Friday, January 29, 2010


Imagine your house is on fire. What do you do?

I’d call the fire department.

Let’s say the fire-fighters save the house. It could have burned to the ground, but they were able to save it. Fire damage was done. It will be costly to fix, but it is so much better than having lost the whole house to the fire. It was costly to the city, paying fire-fighters and maintaining equipment and housing both fighters & equipment and training the fire-fighters and buying equipment, etc. But, my neighbors figure it was worth all the expense, since the fire department was able to stop the spread of the fire and their houses were spared. The costs are high; so, “What do you do?”

I’d bake the fire-fighters some brownies, maybe write an op-ed piece in the local paper extolling the virtues of the fire department, and be very grateful, filled with thanksgiving, for their coming to my aid.

In addition, however, I notice that the fire-fighters broke windows, some of which, in hindsight, they might not have had to break to put out the fire. What do I do?

Nothing. I figure it was an emergency and they had to make split second decisions. Under those circumstances, mistakes are bound to be made. Its the nature of an emergency. I don’t like it and frankly the fire department doesn’t like it either--but under the circumstances I figure these sort of things happen.

Once the fire was clearly being vanquished, I began to wonder what caused the fire. And I was grateful to see the fire marshall, on the scene, already investigating the cause of the fire. As relief comes that the emergency is over my anger begins to swell. I am mad. I want to know what caused the fire. My anger needs an object.

My neighbor points out that I campaigned against a local ordinance mandating that every home have working smoke detectors. At the time, I did not believe the government needed to intrude into my life--my home--by making it a crime to choose not to have a smoke detector. I said that even if the ordinance passed, I would then fight the funding for enforcement of the ordinance. I firmly believed there was too much government regulation in our lives. My neighbor said, that at the time, I had convinced him--but now, after my house burned, he was going to buy a smoke detector as soon as possible. I ask myself, am I a big enough man to admit I was wrong?

No. I’ll wait for the Fire Marshall’s report and assign blame elsewhere. What’s the point of blaming myself? And then I begin to wonder--what will the Fire Marshall find? What if that wiring, I had repaired by the “moon lighting” electrician, and never had inspected, caused the fire? What if my insurance will not pay for the damage, if my actions caused the fire? I’ve got to study the policy--quick. I resolve, no matter what the facts, I will not allow this to become my fault. I rethink the baking of brownies and the writing of op-ed pieces. Maybe I will sue the fire department for the unnecessary damage done to my home. If I am implicated, I can object to the Fire Marshall, maybe I can claim that he had it in for me since I had opposed the smoke detector thing. Then, maybe I can get the Fire Marshall fired and everyone will then doubt his investigation and the city will pay for the whole thing just to get me to shut up and then it will not matter what my insurance company will or will not pay. I’ll be put right. I wonder if I can sue for more and make a little money on this deal. Maybe move to a bigger house. I never really liked this one anyway.


Now, in this tale, I wonder...who is the home owner whose house burned down? What could the house be? Who are you in this story? How could the story have ended differently? If you could tell the story, how would you tell it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Remove Ben Bernanke?

I am surprised that the anger of the hoi polloi might cost Ben Bernanke his job. I agree with Paul Krugman's assessment. He wrote today "Mr. Bernanke is a superb research economist. And from the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2009 his academic expertise and his policy role meshed perfectly, as he used aggressive, unorthodox tactics to head off a second Great Depression."

Bernanke is a Republican, so I am sure he does not have much political cover within a Democratic administration. But partisan politics aside, he knew his economic history and he knew how to avoid the same mistakes that lead to the Great Depression. He navigated those waters as well as anyone could possibly hope. I applauded the new administration when it reappointed him to head the Federal Reserve despite his political affiliation. I thought Time magazine got it right when it named him "Man of the Year."

There were a host of economic mistakes that led to our most recent gilded age, but Bernanke is hardly responsible for almost thirty years of ill concieved deregulation and a system of regressive taxation. He is, however, responsible from saving us from the effects of our folly. The medicine Dr. Bernanke administered was difficult to swallow and tasted awful--but it was better than allowing the disease to run its natural course.

We should be building a monument to honor Ben Bernanke, not removing him from his post.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Candidates for 8th Bishop of Kentucky

MoAmy has posted the names of the candidates for 8th Bishop of Kentucky.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Time for a Maximum Wage

A maximum wage was effectively in place in the United States from 1942 until 1964 during which the highest tax bracket was taxed at a rate of 91%. Its time to re-enact a maximum wage law.

A wage of ten times the minimum wage sounds reasonable to me. How many minimum wage earners are you worth? Three, four maybe. You work long hours--you are worth more than someone who only puts in 40 hours a week. The quality of your work is far superior to your collegues--you are worth at least two of the guys down the hall or across the factory floor.

But is anyone (ANYONE) so productive that their work could possibly be worth more than 10 miniumum wage workers? Currently about 2% of the American workforce makes more than ten times the minimum wage. We should use the income tax code to impose a maximum wage. If a maximum wage was enacted, 98% of Americans would not be taxed at a higher rate--but the excesses of our most recent gilded age would be brought to an end. With all the griping about Wall Street executive pay in Congress, on the editorial pages and among taxpayers, the President set new limits on pay at financial firms getting government assistance. CEOs at companies getting the most help from the government saw their salaries capped at a half million dollars a year. This came after President Obama described the huge bonuses and perks on Wall Street as shameful. It is not, however, just banking and Wall Street CEO's, but anyone with income more than 10 times the minimum wage.

In England, the "Statute of Artificers of 1563" implemented statutes of fixed maximum wage scales; Justices of the Peace could fix wages according "to the plenty or scarcity of the time". We need a modern version of the "Statute of Artificers." We need a maximum wage.

To counteract the increase in prevailing wages due to scarcity of labor, American colonies in the 17th century created a ceiling wage. We need a new ceiling wage. We need a maximum wage.

No one's work is of such quantity or quality to justifiy the compensation recieved by the top 2%. Enough is enough. It's time for a maximum wage law.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The following is from Martin Marty of the University of Chicago on Pat Robertson's recent remark concerning Haiti:

"...The incident shows development and expansiveness in Robertson, who has been one of the most consistent critics of secular humanism in all its forms. Yet for this – his televised revelation of the meaning of the catastrophe – the evangelist drew not on the Bible but on secular humanist sources.

You won’t find “pact with the devil” in your biblical concordance, as the phrase did not enter our culture from the Bible. Mention a “pact with the devil” and you will immediately be dredging up the explicit language of the Faust legend, whether from Marlowe or Goethe or Thomas Mann, who told classic versions of Dr. Faust’s famed contract. Search the literature and you will find secular humanists touting the greatest, Goethe’s Faust, as a “secular humanist manifesto.” Something good to say about Robertson, then? Yes: We like to document popular evangelicalism’s enlarging scope; here is an instance. Could Robertson have been courting secular humanists with this turn to non-Biblical sources?

Goethe’s Faust is big in college curricula and Great Books clubs and among opera goers; but the story of a pact with the devil also shows up in less elite circles, including one most explicit source. Guy Endore’s Babouk (1934) is a fictionalized version of the incident Robertson used to explain the curse on the Haitian people, who, in his estimation, deserved the earthquake because of an ancestral pact with the devil. Stalinist Endore did his research in Haiti, and came back to tell the story of Babouk, his version of Duffy Boukman, believed to have been the agent of the Haitian revolution against the French. Could Endore’s bad Communist novel have been Robertson’s source? If so, then we see the scope of sources that Robertson takes to be “true stories.” "

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The following review has appeared (proof that someone read my book!)

Charles Hawkins, Beyond Anarchy and Tyranny in Religious Epistemology: Postliberalism, Poststructuralism, and Critical Theory, University Press of America, (1997) - Read in December 2007. Charles Hawkins takes as the underlying premise that postliberal theology could learn much from comparison with poststructuralist theory. Both approaches are open to charges of relativism; Hawkins suggests that poststructuralism's more nuanced approach to the relativist charg. Hawkins quotes Richard Bernstein's diagnosis of cartesian anxiety which has as its sympton the problem that either there is some support for our being, a fixed foundation for our knowledge, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelop us with madness, with intellectual and moral chaos" (p. 156). The emphasis on context in both poststructuralism and postliberalism has made this (universal) fixed foundation unobtainable. The result is not, argues Hawkins, an intellectual and moral chaos because both traditions are open to alternate readings. Although the comparison between postliberalism and poststructuralism was a little forced this was an interesting book worth a read if you can pick it up second hand.

Richard Gillingham, Liverpool, United Kingdom
BTh in Theology from Chester Univeristy (2002)
MA in Religion, Politics and International Relations from the University of Wales, Lampeter (2004).

Friday, January 15, 2010

News from the Episcopal Church in Haiti:

"We have devastating news to share with you from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake yesterday...the damage in Port au Prince and areas around it is terrible.

There is no Cathedral. The entire Holy Trinity complex is gone. The convent for the Sisters of St. Margaret is gone. The Bishop's house is gone. College St. Pierre is gone...In Trouin, four people were killed during a service. In Grand Colline, the church is part of st Martin of tours is gone...In St. Etienne Buteau the church, the rectory and the school are gone.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is one of my favorite movies. When Gilliam is good, he is very good. (His Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Time Bandits are guilty pleasures for me). Therefore, I looked forward to viewing his latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It is his best work since Twelve Monkeys. I was not disappointed. It is worth seeing (even though it does not rise to the cinematic heights of Brazil).

The film is an allegory and a morality tale; a coming of age story and the age old story--good verses evil. Not everyone will appreciate its mythic quality. But for those who, like me, do--they (maybe you?) are in for a real treat.

I remind you that Parnassus is the home of poetry, literature, music, and learning. Mount Parnassus is named after Parnassos, the son of Kleodora and Kleopompus or Poseidon (all mythical Greek figures). The club “Rain on Fifth” in the film is a play on the story of Parnassos. Parnassos was the leader of a city flooded by torrential rain. The citizens escaped the flood by fleeing up the mountain slope.

In another tale, Orpheus is said to have lived on Mt. Parnassus. When Apollo was courting another resident of the mount (the muse Thalia), he developed a fondness for Orpheus and gave him a golden lyre and taught him to play. Tony’s golden flute is a play on Orpheus’ golden lyre. The golden flute gets Tony out of trouble time and again. Just as Orpheus’ mother teaches him to write verse to music of the lyre, Doctor Parnassus teaches his daughter to dream, to use her imagination and shape the world.

In Paris, Montparnasse is the nick name of an area of the city known for its public recitations of poetry. The film is perhaps best viewed as visual poem, epic in scope, and not far removed from the sort of tale Homer or Hesiod might have told if they had trafficked in video rather than parchment.

Hermann Hesse (twentieth-century, German author) used the fountain at the base of Mt. Parnassus (Castalia) as the name of a fictional province in The Glass Bead Game. Castalia had been a nymph until Apollo turned her into a fountain. Dedicated by Apollo to the muses, poets would come and drink of its sacred water for inspiration. The temple at Delphi was washed in the water of this fountain. Many poets and oracles have inspiration in the once nymph. Gilliam drank deeply at the fount. Hesse’s main character is Knecht (Knight) whose best friend is modeled on the existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche. Knecht, at the end of the novel, imagines other lives he might have lived. Gilliam’s film is like the game of which Knecht becomes a master--requiring years of hard study in music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Imagine that.

Back in ancient (mythical) Greece, Zeus sends a flood to destroy the Pelasgians and Prometheus saves his son from the deluge by building him an ark; an ark that comes to rest on Mt. Parnassus. Like Prometheus, Doctor Parnassus wishes to save his child. Mining a vein that would make any existentialist rich, Gilliam works these themes the way Camus worked the Myth of Sisyphus.

Doctor Parnassus was once a monk; a monk dedicated to telling the sacred story, a story he believed brought order to the universe and sustained that universe. When a Mr. Nick silences the monks and the world does not cease to exist, Parnassus refuses to stop believing. Like Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith, he takes a leap. Mr. Nick (like Doctor Faust’s Mephistopheles) makes a wager with Doctor Parnassus. Parnassus wins the bet and is given immortality. As you know, you should be careful for what you wish, your wish might be granted. Immortality (not surprisingly) has a down side.

Mr. Nick likes a man who will wager with him, so he and Doctor Parnassus fight an endless battle for souls. Will a soul dare to imagine, to dream, and if so, will the dream create a world of goodness, or a world of evil. Choices. Its all about freedom and choices. At one point in the film Doctor Parnassus, exhausted from the cosmic struggle, says he is tired of choosing (but he must, there is no choice but to choose).

Like Eve, Doctor Parnassus‘ daughter will be tempted (apples appear several times in the film and in one scene the daughter, Valentinia, strikes an Eve-like (nude) pose. Valentinia reaches the age when one must choose for oneself and leave the dreams of one’s parents behind. It is a difficult moment for both child and parent. Doctor Parnassus fights for the soul of his daughter, but ultimately it is she who must do the choosing. Her salvation is not his anyone’s hands but her own. Her name, reminiscent of the patron saint of romantic love (thanks to Chaucer), is no coincidence. Neither are the name(s) of her potential lovers. Both are named Anthony. One goes by Anton and the other Tony (you will remember that Mark Anthony was famous for being the lover of Cleopatra). The parent in us all aches for both Parnassus and Valintina and the choices they must make.

The connections (like the glass bead game) are seemingly endless. Mark Anthony claimed he was a descendant of the demi-god Anton, the son of Hercules. Hercules’ winged horse was Pegasus and--can you guess--Pegasus came from Mt. Parnassus.

The Corycian Cave (named for the nymph Corycia), on the slope of Mt. Parnassus, is sacred to both the muses and to the god Pan. One enters the cave to bath in the spring waters, sleep, dream, and be inspired. In modern day London, one enters “The Imaginarium” of Doctor Parnassus. When you enter, how will you choose?

More on Nipps Article

I couldn't resist. Here is another quote from Nipps article:

"They want to recover a multi-sensory experience of worship. From their location in the Protestant traditions, where a commitment to the Bible and iconoclasm has led to a profound “wordiness,” emerging church practitioners want to develop worship forms that address the whole person and all our senses. Also, inspired by young adult culture with its creative exploration of multi-media, there is a strong sense that conventional worship is dull and unimaginative, unworthy of the glory of God. Emerging church liturgy, therefore, tends to make creative use of a wide variety of worship tools, from icons to Power Point, from organs to electric guitars, from candles to light shows."

At St. Mark's we are on the candles, organs, and icons side of things--but multi-sensory is at the heart of what we are after.

The Emerging Church

Leslie Nipps in an article for the Journal of Associated Parishes (the august body that lead the way toward the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) has written on a topic of interest to those who attend the Saturday evening (vigil) service at St. Mark's. In talk about the "emerging church" she says (in part): "They are grounded in the Tradition as they insist the Church be relevant to today. The portmanteau word is “AncientFuture,” and it implies a critique of Church which is either mired in out-of-date conventions, practices and doctrinal debates; or superficially guided only by the passing fads of modern American life. A “Living Tradition” is the conviction of emerging church practitioners. It also especially refers to worship expressions; these evangelically grounded leaders are re-discovering the richness both of ancient liturgical forms, and of more expressive ceremonial."

You can read more at the link above.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mary Daly Remembered

I just learned that Mary Daly died on Sunday. She was 81 years old. I was her sole defender in my M.Div. theology class. She, naturally, would have told me that she did not need a male to defend her. She, naturally, would have been right.

She called herself a "post-Christian radical feminist." I cannot improve upon that moniker.

Her work was not easy reading for male Christians preparing for service to the Church. I enjoyed her irreverence and that she made the fundamentalist's blood pressure rise. The later was great fun to watch. But her work (and the reactions to it) were more than merely some species of performance art. With regard to the substance of her work, it seemed to me that she was nearly always right. The question for me was always "as a male, Christian, serving the Church, how do I act given the truth she speaks?" Most of my classmates were merely interested in responding to Daly--not to the world as Daly unveiled it.

Daly called my attention to the scandal of particularity of the incarnation. For her purposes, it was the gender of the Christ that bore scrutiny. On this point, she seemed to me to be obviously correct: Christians claim that God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, a male living in Palestine, a couple of thousand years ago. Given that the Christ was male, and there is a long history of sexism with males as the perpetrators, will Jesus' maleness not further oppress women--not liberate them? If the face of God is a male face, what are women to think? Further, she was right--there was no escaping it.

We will, I believe, do well not to dismiss these observations to quickly, but rather acknowledge them and struggle with them as Jacob wrestled with his angel. I am not willing to turn lose of Christianity, but neither am I willing to turn lose Mary Daly.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Excellent 0n-line course being offered by Harvard. Surf over and check it out.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year.

The C-J ran an article today concerning tax reform. Some months ago I (and other religious leaders) were scheduled to meet with the Governor. I was unable to attend, however, so I sent a letter instead. My letter was about tax reform. I am, therefore, glad that the issue is getting some attention. Taxation in Kentucky is in need of reform.

Currently in Kentucky low-and middle-income families pay more as a share of their income in taxes than do Kentuckians with high-incomes. The tax burden needs to be lifted from the shoulders of low-and middle-income families.

In 2007, the poorest 20% of Kentucky residents paid 7.8% of their incomes in state and local taxes. The richest 1% paid 5.8% of their income in Kentucky taxes. Fairness would dictate the opposite--that those who can best afford to spend a greater percentage of their income for the common good do so.

The wealthiest 20% of Kentuckians have more income than the poorest 80% put together. Furthermore, between 1988 and 2008 Kentuckians in the top 1% saw
their (inflation-adjusted) average incomes rise by 34%. Meanwhile, middle-income earnings grew by 5.9%, and the poorest 20% saw their real incomes rise by just 3.5% over this period. Taxing the poor is not only immoral, it is not apt to raise much revenue (hence Kentucky's budget woes).

Kentucky needs a new "property" tax. Property is more than real-estate. What should be taxed is one's net worth--a levy based on the aggregate value of all household holdings, including real-estate, but also including cash, stocks, bonds, trusts, annuities--anything of value.

Kentucky could require declaration of the tax payer's balance sheet (assets and liabilities), and from that ask for a tax on net worth (assets minus liabilities), as a percentage of the net worth exceeding a certain level.

India, Switzerland, and France all impose this sort of tax.

Further, the sales tax should be eliminated altogether (vice taxes would remain). Income tax should be retained, but re-structured. The bottom third of households (with regard to income) should be exempted from the income tax. Beginning with the 34th percentile, the current system of taxing 2%-6% could be expanded. 1% tax rate on 34th percentile; 2% on 50th percentile; 3% on 60th percentile; 4% on 80th percentile; 5% on 90th percentile; 6% on 95th percentile and 7% on the top 1%.

The combination of a net-worth tax and an income tax would remove the tax burden from the poor (the bottom third) and ease the burden on middle-income households (the middle-third) and place the burden in its proper place--with those best able to support the common good.