Thursday, November 29, 2012

First Month Geo-Thermal Energy Savings

About seven weeks ago we had a geo-thermal heat and air system installed in our poorly insulated all electric old house. That required drilling two 350 feet deep wells, digging five feet deep trenches to install water pipes from the wells to the house, drilling two holes through the concrete wall of our basement to get the water pipes into the basement, installing a dual water pump to pump the water in and out of the house to the wells, installing a 3 ton Climate Master 27 HVAC system with extensive sheet metal fitting and replacement air duct work. We also had to replace the electrical breaker box at the house to get it up to the standard for building codes. In brief, this was a BIG job!

The team of workers and contractors working with Waggoner's Heat & Air were terrific. They all did top notch work.

I've been monitoring our energy usage since the day it was installed. Today I got the bill for the first full month using the geo-thermal system. We used 919 KWH. Between 2001 and 2011 our average energy usage for the month of November was 2118 KWH. The highest month was November 2002 when we used 3800 KWH and the lowest month was in 2007 when we only used 1586 KWH.

Translated into dollars, we saved about $60.00 on our electric bill this month.

Norman, Oklahoma experienced unusually warm and mild weather for the month of November 2012 -- more akin to the weather in 2007 than the average. The real test for our new system will be at the extremes of heat and cold.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Sentencing Convicts to Go to Church

An Oklahoma judge recently sentenced an Oklahoma teenager to attend church for ten years as part of his probation.

Greg Horton, writing for the Oklahoma Gazette, asked for my opinion about the sentence.

Greg's story was picked up by the Washington Post and by the Huffington Post this morning.

Here's the portion of the story that quotes my opinion:

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he is sure the sentence doesn’t pass constitutional muster, but he is equally worried about the spiritual ramifications.

“I’m a minister,” Prescott said. “I want people to go to church, but it’s not helpful for a judge to sentence someone to church. What will the judge do if the young man changes his affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist? Religion is not a tool of the state, and it’s certainly not for the state to use as a tool of rehabilitation.”
For the record, I am executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, a former executive board member of the national organization of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a past president of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United. Greg tells me on Facebook that he got this information mixed up and is working to correct it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wesley Shotwell: A Network not a Denomination

Wesley Shotwell, pastor of Ash Creek Baptist Church in Azle, Texas gives the keynote address at the 2012 Texas Baptist Committed breakfast.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Judge Roy Moore Redevivus

While half the nation has been celebrating and half of the nation has been mourning the re-election of Barack Obama, another election has barely been noticed outside Alabama. Judge Roy Moore, who planted a 2 1/2 ton ten commandments monument in a courthouse and then refused to obey a federal court order to remove it, has been elected again to serve as chief justice at the Alabama Supreme Court.

Roy Moore's understanding of the First Amendment of the Constitution is polar opposite from my own. He thinks the Constitution establishes the "Judeo-Christian" religion. I'm convinced that the First Amendment means exactly what it says, "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Moore and I do agree on one thing. Both of us see through the smokescreen that the Supreme Court is using to ignore the implications of keeping the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance and using "In God We Trust" as our national motto.

For both Moore and myself, the word "God" means something. It refers to a real Divinity. The Supreme Court, however, contends that the word "God" does not mean anything when it is used in our civic life. According to the Supreme Court, in American civic life the word "God" does not refer to a real Divinity because the word has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." (See Justice Brennan's concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 1984) Instead, "God" is more like a mascot that we trot out to make us feel good about ourselves and our nation.

For the Supreme Court, civic references to "God" are examples of "ceremonial deism" and, therefore, do not violate the First Amendment's prohibition against establishing a religion. Roy Moore contends that the word "God" invokes a real Deity that our nation ought to acknowledge constitutionally and establish as our national sovereign. For Moore and many others in the Religious Right, democracy is, at best, defined theocratically -- not pluralistically. For them, people of no faith and people of other faiths are second-class citizens with fewer rights and privileges than those who acknowledge the "Judeo-Christian" God.

Like Moore, I believe that the word "God" invokes a real Deity, but I don't believe God is interested in being acknowledged by Constitutions. The Father that Jesus revealed is interested in voluntary personal relationships with real persons, not coercive monarchical relations with the constructs of nation-states. To treat God as a national "mascot" and strip his name of "meaning" is blasphemous. It directly transgresses the command to "not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." (Exodus 20:7)

Unlike Moore, I don't believe American democracy has ever been defined "theocratically." James Madison thought that the prohibition against religious tests to hold public office (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution) was enough to guarantee religious liberty for everyone. Anyone who has read his Memorial and Remonstrance knows that he never intended for people of no faith and people of other faiths to be second class citizens of this country. Anyone who has read the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom knows that Thomas Jefferson's mind was of one accord with Madison on this matter. You don't even have to be aware of the Baptist heritage of advocacy for separation of church and state to know that from the beginning the United States was conceived to be a "pluralistic" democracy, not a theocracy.

Friday, November 09, 2012

On Profaning God's Name

"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." -- Exodus 20:7

The Hebrew people took this command seriously. So seriously that capital punishment was prescribed for offenders. Only the High Priest was permitted to speak God's name (YHWH) and then only in the temple in Jerusalem on the day of atonement (Yom Kippur). Today, whenever God is named when reading the text of the Bible or when praying, traditional Jewish practice is to speak the word for "master or lord" (Adonai). For them, the name of God is holy and worthy of reverence.

Christians have not interpreted this commandment as strictly as have Jews. Few of us speak Hebrew. We realize that different languages employ different words to point to God. We don't believe that the Hebrew language has any unique power to capture God's essence or invoke God's presence. The temple in Jerusalem is not the center of our worship. We don't restrict the use of the word "God" to priests or the clergy. We all speak God's name, laity and clergy, when reading scripture, when praying and in our day-to-day conversations.

So, what remains for Christians of the command to not take the name of the Lord in vain?

The answer lies in what "in vain" means in the context of naming God.

In ordinary language usage, the word for "god" is an entry in the dictionary that refers to a deity, or immortal being (s), or supreme being (s). It principally refers to some ideal of divinity but it could be used for any conception of ultimate reality.

In Hebrew, the divine name cannot be used in this generic sense. The living God is not just another entry in the lexicon of ordinary language. Nor is the God of Abraham merely an ideal or a lofty conception of ultimate reality. Naming the living God invokes a presence. To make reference to the God of Abraham without the awe and reverence that is appropriate in the divine presence is rude and insulting. It takes God's name "in vain" -- i.e., in the "emptiness of speech." It deprives God's name of meaning and denies the ever present reality and ultimate significance of the One who is being named.

For Christians this means that we should never condone flippant and meaningless references to God. Our use of the word "God" should always evidence a reverent and worshipful attitude. We should never profane the name of God by speaking in ways that are disrespectful of the dignity of the Divine presence.

Monday, November 05, 2012

States with the Most Political Clout

NPR has posted a two minute video that explains why swing states have more political clout than others in the election tomorrow.

It's all about the electoral college vote.

Note: The electoral college has nothing to do with educated voters.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

On Conservative's Insensitivity to Rape

Raw Story has posted a news story with video about yet another GOP candidate for public office who has made an offensive comment about rape. That makes three candidates in less than three months (Akin, Mourdock, and Koster) with mind-boggling insensitivity on this issue.

Someone needs to assign these politicians to spend some time with the rape units at their local police departments.

I spent five years working for the Albuquerque Police Department before I went to seminary. I've responded to calls for assistance from rape victims and have seen first-hand the evidence of physical assault and battery that many of these women must endure -- before they are verbally battered and emotionally assaulted by the judicial process necessary to convict their perpetrators.

I've also apprehended a rapist or two within moments of the crime and know how difficult it is control the spontaneous impulse to administer some well-deserved street justice with a night-stick on these thugs.

I get that same feeling every time I read a news story about politicians who are blind to the pain that their remarks add to the ongoing suffering these women are already enduring.