Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama Creating an Accountable Government

Peter Orzag, the Director of U.S. Office of Management and Budget, has launched a weblog to keep Americans posted on how our nation is doing financially. He posted his first blog yesterday under the title, "Discipline, Efficiency, Prosperity." His latest blog is "Clearing up a misconception: "tax hikes during a recession?"

Whatever people may think about the President's budget and his desire to let Bush's tax breaks for the wealthy expire, it's great to have an administration conduct its business in the open and address the American public directly.

It is also good to have full budget figures and information made easily accessible to the public. Here's a link to the President's fiscal year 2010 budget.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Odd Logic

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, MUCH MORE, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."
-- Romans 5:10
Neither reason nor prudence would die for an enemy. But, that is precisely what Christians believe God has done for us. “When we were enemies” Christ died for us.

The metaphor of the enemy indicates that there is more to sin than simply making a mistake. Sin is being viewed as a rebellion. It is revolt. It is as though sin were a declaration of war against God and his kingdom.

Though God is not intimidated by our puny revolution, he is wounded by it. It grieves him to see us plunge headlong into our own destruction. 
God is strong enough to bear the pain of our rejection. He has chosen to absorb the devastating effects of our sin in order to reconcile us to himself. God has chosen to demonstrate his divine power by saving us from our worst selves, recreating a pure heart within us and resurrecting us to a new life in Christ. 

An odd logic is at work here -- a logic of superabundance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surprised by Superabundance

Throughout the Bible a two word phrase stands out as sign of superabundance -- the phrase "much more."

Jesus used the phrase several times. Once when he said:

"Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
-- Matthew 6:30

We are often in the habit of worrying. We want the security of knowing well in advance where we will get the resources for the necessities of life. We fret and fidget and scheme and plan. Most of our worries are well beyond a concern for the essentials. We're not worried about being clothed, we're concerned about being clothed in the newest styles and latest fashions.

Jesus addressed our anxieties. He tells us to consider the lilies of the field -- Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of them. How much more shall he clothe us?

God's love and grace always surprises us. It's always much more than we deserve or expect.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Citizens of a Different Kingdom

"For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come."
-- Hebrews 13:14

Christians are strangers and pilgrims in this world. We are "in" the world but not "of" the world and we live "between the times." We are citizens of the kingdom of God who are sojourning in a foreign land.

Christians should live in a peculiar manner. We should neither think nor act like those at home in this world. The world thinks by a logic of equivalence. At best, men of the world live by rules, regulations and laws. Laws help us treat each other equally and fairly, but laws do not permit us to respect individual differences.

Christians think by a logic of superabundance. We live by faith. That faith is expressed by a pattern of life that allows us to respond to each other as individuals and persons. We live according to a standard that is higher than justice and equity. We measure ourselves by Christ's love. That's why we can turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, give both our coat and our cloak, and forgive one another seventy times seven.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On God's Logic

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." -- Isaiah 55:8

Man's logic is a logic of equality and equivalence. It is a logic that measures things by reason and prudence. It is a logic that gives us rules to live by -- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

God's logic is neither reasonable nor prudent. His logic is one of generosity and superabundance. His reasoning transcends rules and regulations. Instead, he gives us patterns of response -- turn the other cheek, walk a second mile. The Christian pattern of life is one that responds to others by giving more than can be asked by ordinary judiciousness.

The pattern of response that Jesus asks of us is the same pattern we find in God's response to us. That is what prompted Paul to say, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." -- Romans 5:20

Note: This post is a synopsis of an essay on the "Logic of Jesus, the Logic of God" by Paul Ricoeur published in Christianity and Crisis sometime in the late 1970's.

Podcast: On the Impropriety of Ten Commandments Monuments

Podcast (27 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 2-22-09 "Religious Talk" radio program. I discuss House Bill 1330 which proposes to authorize the erection of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Oklahoma. I explain the religious and political significance of the various interpretations, divisions and numberings of the Ten Commandments.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Signs of Superabundance

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed."
-- 2 Corinthians 9:8
God’s love is always superabundant. It can be seen in the grace that is liberally lavished on the unworthy. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. This forgiveness fills our hearts with peace and hope and joy.

Such generosity has a purpose. God intends for our hearts and lives to be so full that they overflow. He equips, empowers and motivates us to perform every good deed, as we trust his all sufficiency in everything.

Even in the worst of times, if we give honest reflection to God's love, his graciousness toward us should continually spill over in acts of gratitude and love toward others.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On China's Stake in U.S. Treasuries

The Congressional Research Service recently issued a report about "China's Currency: A Summary of the Economic Issues." It provides a succinct summary of the issues surrounding the U.S. trade imbalance with China and the way China values it's currency. The result is that China has become the largest foreign holder of U.S. securities. Here's a quote:
An undervalued yuan also has an effect on U.S. borrowers. When the U.S. runs a current account deficit with China, an equivalent amount of capital flows from China to the United States, as can be seen in the U.S. balance of payments accounts. This occurs because the Chinese central bank or private Chinese citizens are investing in U.S. assets, which allows more U.S. capital investment in plant and equipment to take place than would otherwise occur. Capital investment increases because the greater demand for U.S. assets puts downward pressure on U.S. interest rates, and firms are now willing to make investments that were previously unprofitable. This increases aggregate spending in the short run, all else equal, and also increases the size of the economy in the long run by increasing the capital stock.

Private firms are not the only beneficiaries of the lower interest rates caused by the capital inflow (trade deficit) from China. Interest-sensitive household spending, on goods such as consumer durables and housing, is also higher than it would be if capital from China did not flow into the United States. In addition, a large proportion of the U.S. assets bought by the Chinese, particularly by the central bank, are U.S. Treasury securities, which fund U.S. federal budget deficits. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, China holds $682 billion in U.S. Treasury securities as of October 2008, making China the largest foreign holder of such securities. If the U.S. trade deficit with China were eliminated, Chinese capital would no longer flow into this country on net, and the government would have to find other buyers of U.S. Treasuries. This could increase the government’s interest payments.

On China's Economic Clout

The Congression Research Service recently released an update of its report on "China and the Global Financial Crisis: Implications for the United States." The report discusses the financial leverage that China has over the U.S.

Here's the money quote:
While additional large-scale Chinese purchases of U.S. securities might provide short-term benefits to the U.S. economy and may be welcomed by some policymakers, they could also raise a number of issues and concerns. Some U.S. policymakers have expressed concern that China might try to use its large holdings of U.S. securities as leverage against U.S. policies it opposes. For example, various Chinese government officials reportedly suggested on a number of occasions in the past that China could dump (or threaten to dump) a large share of its holdings in order to counter U.S. pressure (such as threats of trade sanctions) on various trade issues (such as China’s currency policy). In exchange for new purchases of U.S. debt, China would likely expect U.S. policymakers to lower expectations that China will move more rapidly to reform its financial sector and/or allow its currency to appreciate more substantially against the dollar. Some analysts have suggested that China could choose to utilize its reserves to buy stakes in various distressed U.S. industries (such as autos). However, this could also raise concerns in the United States that China was being allowed to buy equity or ownership in U.S. firms at rock bottom prices, that technology and intellectual property from acquired firms could be transferred to Chinese business entities (boosting their competitiveness vis-a-vis U.S. firms), and that becoming a large stakeholder in major U.S. companies would give the Chinese government enormous new political influence in the United States. U.S. policymakers in the past have sometimes opposed attempts by Chinese firms to acquire shares or ownership of U.S. firms.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On U.S. Dependence on Foreign Oil

The Congressional Research Service recently released a report on "U.S. Energy: Overview and Selected Facts and Numbers."

The report provides a concise summary of pertinent facts about the recent history of the mix of sources of energy usage in the U.S. The chart above graphs our increasing dependence on oil imports.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Understanding the Meltdown

Frontline will air a documentary tonight that goes "Inside the Meltdown." Here's their promo:
FRONTLINE investigates the causes of the worst economic crisis in 70 years and how the government responded. The film chronicles the inside stories of the Bear Stearns deal, Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the propping up of insurance giant AIG, and the $700 billion bailout. Inside the Meltdown examines what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke didn’t see, couldn’t stop and haven’t been able to fix.
If you didn't see Bill Moyers interview of Simon Johnson about the meltdown, here's a link. This one will keep you awake a night.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Podcast: Carolyn Crowder Interview

Podcast (27MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 2-15-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Carolyn Crowder, public school teacher in Oklahoma who is President of the Oklahoma Education Association and a member of the National Executive Board of the National Education Association. We talk about the work of OEA/NEA and about the Educator-Clergy Conferences that they have been sponsoring.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oklahoma Legislature in Turmoil over Prayer

Controversy has broken out at the Oklahoma State legislature after twenty state representatives voted not to put a gay pastor's prayer in the state record. The legislature has never voted on whether to put a prayer in the record before. Sixty-four legislators voted to follow tradition and put the prayer on the record.

This is a good example of why it is time to put an end to civil religious exercises in conjunction with the work of government. These prayers are a mere formality and are not received with an attitude that is due an act of worship.

The last thing this state needs is for the legislature to begin officially voting to approve and disapprove of the people and the prayers that are being said at the Capitol.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On the Illusion of Immortality

Chris Hedges has posted a thought-provoking essay at AlterNet about the illusion of immortality in our celebrity-centered culture. Here are a couple pertinent quotes:
We all have gods, Martin Luther said, it is just a question of which ones. And in American society, our gods are often celebrities. Religious belief and practice are commonly transferred to the adoration of celebrities. Our celebrity culture builds reliquaries and shrines to celebrities the way Romans built them for divine emperors, ancestors and household gods. We are a de facto polytheistic society. We engage in shamanism. Relics of celebrities, like relics of the dead among ancestor cults in Africa, Asia or the medieval Catholic Church, are coveted as magical talismans. . . .
In celebrity culture, the object is to get as close to the celebrity as possible. Those who can touch the celebrity or own a relic of the celebrity hope for a transference of celebrity power. They hope for magic. We seek tangible artifacts of celebrity power from autographs or pictures or objects once owned by the celebrity. Celebrity items from Princess Diana's old dresses to Swatch watches once owned by Andy Warhol (that originally sold for $40) are auctioned off for thousands of dollars. Pilgrims travel to celebrity shrines. Graceland receives 750,000 visitors a year. Hard Rock Cafe has built its business around this yearning for intimacy with the famous. It ships reliquaries of stars from one restaurant to another the way the medieval church shipped the bones and other remains of saints to its cathedrals. Charlie Chaplin's corpse, like that of Evita Peron, was stolen and held for ransom. John Wayne's family, fearing grave robbers, did not mark his grave until 20 years after his death. The headstones of James Dean, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Buddy Holly and Jim Morrison have all been uprooted and carted away.
Spend a little time looking at the celebrity memorabilia on auction at E-bay and you'll quickly grasp what Hedges is saying.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Regarding Systemic Sin

Today is the Oklahoma Conference of Churches 26th annual day at the legislature. Rev. Stan Basler, Director of Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries for the United Methodist Churches of Oklahoma, gave the keynote address in the Senate Chamber of the Oklahoma State Capitol on the topic of "Systemic Sin, today's Challenge for the Church." Basler quoted John 19:15-16 as a biblical example of a sin of the system of governance. He spoke much about Walter Rauschenbush's concept of a social gospel that works to create a regenerated social order. After Basler spoke, I was one of four members of a panel that responded to and made comments about Basler's speech. The other panelists were Republican State Senator Clark Jolley, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University who represents Northern Oklahoma City and Edmond, Pat Potts a Presbyterian laywoman active in social justice issues who twice ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a North Oklahoma City State Senate seat, and Lance Schmitz, Minister of Social Justice at First Nazarene Church in Oklahoma City.

Here is what I can remember of what I said about Basler's speech:

First, let me say that I am delighted that Stan had the insight and the wisdom to talk about "Systemic Sin." If there ever was a time for us to see the evidence of systemic sin, it is today. Every day we read about it in our newspapers and watch it on our televisions. We have a system that thought "Greed is good" and unregulated free-markets could police themselves. We are witnessing the evil and sinful effects of an unregulated "free-market fundamentalism" that defies comprehension. It had an exceedingly naive view of human nature. We need to return to the understanding of government that James Madison had. We need a system of checks and balances that will keep all forms of power honest.

Second, I am pleased to hear Rev. Basler quoting one of my heroes -- Walter Rauschenbush. He was a Baptist. It is good to remember that as a Baptist he was raised in a tradition rooted in a "born again" conversionist theology that emphasized a voluntary, relationship with Christ. No government, no community, and no church stands between a believer and Christ for a Baptist. We believe we have direct access to God. A lot of people, not Methodists like Stan, but a lot of other people think that that is individualistic. But, that is not what Rauschenbush is talking about when he speaks of individualism.

Baptists also believe strongly in liberty of conscience. By liberty of conscience I mean looking at yourself through the eyes of an Other. The most important Other whose eyes that we look at ourselves through are God's. Most sacred and inviolate is our conviction that no one can usurp the place that God's will has in our lives. We want to live lives that are pleasing in his eyes. Then, secondly, we also look at ourselves -- with humility -- through the eyes of "the least of these" -- as Rev. Basler mentioned. Looking that way, we see a brother or sister in Christ. We know that we are responsible to them and for them. When we see them in need, we know that, "but for the grace of God, there go I" and we strive to meet that need.

As Stan mentioned, when Rauschenbush talks about individualism, he is talking about sin as self-interest. He is insisting that we must replace self-interest with the common interest of society. The common good is that we all be free to live life with and for others in just institutions. Just institutions are fair institutions. Institutions that are fair to everyone. We all need to work to see that the institutions of our society treat everyone equally and fairly.

That's why I am glad to see the Oklahoma Conference of Churches hold these days at the legislature. It gives us an opportunity to recommit ourselves and gather the will to effect the kind of changes that need to take place for this to be a just society.

The economy we have now did not float down to us from heaven. It was created by us and the decisions that we have made as a community. We all need to work to see that we create a society that is just and fair for every man, woman and child in our country.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Podcast: Evolution Weekend on Religious Talk

Podcast (7MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 2-08-09 "Religious Talk" radio program. On the week that the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, Dr. Prescott participates in the Evolution Sunday emphasis that took place in churches around the world.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Theistic Evolutionists Prepare for Evolution Weekend

Brian Kaylor at Ethics Daily has posted a story about "Congregations Preparing to Observe Evolution Weekend."

It's about time that theistic evolutionists spoke up.

Few things discredit the church more among intelligent people than propaganda by creationists and intelligent designers proclaiming that evolutionary science has been discredited.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Understanding the Faith-Based Office

There is a lot of confusion about what the Office of Faith-Based whatever does.

Here are a couple links to articles explaining "Faith-Based Initiatives" that I wrote for the First Amendment Advocate in September 2007.

Understanding "Charitable Choice" (Note: For some reason, Microsoft's Internet Explorer does not render the really cool chart I created using Microsoft's software. Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome browsers however, render the chart just fine. Here are links to places where you can download a free copy of the Firefox browser, the Safari browser and/or the Chrome browser.)

Timeline for Faith-Based Programs (with special emphasis on Oklahoma)

Obama to Unveil Faith-Based Panel (Updated)

The Washington Post has posted a story, that I expect will be updated as the day goes on, about the panel that Obama has chosen to give him advice on how to run the office of faith-based initiatives.

Early editions of the article quoted me as saying "There is nothing that can undermine the church more than easy money and loose accountability." (The quote was pulled from the final edition) That's close and as good as could be expected for someone to transcribe at the speed in which I was speaking. Actually, what I said was, "What could undermine the integrity of the church more than easy money and loose accountability?" I was quoting a question I asked Jim Wallis when I interviewed him as guest on my radio program years ago.

I am very pleased to see that Melissa Rogers is one of the people appointed to the panel. Now I know that there is at least one strong advocate for separation of church and state on the panel. Melissa has done a lot of research in this area.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Moderate Baptist Media Stepping Up (Revised)

Moderate Baptist media sources are making some dramatic improvements to their online presentations.

Associated Baptist Press was the first to produce an upgraded website with more attractive graphics and inviting presentations of its news stories.

Then, the Baptist Standard, rolled out a new E3 Electronic Edition of their paper that takes full advantage of the dynamism of the web.

Today, Ethics Daily rolled out a dynamic new look and feel to go along with its news, commentary and a cutting edge emphasis on blogging, podcasting and videocasting.

Both of these news sources are second to none. Hats off to both of them. Thanks especially to Ethics Daily for including me among their featured bloggers and podcasters.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Inhofe Defends Guantanamo

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe is one of the most vocal opponents of closing Guantanamo. Today's Tulsa World says Inhofe wants to stop Obama from closing the most shameful prison camp in American history.

It is hard for me to comprehend how any person of moral integrity could defend a prison camp known for contorting the U.S. Constitution, violating the Geneva Conventions, and employing the techniques of torture.

Inhofe says we need to keep Guantanamo open to keep Americans safe. In reality, Guantanamo is a symbol for everything that undermines our safety. Either the rule of law applies to every nation and human rights extend to all persons, or they apply to none and extend to no one. The only law in evidence at Guantanamo is the law of the jungle.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Huge Crowd Hears Carter at Birmingham New Baptist Covenant Meeting

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has posted a story saying "Carter Draws Huge Crowd for Baptist Message." The story references the 1200 people that were expected to attend. More people attended than expected. If the seating capacity at the church is 1500, their figure may underestimate the size of the crowd by nearly a quarter. The santuary at Sixteen Street Baptist Church was overflowing and numerous people had to stand throughout the service. Below is a picture I took that shows the crowd in one corner of the building. Alabama was certainly the most appropriate region and this church, where four young girls lost their lives as their church was bombed during the civil rights era, was certainly the most appropriate venue for Baptists to begin demonstrating the new Spirit being embraced by the New Baptist Covenant.

A new day has indeed dawned upon Baptists and the old racial divisions are being replaced by a new spirit of self-giving sacrificial love and unity.

On the Resurgence of Anti-feminism

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to the article in the UK's Guardian entitled "Beware the Anti-feminists." Here's a quote:

The patriarchy movement is yet another brand of evangelical anti-feminism. A bit like the Quiverfull movement, only this time without all the children, biblical womanhood does exactly what it says on the tin: it sends women back to the dark ages. At the True Woman Conference, for example, the Christian sisters launched their new manifesto, inspiringly titled The True Woman Manifesto, where they resolved to cultivate "such virtues as purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love" and where they affirmed their calling as women "to encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honour and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church".

It's heartening to see that so far fewer than 3,000 women around the globe have signed up to this misogynists' charter, but it's also depressing to think that 3,000 women think so little of themselves and their daughters that they're prepared to endorse such illiberal, anti-woman nonsense.
The article goes on to describe a movement promoting a very repulsive form of anti-feminism that deserves severe condemnation and little publicity.