Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Religionists attack religious liberty

“For the Bible tells me so.”

If the “Student Religious Liberties Act” passes, that answer will get you an A+ on an exam. It was thankfully defeated this session, but that is only a temporary reprieve. It’ll be back.

Suppose a science teacher asks, “How old is the earth? Explain your answer.”

Suppose one student answers by quoting G. Brent Dalrymple, a geologist who won the National Medal of Science and wrote “The Age of the Earth.” This student might say, “In the early twentieth century the Earth’s age was unknown. This question was answered after more than half a century of scientific investigation. The age of the Earth can be measured from the relative abundances of radioactive uranium and lead, leading to a calculation that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old.”

That student earns an A+.

Another student might respond by quoting Dr. John Lightfoot, a 17th century Hebrew scholar who published his calculations earth’s age in 1644. Based the Old Testament Lightfoot declared, "heaven and earth were created all together, in the same instant,” and "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning."

Under the proposal this student would also be entitled to an A+ though the answer is based not on any accepted science but a religious belief that “the Bible tells me so.”

If a 1st grader is asked to add 2+2 and says it’s 5, he would deserve an A according to evangelical Pastor Peter LaRuffa, who said, “If somewhere within the Bible I were to find a passage that said 2+2 =5, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”

HB77 “protects” religious rights already protected under the Constitution including the right to pray in school. Despite evangelical wailings to the contrary, students have that right even without this bill.

However, the proposal contains a “Trojan Horse” provision saying, “Students may not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work.” Accordingly, if a psychology exam asks students to explain how to treat schizophrenia and a student answers, “with prayer,” that student is entitled to the same grade as one whose answer describes talk therapy and medications.

The proposal is an attempt to put the Bible on the same bookshelf as acceptable academic science and history, making scripture the new “Core Curriculum.” Sponsors attempt to make an end-run around the Constitution, authorizing prayer over the loudspeaker during school days as well as during assemblies, sporting events, and graduations.

This bill isn’t just another bad idea concocted by Wyoming legislators. It’s the terrible idea of the American Family Association. The AFA’s website says its goal is, “to be a champion of Christian activism.” It continues, “If you are alarmed by the increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation, tired of cursing the darkness, and ready to light a bonfire, please join us. Do it for your children and grandchildren.” 

No thanks. I’ll be the one to teach my children and grandchildren about faith. For the Constitution tells me so. Giving that right to schools is the sort of big government idea these folks usually disdain.

The AFA position paper on the “model law” opines nostalgically, Once upon a time in America, the school day opened with prayer. Public school curricula often included the Bible. Football games and graduation ceremonies started with prayer, often led by a teacher or coach or pastor invited from the community.”

Place bets on whether Muslim prayers are as welcomed at the opening of each school day, at football games, or graduation ceremonies as evangelical Christian forms of prayer.
The bill’s supporters should explain their wont to turn public schools into forums for teaching religious values. Apparently their churches failed to do so. Schools can provide them with a captive audience not available to them on Sundays.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The ALEC Ponzi Scheme

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a monument to political cynicism, a lobbying “Ponzi” scheme allowing corporations contributing tax-free dollars to slush funds to ferry legislators to posh resorts, wining and dining them while, as alecexposed.org put it, indoctrinating “legislators with skewed statistics and distorted analysis in support of the agenda of these special interests.”

ALEC encourages lawmakers to bring the whole family on ALEC’s tab. Childcare is even provided, what ALEC calls “Kids Congress.” The goal of corporate sponsors isn’t social engagement. A Wisconsin legislator said ALEC “operates like a dating service between legislators and special interests.” 

If you don’t know about ALEC, you must. A long list of Wyoming legislators, all Republicans, belongs. Sourcewatch.org identifies the following Wyoming members: Laramie County House members John Eklund and Dan Zwonitzer as well as Representatives Rosie Berger (R-51), Richard Cannady (R-06), Kathy Davison (R-20), Allen Jaggi (R-18), Thomas Lockhart (R-57), Carl Loucks (R-59), Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau, II (R-31), David Miller, Tim Stubson (R-56), and Matt Teeters (R-05). Rep. Norine Kaspwerik identified herself as a member in a letter-to-the-editor defending her ALEC participation.

Wyoming senate members were identified as Laramie County senator Leslie Nutting, as well as Senators James Anderson (R-02), Eli Bebout (R-26), Bruce Burns (R-21), Cale Case (R-25), Henry Coe (R-18), Stan Cooper (R-14), and Dan Dockstader (R-16).

ALEC is the creature of Paul Weyrich, the Karl Rove of his times. Weyrich co-founded conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and ALEC. Weyrich coined the term "moral majority,” the political action group he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

The Center for Media and Democracy recently issued a report on ALEC entitled “Buying Influence,” providing details of a strategy ALEC has successfully and relentlessly kept from the public eye. Wyoming legislators are featured prominently in the expose. The report “analyzes new information about how some of the biggest corporations in the world fund trips for state lawmakers to meet with their lobbyists at resorts across the country.”

These expensive events are key to ALEC’s success. “Buying Influence” names Wyoming legislators as  “frequent flyers.” ALEC is not forthcoming with answers, as you might imagine so the 2013 report was forced to rely on data from 2006-2008 and 2010. During that time Wyoming ALECs were reportedly the sixth highest recipients of ALEC’s largesse, cashing “scholarship” checks for $111,750.

The ethics law Wyoming’s legislature passed to prevent questionable conduct conveniently exempts reimbursement for this sort of travel.

What does ALEC get for its trouble? These “meetings” give corporate lobbyists exceptionally close access to key lawmakers. The lobbyists and the legislators break bread while agreeing on “model” legislation that lawmakers take home and introduce. At alec.org you’ll find a long list of legislation they support.

They encourage legislators to reject Medicaid expansion, “downsize” government, privatize education, fund for-profit prisons, deny climate change, outsource jobs, break unions, reduce workplace safety, and pass voter ID laws. Before ALEC’s “stand-your- ground” proposal, common law “self-defense” doctrines prevented “gun-toters” from killing teenagers for simply playing loud music or wearing hoodies.

ALEC opposes any “tax increase in this time of historic budget gaps before addressing the excessive amount of pay government workers receive in comparison to workers in the private sector” and demanding “accrued retirement benefit obligations to all (public employees) be immediately adjusted to a level comparable to that of private sector workers.”

ALEC opposes minimum wages increases and seeks to have government regulations replaced with “market disciplines.”

If any of that sounds familiar as the current legislative session unfolds, it’s no coincidence. An ALEC executive boasted, “With our success rate at more than 20%, I would say ALEC is a good investment. Nowhere else can you get a return that high.”

ALEC and too many Wyoming legislators quietly make the world a safer place for big Pharma, the Koch Brothers, insurance and chemical companies, big tobacco, and other corporate interests.

And Wyoming voters thought their representatives were dreaming up these crazy bills on their own!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I won the lottery!

I Won the Lottery

Rev. Rodger McDaniel
I won the lottery. This is why I’m throwing away the winning ticket!
I’m not sure when it was. It didn’t happen all at once. There was a gradual awakening that as a Heterosexual-Male-WASP (White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant), I had won the All-American Lottery. America, it turns out is a great place for Hetero-Male-WASPS.
My first awakening came in the pews of a small Baptist church. There I learned that only the people in our church were going to Heaven. We were “born again,” “saved,” and while awaiting the Rapture we did not dance or swear, the girls did not wear make-up, and nearly every Sunday we answered the pastor’s call to come forward.
WASPLater I became aware of how special it was to be an American as my schoolmates and I practiced crawling under our desks to thwart a Russian nuclear attack, and read stories in our Weekly Reader about starving children in Africa. Tom Paxton wrote a song that could well have been about our little school.
“What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine
I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody’s free.
And that’s what the teacher said to me.
That’s what I learned in school today.”
Other awakenings came in a wave as I came of age in the 60s. The civil rights and women’s movements highlighted my good fortune. I was a white man in a world that marginalized people of color and women. Later it occurred to me how fortuitous it was that I liked girls as I watched my younger brother struggle to figure out why he didn’t.
It wasn’t until my days in seminary when a group of “debunking” professors deprived me of the joy of my lottery prize. It seems that my winning lottery ticket was nothing more than “white-privilege.” There is, they said, a set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces, e.g. the workplace, educational settings, housing, etc.
That caused me to tinker with my self-description. What if instead of a “Hetero-Male-WASP,” I was a “Hetero-Male-Black.” In an instance, the chance that I’d be unemployed doubled. The odds of me going to college would be little more than double the chance I’d go to prison.
Black and White Unemployment
But it wasn’t just about being “white.” I realized that anytime even one of the descriptors changed, my life would change. For example, if I’d been born a Hetero-Female-WASP, I’d earn a dollar for every $1.30 a man earned. Male politicians could require doctors to probe my vagina or deny me contraceptives because they think I can’t control my libido.
If I suddenly found myself a Hetero-Male-Muslim, Sikh, or Jew, I’d be faced with a range of discrimination and danger including unprovoked bodily attacks.
As an LGBT or Q-WASP, I wouldn’t be able to marry the person I loved in nearly all states. In a majority of states, I’d lose protection against discrimination in the workplace. Politicians would pander for votes by making unfounded claims about my life. The odds I’d take my own life would increase exponentially.
In some churches I would be denied communion though scripture teaches that the disciple who denied even knowing Jesus and another one who betrayed Jesus received the bread and cup. In most hospitals I’d be denied family visitation when my partner was on life support.
Homosexuals Need Not Apply
What an awakening it was to acknowledge that many of the privileges of my life are inherent in the descriptors I take for granted. I was born a Heterosexual-Male-WASP. If any one of the descriptors defining me was changed, be it my race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, if any one of those was different…I’d be significantly more likely to be a victim of a hate crime.
Hate Crime
It was then I decided this Hetero-Male-WASP had been called to do something other than cash in that winning lottery ticket.
From the Mass Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Sherry Brewer.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Yesterday's sermon@Highlands

“Choose Life”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
February 16, 2014

Recently a man died in Russia; a very wealthy man. When he died, he had more than 20 million dollars. He was born poor in rural Russia. Stalin deported his parents were deported to the western edge of Siberia where they became farmers.

As a young man, he was a poet and wrote six books during his lifetime. He was also attracted to machines, particularly farming machines and became known among the families in his small, rural Russian community as a “tinkerer.

He was a decorated tank commander during World War II. After the war, he went on to become one of the wealthiest of all Russians. His notoriety spread and at one time Harvard awarded him an honorary degree.

He received the highest award Russia bestows, the Order of the Apostle Saint Andrew and in 2009, on his 90th birthday, he was named “Hero of the Russian Federation.”

But shortly before he died, he wrote a letter in which he said, “The longer I live, the more often that question gets into my brain, the deeper I go in my thoughts and guesses about why the Almighty allowed humans to have devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression."

His great regret? Mikhail Kalashnikov was the inventor of the AK-47 rifle. According to The Associated Press, Mikhail told Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, that he kept asking himself if he was responsible. The letter reads QUOTE “The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question. If my assault rifle took people's lives, it means that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov... son of a farmer and Orthodox Christian am responsible for people's deaths.

He concluded by making it clear he wished he had lived his life differently, "I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower."

Of course, had he invented the lawn mower, he would never have received such accolades and would not have died quite so wealthy. His name would not have been known throughout the world.

But as the inventor of the AK-47, his name became famous. The gun which was known as the “Kalashnikov” was used by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Viet Cong in Viet Nam, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, it’s a part of the flag of Mozambique because it was the major reason their despot rulers came to power.

The Kalashnikov or AK-47 appears on the flag of one of the world’s most destructive terrorist groups, Hezbollah. Invented 65 years ago, the weapon remains popular today with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Mexican drug cartels.

All of which left its inventor, a wealthy, famous, decorated man crying out from his deathbed, “The pain in my soul is unbearable.”

As an Orthodox Christian, Kalashnikov would have known the words spoken by Moses, words read this morning by Cathy, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

While millions of his countrymen starved to death all around him, this man chose death…becoming wealthy and respected for the invention of a the means by which tens of thousands more would die during his lifetime…a lifetime at the end of which he regretted not inventing instead something that might have helped farmers to feed people rather than something that helped armies to kill them.

The choice God gives us all…between life and death…is seldom so dramatic…but always just as real. Choosing life has to do with having a clear sense of purpose, it’s about knowing that day will come when you look back on your life and ask whether you did what you wanted to do, did you do what was important, did you do something that made the kind of difference God sent you here to make.

God gave Kalashnikov the tools to invent machines that would help farmers grow crops and feed hungry Russians but, to his regret, he used those same tools to build weapons that have been used for half a century to kill people.

One of the major reasons for dysfunction in the world, in nations, in communities, in individuals is the failure to adopt a philosophy about life based on what is true in the universe. There is a cause and an effect to everything we do, every choice we make.
When Moses spoke these words, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

Chuck Killion sent me a story about life and death choices.

A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. Four worms were placed into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol. The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke. The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup. The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results: The first worm in alcohol . . . . . . Dead. The second worm in cigarette smoke . . . Dead. Third worm in chocolate syrup . . . . Dead.
Fourth worm in good clean soil . . . Alive  

So the Minister asked the congregation, "What did you learn from this demonstration?" Maxine was sitting in the back, quickly raised her hand and said . . . "As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"

Life and death choices, right?

Meanwhile back to Moses. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, he said, that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live” he was saying there is the unmistakable dimension of this universe that choices make a difference.

There is absolutely no sense here that God decides people's relationship with God, nor that once we make our choices that they are irreversible. The choices, the life lived hearing God or refusing to hear, create their own effects in the world for good or evil.

While God offers life, there is a sense in the words of Moses in which he is telling us that we create that life as we make daily choices about how we live it, the way we spend our time, our resources, use our individual gifts.

One does not have to be an inventor to face choices between life and death…you just have to be human. We all face life and death choices. We face those choices in how we raise our children, the kind of neighbor we become, whether we use the time we have and the gifts God gave for ourselves or for others.

Let me tell you about one who spent many years in rather unfulfilling work, who began searching for a job with heart. Despite having no formal qualifications or experience, Bronnie Ware found herself working providing care for those on the verge of death.
Over the years she spent tending to the needs of those who were dying, Bronnie's life was transformed.
She began by writing an Internet blog about the most common regrets expressed to her by the people she had cared for. She called her blog The Top Five Regrets of the Dying; more than three million people around the globe read it in its first year.
She then wrote a book entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Bronnie has had a colorful and diverse past, but by applying the lessons of those nearing their death to her own life, she developed an understanding that it is possible for people, if they make the right choices, to die with peace of mind.
Here is what she learned were the greatest regrets from those on their deathbeds and the choices they made during their lifetimes.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
Does any of that sound as familiar to you as it does to me? Choices…God has given each of us choices…and we still have time in our lives to make them.
I am going to close with a poem written by my old High School friend Charlie Brice…he is a much published poet and this one was recently published in the Kent State Literary Journal. His peom “Born Again” answers one of those questions I hate, “Are you born again?”

You want to be born again?
I’ll give you born again: live, savor each breath,
inhales and exhales,
the blossom of tomatoes and oregano
exploding in your frying pan,
the smell of garlic and olive oil,
the grand bouquet of basil,
 your lover’s eye-sparkle, her lilting voice, Pavarotti’s tenor, Jim Harrison’s novels— everything that makes it so hard to leave our troubled planet.
 Stay near to those with whom you shared your brindled years: 
comfort them, stroke their dying hair, smell their fragrant mortality.
 They walked with you along this path, this path that appears then disappears like a sleigh inside a blizzard.

AMEN…you want to be born again? You want to be born again?
I’ll give you born again…live! Choose life.