He could-a been the champion of the world

Our week that began with an earthquake ended with a hurricane.  But, as it happened, the latest graphic of Hurricane Irene’s path showed the outer edge of the system passing by just 15 or so miles away.  So it really missed us.  We had some rain and wind, but it wasn’t bad at all, and the power stayed on.  (Which, for this part of Virginia, is remarkable, since gentle breezes are often enough to put us in the dark for hours.)

The hurricane as a whole wasn’t as bad as feared, though it killed 18 people, knocked out power for millions, flooded some areas and did other damage.  Now comes the second guessing, criticizing the governors for evacuating areas and making a bigger deal of the thing than it turned out to be.  But I think the officials did what they needed to do.  No one could tell what the hurricane would do.  An excess of caution and of preparation is better than the blind optimism and lack of preparation that we saw with Hurricane Katrina.   A storm whirling like a buzzsaw (a splendid description I read in one report) running along the entire East Coast is surely something to worry about.  That it lost power and turned into a mere tropical storm by the time it hit New York City is something we should just be thankful for.

But I do need to report something:  Many of the plants in our garden were blown down.  The result was something I can only describe as a crop circle.  Which means that aliens landed in our garden!   In a hurricane!

Do any of the rest of you have hurricane stories?

Questions for secularists

New York Times editor Bill Keller came up with a series of questions about religion that he is asking presidential candidates, an inquisition necessary in order to ferret out, among other things, which ones doubt the doctrines of evolution, the equivalence of all religions, and that there is a higher law than religion, namely, secular law.  Anthony Sacramone discusses these questions and even answers them.  He then counters with “The Sacramone Questionnaire for Nontheists”:

1. Do you think that anyone who believes in the supernatural is delusional? If so, do you believe they should be treated medically? Do you believe they should be allowed to adopt children?

2. Do you think anyone who believes in six-day special creation should ipso facto be barred from holding public office?

3. Do you believe the religious beliefs of historical figures should be eradicated when discussing them in schools? For example, that Louis Pasteur was a devout Catholic who prayed the Rosary daily?

4. Do you believe that the religious faith of those responsible for the birth of modern science—Galileo, Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, George LeMaitre (father of the theory of the big bang), Jesuit priests too numerous to mention, et al.—should be eradicated when discussing them in schools?

5. Do you believe that it should be noted that the rise of modern science occurred in the context of a civilization that was still explicitly Christian when teaching either European history of the history of science?

6. Do you think homeschooling should be illegal, as it is in some European countries?

7. Do you believe vaccines are a factor in the rise of autism cases? Do you believe parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccine programs?

8. Do you believe that global warming/climate change demands we de-industrialize?

9. Do you believe churches and all religious institutions should be taxed?

10. Do you believe that there is such a thing as life unworthy of life? Explain.

11. Do you believe assisted suicide and euthanasia should be made legal either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat?

12. Do you believe infanticide should be made legal? If not, when is a baby a human being protected by the rights any other human being enjoys?

13. Is there any point when an adult human being loses the right to life? If so, under what circumstances?

14. Do you believe polygamous marriage should be legalized, either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat? Do you believe that “minor-attracted adults” should be protected by law as a perfectly valid expression of human sexuality that was much more common in ancient Europe and among non-Western cultures? Do you believe incest and/or bestiality should be protected by law as perfectly valid expressions of human sexuality?

15. Do you believe that individuals are ultimately responsible for their behavior, or do you believe they are subject to too many internal (biochemical, psychological) and external (social pressures, strange belief systems) factors to be held accountable, such that many of our criminal laws should be seriously reformed or eradicated?

via The NY Times/Bill Keller Irreligious Litmus Test | Strange Herring.

Inflation as a solution

Some economists are suggesting that a cure for our economic woes would be for the government to purposefully create inflation.  Robert Samuelson explains:

The idea now is that the Fed would pump money into the economy until inflation — a rise in most prices, not just erratic gasoline prices — reached a desired level of perhaps 4 percent to 6 percent. Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff admits the policy is “radical.” He supports it only because he sees the main threat to the U.S. and European recoveries as massive “debt overhangs” of private and governmental debt. “People are retrenching because they realize that high debt makes them vulnerable,” he says.

Inflation is one way to reduce debt burdens. As wages and prices rise, the value of existing debt erodes. Consumers, businesses and governments are liberated to spend more freely.

To be sure, higher inflation represents a wealth transfer to debtors (who repay in cheaper dollars) from creditors (who receive cheaper dollars). That’s unfair, Rogoff says, but it may be less unfair and disruptive than outright defaults by overborrowed debtors.

Faster inflation might boost the economy in other ways, too. If people think prices of cars, appliances or homes will be higher next month or next year, they may buy now instead of waiting. Higher inflation may also allow the Federal Reserve to lower effective interest rates. If interest rates stay below inflation — though that’s hardly assured — the resulting cheaper credit should spur borrowing.

All this explains why higher inflation appeals to economists across ideological lines. While Rogoff is slightly right of center, liberal economist and columnist Paul Krugman also favors it. The trouble is this: Inflation is hard to manipulate in precise and predictable doses. Once people become convinced that government will tolerate or encourage it, they adapt in unforeseen ways. We can’t know what would happen now, but we do know what happened in the 1960s and 1970s.

One adaptation was that companies and workers raised wages and prices much faster than expected. Higher interest rates followed. Rates on 10-year Treasury bonds went from 4 percent in 1962 to 8 percent in 1978. The stock market stagnated for nearly two decades. Consumers reacted to greater uncertainty by increasing their savings rates from 8 percent of disposable income in 1962 to 10 percent by 1971. That’s exactly the opposite of today’s goal — more, not less, consumer spending.

There might be other unpleasant surprises. If retail prices rose faster than wages — a good possibility with unemployment at 9.1 percent — higher inflation could act as a drag on the economy by reducing workers’ “real” purchasing power. If investors decided that the Fed had gone soft on inflation, there might be a panicky flight away from the dollar on financial and foreign exchange markets.

Moreover, the power of higher inflation to erode the real valu eof U.S. government debt is limited, because much of that debt is short-term. About 30 percent matures in less than a year; another 25 percent or so matures in less than three years. All this debt will be refinanced. With higher inflation, it would probably be refinanced at higher interest rates that investors would demand as protection against rising prices.

Inflation is not the answer. Remember: The economy’s basic problem is poor confidence spawned by pervasive uncertainties. The Fed shouldn’t make the problem worse by embracing policies that, whatever their theoretical attractions, will create more uncertainties in the real world.

via Inflation is not the answer – The Washington Post.

This is what Christian presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan called for in the 19th century with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, since inflation would make it easier for farmers to pay their debts over and against the banking interests.  Do you think higher wages and higher prices for everything would be a good way to get the economy moving again?

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we heard from Pastor Douthwaite on Sunday, preaching on Matthew 16:21-28:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ouch. Poor Peter. He meant well. He really did. He loved his Lord. He had come a long way since that first day by the Sea of Galilee. And yet, with this word of Jesus, he seems back on square one. No, actually, it’s worse than that. For while before he might not have known Jesus from Adam, at least he wasn’t working against the Lord – he was minding his own business. But now, not only does Jesus call him Satan, an enemy of God, he then says you, Peter, are getting in my way! You are a hindrance to me. You’re not thinking right. Your mind is not on the things of God but on the things of man. . . .

Now, what did he say that caused such a violent reaction from Jesus? He said: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” in response to Jesus’ statement that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter was thinking: Jesus, as I just said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Son of the God who brought His people out of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea for them, who kept them through the wilderness, fed them with manna, gave them water to drink from a rock, and who is mightier than all the armies of the world. You are the Son of the God who created all things and keeps the sun and moon and stars and earth in their courses. You are the Son of the God who feeds all living things, like you fed the over 5,000 in the wilderness not too long ago. There is no one greater than you and your Father in heaven. He won’t let this happen to you. He will protect you. He will stop those who oppose you and seek your life. . . .

Peter is trying to tell Jesus how to do His job; how to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Which is what we do, too. We confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And maybe even one better than Peter, we know the story of the cross, of His death and resurrection, and forgiveness and all of that. We got that. . . . Yet when we find out what that means for our life, how often do we think as Peter thought? When pain and suffering come into your life. No, Lord. When faithfulness to God’s Word means giving up what you want and think you need. No, Lord. When we’re told, as we heard from St. Paul today, to bless those who persecute you . . . to be patient in tribulation . . . to feed and give drink to your enemy. No, Lord. When earthquakes and hurricanes threaten. No, Lord. When being a Christian means bearing the cross. No, Lord. I’d really rather not, Lord. Some other time, Lord. Somebody else, Lord. No, Lord, I’m your child. Shouldn’t I get good things, Lord? Long life, Lord? Blessings and not sadness, Lord? No, Lord. No. . . .

The cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, still today, is for you. For the purpose of His cross, and the crosses that you bear, are not just His death and resurrection, but your death and resurrection with Him. You’re going to one day die because you’re a sinner. You cannot get around that. But to die with Christis quite a different thing. It means to die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And it is a death and resurrection that is already taking place in you, as you die and rise with Christ in baptism, as you die and rise with Christ in repentance. As you die to your old way of life, your old way of thinking, your Old Man’s “No, Lord,” and rise to live a new life, a “yes, Lord” life, a right-side-up-in-an-upside-down-world life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

The Sacramone mystery solved

The Lutheran blogosphere has been in a state of disturbance since the disappearance of Anthony Sacramone.  When you go to his blog site, Strange Herring, a window comes up that says that it is available by invitation only.  Since no one has an invitation, that has provoked outrage and hurt feelings, with an inchoate fear that Mr. Sacramone has been murdered.  (Sorry, I’ve been reading Swedish mysteries.)  So it comes as something of a scoop for this blog that Mr. Sacramone in a comment came out of his self-imposed exile and explained himself.  In case you missed it, here is what he had to say:

Herr Veith:
The attention you have shown my online wares over the years is both undeserved…and much appreciated. As for Strange Herring, as you have noted, my enthusiasm waxes and wanes for it, as I question its value, even entertainment value, over the long haul. I have also mulled the possibility of re-jiggering it, making it more focused, perhaps strictly on film. In any event, I found myself inundated with some editing work and just didn’t want to think about it anymore, so I took it offline, which I now recognize was a mistake, as it seems to have offended some who thought I had made it for members only, when in fact not even I go on it (LARS! IT WAS NOTHING PERSONAL!). Also, I have been informed that FIRST THINGS is looking for a more “moderate tone,” and since I don’t do moderate, I have probably blogged my last over there. So, as soon as I can figure out how best to peddle my limited talents, I promise to reemerge.

So the message about the blog being by invitation only is just a quirk of the software, nothing personal!  So thank you, Mr. Sacramone, and we understand.  Take all the time you need, but just realize that you have lots of fans and you have an obligation to the public good.

Do what you please, of course, but I implore you in your new re-jiggering to BRING BACK LUTHER AT THE MOVIES, at least sometimes, at least as a special guest.  Your portrayal of him as if he came back to live today as a movie critic, as unlikely as that might seem, just nails the personality, the earthy spirituality, and the gusto of the great man.   That is a literary achievement of great note.

UPDATE:  Oh, man. Strange Herring is back, and Mr. Sacramone is on another roll.  He says some kind things about us here, so thanks for that, but there is much more good stuff.  I’m glad we shamed him so effectively.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.


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