Saturday, December 26, 2015

Only successful should vote

A recent letter-to-the-editor proposed limiting the right to vote. (“Successful people should pick who serves in public office” December 15, 2015). The writer suggested the U.S. should return to the original intent of our founding fathers. He said the right to vote belongs only to successful people.

The writer believes we diluted the votes of successful people by allowing unsuccessful people to cast ballots.

I like his idea. Maybe this will, as Donald Trumps says, “make America great again.”

As they say, “The devil is in the details.” Let’s begin by defining “successful.” As the letter writer boted, the founding fathers were “citizens who held property, the most successful of the population.” Sounds like he wants to return to the Roman Empire where landowners’ votes were weighted. To be successful enough to vote in early America, you simply had to be born white and anatomically correct.

Success simply meant being white and male. What should “being successful” look like in the 21st century? How should we define the “success” that would render a person eligible to vote?

Let me suggest the definition should exclude anyone who inherited his or her wealth. What’s so successful about being born into the wealth someone else earned?

Second, what if you have accumulated your wealth through the hard work of hard workers? You shouldn’t be deemed successful if your bank account grew because you paid less than livable wages to your employees while refusing to provide them with either health insurance or a pension plan. That’s exploitation, not success. There’s a difference.

Can you already feel the middle class rebounding?

Who then should be deemed successful enough that they should be able to vote? Start by giving the right to all people of color. The deck was stacked against them from the beginning. The founding fathers had one purpose. Protect white privilege. Whether it’s banking and investment, education, housing, employment, or the legal system, it was all designed to protect white privilege.

Surviving that means persons of color are successful by any measure. We really must make up for all those years they weren’t allowed to vote.

Next to be considered successful are poor and low-income workers. There’s no harder job in America than being poor. Even though many are working multiple
low-wage jobs with no benefits while raising families, they are fodder for mean-spirited politicians. They have no sick leave, seldom get a vacation, and live constantly on the financial ledge. They serve meals to those with money, clean their hotel rooms, care for their children, and work for little so that those for whom they work can have more.

Single parents are among those to consider successful under this reformed voting regimen. In Wyoming, more than half of all single-mother homes live below the poverty level. Raising children by yourself defines you as successful.

Rehabilitated felons should be on the “successful enough to vote list.” If you’ve dug yourself out of the deep pit our criminal justice system tossed you into, that is success. Certainly recovering addicts must be included. How much more successful can one be than those who found recovery in a culture that can’t understand addiction and seeks to criminalize, penalize, and marginalize those with the disease.

Who did I overlook? Oh yeah. Let’s include anyone who ever adopted either an abused or neglected child or animal.

Do you see these voters electing politicians who give more to the wealthy while squeezing life out of the middle class? Can you envision them choosing candidates who are blind to the struggles of low-income working families? Do you see them rushing to elect legislators who want to cut food stamps and social security and privatize Medicaid and Medicare? Think they’ll vote for candidates who send their children to private colleges while yours incur mountains of debt attending a community college?

Neither do I. I’m really getting excited about the possibilities of allowing only “successful” people to exercise the right to vote. This will make America great again.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

She who must be obeyed has retired

My wife of 38 years retired yesterday. She’s delighted. I’m scared to death. It’s not that she shouldn’t retire. She should. This is her first day without a job in more than five decades. Indeed, it’s time. Her retirement has been very well earned.

She’s made the world a better place during a fulfilling career as a social worker, promoting child welfare and adoption. This morning she embarks on a second career, disrupting my routine.

I “sort of” retired first, leaving the full-time job market five years ago. That’s five years ahead of her, five years during which the dogs and I have established a comfortable routine.

Chip always gets up first. Chip is an early riser. He wakes me. The Princess is next. It’s still dark and she likes to sleep in a little longer than Chip but not so late as Bob.
Bob is the littlest but snores louder and a bit longer than the rest of us. I let the dogs outside and then, while awaiting their return, I precisely measure the amount of coffee needed to make my three morning cups. The percolator make its soft sound while I let the dogs back in. Before the coffee is finished brewing, it’s time for the dogs to eat breakfast.

I carefully measure each dog’s share and divide it among the three bowls. While they eat, I retrieve the newspaper off the front porch and then pour my first cup of coffee into the same cup I’ve used since I was in seminary in the late ‘90s. Then and only then is it time to unroll the newspaper. Then I read it. Once I finish the paper, it’s time to write. I listen to 60s oldies while writing sermons, blogs, columns, and working on a book. Then the dogs and I nap. Always in that order. Afterward, time permitting, I do chores.

For five years this has been a well-established routine. No longer. One might think that since I retired first, I would have seniority, at the least a first claim to the way the day goes in this house. But that would not be correct. Apparently it’s like the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. Remember it? It’s in the 20th chapter of Matthew. This is my wife’s paraphrase of the parable and my lamentable future.

The householder determined what needed to be done and how and when to do it. The daily schedule was his alone. All was good. All proceeded swimmingly until the other householder arrived. Now the new one has different, she claims “better,” ideas of how to structure the day.

Whoa-eth, says the first. “Was I not here first. Am I not entitled?” When the first came, he supposed that he should receive preference over late-comers; and when he received it not, he departed, muttering unto himself.

She answered, “Verily my husband, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me to share this house? Is it not lawful for me to retire, as have you?” So, she announced with caustic pointedness, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

And so it shall be. The dogs know her as “the treat lady” and so as she descends the stairs each day, they transform from calm, quiet companions into a noisy pack of howling wolves, as though they haven’t eaten in days. The quietness of the morning is gone forever.

Then begins the daily debate over just how much coffee to put in the percolator and the struggle over who gets to read the newspaper first.

Next I receive my daily marching orders, the many chores that I always knew needed done. But it used to be I’d get around to them, if at all, as I felt I had the time. Now there will be a new urgency about their accomplishment. Alas, the chores that could previously wait cannot.

She who must be obeyed has retired. Welcome home dear. Congratulations on your retirement. Really!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The birth of a Jew told by both the Gospels & the Quran.

Christmas comes at the most inconvenient times, when the world doesn’t seem especially interested in welcoming a “Prince of Peace.” So it is in 2015. It’s been like that from the beginning. When first “it came upon the midnight clear,” only a few years had passed since the Romans came to the Nazareth region, putting all the men to sword, raping the women, and enslaving the children. Sound familiar? Mary’s child became a refugee in Egypt. He and his family were forced to flee Herod.

Few seasons celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth have been peaceful. Yet, this one seems somehow worse, more threatening. Perhaps it’s the awful randomness of the terror.

People cry out that Obama, Putin, the Middle East governments or someone else must do something. Many demand more killing so long as their people are doing the killing.

During this Christmas season, the question is not what governments can do but what the faithful should do. From the slaughter in Syria to the shootings in Colorado and San Bernardino, the commonality is religion. If people of contaminated faith bring violence, people of honest faith can bring peace.

Perhaps the starting place is Jesus. Not the dogmatic Jesus who has unfortunately been proclaimed in anti-Semitic crusades through history. Not the Jesus some Christians claim gives them an exclusive claim to a relationship with God. That Jesus brings only division.

What about the Jesus who both entered and departed this world as a devout Jew? That Jesus’s teachings were the foundation for the Jesus Movement of the First Century. This is the same Jesus whose birth was foretold in the Quran where he is highly revered.

“Behold! The angels said,” according to Qur'an 3:45-51. "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus the son of Mary held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of the company of those nearest to Allah.”

If those verses from the Quran were read in most Christian churches on Christmas Eve, many wouldn’t notice the difference from the same story in Luke, which teaches, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Think about it. These are the stories of the coming birth of a Jew told by both the Christian Gospels and the Muslim’s Quran. It’s the Jesus shared by the three great faiths. This Jesus is the starting place for people of good faith in the three Abrahamic religions who seek a way to journey toward peace on earth, good will toward all.

Muslim scripture is already there. “Say ye,” it is written in the Quran 2:135-141, "We believe in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to all Prophets from their Lord; we make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to Allah."

Likewise all three Abrahamic faiths teach the love of neighbor. The verses are familiar to most in the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels.  Read also Surah 4:36 of the Quran. “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess.”

This holiday season, take your beliefs seriously enough to conceive how they can bring us together. People of faith, not governments, can restore harmony, by celebrating the birth of the Jesus we hold in common as the source of “peace on earth, good will to all.”

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Who wrote the Bible?

Who wrote the Bible? Let’s clear up the most common misconception. It wasn’t God. Was it “inspired” by God? Well, that’s complicated

Writing the Bible was the physical act of putting Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic words on paper, then translating them into other languages and differing versions within languages. God didn’t do that. Fallible, but inspired humans did.

The Bible appears in 513 languages. Which of more than 50 English translations do you read? Compare it with different English versions. Differences range from meaningless to meaning-changing. Compared your chosen version with another.

The stories were once told around campfires. People struggled to understand God. Most, like the Creation and Flood stories (yes, there are two of each in Genesis), came from other cultures and were adapted to fit new ones.

In ancient times, some opposed reducing oral tradition to writing. They wisely feared reducing God to words. Regardless, they were eventually reduced to writing. Some of the stories ended up in the Bible. Others didn’t.

Without printing presses, humans labored to hand-copy them. Imagine the monks, caged in monasteries day after day, copying the text from someone else’s copy. Were any words transposed, overlooked or altered?

With the printing press, humans were still involved, translating from one language to another, making choices about which words to use. Next we received countless versions of the Bible within each language.

God inspired some translators. Some were inspired by their own theological agenda, no less than the actual authors. Biblical scholarship is a relatively new discipline. Many feel the text is sufficient unto itself without delving into the history and culture of ancient times. The process of getting the Bible from the oral tradition to the version you read should make clear that God asks more.

William Bradford, the colonial governor of Jamestown, thought learning Hebrew would bring him closer to the original intent of scripture. Closer? Maybe, but not fully.

Tradition teaches Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, David the Psalms, the writings of the Prophets by he whose name each carries, and Ecclesiastes by King Solomon. Scholars have learned something different.

If only one man wrote the first five books, why the contradictions? God wants us to wrestle with the text the way Jacob wrestled with God. Scholars of good faith have many theories about who wrote those books.  Richard Freidman’s book “Who Wrote the Bible?” concludes, “There’s hardly a Biblical scholar in the world who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses, or by any one person.”

Similar debates erupted about much of the Bible. For example, scholars believe that others wrote several letters attributed to Paul.

Does it matter? The truth always matters, especially when one sets out to use verses from select translations to prove what they think God’s says. Take one of the today’s great debates. Paul’s 1st Corinthians list of those “who will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” The “New Living Translation,” includes “those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality.” The Douay-Rheims Bible doesn’t include “homosexuals,” but only fornicators, idolaters, and adulterers. The Weymouth New Testament leaves out homosexuals but adds “any who are guilty of unnatural crime” whatever that is. We can pick and choose to prove our point.

Liberal Christians tend to find the authority in scripture by looking at the big picture, viewing it all as one story, written by deeply spiritual people, of how God and humans understand one another.

Since the beginning, humans sought a relationship with God. The words of the Bible describe that search. Men and women with deep, inexplicable spiritual connections to God, and an understanding far exceeding ours, wrote the Bible, producing writings that sustain us and guide us.

Let go of the indefensible idea that scripture is “the inerrant word of God.” It chronicles a human journey to understanding, giving our lives meaning while giving scripture greater inspirational power.

Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church. He has a law degree form the University of Wyoming and a master of divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Wyoming is failing to chronicle its history

Wyoming is failing to chronicle its own history, but funding one book won’t help solve that problem.

Recently the Transportation, Highways, and Military Affairs Committee voted to approve an unconstitutional $85,000 appropriation to the Veteran’s Commission covering the costs of writing a book. The money would be contracted to a private entity to produce 17,000 copies of the book to be given as gifts to veterans.

The efforts of the Veteran’s Commission to remember Vietnam War vets are commendable. But the Wyoming Constitution prohibits this appropriation.

Article 3 Section 36, “Prohibited appropriations,” reads, “No appropriation shall be made for charitable, industrial, educational or benevolent purposes to any person, corporation or community not under the absolute control of the state, nor to any denominational or sectarian institution or association.”

Legislative Service Office lawyers found a way to skirt the Constitution. Instead of appropriating tax money directly to anyone “not under the absolute control of the state,” they will appropriate the money to the Commission. The Commission will hand the money to a private business, which will produce the books.

Whether legislators are comfortable with the legal gymnastics is one issue. The important question is why should the taxpayers fund this one book? If legislators want to taxpayer-funded writings published in Wyoming, there is a lawful way to do this, a way that can contribute greatly to the preservation of Wyoming’s history.

First, there are many Wyoming stories emanating from the Vietnam War that ought to be told. Tell the story of those like Mariko Miller of Casper and others who courageously opposed the war. The risks taken by antiwar activists are important and worthy of a chapter.

Tell the stories of those who opted to go to Canada to avoid the draft and of the anguished parents who watched their children drafted and marched off to a war they thought was wrong.

A lot of Wyoming books are begging to be written if we want our stories told. The Vietnam era is certainly one of them, but far from the only one. Stroll through the Wyoming section of the county library. Once you set aside the books about cowboys, Indians, early explorers, and trappers, there’s not much left. The most widely used general history of the state, Dr. T.A. Larson’s “History of Wyoming was last revised almost 40 years ago.

There are no biographies of great figures like Francis E. Warren or John Kendrick, Joseph C. O’Mahoney, Ed Herschler, or Stan Hathaway, great Wyoming leaders who, like comets that briefly lighted Wyoming skies, are gone and largely forgotten by many.
Why are Wyoming history books not being written? The book market doesn’t lend itself to freelance writing of the stories of small-state figures. Writers cannot anticipate breaking even on the huge investment of time and money a book requires. If our history is to be preserved, the state must make an investment.

The University has the foundation. The American Heritage Center on UW’s campus currently houses more than 70,000 cubic feet of collections of historic papers and artifacts, primary sources of the history of Wyoming politics, mining, education, conservation and more.

The missing piece is a mechanism to assure writers reasonable opportunities their books will be published.

Wyoming is perhaps the only state without a university press. They exist encourage local authors to do the hard work of preserving history because they provide a route toward publishing

If the legislature wants books written for the good of the state, it should fund a university press at the University of Wyoming, as have legislators in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and nearly every other state.

For a relatively small investment, and perhaps some shift in current UW spending priorities, the legislature could accomplish more than what the Veteran’s Commission asks. Fund an initiative to provide tuition and other financial incentives to graduate students and others to write Wyoming history. Establish the University of Wyoming Press.

Then someone will write books about Vietnam veterans and so many more.