Monday, December 24, 2012

"Luke Chapter 1:81-101, The Angel of the Lord and a Publicist walk into a Diner.”

         As some of you know, previous to seminary I spent my time studying intertestamental retellings of Biblical stories.
         Well—an interesting one arrived in the church mail-box a few days ago—sealed with an Ox faced stamp from a man named Theophilus—yes the same man to whom the Gospel of Luke was dedicated to—the words were scrawling in Greek letters so illegible that could only be from a physician—a physician such as St. Luke.
         What I bring before you was titled Luke, chapter 1, verses 81-101, twenty verses not found in any canonical scripture, but which would fit between the 80th verse of Luke chapter 1 and the first verse of Luke chapter 2. In other words, if it had made it into canonical scripture it would have been read right before the lesson I just read here tonight.
         If the translation sounds more Halversonian than Lukean—do not judge the author harshly, but instead judge me, the translator.
         I bring before you a section of scripture titled “The Angel of the Lord and a Publicist walked into a Diner.”
Let us pray:

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the first chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
         At that time an Angel of the Lord looked for a publicist in the phone book, and called one Chase Thompson, esquire.
         And low, they met for coffee and pie at a diner, Mr. Thompson arrived late—and verily his outfit was pretentious.
         “What are you selling?” he asked the angel.
         And the angel said, “The Savior of the World—the One who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (This was said to fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah).
         Mr. Thompson stifled a chuckle, thinking to himself, “is this guy for real?”
         And truly, he was for real.
         But aloud the Publicist said, “Sounds like an easy enough roll out—a little event at a library or something—balloons and punch—maybe an ad in the Observer or the Courier News.”
         With that the angel produced from under the table a brief case filled with 100-dollar bills.
         Mr. Thompson’s eyes became very large and lit up with much greed.
         “Mr. Thompson,” said the angel, “what would the greatest roll-out in the history of the world look like? How would humanity expect the Savior to appear?”
         “Well—first off, make sure he’s born to a nice family—no scandal—no skeletons in the closet, nothing that his enemies could use to hurt him.”
         The Publicist paused.

         “He’ll be the child of an emperor right? Or a king, prime minister or president. Born somewhere with easy access to the outside world—A capital—DC, maybe London, Jerusalem, Paris… you know, somewhere where the paparazzi and the media can find him— I can get him a Twitter account and a hash tag even before he’s born!”
         The angel summarized—writing something in his little mole-skin notebook. “So he should be in a capital city born of an Emperor?”

         “Yes. And you’ll need someone to discover him… don’t get me wrong—I will charge a finder’s fee—but someone prominent to discover him—Ashton Kutcher maybe… or Dianne Sawyer—the old people like Dianne Sawyer…
         wait, you’re an angel—you could bring Cronkite back…you could have George Washington, Honest Abe, and Walter Cronkite all at once discovering this kid!”
         Then, like he was swatting at flies, he pushed those thoughts away, saying, “I’m not a details person—the point is, bring in someone respectable and above reproach—some Pharisees, a Bishop, and a couple of good lawyers—everyone will be eating out of your hands.”
         “Your saying he needs to be discovered by reputable people.”
         “Yeah,” the Publicist affirmed.

         And then their bread pudding came, and Mr. Thompson leaned in, whispering,
         “The big thing is security, but don’t worry—I know a guy.
         we can keep your Savior under glass—untouched—invincible.”
         “You are suggesting a messiah should be under lock and key?”
         “Yeah, you know, keep him away from the riff-raff and make sure no unstable or sick person messes up the good thing he’ll have going.”

         “In Summary, Mr. Thompson, your recommendations for rolling out the Savior of the World—publicizing the birth of the Messiah, are:
1.   to make sure he’s born in the center of an empire to scandal free and influential parents,
2.   that the first people to ‘discover’ him have reputations beyond reproach, and, finally,
3.    that he’s kept from any possible danger—including interacting with those who need him, so that he can have rest at the expense of those who are weary and loaded down with heavy burdens?”
         “Yeah,” Mr. Thompson affirmed, eyeing again the suitcase filled with money.
         “We’ll take your recommendations under consideration,” responded the Angel of the Lord.

         And with that he, and the suitcase filled with money, were gone—Mr. Thompson—after much argument and haranguing—was forced to pay for his meal
He did not tip well.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

         Reading these lost words from Luke—knowing the tradition from Matthew that Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly to avoid a scandal
         Reading these lost words from Luke—knowing Bethlehem was at best a backwater of the Roman Empire and that a cattle trough is hardly the Ritz.
         Knowing a carpenter and young lady were not influential.
         Knowing that the shepherds who proclaimed Jesus as savior to Mary, Joseph, and whoever else were listening,
these shepherds were considered by some to be in the same category as tax collectors and prostitutes—the type of people whose testimony was considered inadmissible in the court of law and whose presence was unwelcome in respectable towns.
         Knowing Jesus Christ—the Savior whose birth we celebrate tonight—was born as a vulnerable baby and lived his life for those in need and gave his life our life to save.
         Knowing all of this—trusting it to be true, let us sing of mangers and hay
open starry nights and lowing cattle,
 the nearness of Lord Jesus to us—his blessing to children and his tender care.
         Let us sing “Away in a Manger.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Poem for Advent


Wait for the Lord
         Whose Day is Near

Children’s Pageants
Children’s Presents
Parking and stuff
Parties and stuff

Stuffing wrapping stuffing wrapping
Stuffing wrapping stuffing wrapping

Wait for the Lord
         Whose Day is Near

Time off—Question Mark
Time off—Period
Time off—Exclamation point
Time off—Worried face
Travel Travel, Travel Travel
Travel, Travel Travel Travel

Wait for the Lord
         Whose Day is Near

What to buy her
How to woo her
Meet the Boss
Meet the Family
Eat, small talk, Eat Eat
Eat, small talk, Eat Eat

Wait for the Lord
         Whose Day is Near
Wait for the Lord
         Be strong, take heart

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My All Saints Sunday/Post-Sandy Sermon

For the whole service click here.
On this the first Sunday all together since Hurricane Sandy, and this celebration of All Saint’s Sunday—I bid you greetings and peace.
Today, as we note the death and destruction that is in our rearview mirrors, yet still too close for comfort:
trees down, subways flooded, and amusement park rides thrown into the sea.
Today, as we continue to live with that shadow of death, where we’ve always been, just more aware of it at some times than others.
Today, I would like to speak with you briefly about death and our life in God.
About death being the great unknown and the experience of loss,
as well as the promise that God is with us in that loss and that the unknown is known to God.
Let us Pray:
In so many ways our life is saturated with death—it clings to us like sopped up wet cardboard to the side of a building. And when we notice it, moldering there, it scares us.
And rightly so, death is the great unknown—the end-point of expressible experience—in the normal course of life the average person can do a lot of things and live to tell others about them, but death isn’t one of them.
What can be experienced of death—by those who survive, is separation—separation from a loved one—a sense of loss.
Death is the great unknown. It’s an end-point. You may remember from Geometry the end point is simply the place where a ray becomes a line, where it shifts from being an unending line going forward forever and becomes a full stop measurable unit.
And that full stop—death—like the sudden end of a booming symphony or the silence in the eye of the storm—is eerie—it’s disconcerting, it’s down right frightening.
And that fright is nothing new—our fear of death is nothing new. In fact it’s quite old.
In the book of Isaiah we read of “death.”
Death, in the mythology of the Canaanites was not just the experience of the unknown end—but The Unknown End Itself—the horrible creature—Death.
Death was the eater of worlds, the consumer of life, the ender of all that is.
It was believed that the trajectory—the flight path—of all that is, was known—it’s ultimate resting place was the unknown cavernous belly of the beast death.
Yes, for the ancients death was a cosmic ravenous beast that would eventually eat the whole world. Death was the ultimate end point.
Death too, is an experience of separation. Think of Mary and Martha, weeping effusively, for their brother Lazarus—in their grief reproaching even Jesus. Think of the position they were in, a position of loss—separated physically by the rock at Lazarus’ tomb and cut off spiritually from their brother by the grave.
If there is anyone within the sound of my voice who hasn’t experienced the separation of death—remember back to Monday night and Tuesday. Remember trying to contact your loved ones, while being without power, how you were separated from them—
remember that and you get the smallest glimmer of what Mary, Martha, and the rest of us experience.
Or think of when you wandered into the bathroom at night and tried to turn on the light—you knew it wouldn’t turn on—but you still acted like the electricity was on. You remembered what having electricity was like—it should have been there—but it wasn’t.
That, again, is the tiniest touch of the separation that death brings.
And in those moments of separation—those moments of the terror of death. In these moments when our world is turned upside down. In those moments when we find ourselves with Mary and Martha at the grave.
In those moments, Jesus is there with us. Jesus is there in this mess, with us in death.
He is there weeping with Mary and Martha—and Jan and Bob and Loraine.
He is there taking-on their reproach—bearing our pain and hearing our cries.
He is there in the stench of death at the tomb—and on Staten Island, Sea Side Heights, and everywhere destruction holds sway.
He is there with Lazarus as he unbinds the strips of cloth from his re-animated body—and with us as we find wholeness within our broken lives.
Jesus is with us in our separation from those we love and as we suffer from that beast Death. He weeps with us as we weep, dies with us as we die.
But not only that—we read in Isaiah that Death—that consumer of worlds, is consumed by God. The eater is ate.
That the end note to the symphony of creation is just a rest.
That the storm does pass.
That the ferocious end point to end all lines is ultimately slurped up like an extra-long spaghetti noodle.
That Jesus doesn’t just shed tears with us, but that on that day he will wipe away every tear.
That like Lazarus we too will come out of the tomb, and like Jesus we will be resurrected.
The timeline with the fierce ending—Death, is met with the One who can say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the Beginning and the End.” The timeline that has an end has no power over the one who is the end, and the beginning.
We who are, who were, and who will be—All the Saints of God—are all caught up in the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who Will Be.
I know I’ve used this image before—but look at the altar rail. It’s a half circle, because, as we receive God’s grace by physical means we are joined—completing the circle around God’s table and around his throne—with the saints who have came before us and those yet to be born—all sustained together in that meal which consumes death and wipes away the most mournful of tears.
And that circle of saints surrounding God that we are a part of, reminds me of what I believe will be the emblematic image of Hurricane Sandy—Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

It’s this carousel—a merry-go-round—from 1922 with three rows of wooden horses and carriages lit-up and circling one another.
During the height of the storm this couple, right before they were evacuated, looked out their window and saw a darkened New York Cityskyline, dark save for that carousel—lit-up, waves and storm lapping at its base.
And that’s us, around that table—three rows of saints, those present, those past, and those yet to come—the storm breakers-Death, the darkness drear at our feet, yet still lit, lit by that one true light… still Thou our Lord, our one true light.
Still singing together, “Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna in the highest.”

Saturday, November 03, 2012

L'├ętat est nous: What’s at stake on Tuesday

            I remember, whenever someone would say something bad about the Government my mom would get a little flustered and respond, “We are the government.” This from a life long civil servant. She worked from the Department of Defense as the only civilian pharmacist at the NATO Health Clinic in Brussels during the twilight of the Cold War and still keeps our promise to America’s veterans at the VA to this day.
            And I believe that statement by my mom is on trial this election. Do we as a country believe that we are the government or is the government a nefarious entity that we should be afraid of?
            I vote for the first one—that government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
            We, as the government, do together what we can’t do alone. We, as the government, protect citizens who can’t protect themselves. We, as the government, govern as we wish to live.
            We do together what we can’t do alone. For example, the government acted to keep us out of a second Great Depression. One of the ways we did that is being argued about today, whether the Federal Government should have bailed out American car companies. We did, it saved millions of jobs in the American Auto-industry. Governor Romney says we should have let private firms bail out the American car companies, yet there was neither private capital nor private will to do such a thing. Yet, for the sake of millions of Americans, there was a need to save those jobs and keep the recession from becoming a depression. So we, the government, bailed out the car companies.
            Likewise, at this very moment we in New Jersey are pretty glad America is working collectively through agencies such as FEMA to assist us in our hour of need. Governor Romney has said he would break up FEMA and either pass it’s responsibilities on to state government or privatize it. I’ll be frank, I’m glad all of America is flexing our muscle to get things done here. I’d rather have all of us working together to fix the many bruised lives instead of 1/50th of America’s power working to bring power back and get life back to normal.
            We protect those who can’t protect themselves. There are forces, like Super Storm Sandy, that are too big for any one of us to handle on our own. In my own life, the force that is bigger than I am is being one of the 57.2 million Americans who have a pre-existing medical condition. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obama-care”) moved we the people into collective action against the bad practice of discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
            Now, during the debate Governor Romney said, while he would repeal “Obama-care” on his first day in office he would make sure people like me won’t be discriminated against. Then, after the debates, he explained what he meant. He won’t allow me to be discriminated against, as long as I’m already covered, but if I go without insurance for even a month, for whatever reason, we the people will no longer protect me from discrimination. As long as I’m not applying for insurance I’m protected from discrimination.
            I prefer the other path, the one where we protect our people on good days and on bad ones too.
            Finally, we govern as we wish to live. Now, I grew up in Wyoming so, Ayn Rand (the writer/philosopher who Representative Paul Ryan claims got him interested in public service) and extreme libertarianism—do it on your own or die rhetoric—gives me a certain reflexive cuddly warm fuzzy feeling. But then I realize a dog eat dog society isn’t the kind of society I want to live in.
            After Sandy my next door neighbor could have let my cell-phone go dead, but instead when she went to her sister’s house to charge her phone she offered to charged mine there too. I braved post-storm South Plainfield on foot to check on my parishioners, not because it was my job and I’d get paid for it, but because it was the right thing to do.
            And I think we should govern based on the type of neighborhood and society we believe we should live in. For example, every four months, I send a check for $2,500 to the IRS payable to the Treasury Department. I’ve heard libertarians (sometimes even libertarians citing St. Augustine’s discussion of Piracy and Government) call that theft. I call it an investment in the society I want to live in. That $2,500 goes to our collective defense, to fulfilling our promise to our soldiers when they come home, to my aunt’s 3 adopted kids, to my older friends who have been able to retire with dignity and in good health, to ensuring healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions, and to rebuilding New Jersey and the tri-state region.
(This post does not reflect the views held by the ELCA, the New Jersey Synod, or St. Stephen Lutheran and should not be seen as a political endorsement by any church body)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

St. Stephen News:
          First and foremost I’ve visited most St. Stephen folk within walking distance of church and the parsonage that I could find without googlemaps. Everyone I’ve seen is okay, a beloved truck was smashed, fences are down, trees are in people’s yards, but we’re okay.
          Second we have power at the church. I’m going to be here at least until 5pm tonight (I might even be having a slumber party here depending on how cold it’s feeling--if there are enough of us in need of warmth and power we'll make a night of it) so if folk need to warm up or charge their varied electronic devices please stop on by St. Stephen.

Synod News:
      Here is the Bishop’s Hurricane Response Letter in full:
TO: The New Jersey Synod, ELCA

RE: Hurricane Response Update

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As electric power begins to return, we have become more able to assess the damage from the storm. To this point we believe all of our rostered leaders are safe, although there are some whom we are still trying to reach, most serving on the barrier islands. Pastors and lay leaders have been trying to reach members of congregations, especially the most vulnerable, to make sure they are safe and to learn what they need. This is our immediate life and ministry together.

The devastation on the barrier islands, as you know, is massive. Because people have not been able to return to places like Long Beach Island, we cannot be certain about the condition of church properties. (We are presuming that leaders and members heeded the mandatory evacuation order and are safe.) Churches in Lavalette, Brant Beach, and Barnegat Light probably have suffered the most damage. We have yet to hear from Cape May and Wildwood and Asbury Park. Ocean City, Stone Harbor, and Somers Point are okay. But in all Shore communities, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, and inland for many miles, as you are well aware, people are dealing with very serious challenges.

Hoboken is trying to cope with catastrophic flooding. St. Matthew-Trinity is one of the few places with lights and heat. As a result, when one of the city shelters flooded early in the storm, St. Matthew-Trinity became a shelter for forty persons. I suspect there are similar stories in other communities.

  • LSMNJ is the point agency for Lutheran Disaster Response in New Jersey (though as of October 31 their offices were still without electricity). The LDR Coordinator is Pastor Lisa Barnes. Her cell phone number is 609-658-7988.
  • Mission Investment Fund Regional Manager Pastor Mark Wimmer is available to discuss assistance for "any church or ministry in your Synod that has suffered damage as a result of the hurricane." Contact or phone 267-203-1137.
  • Please encourage folks who are able to make gifts to ELCA Domestic Disaster Response. This Sunday would be a good time to begin receiving special offerings, perhaps designating a portion to be used for local assistance, and sharing the rest with the wider church to invest where the needs are greatest.

All of you continue in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you with abundant grace, strength, hope, and peace in these days.

A Prayer from Julian of Norwich (A.D. 1342-1416)
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, savior.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

 Bp. Roy Riley    

ELCA News:
As you might have guessed we are the national news
ELCA Disaster Response begins relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent storms, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson said that the 4.2 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is "in prayer and will respond generously and work tirelessly to rebuild lives, congregations and communities."
     In an Oct. 31 video, Hanson, presiding bishop of the church, said the recovery work will not be done alone. "Through ELCA Disaster Response, we will join with our congregations, affiliates and other partners in our shared commitment to restore communities. As we have shown in past disasters, we stay until the work is done. That is the ELCA's commitment."
     Some ELCA congregations along the U.S. Atlantic coast have reported damage. In the Caribbean, the storm has caused an estimated $88 million worth of damage to Cuba's second largest province and taken the lives of 11 people. In Haiti, 51 people have been reported dead and severe flooding has damaged roads, homes and farmland.    
     "In the face of this horrific storm the church is present in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean for relief, to rebuild and to renew the lives of those who have stood in the path of destruction," said the Rev. Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.
     "The church's work in these times benefit from our experience in disaster response, having already been present and prepared," said Rift. "Gifts given previously to ELCA Disaster Response enabled us to support the prepositioning of supplies in the Caribbean. That means we are already at work in bringing aid."
     While much of the damage on the east coast of the United States still needs to be assessed, many ELCA synod offices closed early in anticipation of the storm. After losing electricity on Monday night, the Rev. Claire Burkat, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, reported that "it might be days until (the power) comes back" and that it was "too dangerous for utility and Internet providers to work."
     "Communication and collaboration among our faith partners has been swift and effective," Burkat reported. "We pray that the Lord of Sea and Sky will continue to be with and protect those people and living creatures who are at risk from the wind, rain and flooding due to this massive storm."
     In hard-hit New Jersey, the Rev. Roy Riley, bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod, was optimistic. "We were blessed to have the weekend for families and communities to make preparations. In our congregations, there were reminders on Sunday to remember the most vulnerable and check in with them as possible before and during the storm."
     "In the past few years this synod's congregations have sent response teams to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Upstate New York, and places closer to home," Riley stated. "We should know the drill by now. Nevertheless, we are hoping for the best possible outcome but recognizing the significant challenges that lie ahead."
     The ELCA has a long history of responding quickly and generously to natural disasters.
     "The verbosity of this storm invites a response similar to that mounted over six years ago to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Rift. "In New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, we have recent experience in coordinating repair and cleanup after floods last year. We expect to continue and reactivate programs and to expand this work in other states where the storm continues to progress."
     "Gifts can be directed for the work in the United States, Caribbean or for either locations as needed most," said Rift. "In all cases, 100 percent of gifts for the Hurricane Sandy response will be directed for response."
     View the video message from the ELCA presiding bishop at Information about ELCA Disaster Response is available at

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why the Affordable Care Act is so important

As a man with a congenital heart defect who has been discriminated against by health insurance providers I resemble the following remarks:

As I've said before I think there should be a 57.2 million person pre-existing condition swing vote.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

10 things I learned about the Recovery Act from reading The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald

I recently bought two books, both of which I put on my nightstand. One was a small anthology of Beat Poetry the other Grunwald’s 518-page tome about the politics and policy of the Recovery Act… and I finished The New New Deal first. It is well written and genuinely a page-turner.
Here are a few things that stuck out to me from reading Grunwald’s book:

The stimulus was deeply Keynesian…—The basic idea of Keynesian economics is that the government should spend in a counter-cyclical fashion, when the private sector spends the government saves, when the private sector stops spending the government keeps money flowing in the economy by spending. On an extreme end of this, the government could pay people to dig holes and then fill them—because the point of Government stimulus is to get money out there by all means available.

… but infused with Obama’s campaign promises and priorities—Well, the administration figured a good way to get money out into the economy was to spend on things they had promised in the 2008 election campaign, especially, upgrading schools and reforming education, introducing information technology into health care, improving the efficiency of the national rail system and investing in high-speed rail, and encouraging both the efficiency of energy consumption, as well the development of alternative energies. Or to put it more simply, spending money on reforming health, transportation, energy, and education.

Making Sausage isn’t pretty, even in the age of Hope and Change—Obama’s economic advisors had done their homework when they created their stimulus proposal—all their ideas had to be timely, targeted, and temporary. It was a tight plan focused on reviving the economy and transforming it.
Then congress got hold of it.
The two main criticism of the stimulus are 1. It wasn’t big enough (from the left) and 2. It had too much pork in it (from the right). Both of these problems can be traced back to needing a 60th vote in the Senate to override a Republican filibuster—Arlen Specter, the 60th vote, can be blamed for both these perceived problems with the stimulus. On one hand, he required that the stimulus cost no more than 800 billion and on the other hand, he required 10 billion in funding to go toward the National Institute of Health. Some people say he cut the stimulus off 200 billion too small, and a lot of the “pork” cited by Republicans came from the NIH funding—for example research into why men don’t want to wear condoms and cocaine research on monkeys.

Our VP is… unique—Grunwald portrays Vice President Biden as somewhere between a Hipster, Elmo, and a Boxer being interviewed right after a brutal fight. He is full of bravado, wide-eyed hope, and uses literally literally in every sentence.

The Stimulus surprisingly lacked fraud and corruption—Thanks to the unprecedented transparency of the Obama administration, most clearly evident in being able to track every cent spent at, the expected fraud that generally accompanies such massive amount of spending didn’t happen. The experts said there would be tens of billions of dollars of fraud—instead a total of 7.2 million was lost to fraud. In addition to transparency, lot of the grants and other types of funding were purposefully competitive (for example “Race to the Top”), which discouraged those who couldn’t compete from trying to get a “hand out.”

But what about Solyndra?—I wondered this myself, after all people compare it to Watergate… well here is the report by Darrell Issa, who once described the Solyndra loan as proof that that Obama was, “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”
“Is there criminal activity? Perhaps not. Is there a political influence and connections? Perhaps not.” But, he concluded the administration “bent the rules for an agenda.”
What exactly did the administration do? The people granting loans pushed the decision date for granting Solyndra’s loans up to coincide with an Obama photo-op at a Solyndra plant. Later they asked Solyndra to hold off on announcing lay offs until after the 2010 election.

They were picking winners and losers because no one else was picking —we hear a lot of criticism of the government being in the loan business, because failures like the Solyndra loan will happen and the government will be out money. The reason the administration was “picking winners and losers”—that is loaning money to risky startup companies, is that no one else would. The credit crunch was real, and there was very little money flowing to new companies because the banks all became risk adverse. So again, Keynesian economics, the government decided to temporarily act as a bank because the banks weren’t acting as banks normally act.

ARPA-E is exciting—I don’t know if I’d heard of the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, the only new federal agency created by the Recovery act, until I read about it in Grunwald’s book. ARPA-E researches and funds out of the box experiments that might change the world—sort of a DARPA for energy science. For example, they gave out a lot of different grants to study using bacteria as a fuel—Electrofuels—which could change the whole energy sector. It’s Obama’s Manhattan Project.

Romney really doesn’t like the Tea Party—On two separate occasions Grunwald quotes Mitt Romney dissing the Tea Party. Romney tells a story of pulling a ferret out of his dishwasher and being bit by the ungrateful ferret. Romney believes the Tea Party is the ferret and moderates like Mitt are saving them from being boiled and battered in a dishwasher.

The Stimulus Worked—According to Grunwald’s research the Stimulus stopped a Great Depression. It kept 1.2 million Americans from being homeless, kept another 7 million from slipping below the poverty line, created 2.5 million jobs, increased the GDP from 2.1% to 3.8%, and without it unemployment would be at 12% right now instead of 8.1% (meaning instead of 12.5 million unemployed people in the US there would be 18.5 million).
The Stimulus is even being felt right here in South Plainfield, where, according to, 5 jobs were created by the stimulus in the last 3 months.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Obama 2012 = Bush 2004? continued

I just realized I made two types of charts for unemployment, but only one for the stock market. So I thought I'd post two charts about the dow and nasdaq performance that are raw numbers, not percentages.
So the Nasdaq:

And the Dow:

Obama 2012 = Bush 2004?

I read fivethirtyeight quite frequently because I’m genuinely interested in quantifying the spin we hear about polls and the economy with charts and statistics.
One of the things Nate Silver (author of fivethirtyeight) suggested is that Obama is in a similar place to where Bush was in 2004 regarding the economy. So, I measured 2 economic indicators, the stock market and unemployment rates (and number of unemployed people), from January 20, 2009-June 8, 2012 and January 20th, 2001-June 8, 2004 in order to compare the two candidates.
So let’s take a look.
Firstly, the stock market:

It is clear that Obama is looking much better than Bush regarding the performance of the stock market. This would indicate that if Bush won re-election based on the performance of the stock market under his administration, Obama will do the same and then some.

Secondly, the unemployment rate:

This is more of a mixed picture. On one hand, unemployment actually rose more under Bush during this time period than under Obama. On the other hand, it was also considerably lower under Bush than under Obama.

Let’s look at that same chart with numbers of unemployed people instead of %, just because it feels a little different when we are talking millions of unemployed people:
I doubt that the electorate will reward Obama simply for having lost fewer jobs (600,000 vs 3,200,000) than Bush did in a similar period of time. There are 3.7 million more unemployed people today than there were 8 years ago. If Obama received the same number of votes in 2012 as Bush did in 2004, except that those 3.7 million unemployed people voted against him, then he would lose the popular vote by 700,000 votes.  (That said if the election looks more like 2008, then Obama would still win by 5.8 million votes.)

In conclusion, if the stock market is more heavily weighed by the electorate than the unemployment rate, Obama is a shoo-in for re-election. If unemployment is a better indicator, Obama will have a much tougher election and has to hope his get out the vote effort performs like it is 2008, not like Bush's did in 2004 (or that he can convince voters that those 3.7 million jobs were lost because of Bush's handling of the economy and that Romney would run the country similarly). 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Your Weekly Simul, week 6: A Case for Libertarianism

State controlled Feline Christian interaction

Privately chosen Feline Christian interaction

John 15--The New Chris Interpretation

So, this is my take on last weeks reading, Jesus' farewell discourse.
Here is some background on how I got here.

“God loves me as a parent loves a child, and I love you in the same way. I command you, love like that, after all, we are in that kind of loving relationship together.
I abide in the Father’s love, so I love you, laying down my life for you.
You abide in that love, so you love one another, even laying down your lives for one another.
I’ve said this that my joy may abide in you, completing your joy.
My command is this that you to love one another, laying down your lives for one another.
There is no greater love than this, to lay down your life for a friend. I lay down my life for you, my friends. You are friends so you love one another, even laying down your lives for each other.
You are not servants, you are friends. I make you friends because you have heard me as I hear the Father—we are together in this conversation.
I chose you, I started this relationship, not you. I appointed you and planted you like a vine, that you would be fruitful—bearing fruit that will last. The Father will give you whatever you ask for the task of loving fully.
I command that you love one another completely, so you may love one another.”

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sermon, Easter 5: How wide the resurrection?

How wide the resurrection?
Christ is risen
he is risen indeed, alleluia.

         When I read in Acts about how the Greek gentile Philip told the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch, and when I read about the Ethiopian Eunuch’s response to those words,
questions of who is in and who is out/
Questions about how far the church is willing to stretch itself for the sake of finding itself/
Questions about how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is for all people,
come to mind.
         This last week the ELCA’s Full Communion partner, the United Methodist Church, met for their General Conference and struggled together with the question of who can be a minister and who cannot—specifically, can gay-folk be Christian ministers.
         These are the type questions the church has been grappling with since there was a church—and questions the church will continue to grapple with, until such time as we turn and find ourselves face to face, at the last, with the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Slain Lamb of God.
         And ultimately the question becomes: “How wide is the resurrection?” How wide is the resurrection?

         How wide is the resurrection?
         You might expect me to begin with the Eunuch, after all, at first glance, it would seem the resurrection would have to be pretty darn wide, to include him.
         But, I think it would be instructive for us to pan out from this moment in time. That is, expand out our vision to encompass the entire scope of Philip’s ministry as recorded in the book of Acts.
         Because when we do that, we see that this question “How wide is the resurrection?” follows Philip wherever he goes.
         Back in the 6th chapter of Acts a crisis arises. While the Widows of Jewish decent were being fed by the earliest church, the Greek-speaking widows—the gentiles, were not being fed.
         As you may remember the gentiles, the non-Jews, were allowed to join the Christian church after Peter proclaimed the gospel to three thousand of them on Pentecost.
         And that was one thing, but feeding their widows was another thing altogether.
         I’m sure some of the Apostles asked themselves, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough to take from our meager treasury and time to feed these latecomers?
         Their solution was that this church’s namesake, Stephen—St. Stephen, along with six other gentile men, among them Philip—would take care of distributing food to the gentile widows. To “wait on tables,” as the disciples somewhat dismissively described the task.

         Now, I’m friends with a conservative man who left his church because it allowed women to be communion assistants… he said if that was allowed, the next thing you know they’ll be allowed to preach God’s Word. And if the book of Acts is any indication, he’s right.
         You see, these gentiles didn’t stop at waiting on tables. Before too long they were preaching. Not long after that Stephen became the first Christian martyr—dying while proclaiming Christ crucified and raised.
         Again, I can imagine the early church seeing these gentiles preaching, and these gentiles laying down their lives for the gospel, and asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Wide enough to let unclean lips proclaim perfect peace? Wide enough for Stephen to share in Jesus’ resurrection?

         But it doesn’t stop there. Later Philip preaches so powerfully in the district of Samaria that a Sorcerer by the name of Simon is so stirred by his words that he is baptized.
         Yet again, I can imagine the church looking at this convert of Philip’s and asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough that a man that the Book of Exodus says ought to be put to death, a sorcerer, might partake in it? Did we make a mistake, was letting gentiles become Christians the beginning of a slippery slope?

         And finally, in the 22nd chapter of the book of Acts, we find Philip living with his family, which included four daughters… four daughters that scripture describe as “prophetic.”
         Now I don’t want to overplay how male dominated the ancient world was, but, you can imagine someone asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough to include women prophets? Did the Prophet Joel really mean it when we said both, “your sons and your daughters shall prophecy”?

         From first to last, Philip’s ministry involved expanding the types of people who were brought close to God through Christ. Expanding the church’s understanding of whom Christ died for. Widening the meaning of the statement that the resurrection changes everything.
         And today’s reading is no different.

         Philip is in the wilderness. He approaches a man in a government issued vehicle—there was probably a secret service agent driving that chariot, touching his ear every now and again, wishing someone would hurry up and invent the ear piece and sunglasses.
         Philip approaches a man of a different race and a different ethnicity than his own. Philip was named after the Macadonian father of Alexander the Great, that man was likely named after his Ethiopian Queen—probably named something like Abdi-Malkah.
         Philip approaches a man, also, who was a Eunuch—meaning someone neutered him so that he could be trusted with the entire treasury of his queen—
after all the point of taking over a queendom would be to pass it on to your daughter or son. If it was impossible to have children, the thinking went, it was also impossible to control a country.

         And Philip rides along the Wilderness Road with this Eunuch reading scripture together and proclaiming Christ as risen Lord.
         Then they stop, and the Eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
         And that persistent question could have popped up in Philip’s mind, “How wide is the resurrection?” Wide enough for a Eunuch—who Leviticus says may not come near God, and Deuteronomy says can not be amongst God’s people?
         Philip could have barred this man from baptism on account of him being a Eunuch.
         For that matter, he could have said, “I can’t baptize you because there were no Ethiopians present when the three thousand converted on Pentecost.”
         He could have made up excuses based on the man’s position as Treasurer.

         But that’s not what happened.  He did baptize the Eunuch. And if the tradition of the Ethiopian church is to be believed that Eunuch in turn brought The Faith to his country, and that faith continues on in the lives of 38 million Ethiopians today.
         How wide is the resurrection? So wide that table service becomes proclamation.
         So wide that Sorcerers are baptized and daughters prophecy.
         So wide that race, ethnicity, treasures, and Eunuch-hood are not a barrier to the Kingdom.

         How wide is the resurrection?
So wide that Christ is raised and dies no more.
         So wide that he broke death’s fearful hold and turned our despair into blazing joy.
         So wide that by water we share in his saving death.
         So wide that we share his Easter life and live as members of our Savior.
         So wide that the Spirit shakes the church of God.
         So wide that a new creation comes to life and grows.
         So wide that the universe, restored and whole, will sing Hallelujah.