Tuesday, March 29, 2011

O, What a Paradise It Seems!

Speaking of Rick Perry and the demonic:

Last year CEO Magazine named Texas the best state for business, and Governor Rick Perry bragged that Texas is creating more job than any other state.

But a report released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that while Texas is creating jobs, workers here are earning less.

The report found that in 2010 Texas tied Mississippi for having more workers earning minimum wage or less than any other state in the country. Some 9.5% of Texas workers earned minimum wage or less compared to a national average of 6%.
The source of the problem is very simple:

Cheryl Abbot, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, blamed the high percentage of minimum-wage earners in Texas on the state having a lot of low-paying industries.

It isn't a recent phenomenon, she added. Last year's 16 percent increase in Texans earning minimum wage or less was the smallest rise since a decline was reported in 2006.
So Perry's "Texas Miracle"? It's due primarily to minimum wage jobs, which would presumably pay considerably less if it weren't for the federal minimum wage statute. Again, per Ms. Abbot:

Our wages started out less than a number of other states 50, 60, 70 years ago. So, if we're all going up at the same rate the wage is still going to be a little lower in the State of Texas. Plus we have a minimum wage that matches the federal minimum wage whereas a number of states- about 18 -have state minimum wages that are above the federal.
But it's okay, because:

On the other hand the cost of living in Texas is lower than some other states so a dollar sometimes buys more.
Oh, wait, maybe not:

In 2007, the [Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas] calculated a family of three would need $31,000 annually to “get by” in San Antonio. That's more than double the annual salary of someone paid minimum wage in 2010.
As for non-minimum wage earners; well, they aren't getting rich, either:

The median wage of all hourly paid Texans was $11.20 last year. Nationally, it was $12.50. In Texas, the median hourly wage for men was $12.13; for women, $10.24. Nationally, the median was $13.76 for men and $11.83 for women.
Like the feller said: Sure, there are more jobs in Texas! I've got three of 'em!

Oh, and this:

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
And did I mention the Texas House wants to pass a budget they know will cost Texas an estimated 335,000 jobs? Anybody want to buy a used miracle? Cheap?


Taking on scholarship is never a bad idea, just a tricky one. However, taking on scholarship in a blog post is a bad idea; if only because there's little room for scholarly nuance in a blog post.

Bart Ehrman's position here is that pseudonym = lie, and even if we don't think so today, people did "back then." And we don't think so today. George Goodman called himself "Adam Smith" and penned a number of works on economics under that name. Everyone knew it was a pseudonym for the famous economist; no one called George Goodman a liar. "Betty Crocker," I was reminded this morning, was not only a fictional character but a radio personality; and I've yet to hear anyone call the creators of Betty Crocker liars. Ann Landers was also a pseudonym; were those columns all lies? I know of several modern novelists who publish so many books a year (some publish one a month) that it is impossible for one person to produce so much prose. Yet they are published under one person's name. All liars? Were the people of ancient times more scrupulous about these things than we are today? We know of a number of works attributed to famous names which were not actually the personal creations of those famous persons: are all those creations lies? And really, are all the biblical scholars wrong, and Ehrman alone has the true revelation?

We have lost, over time, a great deal of bibliographic material about creators and origins and sources. Indeed, the practice of bibliography is the preservation of this knowledge; but just because we've lost information and misunderstood ancient writings because of that loss, is no reason to call the creator of that work a liar. Is the writer of 1 Timothy a liar because he extended the rather conservative advice of Paul in 1 Corinthians to another community, and used Paul's authority to do so? Should we, by the same token, declare a lie the ancient claim that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures are the books of Moses? Everyone knows they aren't; but they were accepted as such originally, or at some point in the creation of the canon. Does that mark them forever?

My personal opinion is that Ehrman has tasted the sweet honey of fame and notoriety, and he wants to go on tasting it, so rather like Karen Armstrong, he tries to make fashionably outrageous statements that pretend to take modern Biblical scholarship to the people, while still proving he's not a hidebound and pedantic scholar, but still "one of us." It's an awkward position to take, and he doesn't stand on it as well as he thinks he does.

Indeed, we don't really need that stance. Are there conflicts within the canon? They exist as early as the first history of the church, the second part of "Luke" known as "Acts." Peter and Paul disagree over whether the teachings of Jesus should go to Jews alone, or also to Gentiles. Even after a vision from God, Peter can never quite give up his conviction that the message of the Messiah was for the children of Abraham alone (not because they were superior to Gentiles, but because they were members of the covenant with God, from Moses on Sinai, from Abram in Genesis 12.). And the letters attributed to Peter emphasize matters Paul never discusses or expresses concern with. Some of that emphasis creates conflict between the teachings of the letters. Certainly 1 Timothy's admonitions against women conflicts with Paul's "legitimate" letters in the canon. And what church takes every word of every letter as binding law which must be followed in order to be "truly" Christian? And how many of us who profess Christianity think such restrictiveness is necessary to our confession?

Ultimately, Ehrman is trying to provide a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, and to do it he wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I find it easier to disagree with 1 Timothy, or to understand its position in the canon and as a pseudo-Pauline work. Besides, scripture engages my mind, not my blind devotion to what is considered canonical.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Angels and Demons

We are beset by demons. We are in a period when the demonic has sway, has risen to power, is trying its best to take control.

No, I don't mean that metaphorically, or "mythologically," or in any but a concrete way. And yes, I do mean "demons."

When governors stand forcefully for the destruction of what has taken decades to establish; when public officials declare the nation, the government, the people, are "broke" and nothing can fix anything except to stop everything; when the culture of scarcity is the only culture possible, when fear is a rational response to the present and despair the only hope that will save us, there is no other explanation than the demonic. When rulers destroy their own people for their own ends, there is no other explanation than the demonic. We are not ruled by dictators with secret police and mercenary armies, but we are now in the hands of governors and Congresspersons who tell us our only hope is in not having hope, our only salvation is in selfishness, our only chance is to protect what is ours at all costs and allow nothing to go to anyone else. What other term for that is there than demonic?

Governors, especially governors, behave as if they were Byronic heroes bravely defying fate. The Byronic hero is an individual responsible only to himself, who accepts the judgment of the cosmos and defies it with his individuality even as he is crushed in his singleness of purpose. Governors are not individuals responsible only to themselves. When they refuse to listen to the pleas, the cries, the demands of the very people they represent, they are not heroes: they are demons. They are bent on destruction: of labor unions, of hope for their communities, even of art. They are not defying an arbitrary universe indifferent to the human soul; they are destroyers. Demons do not edify, establish, or illuminate; they bring only darkness and destruction. What else can we call these people who would set whole states back by decades, who do so in the name of an ideology (a false god) or a conviction (a false identity) or simple because their masters wish it (a false allegiance), except demons?

We should understand that "demonic" does not mean "inhuman." Human beings are perfectly capable of demonic activity. We don't have to understand "demonic" as supernatural puppet masters. Demonic can be simply the urge for destruction, the desire to assert your will over others, in blind opposition to facts, reality, their wishes, what have you. Demonic is destructive. It is willful in the worst sense of that word; imposing its will without care or consideration of the consequences, seeking only to have it done and then stand among the ruins, happy that it has prevailed.

So Scott Walker crows that he has eliminated collective bargaining among public unions, even as his law is challenged in state court. Rick Perry declares he is not responsible for Texas independent school districts laying off teachers, even as the State over the decades has piled more and more requirements on those school districts, and refused to give them money to hire people to meet those requirements. Rick Scott in Florida boldly refuses Federal money to help Florida improves it's public transportation, a move that will only hurt the people of Florida. Public education is being especially targeted, and not just in Texas. If it isn't education, it is public art and who rooms are named after. Which is almost more absurd than it is demonic, if it weren't so reflective of the prevailing attitude of destruction. All to which the demons stand opposed, or which is perceived as opposition, must be destroyed. 12,000 protesters showed up at the Texas State Capitol to object to cuts in education funding, but the GOP majority in the Legislature insists they are not responsible when teachers get laid off, even as those same legislators refuse to allow school districts to raise taxes in order to make up the shortfall their tax policies have created, and which they insist they must protect at (literally) all costs.

Watch this Jon Stewart clip, and overlook the humor in favor of what the candidates said, and what they are now doing:

Even the avuncular Stewart has trouble not declaring these governors destructive rather than misguided, deliberate rather than merely incompetent. This is beyond ideology; it is well into fantasy. These political leaders do not imagine themselves the vanguards of a new and purer way of thinking. They imagine themselves the only authority on earth, their power the only power that is needed. What is that if not beyond delusional, and simply demonic?

How, then, should we live? I honestly think naming this for what it is, is important. Dangerous, of course, if we try to make this a public meme, as one would be literally guilty of demonizing one's opponent. But the understanding must be clear; there should be no equivocating about it. What is being done in the name of governance is evil. In Wisconsin the governor is dismantling the public school system. In Texas, the cuts will be "catastrophic," and yet the Governor and the GOP leaders continue to blame school administrators for the problem. The cuts, of course, will savage the state economy. (The job losses in Texas are predicted at up to 190,000.)* But that's okay with the Governor, because he's keeping his promise to cut taxes and state spending. The effect will be good because he insists it will be. Which is pretty much the attitude of every governor mentioned in Jon Stewart's clip, above. To put it in stark terms:

"Help me understand ... that we're going to spend millions of dollars on tourism and movie production, but we're going to be cutting back Medicaid, letting teachers go?" Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked [Milton] Rister [Gov. Perry's director of administration] when he asked for the money. "Help me understand how you sit there and ask for those kinds of feel-good programs that might create some jobs, but at the same time we're letting medical students go, residential residents go, state employees, help me?"
If Perry's approach cannot be described as demonic, what can?

*UPDATE: A newer study nearly doubles that amount to 335,000 jobs (state and private) lost due to the budget pending in the Texas House. And yet:

Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, the chief House budget writer, has warned that lawmakers in that chamber have little appetite for increasing proposed spending levels.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh, Good Grief

Rev. Franklin Graham thinks the tsunami that hit Japan might mean that Jesus is returning to earth soon.

Graham said that Jesus told his followers that earthquakes were one of the signs of the second coming.

"Maybe this is, I don't know. But regardless, all of us need to be prepared to stand before almighty God," Graham said.

As he explained, an increase in natural disasters was just like how "as a woman gives birth to a child, those labor pains as they begin they start intensifying with more frequency."

Sometimes you just want to say: "Shut up! Will you just please shut up!!"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Lorica

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism, through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension, through the strength of His descent for the Judgement of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels, in hope of resurrection to meet with reward, in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets, in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors, in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven; light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire, speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea, stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me: God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to secure me: against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils): against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of heathenry, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells of witches, smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.

Christ to protect me today against poisoning, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come abundance in reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Idle unsustainable thought

In the oft-imagined future, the world we will live in is never re-shaped by natural disasters. All the lingering effects that create dystopia or apocalypse are always imagined as man-made. No one envisions the effect of an 8.9 earthquake that shifts an island 8 feet eastward and affects the tilt of the earth's axis.

We have become as gods since the Industrial Revolution, and we still aren't comfortable with it. When the earthquake destroyed Lisbon, 18th century Europe was shaken to its deistic core, and blamed God for no longer being God, or no longer being benevolent (how could such bad things happen to such good people?) We no longer think that way, but every time we envision the future in our fiction, it is bleak, inhumane, and human-created.

Natural disasters that destroy whole cities and reshape the land, never seem to be that critical. Perhaps we don't like to be reminded that we are not in control, even as we fear we are.

We must pray for the people of Japan, and do whatever else we can.