Monthly Archives: April 2014

What is Your Data Set?

The Hebrew prophets appear to come in “good” and “bad” categories, their distinction earned by whether their prophesy panned out or not. It was said that the people had “itching ears.” A similar statement came from the Columbia School of Journalism in which the speaker said that people select a data set that suits their conclusions rather than making decisions based on data. One example of this selection of data sets deals with global warming. The problem is that the wrong data set can “win” and we all suffer regardless of our data set. In terms of the Biblical prophets, all of Israel goes into exile – not just the followers of the false prophets.

When the U. S. Supreme Court issued their opinion on Voter’s Rights in Texas, one set of data seems to have prevailed. The argument was that racial conditions in Texas no longer need federal intervention in voter’s regulations. My data set disagrees with that decision. I suppose it will take another Summer of Voter’s Registrations such as was experienced in Mississippi and Alabama. Jonathan Daniels was killed in that Voter’s Registration effort. Then there was the March on Washington. LBJ understood the data set calling for the Voting Rights Act. The current court imagines that “things have changed.” We will all have to suffer through the flawed decision and data set.

And then there was the ruling about campaign contributions. In a dissenting opinion Justice Breyer noted that during the 1996 election cycle the top fifty non-federal donors gave between $530,000 and $3,287,175. The 2000 election cycle had $498,000,000 contributed with the top fifty non-federal donors giving between $955,695 and $5,949,000. Senator Fred Thompson stated “You are not a player unless you are in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.” You cannot by a congressman’s ear for less. How sad! You cannot buy a congressman for less than $100,000. And look what you get for $100,000.

In the State of Michigan case dealing with Affirmative Action, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy and Alito wrote “There is no authority in the Federal Constitution or in this court’s precedents to set aside Michigan laws.” In my humble opinion, that puts us back in the days of laws of segregation, Jim Crow, and a great many other “States Rights” issues I thought we had gotten beyond. Justice Sotomayor dissented, herself a proud benefactor of Affirmative Action, and tried to remind the court that race still matters. 56% of Michigan voters do not have precedence over the U. S. Constitution and the court’s precedents. They have for many years protected us from the tyranny of the majority. I guess we have a case of “differing data sets.”

I would call to mind the process of selection of justices. The President nominates and the Senate consents. The current majority are products of conservative Presidents and Senates. If you should want to change the direction of the court (and the prevailing data set), it starts with the election of Presidents and Senators. That includes “off year elections.”

To be sure the racial divide in this country is a complex one. Recently a riot broke out in Detroit when a white man accidentally hit an Afro-American girl who ran into the street. A number of Afro-American males beat the white man nearly to death until an Afro-American nurse with a .38 caliber pistol intervened, treated the girl, laid atop the brutalized white man, and said she would shoot the next man that struck the white man. There was an attempt to speak to the prejudice in the African-American community, but Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have remained silent. That silence and the ignoring of this two sided issue will lead to increased frustration and a return to the agonies of the 1960’s and 70’s.

It will do no good to say, “I told you so.”

Easter without Holy Week?

Each year about this time I get very confused. Several “Bible Churches” have Easter Egg hunts on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. They seem to just blow away Holy Week although the events of that week take up about one-third of the New Testament. Have we outgrown the need for Holy Week? What do we miss Holy Week? Can we just say “Forget it?” Could we just say to Jesus, “Don’t bother with all that pain and ridicule – we don’t need it any more? Go have a nice week and be blessed.” You have heard the mantra. Where can I begin? There is that haunting sound in the back of my head talking about No Cross No Crown. Or Ruel Howe’s book Man’s Need and God’s Action. Does man have a need for which the only solution is God’s action?

I think of the Zebedee boys wanting prominent seats in the kingdom of Jesus, or their mother asking for them in one account. Do we still have people who want the power and prestige and do not see it as a calling to serve others? I think so.

I think of the Scribes and Pharisees meticulously observing some religious laws and using others to kill a man. They had to make sure the bodies did not hang of the crosses on the High Holy Day Sabbath. Do we still play those religious games with religious rules? I think so.

At times we forget the basis for some of our religious actions. Just this Good Friday I saw choir and clergy filing in for worship and bowing to the altar. We have forgotten that the bow was to the Real Presence reserved in a tabernacle on the altar, and the ambry is off on the side. They are empty with the sanctuary light extinguished. (There may be a chapel of repose – and that from a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary!) But people still go through the motions. It is a little thing, but shows our symbols divorced from the thing they are intended to symbolize.

What about the law to love God and one’s neighbor? That neighbor may be gay, sick with AIDS, homeless, starving – you name it. Who are our modern day lepers? Of course we blame them for being in their condition and justify our neglect of them. Or we are afraid of them. Be sure not to heal one of them on the Sabbath! Does anyone even observe the Sabbath anymore?

Many of these things I would call offensives have been taken out of the religious realm and put under the protection of the life politic. That does not mean that our political system will address these issues, only that when the prophet speaks to them they are accused of dabbling in politics.

And those pieces of silver, either as exchange media in the temple or in the pocket of Judas. Do you think we ought to tax that money? Let’s face it; our lives are more driven by commerce than by religion. “Those to whom much has been given, much shall be required.”

What about the prayer of Jesus that we all might be one? Religion has become one of the most divisive parts of our society. Count the number of “denomination” and “non-denominations” in your village. “And they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Consider the collect for Good Friday to “behold this your family for which you Son was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinful men …..” “Family?” Family fights are the most vicious of fights – church fights come in a very close second.

You may think that none of this has anything to do with your life. You may think that none of this has anything to do with the society in which you live. You may think that it is all someone else’s problem and does not influence you. You may be delusional. Or you may think that you above all of this – and I would call that hubris.

However, we could allow Our Lord to take all of this to the Cross and destroy it in his death. We would be as startled as the women who came early in the morning to anoint a dead body only to find a Risen Lord. But some people would not want to hear the religious testimony of a woman. Some religious rules would not allow it.

A concern or rant

The United States Supreme Court has made it official – money talks and is a form of freedom of speech. And who gets to speak loudest? To be sure it is not John Q. Public.

Our local paper covers the campaigns of the most conservative candidate. Ninety percent of that coverage is about how much money they have raised. (The same may well be true in liberal areas – the point is the same.) Very little is heard about what they think and the campaigns seem designed to not divulge positions. If a position is defined it might offend some votes – let them vote blindly.

How is this approach working for you? I do not like my little whisper. Have you tried to contact your representative or senators? Their email address contains do not reply. I have heard a dollar figure required to speak to one’s elected member of Congress, and it sure does not fit the pocketbook of a vast majority of the citizenry. A very simple dictionary defines “plutocracy” as “government by the richest people; a country that is ruled by the richest people; a group of very rich people who have a lot of power.”

A decreasing percentage of people get their news from local newspapers. Increasingly the news source is television. News is often given without attribution and the controls of what is presented are about as strict as Facebook, Twitter, and email, i.e. no control. A few incidences of journalistic discipline exist but news is inflammatory and appealing to emotions. No need to use brains when information is so badly skewed.

I am reminded of a quotation by Harry S. Truman: “Farmers have time to think, and occasionally they do.” Of course farming has changed quite a bit since Truman’s day.

The Roberts Court stuck an equally devastating blow to our self-governing when they allowed Texas to use voting rules that presented great difficulty to Afro-Americans and Latinos. The picture ID rule requires people to go through the Department of Public Safety’s offices. I was required to go through that system when there was a change in my restrictions – and it took three hours. How could a wage earner take off from work to go through that process? Since then the office has been moved brand new location not served by public transportation. Once again, low income citizens are the brunt of this policy. I have been told (but do not know the certainty of it) that Texas has had a total of eight cases of voter fraud in the last twenty years. The Court could have considered the percentage of minority voters casting ballots.

I readily admit that I have raised questions that I cannot answer. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was the first to say “The Pen is mightier than the sword.” In England the press has been called “The Fourth Estate.” Have you thought about what it costs to start a newspaper of television station?

Historically this country has addressed equally difficult situations. Conservatives do not like to think about the need for labor unions to arise, child labor laws, Social Security, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, and all those infringements on laissez-faire. Do we really want to balance the budget by cutting back food to children? One friend opines “If you want to cut welfare, start with corporate welfare.” Paying for misguided wars through Social Security is at best malfeasance. The conviction rate for insider trading and the sale of derivatives (major contributors to the last Great Recess-Depression) lags behind the conviction rate of robbers of 7/11s.

The society of Big Money is not working for the country. Does someone want to change the Declaration of Independence from “We the people” to “We the wealthy?”