Friday, August 15, 2014

Ferguson and remarkable disparities in people killed by police-- by race and especially by age

Check out the charts toward the bottom of this link. Click on #3-- the bar graph with numbers on "male victims of police shootings by race", divided into White (including Hispanic-- I looked that up at the source of the data), Black, and other. The most interesting part is that the data are also divided by age, using six ranges (under 20, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, over 60).

The data are incomplete, but seemingly not biased in a way that profoundly changes the results. If so, a few, fascinating observations from the data:

-The proportion of blacks killed by the police (vs. all people killed by the police) drops dramatically as age increases, from 56% to 16%.
-The proportion of blacks in the population drops as well, but much more modestly-- from 15% of the population for younger people down to 9% of the people for older folks. (As an aside, this is one way you can infer that Social Security is a particularly brutal kick in the shorts to African-Americans.)

Why are older African-Americans less likely to be killed? Many possibilities:
-Older blacks understand how to negotiate the police better (but are unable to pass those lessons along to the youth).
-Older blacks are less likely to to cause trouble and have encounters with the police.
-Police engage in age discrimination-- perhaps in tandem with racial discrimination. This discrimination could be "personal" (cops don't like young people) or "statistical" (based on perceived or correct stereotypes).
-In any case, race discrimination alone cannot explain these numbers, given that the numbers vary so much with age.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

for supporters and esp. critics of the Bible

Hopefully, all with strongly-held views on the Bible (whether supportive or critical) have gotten those through careful study and reading at least somewhat from those who are supportive and critical of it.

While reading the whole Bible would be quite a load, one would expect a critic to have read a good chunk of it that was representative and/or crucial to its themes and claims. (It's safe to assume that any critics reading this have more dignity and intellectual honesty than to rely solely on snippets, snark, and/or what critics have said about it.)

I think it'd also be appropriate to expect that one would revisit the Bible once in awhile-- say, every 5-10 years. As we change/grow, then our encounters with great, provocative literature can vary significantly. It'd be a shame to criticize that which I would now embrace or respect-- if I were open to giving it a new/fresh reading.

If you haven't read a big chunk, then I'd recommend Genesis and the New Testament.

If it's been awhile and you're looking for a refresher (particularly if you have not already read some of these at all), I'd recommend some of the following:

-Genesis 37-50-- the story of Jacob's family, esp. Judah and his more famous brother, Joseph. Leon Kass taught (still teaches?) a "Great Books" course on Genesis at U. of Chicago for 30 years. He turned the resulting discussions into a marvelous 800-page commentary, The Beginning of Wisdom.

-Ecclesiastes and a handful of Psalms-- e.g., Psalm 2, 22, 23, 42, 51

-Some of the prophets--e.g., Hosea 1-3, Ezekiel 16:1-6 (and read on to vs. 49-50 if you want to see the Bible's definition of "the sin of Sodom"), Isaiah 52-55, Haggai, Malachi

-The gospels of Luke and John

-The book of Romans

-Revelation, especially if you tend toward the more artistic or poetic side of things

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Why Work?" by Dorothy Sayers

Excerpts from Dorothy Sayers' Why Work?

[Work] should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing. 

We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” 

Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

We should no longer think of work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure; we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work.

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation...How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. 

Finally, a quote on work within Creed or Chaos, referring to a Catholic groups ideas for an ideal society: "It contained a number of clauses dealing with work and employment—minimum wages, hours of labour, treatment of employees, housing and so on—all very proper and Christian. But it offered no machinery whatever for ensuring that the work itself should be properly done. In its lack of a sacramental attitude to work, that is, it was as empty as a set of trade union regulations. We may remember that a mediaeval guild did insist, not only on the employer's duty to his workmen, but also on the labourer's duty to his work."

Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers

Excerpts from Dorothy Sayers' "Creed or Chaos"...

We still go on scolding Germany for disregarding the standard of European ethics, as though that standard was something which she still acknowledged. It is only with great difficulty that we can bring ourselves to grasp the fact that there is no failure in Germany to live up to her own standards of right conduct. It is something much more terrifying and tremendous: it is that what we believe to be evil, Germany believes to be good. It is a direct repudiation of the basic Christian dogma on which our Mediterranean civilisation, such as it is, is grounded. 

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology...It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling...It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practise it. 

In this Christian country, not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ...Apart from a possible one per cent of intelligent and instructed Christians, there are three kinds of people we have to deal with. There are the frank and open heathen, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdote and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics...Finally, there are the more or less instructed church-goers, who...are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against [X] as a boy with a pea-shooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns. 

If Christian dogma is irrelevant to life, to what, in Heaven's name is it relevant?— since religious dogma is in fact nothing but a statement of doctrine concerning the nature of life and the universe. If Christian ministers really believe it is only an intellectual game for theologians and has no bearing upon human life, it is no wonder that their congregations are ignorant, bored and bewildered...

The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; if He is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life. It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all...We must unite with Athanasius to assume Tommy Adkins that the God who lived and died in the world was the same God who made the world, and that, therefore, God himself has the best possible reasons for understanding and sympathising with Tommy's personal troubles. 

Complicated as the theology is, the average man has walked straight into the heart of the Athanasian creed, and we are bound to follow. Teachers and preachers never, I think, make it sufficiently clear that dogmas are not a set of arbitrary regulations invented a priori by a committee of theologians enjoying a bout of all-in dialectical wrestling. Most of them were hammered out under pressure of urgent practical necessity to provide an answer to heresy. And heresy is, as I have tried to show, largely the expression of opinion of the untutored average man...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

would you rather...

Eddie got to preach this weekend at So. IN. Good stuff!

His premise started with something near and dear to an economist: opportunity costs (!)-- phrased as a "would you rather?"

The choice he presented: "one new spiritual truth every day" vs. "give one thing away that might change someone's life". Posed like that, the former is the obvious choice, since receiving new spiritual truths will change your life and those around you. (If they don't change you, then they aren't received, spiritual and truth!)

But Eddie played with various angles on the choice, adeptly calling the audience to serving others and gaining truths-- and making the sobering point that religion and religious people often get in the way of people coming to Christ. 

A few other thoughts struck me:
1.) Of the two "choices", I suspect many would be drawn to the latter, because it's sexier and quicker. In contrast, the methods, message, and ministry of Jesus-- the call to discipleship and making disciple-makers-- are messier and require a ton of time and effort...often, one spiritual truth at a time!

2.) You must receive in order to give. All have received at some level, but having received more is preferable-- in order that one can give more. From another angle, mission and vision are essential-- but so is getting "thoroughly equipped for every good work". What are you doing to get more thoroughly equipped? Sermons are necessarily milk-- a nice start, but... Passively sitting in a study won't do much for you. Failing to serve, you miss the opportunity to grow your faith in community. Failing to practice spiritual disciplines, you take a bunch of tools out of the bag God has given you. And so on.

3.) There's a lot more to the Christian life than Bible study. But it's a significant player. And there's a big difference between attending a Bible study and being a Bible studier. At the low end, you have people who regularly and passively attend sermons and studies. (A nice start, but don't get stuck there!) Moving along the spectrum, you have those who actively engage in more rigorous studies. And then, much further along, you have those who actively study on their own. We have a lot of people in churches and in Bible studies, but how many are Bible studiers?

4.) Eddie cited some data on the proportion of attenders who serve. From what I know of the data, I'd guess that Bible study attenders are more likely to serve (and tithe)-- and that Bible studiers are the most likely. Anybody have data on that?

Thoughts on any of the above?

Monday, July 28, 2014

family retreat to draft a mission/purpose statement

Thanks to Kurt Sauder and Jeff Heisler who gave me a bunch of good ideas for setting this up; to Tonia for helping think things through (and of course, for being my wife, partner in parenting, and best friend!); and to Joe Donaldson for talking me through some of the pros and cons of approaching this potential project!

A few caveats before we get going: 
1.) Failing to do this will not make you a loser. Doing this will not make you a winner; in fact, an eagerness to do this may be a bad sign. ;-)
2.) As a corollary to #1, you should feel neither inordinate pride nor wild guilt if you do not choose to make this investment. 
3.) This is not a panacea, but it may have an important impact on your family. Don't trivilaize it, but set your expectations appropriately. 
4.) We have four boys, ages 9-15. It worked pretty well and they liked "it" more than I guessed. But it was far from silky smooth. Results with your family-- particularly given different ages and genders-- may vary. 

A few things for planning your retreat...
1.) Consider going somewhere-- at least to a local park during the day or overnight at a hotel.
2.) Carefully consider what your spouse and children can handle.
3.) Consider how long you want this to run. At minimum, you're probably looking at five or six hours. (That's what we did.) But you could easily expand the material and/or stretch out the breaks to an entire weekend.
4.) Remember to take a lot of breaks and have a lot of active fun and good food.
5.) Consider a devotional or two (or more, if you make this a full weekend). You also have (easy) opportunities for Bible study incorporated within the exercises and/or separately within times for reflection.
6.) Bring a dry-erase board, easel, or poster board and markers-- to write stuff when you're working as a group. Bring notebooks, journals or at least loose-leaf paper for individuals to write down their goals.

Ground Rules
You'll probably want to lay out ground rules for discussion. You can discuss them briefly-- perhaps over breakfast or in the car on the way to a destination. Or you could spend more time on them, treating them as a good opportunity for a self-contained Bible study. 
Here's what we used:
a.) Be quiet, listen and pay attention to others when speaking (Jas 1:19-21)
b.) Don’t be critical—verbally or non-verbally; build others up (Eph 4:29)
c.) Don’t complain (Phil 2:14-18)
d.) Serve others; help with lunch and packing/unpacking the van (Gal 5:13)
e.) Be honest with yourself and us
f.) Enjoy yourself; have fun!

Sessions (combine these or do them separately as you see fit):
1.) Provide an overview of the retreat, including an introduction to the purpose of a (family) purpose statement

2.) Brainstorming session on the characteristics and priorities of Jesus and His disciples.

3.) Summarize the brainstorming notes into a few phrases on key family’s values and priorities.
-After #2 and/or #3, during a break, you'll want to summarize / tighten / organize the messy stuff you've brainstormed.

4.) Provide examples of mission/purpose statement from businesses and ministries. Encourage them to guess which company and to describe the mission statement, comparing and contrasting with others. Here's what we used (with key phrases underlined):

a.) Ford: We are a global family with a proud heritage passionately committed to providing personal mobility for people around the world.

b.) Harley-Davidson: We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.
--At this point, we compared Ford and Lamborghini.

c.) Nike: To bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
--We compared Nike to Starters and NuBalance.

d.) Disney: We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.

e.) Dollar General: Serving Others-- For Customers, A Better Life; For Shareholders, A Superior Return; For Employees, Respect and Opportunity

f.) Southeast Christian Church: Connecting people to Jesus and one another

g.) Thoroughly Equipped / DC: To create an army of disciple-makers for the Kingdom

5.) Discuss the purposes and potential purpose statements of key Biblical figures:
a.) OT: Noah, Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), Moses, Esther (4:16)

b.) NT: John the Baptist (Jn 1:23), Paul (Acts 13:46-48)

c.) Jesus: Note His sacrifice/resurrection AND His ministry/life. (Without the latter, He could have shown up for a week, gotten on the Cross, defeated death, etc. Instead, he showed us how to live as well, following God’s will, empowered by Spirit, equipping disciples, etc.)

6.) Spouses discuss their purposes—individually and within marriage.

7.) All individuals take (quiet) time to reflect and journal on their goals for the upcoming year-- as an individual. 
-Provide an example on the board-- or provide prepared sheets-- with a list of goal types: spiritual/church; school/intellectual; work/household (for adults); money; family/home; friends.

A few important things to discuss here-- to make this a (far) more useful exercise:
a.) Goals are implied by the calls to "grow" and mature (Colossians 2:6-7), progress in our faith (I Timothy 4:15-16), and move from milk to meat (Hebrews 5:13-14).
b.) Goals should be specific and measurable. Provide bad and good examples. (This can be challenging for kids!) 
c.) Goals can be a combination of continuing good things and starting new good things. Sometimes, people imagine that they can only use brand new things to accomplish. Again, provide examples.

8.) Discuss your purpose and goals as a family-- and then, refine your family purpose/mission statement.
You may well need to give it more work-- either in an additional session or days later. We've already edited ours again-- and it still may need some work.

Our tentative plan is to frame each person's goals, putting those around the family's (framed) mission statement. If so, and assuming we do something similar in future years, we can keep each year's goals within the frame as a record/memorial.

Please share your experiences here. Share suggested verses, exercises, ideas, etc. This is, very much, a work in progress. And I will edit as I get feedback. Thanks!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

a Christian approach to anthropogenic global warming (or is it non-falsifiable "climate change" today?)

As always, if the ends are significant-- and if the means to the ends are ethical and practical-- then X is certainly a candidate for religious/Christian involvement! (Of course, you can/should apply most/all of the same criteria to any policy question!)

1.) Is there global warming? (Ever notice how it's often global warming
when warmer data come in-- and non-falsifiable "climate change" when not. At the least, the flip-flop is not good for proponents' look.) 

2.) Is it anthropogenic? (Not essential, but helpful to the cause of the question.) 

3.) What are the net gains/losses? (Notice how articles on this emphasize the negative. Again, not good for their look...)

4.) Are the solutions ethical? (Or do the means justify the ends?)

5.) Will the solutions actually make a difference? (Aren't good intentions enough?)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pence’s call for tax reform in Indiana

Governor Mike Pence is calling for a review of the State’s tax code. His top goals are to simplify the code and to promote economic development—two worthy pursuits. 

First, if the government is going to take our money, then it should do so as gently as possible. The U.S. income tax code is notoriously burdensome in terms of the billions of hours and dollars required to complete the paperwork. Governments will tax our money, but they shouldn’t unnecessarily tax our time too. 

Second, all things equal, fiscal and regulatory policies should minimize the damage to the economy and increase the possibilities of economic development. It is important for policy-makers to strive for this goal. 

But while Indiana’s leaders are looking at tax reform, they should achieve one other goal: eliminating the income tax burden on working poor households. 

These days, it is common to make loud (and vague) complaints about the “gap between the rich and the poor”. Related to that, it is popular to advocate a higher minimum wage. But a higher minimum is a very mixed bag. 

To name two reasons (among many): First, the minimum wage has both benefits and costs. By artificially increasing the price of less-skilled, it will be less attractive to firms. Depending on the context, firms may respond by increasing prices to consumers or reducing other forms of compensation (e.g., free uniforms, discounts on product). But if these are not sufficient, firms will eliminate jobs. 

It’s a shame to help some vulnerable people by harming other vulnerable people. This hurts those who lose jobs—short-term and then long-term, by taking away their opportunities to build skills, cutting off the first few rungs of the economic ladder that would allow them to move to the middle class. 

Second, the minimum wage is poorly-targeted—impacting middle-class teens and the elderly, as well as poor heads of households. Policy prescriptions should be as precisely targeted as possible, limiting the costs of the policy and concentrating the benefits of the policy appropriately.

Fortunately, there is a better policy alternative: eliminating taxation on working poor households. By far, the most onerous burden comes from the FICA payroll taxes on income that are used to support the Social Security and Medicare of current retirees. These take 15.3% of every dollar earned by the working poor—more than $3,000 annually from a head-of-household at the poverty line. It always amazes me that so-called champions of the working poor rarely talk about this devastating policy issue. 

Of course, Hoosier leaders can’t do much about a nasty federal policy. But they shouldn’t add to those burdens by imposing state income taxes on the same vulnerable people. At present, Indiana is one of a handful of states that impose taxes on hard-working, lower-skilled, heads-of-household at the poverty line. 

A decade ago, Indiana added an earned income tax credit (EITC) to offset much of this burden. But Indiana legislators should take the next step. They should remove all working poor households from the tax rolls and freeing up the EITC to do what it was designed to do: subsidize working-poor households. Poor households would have more money in their pocket—without the risk of being priced out of the labor market by a higher minimum wage. This would be a win-win for the working poor and the Hoosier economy.