Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Learning and Voice Control

I have daughter. She is about 6 months and every day she is learning. And when she discovers something new she likes to repeat it. Again and again. For example, about a two weeks ago she learned that she has wrists that can move in all sorts of ways. So when she grabs things--her toy, a piece of a paper, three pieces of grass--she holds it up and moves her wrist up and down, left and right, in a circle to great satisfaction. She then proceeds to put the object in her mouth.

About a week ago she learned how to 'happy' scream. It first happened in Target. Mrs. Redhead in Rapid was about 3 aisles over with the little one when I heard, "YEEE!!!" breath "YEEEE!!!!" She had found her voice. And she keeps finding it. Yesterday, Mrs. RiR had a scream off with the little one. I scream, you scream. Again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Question of Fairness

In my last post I bemoaned the lack of honesty within the GOP establishment when it comes to taxes. I noted that though many complain that half of the populace do not pay income tax, everyone pays some tax.  We've always debated taxes in this country and we are gong to keep debating taxes until the end. The unspoken issue in all the debates is this slippery word--FAIRNESS.

People and pundits like to talk about the economic reasons for certain tax rates and types. They argue that this tax is the best policy because of its economic and social benefits. But I believe, deep down in the heart of the pundit, the question they ask, is it far?

Now it is true that taxes have broad economic and social consequences and that some types of taxes and tax rates are better than others. Nevertheless, when people are debating taxes they are debating fairness. For example, conservatives like to point to the total dollar amounts that taxpayers pay. They say, we can't increase taxes, because the (super) rich already pay the lions share. Liberals, on the other hand, note that as a percentage of income the rich pay much less than the poor. Sure the (super) rich pay a massive dollar amount, but that is because they make a more massive amount from the US economy.

Of course, both are right. The highest 1% of taxpayers pay more than their share of income tax. And yes, the (middle class) poor, on average, pay the highest percentage of their income on taxes. It is just not usually income tax, but sales tax, property tax, excise, gas, and numerous other taxes.

What ruffles my feathers is that lack of honesty in the debate and the recognition that that the real question being debated is fairness.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Broadening the Tax Base

I feel that I'm a charitable fellow. I'm willing to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I even try to understand politicians and am sympathetic to the competing interests they must serve. Alas, my sympathies cannot extend to complete idiocy.

In the latest round of foolishness parts of the Republican Party are attempting to make the case that we need to broaden the tax base. They are upset that only 53% pay income tax. To quote Bachmann:
Part of the problem is today, only 53 percent pay any federal income tax at all; 47 percent pay nothing. We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something.
I'm all about broadening the tax base. I believe that all citizens of any republic need to have skin in the game. The problem with this line is that the poor already pay a lot in taxes. They may not pay income tax, but they pay sales tax, payroll tax (what a crappy tax), gas tax, and a whole slew of other taxes.

It is this sloppiness of thinking that bothers me. The Republicans are obsessing over one part of the tax code and missing all the rest. We need tax reform in this country. Our tax code is inefficient, out of date, and harmful to our economy. But to do that we need to have an honest look at the whole tax pie. We can't just fight over marginal income tax rates or look at capital gains taxes, while ignoring payroll tax (oh how I loathe it), sales tax, and state taxes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Better Said

On this blog I ramble and write and tell myself I should edit that before I post it, but never do. Fortunately the internets is pretty big, so folks more eloquent than me will say what I'm trying to say in a much better fashion. Today in the Wall Street Journal, John Wilson (of Books and Culture) writes:
But an alarm should sound whenever the word "literal" is used in this context, whether as a badge of pride ("I just believe in reading the Bible literally") or as a hint that low-browed fundamentalists are lurking nearby. No one—no one—reads the Bible literally. But some readers are more attentive, more faithful, more imaginative and more persuasive than others.
Go read it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finding a Job

With my recent move to Indiana I have the pleasure of finding a new job. I'm in this position by choice, but that doesn't mean I'm enjoying the process. It is a strange roller coaster in the sense that all can seemingly be going well--networking meetings, setting up interview, finding a job to apply for--but it doesn't matter unless I get a job. The sense of movement is great, but if it only means I'm taking the scenic route, then not much good is coming from it.

For me, so far, so good. I do have a sense of movement and I've applied and gotten positive feedback from some jobs. I just don't have a job yet.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Psalms 105 and 106

Asking, what is your story, is a way of asking, who are you? How did you get here? And therefore, where are you going?

Humans, as it has been often pointed out, are obsessed with story and narrative. We watch baseball and over a season a story starts taking shape. It may be a team overcoming adversary or falling to that common vice of pride or reaching beyond themselves. The stat geeks fight against the story, talking about fip and ops and regression to the mean and the role of chance over any seven game series. We may nod in agreement, but despite our knowledge of chance we still find the story in the smallest things.

Now those smarter than us will state that we are evolutionary inclined to story and meaning. That we need to face facts and deal with the randomness of it all; to recognize that our lives do not have an arc or much of a purpose. Our stories are only self told, meant to delude us into action.

Perhaps this is true. Perhaps we tell lives so that we live as we ought too. If so, I wonder what we should make of Psalms 105 and 106. These psalms, probably written in the late Kingdom or during exile tell Israel's story. They remind the Israelites of their story--how they were slaves in Egypt and brought out by their God's might and power. The Psalms specify what happened to Israel, their ups and downs, their sins and glory. The Psalms remind the current Israelites who they are and that they have a purpose and that they are connected to a God greater than their suffering. This story, as told in Psalms 105 and 106, remind Israel that they are a people called by God, who need Yahweh to find their way.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

China is Coming! China is Coming!

We in the United States are living in the time of the great China scare. Politicians and Generals and Pundits use China as the great bogeyman of our age. Politicians fear its economy and bemoan its currency. Generals fear its potential military might and interference with the way things are. And pundits just like to talk.

Some food for thought:
Whereas goods labeled “Made in China” make up 2.7% of U.S. consumer spending, only 1.2% actually reflects the cost of the imported goods. Thus, on average, of every dollar spent on an item labeled “Made in China,” 55 cents go for services produced in the United States. In other words, the U.S. content of “Made in China” is about 55%.
For those not math inclined, 1% isn’t that big.

From a military standpoint you may have heard that China has just put to sea trials its first aircraft carrier. Parts of the military establishment are in a tizzy and use this as a sign for more military expenditures and the end of American dominance. To put things in perspective:
  • Number of aircraft carriers in China—1. Age—25 years.
  • Number of aircraft carriers in Thailand—1. Age—15 years.
For a good read on the situation check out Information Dissemination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Psalm 103

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
   so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
   he remembers that we are dust.

Good news for us today. The Lord knows who and what we are. He knows that we are weak and tired. He knows that we sin. He knows that we are dust.

True Literalism

Words get bandied about with no care for shades of meaning. In the Evangelical Christian subculture folks seek to defend their interpretation of the Bible by saying that it is the "literal" reading of the Bible. What they want you to hear is, "I'm just telling you what the Bible says and nothing more, like following directions, it says turn right, so I say, turn right." To say you are "literally" reading the Bible is to convey that you are honest with what the text means.

The problem with this degraded literalism is that context and language gets stripped away. In this literalism we start making connections or points that were not intended by the author (or miss the connections that were intended). We forget the poetry and nuance in language and try to read it all in our post-enlightenment mindset. So the story of Adam and Eve becomes simply a story of "what happened in the beginning" losing the sense of God's purpose in our world. Or we see Jesus' words in Mark 13 applying to only the end times when Jesus was referencing the ancient fall of Babylon and the future fall of Jesus. 

Bad literalism gets us into awkward places, contorting our theology and thought. True literalism helps us experience the Bible in all it's glory and craziness.

More on Trees and a Forest OR Straining the Simile

What I was trying to say in my last post is not just that we miss the forest for the trees, but that we build our Christianity on one particular type of tree. We go into the forest and find the tree most to our liking and then say, "this is the tree of the forest. All trees will be compared to this." We focus on that particular tree and ignore anything else.

Alright. I'm done with that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trees and a Forest or "Follow Me"

The forest and the trees. Let me tell you something about them. Sometime you see one, but not the other. And other times you see the other, but not the one. Well, you know how that goes, just pick one or the other.

I thought of the forest and the trees as I was reading Matthew, chapters 18 and 19. Like much of the Bible these chapters are full of "wait a minutes" and "uh-ohs" and "yeps" and "ehhs." In a couple of verses (particular when Jesus is about) the Bible has a tendency to have you nodding, "Jesus goes after the one lost sheep, awesome" and awkwardly swallowing "wait a minute, I'm suppose to point out a sin in my fellow church member?".

If you hang around church long enough you'll hear sermons on these different trees. Often the awkward ones will be avoided, but they will be mentioned. Slowly, as you understand more and more trees you think that you understand the forest. Christianity becomes about the sum of the smaller parts.

That, however, is a distorted view. Christianity is much more than the sum of the parts (though the trees matter). We, or should I say, I focus on the trees. I argue with others over the different trees, disagreeing on the shade of brown or the bent of the limb. I stay at the level of the trees because I want to avoid the forest. The trees are interesting, but are small enough to fit into my point of view. I can survey a tree and handle it.

The forest is wild. It is unwieldy. We don't like talking about the forest, because we can't grasp the forest. We can't fit the forest into our horizon. It goes beyond.

Jesus says, "follow me." Pick up your cross, sell your possessions, and follow me. Worry not about the world or the thoughts of your neighbor, but follow me. Do not be afraid, he says, follow me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I now live in Indiana. I'm still at heart a redhead in Rapid City, but the good Lord has put me in Indiana. I really can't believe it. I'm more surprised than if I was living in St. Petersburg. But it should be fun.

Finding a Church

On July 31 my family and I headed east from Rapid City back to the country of my kin... Indiana. Now I don't know if I have any family left in Indiana, but the story goes that my dad's grandfather was from Indiana. I'm not sure how long they stayed, but somewhere back when a Taylor I'm related to lived and perhaps died in Indiana.

We are here so that my wife can attend Purdue University. As part of that move we need to find a church to call home. Once again, we are participating in that vulgar American tradition: church shopping. We don't belong to any denomination in particular, except that we are Protestant. We've done this before, but it is a distasteful adventure, because you start finding faults. You focus on how you the "consumer" weren't properly served and satisfied. You focus on what you see and experience in a few visits. And what you experience in a few visits is inherently insubstantial.

What defines a church, the soul so to speak, cannot be ascertained by a few visits or a perusal of a website or a proper list of beliefs. Church is where people (warts and all) gather to worship and follow Jesus. In church you find the Holy Spirit working and moving in unexpected ways. Attending church is not just about assenting to right doctrine (though doctrine does matter) or finding people just like you. It is about participating together with God and his people in his Kingdom. A good church challenges and encourages in unexpected ways. Church should surprise you not serve you.

I need to keep these things in mind as we seek to find a church.