Saturday, August 30, 2014

One God-One World-One Book

Theologian Marcus Borg says there “are no intrinsic conflicts between the intellect and Christianity, reason and religion.” In his book Convictions, Borg assigns such perceived differences to “a misunderstanding of religion and its absolutization or the absolutization of a nonreligious worldview.”

If true for Christianity, is it not also true of the perceived differences between Jews, Muslims and Christians? The Quran calls the adherents to these three faiths “the People of the Book.” The Abrahamic faiths share much including monotheism, calls to love God and one-another, to help the poor, and the value of prayer.

Muslims hold Jesus in high regard as one of the important messengers of God. Jesus lived and died a devout Jew, studied the Torah and preached it during his ministry. They also share a reverence for many of the same holy places.

In spite of commonalities, Jews, Christians, and Muslims adopted separate canons each claiming to be “the Word of God (or Allah).” The Divine is big enough to inspire more than one book. But multiple books are sources of division. Imagine a world where the three Abrahamic faiths agreed on “One God, One Word.”

A new interfaith council should be convened to write a common book. A task this awesome requires ground rules.  

Of the peoples of Earth, 31.5% are Christian, 23.2 % Muslim, and 0.2% Jews. Given the historical explanation of why there are so few Jews, it’s unjust to apportion by those data. All three make reasonable guesses about the nature of God and have a long historical record of rationalizing their beliefs. Each community should come with an equal number.

Don’t seat them at a triangular table. That will only heighten the divisions. Seat the delegates at a round table reflecting the shape of the planet the Creator started with.

The task is to unify scripture. Start with an updated opportunity to be heard. I don’t know about synagogues and mosques, but there are approximately 13 million more women than men in churches. Worship attendance isn’t a good method to apportion. Apportion the sexes roughly the way God did, equally dividing delegates between women and men.

Providing opportunities for everyone to be heard shouldn’t stop there. Delegates should reflect racial characteristics not of their faith alone but of the world as well as sexual orientation, cultural adhesion, and economic status. If a text is to accurately reflect God’s voice in the world, those who discern that voice should fully represent the make-up of that world.

Admittedly there’s a risk of a Tower-of-Babel-like experience. In the Spirit, there’s also a good chance for a Pentecost-like experience where all will be filled with the spirit of the Divine, speaking in other languages, hearing one another as though they spoke their native languages.

A threshold issue is whether to produce a science book or mythology. The lack of clarity on that important matter among those who wrote or read existing holy texts causes no end of arguments. My preference is mythology. Mythology explains more. An understanding of God seems to lend itself far better to mythology than to science.

Abandon numbered verses. Using numbers to divide the story of the Divine leads to picking and choosing. We should look for the Divine’s big story, not the ability to memorize a sentence taken out of the context to prove a point.

Without a deadline this could continue into eternity. How about 40 days, a symbolic period used in all three texts. Shouldn’t take more time than Jonah spent preaching in Ninevah for people of faith to figure out what they agree about.

Being faithful to God or Allah is not about having what Marcus Borg calls “an intellectually correct theology.” It’s much more about our common core, i.e. love God and your neighbor as written in Hebrew scripture, taught by Jesus, and commanded in the Quran, “Worship Allah and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, neighbors, companions at your side, and travelers.”

As John Lennon said, “Imagine.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

UW's credibility 4SALE

The time was when Wyoming legislators levied severance taxes for the purpose of reimbursing us for the extraction of the state’s wealth. The idea was that if corporations make money taking that wealth they should reimburse the citizens by paying a tax.

Today there are some key Wyoming politicians who think that by paying their taxes, the big oil, gas, and coal companies have bought an ownership interest in the state or at least its only four-year university.

Recently House Speaker Tom Lubnau was a guest on public radio. He was asked about the role of coal in climate change. Afterward, Tom posted this message on Facebook. “I should have known better than to go on a Wyoming Public Radio show about coal exports. The low point was when I told the show's host her question was preposterous. It makes me sad when a UW employee, who's (sic) salary is paid largely by extractive industries, advocates against extractive industries.”

It’s not the first time Lubnau’s been unhappy with UW employees who dared to question the environmental impact of mining. Last year the University responded to his criticism of a piece of art that the Wyoming Mining Association believed to be an objectionable statement about coal. The University destroyed the artwork. The University, Lubnau argued, shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds it.

There’s another sign the industry exercises undue control of the university. Recently an oil company, the Hess Corporation, became the largest corporate donor in UW’s history. Hess’s 10 million dollar donation will be used for research on tapping hard-to-reach oil and gas reserves. Hess’s president says it will be good for business.

It is undoubtedly good for his business but does anyone think the UW School of Energy Resources can conduct legitimate research on fracking or climate change when it relies so heavily of such “donations”?

Since 2007, UW has collected over $40 million from energy companies.

Faculty members told a reporter they have “deep concerns” about where UW’s headed, but are afraid that voicing concerns could jeopardize their jobs. Lubnau’s Facebook post would explain their fears.

There’s a third bad omen. Recently powerful members of the legislature began meeting with UW administrators to “clarify” what they want from the school. Rep. Eli Bebout who chairs the Appropriations Committee, which controls the UW budget, said, "I just think the University, the students, the faculty, everybody should understand in our state, the blessing we have by having the minerals and the importance of those revenue streams."

Perhaps there are other things they should also understand.

Legislators fronting for the mining industry are attempting to replace the appointed UW Trustees and micro-manage the school. Those legislators have little interest in academic freedom and objective research. Their goal is to make the University of Wyoming serves the interests of the mining industry.

Interestingly, this trend toward polluting Wyoming’s education system isn’t confined to the University. In 2013 the legislature enacted legislation requiring the governor’s office to work with industry to develop public school curriculum teaching students the benefits of energy development.

Without politicians willing to “offend” the industry, Wyoming would have continued giving away resources. As it was, Wyoming passed its severance tax 64 years after the first state began taxing mineral extraction. Republican governor Stan Hathaway led the enactment of that tax in 1969. Hathaway’s leadership created a Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, funded with additional taxes on minerals. Republicans in the legislature supported Hathaway over energetic energy-company lobbying against both proposals.

Hathaway and his GOP were willing to buck the industry to do what was right for the state.

The severance tax reimburses the state for its loss of non-renewable wealth. Companies removing our coal, oil, and gas fill the hole with a check. In a rather Kafkaesque twist, Lubnau, Bebout and other politicians seem to think it’s the energy industry that is doing the state a favor.

The University, students, faculty, and alumni should understand the threat this kind of thinking poses to the school’s legitimacy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Those “not that muches” add up

Perhaps it comes with age. Fixed incomes come with aging. Gradually you become painfully aware of how easy it is for folks to take more money out of your pocket, making it sound so easy.

Older folks tell me they have the feeling younger folks “look through” them. The older you are, and we might add, the poorer you are, the less others notice you. Both groups are on relatively fixed incomes.

Whether its water or trash pickup rates, or another Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power Company rate hike, they’re all justified by the same argument. In each case, they take more money out of our pockets saying, “Ah, it’s not that much.”

All those “not that muches” add up, unless they’re “looking through” some people.

When the city recently raised water rates, the Board of Public Utilities said “it’s not that much.” They explained the increase would cost average residential customers “only” an additional $1.28 per month. Monthly sewer rates will go up about $1.41 for residential customers. That’s another $2.49 on average. Not that much right? But it’s not alone.

There are also increased rates for commercial customers, which will also eventually come out of our pockets as costs are passed along. Commercial customers increases average $3.18 more per month for water, and $3.81 for sewer, combining for $6.99.

That brings the big board total to $9.48 per month.

Coming soon to a checkbook near you are also additional costs for trash services.

Just weeks after the City Council denied an increase, the proposal is back. Council members first wanted to see the results of a long-awaited study of the sanitation program. The study is in and it will provide the council with cover for reaching into our pockets for more than a little loose change.

If the rate increases recommended by the study were implemented, residential customers currently paying $20 per month would be paying more than $29 for the same services in 2019. 

That's a 45 percent increase over five years.

And here comes the argument that “looks through” us. The vice president of HDR, the consulting firm that conducted the study said, "The impact of the increases appears reasonable.” Gould added, "I suspect that it might not even be noticed (by customers). And if it's noticed, it wouldn't create affordability issues."

Easy for him to say, but let’s head on over to the big board. Add in additional monthly costs Gould says we won’t even notice to the additional costs we’ll see on our water bill, and the subtotal becomes $18.48.
Then there’s the ever-present Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power rate increases. CLFP asked the Wyoming Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve a 12.7 million dollar rate increase, which will add $10.41 per month to already-high residential electricity monthly bills in Laramie County.

The argument CLFP trots out is predictable. “Energy still remains a great value for our customers,” Mark Stege, vice president of operations for Cheyenne Light, said. A “great value” is far different from “affordable.”

After hearing concerns from senior citizens and two large industrial consumers, the PSC not only approved the rates but also a process of reducing the “burden” on industrial users by shifting their costs to us.

Between the Board of Public Utilities, the city council, and CLFP, the tote board expropriates additional monthly charges for water and sewer, trash collection, electricity and gas of almost $30 a month from the fixed incomes of the elderly and low income folks. And it’s not as though the current charges are too low!

The legislature repealed cost-of-living increases for state retirees and rate increases greatly exceed the 1.5% cost-of-living increase in Social Security. Thus rate hikes called “not much,” and “unnoticeable” add significantly to the budgets of those already hammered by accelerating food, transportation, and medical costs.

Perhaps the PSC and other rate-making authorities should be required to have low and fixed-income members. Otherwise, rate increases will always seem to them to be “not that much.”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why do they hate the children?

When some Americans woke on third base they believed they themselves hit the triple. They don’t have any Biblical sense that they didn’t do it alone, that it was God who brought them up out of Egypt (Leviticus 11:45), or Ireland or Germany or (fill-in-the-blank).

Throughout history, there’ve been only a couple of groups, whites not among them, whose arrival was welcomed. There were slaves who worked without pay and Cuban defectors paid millions to throw or hit 90 MPH fastballs.

The ugliness we’re witnessing now is as American as apple pie. America was a nightmare for my Irish ancestors. A Southern slaveholder explained why he hired Irishmen to drain a swamp rather than using slaves. “That’s dangerous work,” he explained, “and a slave’s life is too valuable to risk that way.”

American politicians were transparent. The 1790 Naturalization Law reserved citizenship for whites only. The words of the law changed, attitudes haven’t.

In his book, “A Different Mirror” Ronald Takaki explained what it looked like in the beginning. “Indians were already here. While blacks were forcibly transported to America, Mexicans were initially enclosed by America’s extending border.”

How is it white Americans are so self-righteous about others coming? What’s the source of their moral authority?

It’s enjoyable watching politicians so eager to ride the tide of bigotry that they make spectacles of themselves. An Arizona candidate for congress put on a performance, running, screaming down a highway, leading protesters to stop what he hoped was a busload of Central American children.

It was a YMCA bus filled with US children on a field-trip.

Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) went on a fact-finding trip to Honduras and Guatemala. He refused to leave his hotel room because of the violence but returned to the FOX News cameras saying these kids should be back to live on those same dangerous streets.

In the Bible little children came to Jesus but the “disciples” ran them off just as those white protesters gathered in California to “confront” children coming from Central America and to run them off.  Jesus objected then and he objects today.

An hour’s drive away in Los Angeles, thousands cheered Yasiel Puig, a Cuban defector who plays right-field for the Dodgers. Politicians demand children be deported to countries where the threat to their lives is far greater than what Puig experienced in Castroland.

Puig and other defectors who either throw 90 MPH fastballs or can hit them are cheered while hate-filled protesters jeer children from violent barrios who come here for safety.

Whether protesters cheer the undocumented ballplayers or jeer these children, many want you to know they are “Christians.” They also want you to know they want these children deported. That doesn’t jive.

I don’t often take the Bible literally. Some believers do. I respect that, except when they make convenient exceptions. Many demonstrate penchants for quoting scripture to back up their anti-marriage-equality position. They recite verse and chapter to homosexuality a sin and to deny marriage equality.

Yet, when it comes to these endangered children seeking a better life in the United States, the same people suffer from Biblical amnesia. We shouldn’t have a great deal of tolerance for those who cling to their Bibles when they make their case using a literal interpretation of some scripture while ignoring God’s word altogether when it suits them.

In Leviticus God doesn’t stutter, but says straightforward, "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
As Dallas Rabbi Asher Knight told the media, “We are talking about standing at the border and telling children who are fleeing from a burning building to go back inside.”  People of faith can’t square that with the word of God. "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.”