and asking for donations at a District of Columbia subway stop. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of passing commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of crumpled dollar bills into the violin case of the street performer. Those who paid heed often had scowls on their face, apparently disapproving of his way of earning meal money.

No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro. Except it wasn't an ordinary day and this violinist wasn't just another street performer. And by no means was his violin ordinary. The “beggar” was Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest concert violinists. The instrument he played would have caused people to line up at the Smithsonian just for a chance to see it.  Bell was playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Just three days earlier he had filled Boston's Symphony Hall with people paying $100 or more per seat to hear him play similar pieces.

But that morning, people saw only what they expected to see at that place, at that moment. A down and out fellow, trying to scrape together a few bucks by begging for their hard earned money. Imagine how much more they’d have given if they had only been told who he was. Imagine how much more of their time they’d have taken to listen…if only they had known.

The question this poses is not so much whether we can recognize beauty when we see it but whether we are even looking for it in the unexpected places. When we are in a church, we expect to see and feel God, but what about when we are in a different crowd, one where the view toward others is less spiritual, where opinions are more worldly?

If we can’t hear great music outside a concert hall, can we hear God in unexpected places, extraordinary ways? The Lenten Season is a good time to try.

Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
This is an excerpt from his sermon on March 13th, the First Sunday of Lent.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It is time to ask, “Why does the state fund a Department of Education?”

In addition to the $1.5 billion Wyoming spends on schools and the millions spent on school facilities, you and I also pay millions for this bureaucracy. Why?

It is not much different from the Brits paying for the tradition of having royalty.
They may have a monarchy and actions of the government are carried out “in The Queen's name” but decisions about real policy are made by members of Parliament. For show, the powers of the monarchy are vast; however, in practice the Queen is simply a costly way to hold an illusion.
In much the same way, we hold the illusion that the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) fulfills a significant role in our schools. The existence of the Superintendent of Public Education is enshrined in the state Constitution as it was adopted in the 1800’s. The founders deemed, “The general supervision of the public schools shall be entrusted to the state superintendent of public instruction” but then added language that has been used to neuter this elected official ever since, i.e. “whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law.”
Another provision of our Constitution guarantees, “The right of the citizens to opportunities for education should have practical recognition.” It is hard to know what that means but it ought to include making sure children are safe from bullying when they go to school. Yet the Wyoming Department of Education is so toothless, it cannot even provide that assurance.
This week, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported WDE has contracted to hold 20 local town hall meetings on the problem of bullying and violence in the schools. But only five have been held and the other school districts have said, “Thanks but no thanks.” One suggested these sessions are a part of the “gay and lesbian agenda.” Whatever their reason, what we enshrine as “local control” allows the schools to thumb their nose at a helpless Department of Education
Is that a problem? Absolutely. These school boards have the data. They know what many parents may not, i.e. students are unsafe at school. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is conducted by state and local education and health agencies. All public school students grades 6 through 12 are included.
The YRBS tells nearly a third of Wyoming students reported being in a fight at school, a higher than the national median number have been threatened with a weapon while on school property and Wyoming students report at a rate far above the national range they have been victims of bullying at school.
But the Wyoming Department of Education can do nothing to change this paradigm? A WDE spokesman told the Tribune-Eagle the Department “respects” the decisions made by local school districts. So then, who is left to “respect” the desire of children to be safe? Parents who are worried about their children’s’ safety and legislators who appropriate millions of dollars to WDE should ask why local control, even when exercised irresponsibly, should trump responsibility. They should also wonder why taxpayers fund a state agency as useless as the Wyoming Department of Education?
I followed this year’s debate about teacher accountability. Unfortunately not one bill was introduced to make either the Department, local school boards or administrators accountable. Bullying teachers is much more politically acceptable, as apparently allowing our children to be bullied is as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I assumed they understood God and Jesus, if not in an identical way, at least in an equivalent one. Fortunately I was mistaken.

If I had it all to do over again, I would have taught Bible studies in a seminary. The three years I lived and learned at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver were the most vitalizing years of my life. Those years came in the middle of my life, just the right time for some reflection on where I had been and where I was going. My days were spent reading both ancient and contemporary spiritual texts, listening to some of the most thought provoking theologians in the nation, talking with bright, motivated and thoughtful students, searchers all.
I entered seminary with a naïve belief nurtured by growing up rather isolated in Wyoming. I arrived thinking all Christians pretty much believed the same. I assumed they understood God and Jesus, if not in an identical way, at least in an equivalent one. Fortunately I was mistaken.
The first day of class, I walked into the school and scoped out the bulletin board looking for activities affording an opportunity to meet new classmates. I had one of those “Dorothy, we are no longer in Kansas” moments as I read a card tacked to the bulletin board. “The Lesbian Buddhist Women are meeting on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 in the Great Hall.”
Either God was bigger than I thought or the box I had God in was clearly not big enough. Something had to give.
There was a time in the early days of the church when God was not “in our pocket”, when following Jesus of Nazareth was a way of living life abundantly. Over time, lamentably, its life became dogma. In those early days, people who were marginalized because they ate with prostitutes, touched lepers, shared their resources, and prayed for their enemies…who we still refer to as “those people” gathered together. They studied spiritual teachings and talked among themselves about the difficulties of living with the ambiguities of life.
That was the life we re-created at seminary. I wonder whether that could be done in our own community. Some churches, though clearly not all, successfully create such a community. However, there are many for whom traditional church is not an option. They may have painful memories of church as the source of rejection. Others hesitate to be identified with what “organized religion” has come to mean. Yet I firmly believe many people are looking for a community where they can safely share and learn and live out the spiritual nature with which we were all born.
I don’t have it all to do over again. I am too old to go back and get the requisite PhD in order to penetrate academia. But I am looking to re-create the seminary experience, gathering regularly with people, not necessarily of like minds but of open minds, folks willing to study and engage one another in an honest dialogue about what we believe and why and how those beliefs should animate our lives.
Anyone interested?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can you hear me now?

I have received complaints that some who are signed up to follow the blog do not receive it daily. If you are receiving the blog regularly, could you post a quick comment so that I can confirm. Thanks and thanks for reading it. Rodger

Ash Wednesday is an infrequent reminder our mortality is a part of our theology.

"By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground from which you were made.
for you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” 
Genesis 3:19
                My mother had a different way of saying this. “You made your bed,” she’d say, “now you have to sleep in it!” She loved us enough to teach us behavior has consequence. Ash Wednesday is an infrequent reminder our mortality is a part of our theology.  As I age, more of the parts of my body begin to return to the dust of their beginning. “Ashes to ash, dust to dust!”
            I spent a lifetime “making my bed.” I have but a few years left to figure out how to get sound sleep in it. The ashes applied to my forehead this day and those I apply to the forehead of others are intended as a guide. The ashes are a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. They are applied in the shape of a cross. The intersection of the two beams of the cross symbolizes the place in the community where the need of others intersects with our gifts, resources and the time we have left on this earth. And so the very symbols of our limited lives, i.e. the ashes, form another symbol. The cross is our unquestioned symbol of the hope of God.
            The words from Genesis are attributed to God, pronouncing sentence on Adam. Like us Adam and Eve are busy pointing the finger of blame at one another and the hapless serpent as God speaks. Like us, they may or may not have heard God’s words. Thus we have Lent, a 40 day season beginning with Ash Wednesday. Lent begins 40 days before Easter on Ash Wednesday, a season of reflection and preparation to replicate Jesus' solitude in the desert for 40 days.  Lent is an old English word meaning 'lengthen'. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.
            Lent is often used in a light hearted manner to set goals such as eating less chocolate. Our world might benefit from a deeper 40 days of reflection and introspection. We have spent a lifetime making our bed. It includes endless war, hungry children in the midst of wealth, divisive dialogue about what it means to have a relationship with God and one another. The very planet God created for us to live out God’s hope is threatened by our selfishness. And as we go the way of the dust and the ashes, our children and grandchildren will be left with this legacy.
            The Rule of Benedict, a book of precepts written by St. Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally, describes the purpose of this season. “Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scrapping the sludge off a life turned slipshod.” In other words, we have made our bed…and perhaps God would be more pleased with a Lenten Season filled with serious thinking about how we are going to sleep in the bed we have made for ourselves and our children. If you also want to quit eating chocolate, go ahead.

You are invited to join us at Highlands Presbyterian Church at 12:15 today for a traditional Ash Wednesday observance. We will begin Lent together, as a community.