Monthly Archives: September 2003

Last Year on the Couch

According to Luke 3:23, Jesus started his public ministry when he was about 30 years old. We know that from 30 onward he was ambitious and hardworking. We know that he was very successful too, reaching the pinacle of his particular career path. When I look ahead to 30, I know that I just won’t have it all together like that in my own life. Jasonism is not going to sweep the world.

I’m 29 now and I already feel intimidated by what Jesus must have been like at my age. He knew what he thought about the entirety of the Law and the Prophets. He had his social and political views fully formulated. He was so convinced of his own beliefs that he could stand before a crowd of thousands and say, “Learn from me.”

That’s not me. But maybe Jesus had his awkward years too. Maybe he spent his share of time on the couch, spinning wheels and changing channels. He must have already been well read, but maybe his teachings and drive came to him in an epiphany. Maybe what’s scattered and diffuse can come into focus at about age 30.

That’s what I tell myself now but, whether it’s true or not, this is the last year I can think that maybe me and Jesus aren’t so different. Next year it’s obvious.

A Sort of Sorrow

Sometimes lately when I’m playing with Cora, as the day that will bring us her little sister draws closer and closer, I feel something akin to sorrow as I think that we’re about to lose this one-to-one, me-to-her, one daddy-to-one daughter relationship that Cora’s known for her whole life. I don’t regret the second child, just the loss of the completely unique relationship with Cora. It won’t be one-to-one anymore: daddy has two little girls.

And she doesn’t even have enough understanding at this point to think it over and get ready for the change. Just one day, suddenly, everything’s different and there’s no way to go back.

I can understand if Cora ends up viewing the change with more than just a mild sorrow. After all, if the situation were different and instead Cora was getting a second daddy, I’d be very jealous of that very lucky person.

Jesus For City Council

In yesterday’s entry, The Gospel According To…, I mentioned that I thought Jesus would be considered a liberal if he ever served in a political body like the city council. Is that true?

My argument was that Jesus showed compassion for the sick, the poor, the widow, and the orphan in his personal dealings, so I figured that the same compassion exhibited on the city council would result in—what? Subsidized housing and free medical care?

But at the time I hadn’t considered the people who didn’t get what they wanted from Jesus. There were some. The rich young ruler in Mark 10, and Martha in Luke 10, for instance. I guess what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t always do the “bleeding heart” thing, so why don’t I try to apply what I know of his teachings to some of the problems that would come before city council.

For instance, what would Jesus do about medical services to the poor? When he would personally encounter a sick person, he often healed them. But you can’t craft a successful public policy based on miracles. What happens when term limits force him off the council? Who will work the miracles then?

No, Jesus would have to propose a policy for how the government should deal with sick people who couldn’t afford their own medical care. Would everyone who got sick get free medical care? Or only those who couldn’t afford their own care? Or should the government stay out of this area altogether?

When he met the demoniac in Mark 5, this guy was in no position to help himself. So Jesus helped him preemtively. The same can be said about the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida in John 5. I see a possible government program here for people so far down that they can’t help themselves.

However, when someone asked him for something that was in their own power to provide, what did he say?

And what about Jesus’ concern that people deal with real issues like their sin before he eased their temporal concerns like health and hunger? Didn’t Jesus tell a hillside full of people not to worry about what they would eat or where they would sleep, but trust in God for that stuff?

The Gospel According To…

It often seems to me, when among my Christian fellows at church, that I am in the minority with my liberal political leanings, especially when it comes to social issues. I’ve always wondered why. I can understand that the sobriety and personal responsibility required by the New Testament—not to mention the strict adherance to law required by the Old—could give rise to the focus on personal responsibility and tougher criminal penalties advocated by conservative social thinking. However, the sayings and activities of Jesus—who also features prominently in the New Testament—have always seemed to me to mesh much better with liberal social thought than conservative. At least, with his concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, and the alien, I always imagined that if Jesus ever got onto the city council he’d have to be considered a liberal.

Here’s a cartoon that attempts to draw a line between Jesus’ social teachings and the methods of many of today’s rich and powerful (who are not necessarily synonymous with the present conservative leadership in our nation, but come on) by reimagining Jesus as a proponent of their ideas.

I realize that I’m intermingling politics, economics, and public policy under the heading of “conservative,” and that it’s an oversimplification to say that any given conservative leader of our day would exhibit the worst aspects of the “greedy corporate conservative” stereotype. But again, come on.

Better Job Than I Did

My entry from a couple of days ago, Public Sphere, explored what I was thinking about the 10 Commandments controversy in Alabama. Lark News has a terrific satire of that situation. It doesn’t address the central issue in the Alabama controversy (separation of church and state vs. freedom of expression for a state employee) and in that way sets up a straw man, but I think the caricature of the Christian courthouse demonstrators is pretty good. I don’t think the caricature is an accurate representation of the demonstrators, but it makes its humorous point by picking all the right features to exagerate.

Track Record

I got to do something new yesterday: I recorded a couple of bass tracks in a professional recording studio. It was very, VERY cool!

I’m familiar with the concept of “studio musicians,” but I hadn’t really thought through how difficult it is to sit in a room by yourself, listen to a track that other instruments have already laid down, and then make a recording of you grooving along with them as if you were all in the room together. It was hard!

I’m used to locking on to the other musicians I play with via eye contact or watching their hands. That feedback is completely absent in the studio. All I had of other musicians was their playback in my headphones. It was hard to stay locked on with that through passages where the tempo or dynamics change. Instead of staying together with eye contact I had to just remember where the changes were and hope like crazy that I slowed down at the same rate. It took a lot of careful listening.

The thing that made it easier than playing live with a band, though, was that we could do several takes of a song and then blend the best parts of each take together to get one seamless, mistake-free track. And better than that: once we were satisfied that we had a clean foundation track, we recorded another track where I didn’t have to worry about getting it all mistake-free, but could add licks and fills everywhere I wanted — playing what was in my head rather than what was on the sheet music — and then insert those fills into the master track if we liked them and leave them out if we didn’t. The end result is a single track that sounds as though I’m a bass phenomenon who sat down one day and played a tasteful, inventive foundation for this song, stayed in the pocket the entire time, and did so flawlessly.

Having heard me live, one might suspect that I play one-handed with a single arthritic finger. Thank you, Craig, for your patience and skill in mixing me up to a performance worthy of 2 hands and 8 fingers.

All American Girl

Cora could be called the all-American girl. I’m older now, but when I was younger I would have qualified as the “boy next door.”

I got the feeling the other day that I don’t want to always relate to Cora as Daddy, the old guy who’s only good for money and car keys, who makes her eat vegetables and enforces a bedtime. Sometimes I’d like to relate to her as just two people who enjoy each other’s company. Why do we have to see each other only generationally? We could be the perfect pairing of the all-American girl and the boy-next-door.

Public Sphere

I read this quote in an entry on The Right Christians, who in turn were quoting an article from Sojourners.

In our own American history, religion has been lifted up for public life in two very different ways. One invokes the name of God and faith in order to hold us accountable to God’s intentions — to call us to justice, compassion, humility, repentance, and reconciliation. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin King perhaps best exemplify that way. Lincoln regularly used the language of scripture, but in a way that called both sides in the Civil War to contrition and repentance. Jefferson said famously, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

The other way invokes God’s blessing on our activities, agendas, and purposes. Many presidents and political leaders have used the language of religion like this …

I don’t know what to think about the people holding vigil on the steps of the Alabama supreme court building. They’re all there because they don’t want a monument to the 10 commandments removed from the lobby of the building. Their motivations for lifting their religion into public life over this issue are probably a mixed bag of the first and second ways mentioned in the quote above. Some probably want to remind us that there is more to righteousness than obeying the laws of Alabama or the United States. Some probably want to claim that they’re doing the very work of God and that how we treat some gaudy engraved rock is a referendum on whether or not we’ve truly understood mankind’s obligation to God.

When I’m cynical I think these people are just trying to force there own religious views on everyone else. “We can’t make you be a Christian, but we can remind you that most of us are Christians and that you will be judged by magistrates and juries according to the current fashions of our doctrine instead of the leveled ground of civil and criminal law.” This isn’t about freedom of speech: it’s the opposite. This same group of people would be back on the courthouse steps holding a vigil to remove any monuments to Sharia law or the touchstones of any other religion. No, it looks more like it’s about getting around democracy because all these other people believing all these other things makes it too difficult for them to get the government to pander to one group of people over another like back in the good old days!

When I’m charitable, I think about the energy that these religious people are pooring into their cause. How that energy, at least in the true followers of Jesus’ teaching, springs from the desire to help lost people find their way; the desire to point damned and miserable people toward redemption. The lawyers from the ACLU press hard for civil liberties because they want to protect their own right to think and say whatever they happen to believe. That comes with the corollary that they don’t give a crap about what you or these Christians think or believe. To foster an environment where they can safely ignore everyone else, they have to guard everyone’s right to say whatever. However, when you get the diagnosis about whatever terminal disease is going to end your life, it’s not some civil liberties interest group that is going to care for you. Suddenly it’s these Christians — the same ones we had perceived as seeking to to abridge our freedoms — who are giving freely in terms of comfort and material support. At that point I’m sure the compassion shown in the hospice looms larger than any disagreement over what we’re allowed to put in the lobby.

I’d like the 10 Commandments moved out of the court house lobby because I think that huge monument does send a message about religion that, in that location, looks like it’s coming from the state. I don’t want the state having any part in telling me how to worship or revere my god because the state is run by politicians and voters: two groups I hold in low esteem. (If separating church and state means that we have to take “In God we trust” off of our money then I’m fine with that. I believe in God, but I don’t have any delusions that we do. And besides, when God firebombed Sodom and toppled the Canaanites it wasn’t because they had failed to mention Him on their currency.) I’d also like a beautiful 10 Commandments plaque to hang on the wall of the chief justice’s office. He can ponder the implications that those commandments have on our modern laws all he wants. And I think that his right to do so is also worth defending, so long as he’s all about seeking justice under the current laws of Alabama when he sits down at the bench.

The Gleanings of Service

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest … Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. — Leviticus 19:9-10

The gleanings of a field are whatever is left after the reapers have harvested. This may be produce that the reapers overlooked or that was too immature to harvest at the time. The book of Leviticus says that farmers (and most people in 1500 BC were farmers) should see their gleanings not as a way to further enrich themselves but as excess properly used to help the poor.

Since I work in the software services industry I can’t apply this passage to myself literally. But if this passage is viewed as an example of how good people should think about those around them who are in need, then how can I apply this allegory to my work? What can I do that would be equivalent to leaving the unharvested edges of my field for those in need? What are the gleanings of my work that I should refrain from enjoying myself so that those less fortunate than me can have a chance at them?

I think that I need to start by mapping the elements of the allegory to my own situation. So here’s what I’m thinking:

The land

The skills, abilities, equipment, knowledge, or whatever other asset you can use to support yourself. In my case that’s designing and developing software, and a few other tech-related skills.

The field

The part of your land you have chosen to use to support yourself. This is how much of your self and your stuff you’re going to invest in earning a paycheck. Just as a farmer can do a good or bad job selecting which part of his land to cultivate, you can also do a good or bad job selecting a vocation and then applying your skills, abilities, equipment, knowledge, or whatever it is you use to advance or maintain your career. For me, I’m using almost all the logical and mathmatical thought that my brain can provide, though I have some people skills that are mostly lying fallow. I work that field for about 45 hours per week, which rises to a little over 50 hours when commuting is figured in.

The harvest

The remuneration you receive for your labor. In my case, that’s a paycheck that would support a family of five or six. We’re using it to support only three, plus my wife works part time, so we’re comfortable.

The poor and the alien

Those who do not have a field of their own, or whose compensation for their work is not sufficient to support them.

The size and fertility of the land you start with is what’s given. How much of that land we choose to cultivate is the first choice we have to make. What you decide to grow there is the second, and will effect how much time you must put into watering, weeding, and general labor.

Tina and I have started with some very good land. We both came into the marriage as professionals, so we each had a cultivated field when we started. And believe me, we’ve got enough growing on this land to keep us busy from morning to night all week long. We’ve got jobs, one kid and one on the way, church activities, volunteer activities, friendships, and cultural events. That makes a pretty full life for the people who own the field. But still, what do those with no field get to glean from our busy lives? What should they get to glean?

I’m not sure yet. I’m still working on this one. The easy answer is that I reap a harvest of paychecks so I should think myself to have cared for the poor and the alien if I donate some money to a charity or two. But I do more than earn money! I’ve learned a lot getting to where I am: I should teach someone part of what I know. I’ve received kindness from many great friends: I should show kindness to someone with none. I’ve got strong, loving relationships with my spouse, my parents and my children: I should be strong for someone who is alone; I should love someone who is not loved.

Like I said, I’m still working on this one. I do okay ensuring that the poor and the alien receive the gleaning of my paycheck, but I don’t think I’m making enough of my time or of my person available to those who may need it.