8.14.2009

Seven Key Health Care Questions

Great article here.

Wheelan, an economist, asks (and answers) seven key questions.
(Side Note: I think economists should run the world.)

1. How did we get the health care system we have?

2. If we had a Canadian-style system (or British or French), would you give it up for what you have now? (And might I parenthetically add, what would the "least among us" do?)

3. What are your preferred benchmarks for quality in a health care system, and how does the U.S. system stack up?

4. Where did King Hussein of Jordan fly for cancer treatment?
(The answer is not exactly what you think, if you know the answer.)

5. Should we scrap Medicare?

6. Can our health care system get worse?

7. Do you think the American health care system will be better or worse in 10 years if we do nothing now?

Read the whole article here. It is really good.

8.07.2009

My take on potential global warming.

I'm not a scientist. Neither are most of you. So what to do about all the scientific claims on global warming.


Here is what not to do. Don't think that this issue is in any way actually related to any other issue that has become partisan.

I truly don't understand why virtually everyone that thinks abortion is wrong, also thinks global warming is false. Or why so many who think global warming is true, think the war in Iraq was a mistake from the beginning. One should be able to study an issue and come to a conclusion on that particular issue, irrespective of other issues. To me, the fact that this has become so partisan speaks to what I guess is obvious, the deep divide and mistrust that exists in this country. It is this latter point, as much as anything, that I find so troubling. We should be able to listen to people who are experts in their field, without judging them on every other issue, which they may or may not be qualified as an expert on.

So back to global warming. I chimed in on a facebook discussion page hosted by my denomination, the CRC, here.

6.23.2009

My Take on Recent Mega Church Research


Pretty interesting article New Research Offers Portrait of Megachurch Attendees

Here's the highlights
  • Nearly two-thirds of megachurch attenders are under 45 years old, as compared to only one-third for all Protestant churches (62% vs. 35%).
  • Nearly a third of megachurch attenders are single, unmarried persons. In a typical church, singles account for just 10% of the congregation.
  • Megachurch attenders are both more educated and more affluent than attenders at other churches.
  • The majority of megachurch attenders are not necessarily new to Christianity but nearly a quarter had not recently been in another church before coming to a megachurch.
  • While newcomers almost always attend a megachurch at the invitation of family, friends or co-workers, the real attraction tends to be the church’s reputation, worship style and senior pastor.
  • Long-term attendance flows from an appreciation for the church’s music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs.
  • 45% of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church, and 40 percent are not engaged in a small group, the mainstay of megachurch programming.
What do you think: news, not news? - good, bad?

6.03.2009

A Bible Thumping Agnostic

There is a pretty interesting book coming out, and the title says it all.

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible

Written by David Plotz, a writer for Slate, an online news magazine, it is a compilation of his multi-year blog journey through the Bible.

In his blog entry on the book he says this: Maybe it doesn't make sense for most of us to read the whole Bible. After all, there are so many difficult, repellent, confusing, and boring passages. Why not skip them and cherry-pick the best bits? After spending a year with the good book, I've become a full-on Bible thumper. Everyone should read it—all of it! In fact, the less you believe, the more you should read. Let me explain why, in part by telling how reading the whole Bible has changed me. Read more here.



David's journey through the Bible didn't change his agnostic outlook, but he did learn to love the book many of us cherish. For a review from a Christian perspective check out Church Central's Book Review.

Why do I bring all of this up. If Christians want to be engaged in God's world, we have to understand how that world thinks. This is as good a tool as any. Furthermore, what David says in that video about understanding the complicated characters of the Bible on their own terms, without the window dressing if you will, of sermons and commentaries, is spot on.

Using Bible study tools is good, but I think the place to start is with a naked reading, the whole Bible as it really is, the good, the bad and the absolutely disgusting.

And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood. - Ezekiel 16:20-22

5.12.2009

A Fundraising Appeal

Many of you know Joey and I are part of Oasis, a new church plant in Waverly, just outside of Lincoln Nebraska. What you may not know is why this means so much to us.

Every week I meet someone who’s perspective on life, Christ, or His Church, has been stunted by bad experiences; some horrible, some not, but all of them leaving the person with a bad taste in her mouth. When I look at the world around me, I can see why. There is a lot of crazy stuff going on.

At Oasis we are trying to be a part of the solution to this problem. We are trying, (and sometimes failing) to create space for dialog, space for exploration; a community that reflects Christ’s values of lifting up the poor, releasing the captive, and creating sight, so that all of us can see the world as it really is, the good and the bad. (Luke 4:18)

Since beginning preview services almost a year ago, and weekly services in September, we have seen our committed members double, from ten to over twenty people, with attendance near forty each week. But the real success is found in the stories.

Later this month we will be baptizing three people who a year ago wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ, and earlier this month our community had the opportunity to clean up the yard of a foreclosed home. God is doing great things and people are moving closer to him, but we need resources to spread the message and create space for authentic relationships. Will you consider investing the resources God has given you in the Oasis community? If so, you can click here to visit our sister church, the Northern Lighthouse's
web site where you can donate specifically to Oasis (just shoot me an e-mail designating your funds for Oasis, or you can always send a check to the address below.)

One last story. A few weeks ago I was at HOOT our after school program, getting to know some of the kids, including Calvin, a bright young 8th grader. A few days later while I was working at the local hardware store. He and his mother Denise came in to pick up a few things, and we ended up chatting for a while. It turns out she has her own way of making the world a better place. Denise is the owner of Legends, a sports bar & grill up the road, a place which facilitates a sense of community in a world becoming increasingly polarized. Because of these God encounters, they too are now a part of our community. Why? Because people like you are helping us to create a community guided by the Spirit, and engaged with the world around us. If you would like to learn more about Oasis, check out our web site, or find us on Facebook here.

God Bless.

Oasis
Mailing Address:
6141 N 14th St.
Lincoln NE 68521
402.580.0261
bestdavidp@yahoo.com
waverlyoasis.com

4.13.2009

I must say, I do love everything about blogging

Just clicked through each of the blogs in my "bloggs of interest" list. Great stuff happening around the world. I will have to clean some of them up as a few of them are dead links, but it's interesting to check in on people I've been following for several years now. I don't write here as often as I should, but I must say, I do love everything about blogging.

In other news, we just completed an intensive "no pants" weekend potty training "experience" (it was that.) And the good news is that is has been largely "successful", so long as success is defined in relative terms. : )

3.30.2009

Favorite ChaCha Questions

Below is a sampling of the questions I answered with ChaCha today. The questions are spelled as I received them. The answers are limited to a max of 130 characters, including spaces.

Q: Who was the mexican govneor that ran for prerident? (P.L.U.)
A: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Q: Who is in the ncaam final four
A: Michigan State, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Villanova play April 4th at 6pm est. ChaCha

Q: How old is bush
A: Bush 43 was born July 6, 1946 – making him 63, his father, Bush 41 was born June 12, 1924 making him 85. ChaCha!

Q: Why was the freedom of religion included into the constitution?
A: Nearly all previous European nations did not have religious freedom. People were persecuted because of their religious beliefs.

Q: Are there pirahnas in stockton lake in missouri?
A: No, piranhas are tropical fish. ChaCha

Q: What are vegetables which are very thinly sliced with a veggie peeler called, like carrots?
A: You are thinking of "Julienne-cut" vegetables. ChaCha

3.29.2009

Do you ChaCha?

On NPR I heard about this company, ChaCha to whom you can text or call-in a question and quickly get a response. What makes them different is that they employ real people to give you solid answers to your specific question. There are similar apps for google and other search engines, but all you get is internet based search results, in which it can be hard to find what your looking for.

Now the key point here is real people. For all you stay at home mom and dad's, guess what I do now while sitting on my couch watching my son? That's right, I'm one of the 55,000 or so "real people" getting paid $0.10 - $0.20 per question, to answer the worlds random questions.

What are people asking? Literally everything! Want to know if your flights on time? How much wood a woodchuck can chuck? or How much sodium is in a Big Mac? If your sitting in front of a computer, it's not too hard to find an answer, but what if your on the go? By calling 1.800.2ChaCha from a mobile text enabled phone, or texting cha cha, you will get a text answer of 160 characters in about four minutes. You can see some more examples here.

Another blogger talks about his experience, and some of the cultural impact here, describing it as the new magic eight ball. Want to know what to drink at the bar? Just ask ChaCha. We'll tell you. And USAToday talked about us extensively here.

How do I like working for them? It's great, though the pay for a newbie is lousy by hourly standards. (You are paid $0.10 - $0.20/question, which works out to about $2/hr, but this is while your doing other stuff as well. Faster people, focusing in their area of expertise can make closer to $6/hr, or so the company says) But if all your doing is sitting on the couch playing hearts on your computer, it's not a bad gig. Plus, you can sign up as an expert in certain areas of information, allowing you to receive a higher payout, which also allows you to learn new things about items your interested in anyway.

Before you get started, you have to go through an on-line video course of about an hour. You then take a test of ten questions that are not live. They review your answers and then give you the thumbs up or down. If you flunk you can not re-take the test. Your out. Once you pass you go live, answering questions from all over.

Be aware, if you decide you want to get into this, you can be presented with questions of a sexual nature. (Things like "what causes herpes?") They do have a harassment policy which allows you to dump questions, but non aggressive, sexual questions of an informational nature, things you might ask a nurse, are considered good to go.


The company tries to create a fun-loving start up feel, and so far, (a few hours) it's been a good side gig.

3.26.2009

Families: The church on a bell curve

The stratification of what we call “family” looks a little like a bell curve. On one end are any number of single people, who often become married, (curve increases) and create families of their own. These families grow, and eventually the goslings leave the nest. We begin to see the curve retract, often concluding quite sadly, with the passing of one lover before the other, returning the household to a state of singleness.

Most churches struggle with issues related to being who God has called them to be, and at Oasis we are no different. Having an ongoing conversation, when the members of the family range in age from one week to 97 years old, can be a bit challenging. For the most part it is an enjoyable struggle, but it is a challenge none-the-less. So I was struck by the juxtaposition of two passages in Matthew chapter 19. The first relates to the single life, and the second, to the life of the child.

v. 12 - Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.

v. 14 - Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Many of us find ourselves in the middle of the family bell curve, (married with children) myself included. The tendency for all of us is to relate best to those we are most like. But what of those on the edges of the bell curve? Scripture teaches, and in our head we know, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. But to live it out, that is a challenge.

Too often the church responds to this bell curve in much the same way as the rest of the world, not with authentic love, but with programs, throwing money at the “problem”, and further stratification. We place the children over here, those poor singles over there, and the weak and aging somewhere else. This way, we who are the majority can get on with the business of life and church, unencumbered with the distractions of people not like us; people who quite frankly remind us of our own mortality and the fragileness of life at beginning and end.

At Oasis, we are no different. We don’t excel at breaking down these barriers, but we would like to. (You may have some suggestions on how to do this.) To further complicate things, running up against the value of togetherness is a value for communicating appropriately within a given culture. This value includes children, and so in the near future we will be starting up a “children’s church”, something which at first glance would seem to perpetuate the conflicts of interest we have been talking about. And to some degree it does. What we want is to have our cake and eat it too, and I think we can, if we approach this challenge with the right attitude. We want to value our children, and at the same time communicate with them in ways that meet their needs, without simply shoving them off on a volunteer.

Also present on this bell curve are those who are single, whether young or old. And these too, the church constituted by the majority, (those married with children) often struggle to embrace. Our first reaction is often to help them be just like us. We want them to enjoy all the benefits and consequences of marriage; forgetting that both the apostle Paul and Jesus suggest that in fact it may be better not to get married. We in the Evangelical community would do well to consider other traditions, which seem to have done a better job of embracing the life devoted to God.

At Oasis, (and where you’re at as well I’m sure) we would like to create a community where young and old can live, and play, and serve together. The question then is how? I believe we begin by learning to truly believe that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The next key, as it is in breaking down any barrier, is intentionality. We need to intentionally build relationships with people who are different than us, and create structures which facilitate this. Children are not a nuisance, the elderly are not a problem, and singles do not need to get married. We are humans created in the image of God, and together (not apart) we are the church.

3.23.2009

Beleving : A Short History

One of my friends, Mike, sent me this link: Biggest Intellectual Fights of All Time with the following question.

David,
I had a conversation with the guy who sent me it. I asked if he agreed with me that the Socrates part was slightly mistaken. I explained that the Sophists believed truth was not absolute but established by persuasion or argument (or truth is constructed by language as Post Modernists would say, basically the same thing as there is nothing new under the sun.) The headline reads something like "Socrates vs. the Gods, logic wins". It seems that logic lost if people can just make up whatever truth they want.
He went on to say that our senses can deceive us and truth can't really be known.
Thoughts? How would you take that conversation? It went out ok, I learned from him and hopefully he heard some of what I said. Hit me back when you can.

Peace

This is how I responded.

Mike,

There used to be powers that controlled what people thought. In centuries gone past, the perception was that to run afoul of the church seriously put one in danger of hell. Something similar happens today in terms of being "politically correct". To run afoul of these norms has dire political or professional consequences; though many feel free to ignore these norms and live outside of their power, some for the better, others for not. (Commitments to a particular religion on the good side, but sexest or racist jokes, the KKK, and things like that on the bad side...) Cultures in every age have always had their norms and ways of controlling people, and conversely those that chose not to be controlled; sometimes for better, "the earth really is round", sometimes for worse, "sex whenever, wherever is a great idea"

I think logic and science still play a huge role, but their scope has shrunk. In answering questions like "what should we do about terrorism, or the global financial meltdown?" you will probably use logic, and quite possibly some kind of economic, or political science.

Unfortunatly, the church at the time of the enlightenment had WAY overstepped it's bounds, beveling itself to be the sole owner of ALL truth. Imagine if the church had embraced science and logic as complimentary to theology and philosophy. It didn't and we reap the consequences to this day. Eventually it did, but by then it was too late. Today the church continues to use science and logic when most people have quit using these tools to determine spiritual truth. (more on that in a second)

Science and logic eventually replaced the church as lords of authority. Unfortunately, many in that community make the same mistake the church did, and imagine that those gods can control all knowledge. However, most people in today's culture recognize that not everything falls under the authority of science and logic. Consequently, when it comes to religion and spirituality, people feel free to believe whatever they want. Convincing people to accept a particular authority in these areas requires spiritual authority, not usually the authority of science and logic.


Sincerely, David

3.17.2009

At $347,000 Per Baptism Maybe It's Time To Rethink Church

In at piece at Inside Work - Business Spiritually Engaged (an organization I just discovered which I think I really like) Bernard Moon writes an article analysing how much money is given to churches and Christian non-profits world-wide in relationships to the baptisms produced globally. A number of estimates put the number in the $300,000/baptism range.

Here is how he got this number.

The International Bulletin of Missionary Research estimated $410 billion/year in giving to “Christian” causes worldwide over the recent years. This was broken down to $160 billion to churches and $250 billion to parachurch organizations every year. Let’s assume that $347,000 per baptism is simply the total giving of $410 billion divided by the number of baptisms tracked. If this simple method was used, then the cost per baptism is tremendously overstated since we would have to assume a large portion is allocated to the operations of those churches and parachurch organizations.

I am assuming the primary mission of these organizations has something to do with making followers of Christ. The question is how much is being spent on the core mission of these organizations and how effective are they? A comparable question in the business world is asking how much do we spend on marketing and how effective is our program? For many companies, the benchmark is approximately ten percent of budget. Ten percent of $410 billion is $41 billion, which would make the figure $34,700 per baptism.

I would assume though that a church and parachurch organizations should be more focused to their mission than a companies, and, one could argue, their core mission should be their only focus. If a church were a business, would it really only devote 10% of the budget to getting out their message? Eyeballing, 30% or higher seems more appropriate. If this really is the case, I think $104,000 per baptism—or higher—is flabbergasting. And I suppose if one went with the argument that the only mission of a church or parachurch is making new Christians—a premise I don’t think stands up to biblical scrutiny—then the simple arithmetic of total expenditures ÷ number of new converts = cost/baptism, more or less. $347,000.

I agree with him that this is very troubling.

However, while I think the point that he is making stands, I'm concerned that the method this was arrived at is not quite right, which we talked about in some comments on the site.

I had this to say (among other things).

Just wanting to better understand what your saying. I guess what I’m hung up on is this part.

"And I suppose if one went with the argument that the only mission of a church or parachurch is making new Christians—a premise I don’t think stands up to biblical scrutiny (I agree)—then the simple arithmetic of total expenditures (you just said this is not "biblical", I must be missing something) ÷ number of new converts = cost/baptism, more or less. $347,000."

Do you see what I’m getting at. If the mission is about more than making new Christians, (that’s kind of been my point all along) why are we dividing new converts by total expenditures, when much of these expenditures go to something besides conversion efforts? Wouldn’t it make more sense to capture the amount being spent on advertising/evangelism/whatever you want to call it, and then come up with a number? Which I would probably agree with you is still too high. Am I nit-picking? I guess my concern is that if were going to put a headline out there $347,000/baptism, people are going to want to know where that came from.

I believe churches are unique organisms, which have multiple mandates. Consequently, not just baptisms, but alleviating suffering, pursuing justice, and making disciples, to name a few, are all aims of the mones given to the church and other Christian organizations world wide.

That said, his larger point, that there is no doubt way too much waste going on stands, and I agree with him.

You can check out the original article and our comments conversation here.

3.12.2009

In the Worst Way

Integrating our faith with the culture that we are is paramount, but it has to be done appropriately. It's hard to define when that is being done well, vis-a-vis poorly, but you know it when you see it. This article How Soccer is Ruining America, is a mixing of faith and culture in the worst way. Take heed.

1.13.2009

Evangelicals should stand with those who suffer in Israel and Gaza

A Christianity Today blog post on the current bloodshed in Gaza says this: In counting their losses, Christians, Muslims, Jews discover common ground in grief. The article goes on to suggest that placing blame helps to perpetuate the violence.

I disagree.



The disproportionate nature of Israel's response to Hamas must be condemned by the Evangelical Christian community because it is unequivocally unjust, and horrible evil. The way that innocent children are dying in the Gaza strip is completely unacceptable!

Wikipedia calculates the numbers this way: As of 13 January 2009, 13 Israelis (including 3 civilians) and 933 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed in this conflict. The Palestinian fatalities include 292 children and 75 women.[42][43][44][45] [46]

Many would in turn respond with questions about Hamas, "Israel is just responding to the evil perpetrated on it." they would say. And they would be right, but as we teach our children, two wrongs don't make a right, particularly when one wrong is grossly disproportionate to the first.

I do not want to join my voice to the thousands of antisemitic voices that turn a blind eye to the evils of Hamas. I could comment on their atrocities, but their conduct is well documented and condemned. What is problematic is the unequivocal backing of Israel's terror practices by the United States, the Christian community and Evangelicals in particular.

As Evangelicals the Word of God is our first guide. The Bible gives us a history of the working of God in history, often through his chosen people Israel. It is natural that we would have a special affinity for the place and people where God first chose to work. However as Proverbs 27:6 says: wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. When we fail to warn our friend Israel of her failure to defend the human innocents on both sides of an artificial international border, we are an enemy multiplying kisses.

One of the favorite Old Testament passages for the Evangelical is Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

But notice the passages that precede that verse

Isaiah 1:15-18
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool

It may be appropiate for Israel to enter Gaza and chase down Hamas, though that is debatable both on practicle and philosophical grounds. However, if it is going to do so, it must do so in a way that conforms to international law, and a basic sense of justice and respect for human life. The Christian perspective on what this looks like is well documented in its many writings on Just War theory. Which it seems the Christian community is wofully ignorent of when it comes to the war between the Palestenians and Israel.

What I am really concerned about is the voice of the Evangelical on the street and the poor name we give our Savior when we and our nation turn a blind eye to the atrocities and terror going on in Gaza. Hamas is a terrorist organization. However when an overwhelming number of children are terrorized by the Israeli army, what are they?

The message of Christ taught by the Evangelical community must seek to love, respect and restore all people, regardless of race, creed or nationality. And we must stand in solidarity with all who suffer. And more than that, like Christ, we must speak out against all who perpetrate this violence. In this case that is both Hamas and the Israeli Army.