Thursday, June 30, 2011


Osler's Razor: The Grand Bargain

Rather than blather on about my own thoughts, I'm going to borrow today from a super post by Razorite Ashley Cruseturner. You can see his whole piece at InsiderIowa here.

In short, Ash is taking seriously what I have been saying here for a while: That the federal budget deficit is too big, that this matters, and that hard choices have to be made.

Here is what Ash proposes that the Republican Party take the lead in doing:

1) Slash defense spending.
2) Raise the eligibility age for Social Security benefits.
3) Cut away tax breaks for oil companies.
4) Restructure Medicare.
5) Consider a mild value-added tax.

What I like about this proposal is that it shares the hurt broadly. As Ash properly describes, Republicans are inclined against the first, third, and fifth of these proposals. However, given the size of the bipartisan deficit we have created, radical steps must be taken. I would think that if conservatives stand for anything, it would be for paying our bills, and there is simply no easy way to do that.

Tax-cutting does not reduce the deficit, however much we want that to be true. With the Bush cuts in force, the deficits have ballooned. That myth has been exposed.

Do we have the collective courage to accept such a commen-sense approach? Is it a good idea?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011



Every superhero ever has a movie now. I went to see the Green Lantern, and couldn't get over the... well, odd moments. Why are the guardians of the universe so dumb? How can people breath in space? Why do aliens always speak English?

I'll take someone who makes sense to me, like, say.... Catwoman.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Blagojevich Convicted!

Yesterday, former Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was convicted on 17 counts (of 20) relating to corruption in office.

For some reason, I find it hard to believe he was ever elected in the first place. How did THAT happen? Am I missing something?

At any rate, it appears that either a Lego character was based on him, or that he is based on a Lego character. Interesting. Of course, I have had my own confused history with Lego guys...

Monday, June 27, 2011


Oklahoma Pictures, Part 2 (Light and Death and Life)

Click on an image to enlarge it-- and a few of these are worth it. Which do you like best (or least)?

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Sunday Reflection: The Existence of Satan

Here in Oklahoma, I heard two of my co-volunteers discussing whether or not there is a literal, physical Satan-- an entity which tries to draw people away from God.

I will confess that it is a question I have never thought about much, but I realize that it is very important to some people. Some folks I know are convinced that there is an actual Satan, and that Satan's temptations are placed intentionally around them.

Recently, I came to one conclusion about this, which is that Jesus clearly spoke about Satan as something other than a literal entity which lives for evil.

As I was preparing for the trial of Christ, one of my tasks was to come up with a cross-examination for the Apostle Peter. One of the passages I relied on was Matthew 16:23. There, Jesus has just finished telling Peter that he is the rock on which the church shall be built, and has moved on to describing the events to come-- the events of Good Friday. Peter rebukes him, saying this can't be true.

In response, Jesus says "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Jesus is talking to Peter, but refers to him as Satan-- immediately after recognizing his value and worth! To me this is a clear sign as to how we are to understand "Satan"-- as that part of us which serves as a stumbling block to others.

That message reinforces something I strongly believe-- that our charge from God through Christ is to identify our own sins, not those of others. We must root out that "Satan" within us. Too often, we define ourselves as Christians not through self-examination, but through condemnation of what we are not. That is too easy, too mean, and too simple to be consistent with the words of Christ, who time and again taught us to do what is hard, to be kind, and to engage with the complexities within us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Working in the Warehouse

I'm in Oklahoma right now (and have been for the past few days) volunteering at the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank on a mission trip with my old church in Waco (7th and James). It is great to see some of my old friends, and wonderful to learn about the food bank, which distributes about 40 million pounds of food a year, and feeds 77,000 Oklahomans.

It is a little odd, though, to work on a project where we do not meet the people we are helping (by building a church or a home, for example). This is doing good at wholesale, not retail. In a way, it reflects the shift in my own work over the past decade, as I have moved from individual cases to focusing on policy issues.

Oklahoma is a tremendously stratified state economically, and a very conservative one-- Every district went for McCain in the last election. I am torn by something at the heart of this mammoth operation.

It is clear that wealthy people here have made great efforts to fund this amazing facility, but I wonder about the social conditions that cause so much ongoing poverty in the first place: Educational disparities, for one thing, and differing expectations.

As I sort out the food in the warehouse, I think about those underlying conditions and what can be done, and endless complexities emerge. For example, there used to be a lot of good jobs for people with a high school education (or less) in the building trades and roofing, but much of that work is now done by illegal aliens. Is part of eliminating the endemic poverty in a place like this closing down the employers of those aliens, and insisting that legal residents and citizens get those jobs? If so, are we shutting out people that we want in this country?

With every bag of almonds I pack, my rote actions seem simpler and the answers more complex. My hand dips into the box and removes the almonds, but my mind is racing.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Haiku Friday: Ice Cream

It's that time of year that I positively crave ice cream. I just adore the taste of it on a hot day, and the feeling of cupping the tip of my tongue around it to soak up the texture and feel of it. There is a curve to it, and the shape softens under my tongue and lips until it runs down my chin. It responds to me as I respond to it.

I have two favorites. In a regular ice cream, I prefer mint chocolate chip, in large part because of the contrast in textures and tastes. At Dairy Queen, though, I'll order a soft-serve with a cherry coating. I love biting through the hard cherry to the vanilla below.

Let's haiku about ice cream today. Here is mine:

Nine-thirty, Tuesday.
A hot summer night, Waco.
Languid ice cream dusk.

Now it is your turn: Just make it five lines for the first, seven for the second, and five for the third (more or less).

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: Wars

Last night, President Obama announced that he plans to withdraw about 33,000 (out of about 100,000) US troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer. The rest would be withdrawn by 2014. He said the reason for this would be to focus more on issues at home.

I agree with this, and only wish that it was faster and swifter. We are now involved in FOUR civil wars overall (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen), which may be a record for the United States. And what do we gain from it?

If you were the President, what would you do about these wars?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Who doesn't like this?


Colgate University Mascot

As Razorites know, I love goofy mascots. I recently came across what might be the goofiest of them all, the mascot of Colgate University (the alma mater of Craig Anderson). Does anyone know the back story on this guy?:


Sorry, IPLawGuy...

That was mean. The truth is that IPLawGuy actually has excellent taste in music.

Here is a video of a song I actually do like...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Soccer News!

From what I can gather, the US soccer team is barely surviving in the play-in tournament for the World Cup. They lost to Panama, and barely beat Guadalupe by a score of 1-0. They did however, beat Jamaica on Sunday in the quarterfinals.

Does anyone out there care about American soccer? (For example, the Northwestern University Mascot, pictured here, seems interested in other things). How is it that we have all 69 million children between 6-10 playing soccer in this country, and we aren't a powerhouse?


IPLawGuy's Favorite Song in College...

He played this all the time at WCWM:

Monday, June 20, 2011


The Next Plane to London

This is one of my favorite songs. It has everything I look for in music:

1) Fake boarding announcements
2) Joltingly out-of-date airport procedures
3) Mystery

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Beauty, Love, and Dad

I have many friends who choose a church for the music, because that is what their hearts respond to. Others love a cathedral, with soaring lines and a wonderful space.

My own churches have tended to be simple, not huge, and have inspiring if not complex music.

Last week, though, I went to a cathedral in New York, a famous and enormous place filled with people and art and song. It was beautiful, and inspiring. I get it. I enjoyed it. Yet... could I do it every week?

To me, God usually speaks in a still, small voice, and I need that part of me to be fed. In a cathedral, I am a tourist. In the humblest church, though, I am at home.

This, I think, comes from my Dad, who taught me to find beauty everyplace, and to quietly soak it in. What draws him in is humble earthy beauty, not the arc of grand efforts. Early on, I learned to be still and watch what he did, and incredible things would happen-- a scene would appear, a contrast of colors or events or light. He did not have to describe it, because it was there on the side of a barn or a quiet street or a woman waiting by a bus stop. All that beauty is God's, of course, but it took my father to make me see it. Could there have been a better gift, to make a son's life better no matter where he may land?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Yeah, Bruins!

Though I will always root for my Wings, I love to see any one of the Original Six (Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal) win the Stanley Cup. It just seems wrong to see the Cup go to Charlotte or Tampa or Penasacola or wherever.

The Boston Bruins won this year, beating Vancouver in game 7 on Vancouver's home ice at Happy Biscuit Co. Arena. Two odd things happened with this outcome:

1) Vancouver fans rioted. Seriously. Rioting Canadians?

2) Craig A., the biggest Bruins fan in all of Virginia, did not call or write to gloat.

It's the world turned upside down!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Fresh stuff at the Huffington Post...

This is a story I have had in my pocket for a long time. Please read it if you have time, and make a comment if you are so inclined.


Haiku Friday: At the Pool

Here in Minnesota, the temps are now up into the 70's with some regularity, so it's time to live outdoors as much as we Minnesotans can. For a place with a ten-week swimming season, there are a remarkable number of beautiful pools, and they are all in use.

There is something wonderful and languid and... summer-y about hanging out near or in a pool, especially as the sun gets lower. In Texas, I loved eating by the pool late in the evening, talking with friends; it something I really miss.

So, let's haiku about that today. For most of us, at some point in our life, there was a pool involved, so you can make it about a moment, a person, lifeguards, your favorite bathing suit, swimming, or a pool itself.

Here is mine:

There is a scent, there:
Sunscreen and chlorine, mown grass,
Cold margaritas.

Now it is your turn. I'm not too picky, but make it close to five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third... now go!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Republican Challenge

There is a macro-observation on American party politics that I feel compelled to make at this point, and welcome your responses.

Over the past 40 years or so, Democrats and Republicans have stood for essentially different things.

Republicans have consistently argued for a smaller federal government, lower federal spending, lower taxes, an end to abotion as a privacy right, a very limited government role in health care, a stringent ban on gay marriage, a strong and active military, and more oil drilling.

Democrats have consistently argued for a federal government of about the same size that is actively involved in a number of issues, higher federal spending, the continuation of abortion as a privacy right, a significant government role in health care, more rights for gays and lesbians, a strong and active military (as have Republicans), and less oil drilling.

Here is the observation: It seems that, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, it is the Democrat's goals which have been achieved. In fact, even in the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and both Bush's, even when there was Republican dominance in Congress, it was consistently the Democratic platform that was achieved, with the lone exception of lower taxes (and a strong military, which both parties have supported).

Just to consider a few of these things:

1) Size of Government: Both sides (with the possible exception of the Clinton administration) significantly increased the size of the federal government. Republican administrations, in fact, added several new Cabinet-level departments.

2) Higher Federal Spending: Not even the RATE of spending has decreased under these administrations, with the exception of Clinton.

3) Abortion/Gay marriage: There has been no payoff on the two primary Republican social issues.

4) Role of Government in Health Care: Most recently, George W. Bush greatly expanded the federal government's role in health care with Medicare Part D. President Obama has continued that trend.

So... if one party has achieved its goals and the other hasn't, what does that tell us?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011



I have now successfully made the transition from teacher to writer, which will be my master status this summer. Here, I am in the beautiful library of the Yale Club of New York, working on chapter one of Senators, Crackheads, Power and Money: What We Can Learn From Crack.

I love this part of my job, much as I love the teaching part. The transition from one to the other, though, can be jarring. Teaching is completely social-- it necessarily happens in community with my students. Anything I might accomplish is going to occur in my interaction with them. Writing is the opposite-- it requires solitude and seclusion.

Both are wonderful, both are important, and I am lucky to have both be a part of my work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011



Treasured Razorite Celebrity Luvr sent along this photo of a church sign he spotted in Waco. I'm assuming that "Pandamanium" is a theme for the church's Vacation Bible School.

Look, I love pandas as much as the next guy (actually, probably a lot more than the next guy, unless he is a panda). Still, how can you hold together a whole week of theological study with the panda theme?

I'm just hoping that a guy with a panda suit is involved... and not this panda:

Monday, June 13, 2011


Tall Tenor in Finland!

I have a great job. But there are people who arguably have cooler jobs than I do, and one of them is Razorite Tall Tenor. With his permission, I am reprinting below a remarkable note I received from him recently:

Greetings from Nivala, a town of 11,000 in the center-north of Finland (some 400 miles north of Helsinki). I thought I’d take the time to write you in a little more detail about this opera I’m doing here, “Rockland.” I must tell you that I knew nothing of this story, or of this history, before I got involved in this project. In a way, it’s a perfect analogy for what made America “America.”

Last fall, I was contacted by the Artistic Director of the Pine Mountain Music Festival, located in Houghton, MI. This is waaaaaayyy up in the northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula. I’ve known this guy for 20 years: He’s a stage director and we’ve worked together several times previously.

He told me his festival was co-producing (along with a festival in Nivala, Finland, where I am now) a new opera about Finnish immigrants who had come to the UP to work in the copper mines there, and that there is a role in this piece that he’d like to invite me to sing. He sent me the score, most of which was in Finnish (with an English translation), and I read through it.

Musically, the role posed no problems for me, and the character - a mine foreman who’d come to Michigan from Cornwall - looked interesting. The fact that the character is also a Cornishman was appealing, because his role is written in English, and I would not have to learn Finnish!

As I understand it, the genesis of this piece dates back some ten years, to when some of the board members of the Pine Mountain Music Festival - opera buffs of Finnish-American descent - began to think of how “their” story was operatic material. I do not know how this idea morphed and grew to become this opera, or how the two Finns responsible for the music and the libretto came to be involved, but much of the seed money for the project came from those board members.

Copper mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan began around the time of our Civil War. Between then and 1930, some 90% of the copper mined in the world came from “copper country” in the northwest UP. The last of the working mines was closed in the 1960’s. During the peak years of the mining boom, between roughly 1890 and 1920, thousands of immigrants came to the region, from all over the world. Many of them were Finns, drawn by the available mining jobs, the similarities of climate and geography, and their friends and relatives who preceded them.

The Finns came, and they did what they could to be comfortable: They established churches, schools, and cultural societies like brass bands. In essence, they put down roots, though not all of them stayed in Michigan - the grandfather of one of my singer colleagues lived and worked there from 1903 to 1906, then returned to Finland.

Work conditions in the mines were brutal, primitive, and dangerous. As with so many immigrants throughout history, those newly-arrived got the worst jobs. There were accidents; miners died. Labor organizations attempted to unionize the workers and improve working conditions. There was an occasion, in 1906, two workers were killed by “Pinkerton men” hired by mine owners to suppress pro-union activity. There was a major workers’ strike in 1913. All of these factual events are depicted in the opera.

In my mind, there can be no mistaking the parallels between the things that happened 100+ years ago and events we see unfolding before us today. The owners used their financial muscle to have the authorities to do their bidding. Union activity was suppressed. Safety regulations were resisted or ignored because to obey them would cost the owners money. I do not see a “stretch” between the events depicted in this opera and the Koch Brothers, the political news out of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and the West Virginia coal mine disaster of 2009. I also think that the Chilean copper miners trapped underground for two months last year are in a sense the descendants of the Finns in this opera.

Here’s what has fascinated me most, though: The greater community of Nivala, Finland has embraced this story as “theirs.” Yes, this is partly because many people here do have ancestors who left this region for the UP copper mines, and thus have American cousins, today. But there is more going on here than just that.

This opera festival has its offices in Town Hall. We are performing in the town ice rink (not kidding - it’s the only venue large enough). The town library set up and exhibition of photos and memorabilia of the Michigan mines. Even though the school year has ended, the entire company - soloists, chorus, crew, orchestra, administration - is fed lunch each day, weekends included, at the town’s high school. The people serving food and drinks, and selling t-shirts and souvenirs, at the performances, are volunteers (so is the chorus, for that matter). Seriously, the entire community has pitched in, in ways big and small.

A couple of nights ago, I met and had dinner with a group of Board members from the festival in Houghton, MI, who’d come here to see the world premiere. Interestingly, they spoke of how the people back in “copper country” were embracing and supporting the upcoming Michigan production. They spoke of the feeling back in the UP that the story of this opera was “their” story, and were really surprised when I told them of how it seemed to me that the Finns of Nivala felt the same way.

So, across two continents but at the same time, two communities have undertaken a project that in some way “belongs” to them. But the way I see it, this isn’t a “Finnish” story, an “American” story, or even a “Finnish-American” story. Yes, the opera itself is a universal story of hope, work, sacrifice, and desire to make a better life, but the story of how the people of Nivala, Finland and the people of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan have taken ownership of this project that is the larger point: We human beings are more united than we knew.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Sunday Reflection: The Dark Lent

Back in April, I mentioned on the Razor that there was a very dark side to Lent for me this year, but that I wasn't yet ready to describe it.

Now I am ready to do so.

Much of the spring, for me, was consumed with putting together the trial of Christ, which we put on both in Minnesota and in Virginia. My job was to serve as the prosecutor in the sentencing phase-- that is, to convince people that Christ was dangerous enough to merit execution.

I began the process the way I always approached a case as a prosecutor. My goal was not to describe the defendant as a monster, but as an understandable, flawed human who posed a real danger to society. It was that step which took me to a dark place.

Once I saw Christ as an understandable, flawed human who posed a danger to society, he suddenly became something less than the son of Man. In fact, I began to feel for Christ something that I always felt for defendants once I knew their whole story: pity.

Pity is not a thought or a conclusion. Rather, like love and fear, it is an emotion. You can use reason to drive away a thought, but it does not work that way with an emotion-- as anyone who has tried to stop loving someone already knows.

Suddenly, I felt lost. In Terrance Malick's movie Tree of Life, a little boy observes tragedy all around him and asks God "Why should I be good if you are not?" It was thoughts like that which followed me, undermining the touchpoints of my life.

I lost confidence and felt inadequate in all that I did. Like that little boy, I began to silently observe tragedies all around me, and somehow each one of them made God seem smaller. I felt unloved and desperate at times, like one of our fishing boats poorly tied to a dock, suddenly adrift in the middle of the lake and heading away from everything and towards nothing.

I have felt many emotions in my life, but rarely despair; I have been too lucky to legitimately claim that sense. But now it crept in as I lay awake at night, imagining what it would be like to run away from my life or even just to shoot out street lights. I cried for no reason. At work, I felt like I was walking through my tasks at times, neither looking for or seeing what I should.

In the end, I did pull out of this. The first step, incomplete but affirmative, was the trial itself. As I made my arguments, I realized that I was playing a role, not becoming a different person. I am not and never have been an actor, and that transition is unnatural to me. When I prosecuted, I believed in every word that I said. I had to accept that this was different, and important too.

There was more, though. There was something deeper and more unnerving at play: the sense that tragedies (including the execution of Christ) made God seem small, uncaring, and amoral. I struggled with that for weeks.

In the end, I grew past that as well. I realized that God seems small in that way only if you start with the expectation that we deserve a perfect unblemished world, a life unmarked by challenge and hurt. That expectation is unwarranted. We, collectively and as individuals, expect perfection in our lives only through delusions of our own perfection. None of us have earned God's grace. I certainly haven't.

Yet we get it anyways. We may not get perfection in a way that is painless, but we do get unearned riches. I do not know why there are tragedies, because I am not God. I do know, though, that there is grace and abundance and love in this world.

When I bite a good strawberry and it gives way just so, releasing a burst of juice into my mouth, that is grace.

When I see a mother and her child laughing, that is grace.

When I am praised for doing what is simply my job, that is grace.

When someone I love touches my hand, the slightest grazing of fingertips, that is grace.

When I sleep, content, that is grace.

It is all grace.
It is all grace.

And all of it unearned.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Least Effective Superhero: Squirrel Girl

Every superhero seems to be getting a movie these days, but somehow I suspect that will never happen for the one that makes me the most nervous and unsettled, Squirrel Girl.

According to the Marvel Comics Wiki, poor Doreen Green was the subject of an unfortunate mutation which inevitably led to her living in the forest with squirrels. There she developed her secret power: marshaling the fighting prowess of hundreds of squirrels at her command!

Really, Marvel Comics? Squirrels? I suppose this might be a threat to power cords or something, over a period of time, but I'm not sure this is superhero material... Especially when her sidekick is the loony Monkey Joe.

Apparently, Squirrel Girl is a member of something called the Great Lakes Avengers. Now this is hitting close to home, as a child of and now resident of the Midwest. I'm guessing that the Great Lakes Avengers would include the following:

1) Walleye Man

Sadly, Walleye Man is primarily known for being delicious to eat and giving up almost immediately when caught. Known to bite shiny red things.

2) Hockey Guy

The only truly threatening member of the group, hockey guy hits people with a stick. Afterwards, though, he is all politeness as he says in an interview "Yah, well, Dr. Doom went out there and gave 110%, and ya gotta respect that."

3) Vestryman

A member of the Episcopal Vestry, he is able to slow down time by forming committees and sub-committees. Sometimes serves as sidekick to/nemesis of fellow Great Lake Avenger, Senior Warden.

4) Wolverine

No, not that Wolverine... this is the one who is just a huge University of Michigan fan, and whose primary weapon is a giant foam finger. Loses a lot of battles. Cool helmet.

5) Bobby Fanbelt

[Secret identity: Robert Fanbelt]. He pretty much has been working on his car for three years. He supposedly has a job, but no one knows what it is. Superpower is disabling cars.

6) The Lifeguard

Keen powers of observation. Great tan. Makes $5.45 an hour. Rides her bike a lot. Tempts others to fake drowning so she will pay attention to them.

Anyone I am missing here?

Friday, June 10, 2011


Haiku Friday: Summer foods

Summer is here. In Texas, it has hit with a vengeance, in fact, and in Minnesota we have already had the hottest day in 23 years (which, honestly, didn't seem so hot).

We eat differently in the summer, as we should. Life is different, after all. I have already noticed that in Minnesota people don't seem to be working so hard these days... and I like that.

My own favorite summer food to make for a group is salmon sandwiches. There are a few tricks to it. First, grill the salmon on a hot grill for ten minutes, turning once, to get a little firmness to the outside. Second, make sure you use the softest bun you can find-- the secret is to have the texture of the fish be what you feel when you bite.

Mine are simple-- soft bun, dill havarti, honey mustard, maybe some lettuce. They are great with a white sangria loaded up with ice.

So, let's haiku about summer food this week. I will go first:

The sun sets late now,
And so will we. The table laid,
Dusted with the dusk.

Now it is your turn-- be it about vichyssoise, barbecue, grapes fed by hand...

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: Palin and Paul Revere

Everyone by now has seen Sarah Palin describing Paul Revere's idiotic ride through Boston, in which he shot off a gun and rang bells to warn the British that they could not violate our Second Amendment rights and take away our guns.

Later, she explained that she was right about all this:

Now, there are some problems with this. First of all, Paul Revere was evading the British, not warning them, because he was sneaking out of town to warn others of the British plans. Second, if he had blustered around like Homer Simpson on a horse, ringing bells and firing shots, it would have been a pretty short ride, because the British would have shot him. [They did catch him, briefly, and then released him]

Two of my favorite historians are regulars here-- IPLawGuy and the Waco Farmer. When I have heard them discuss US history, it is so interesting and deep that I think it should be a TV show. They take history seriously. Still, both of them have seen political savvy in Sarah Palin. I don't think those views are incompatible, because Palin's lack of interest in history may be a political strength.

Last Sunday, I wrote about how Americans tend to shape their faith to reinforce their social/political beliefs. The same can be said of history-- we tend to read it to support our political beliefs. It is not just politicians, either; I have often seen the same thing manifest itself in Supreme Court opinions.

In the end, Palin knows as much about history as most Americans, and that is something she is good at turning to her advantage. Politicians who truly were very knowledgeable on such things, such as Reagan and Clinton, created personas that featured a folksiness to offset that fact. I don't think Palin is creating a persona, though-- she really does think Paul Revere warned the British that they, uh, were coming.

Does it matter?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Just up at the Huffington Post!

The Irrational Jesus... please check it out and make a comment or "like" it to facebook (unless you don't like it, in which case you can just make a comment here or there or both. Whatever you want is fine. I'm feeling Midwestern today).


Photos from the UST Trial of Christ...

Photographer Thomas Whisenand captured some great images... I especially like the one of the crowd. Click on any of the photos to enlarge it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Really! I'm ok!

I've had several inquiries today wondering if there is some kind of problem at the Razor, based on the fact that the past few days I have not put up a daily post at exactly 12:01.

Crikeys, people! It's summer!


Death Penalty Trends...

There seems to be a shift going on right now in public opinion on the death penalty. Here are some interesting statistics drawn from the Death Penalty Information Center, and reported in Utah's Deseret News:

-- 64% of Americans believe that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent or lower murder rates.

-- 88% of criminology experts reject the idea that the death penalty deters murder.

-- 61% of Americans would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for the crime of murder

-- Executions are declining in nearly all jurisdictions, while exonerations are rising.

To get a better sense of all this, visit the Death Penalty Information Center site.

Monday, June 06, 2011


What? No risers?

This past weekend, I went to the local high school's choir concert. Man, have things changed since I was in high school! No more standing in rows on risers... now they are all dancing around and wearing funny outfits. All of which is good-- or at least more interesting. And how did they find high school students in Edina who could play the banjo and accordian?

Is the TV show "Glee" responsible for any of this?


Monday pondering

Over at Creos en Dios, Susan Stabile wrote about my post from yesterday, and we had a good talk about it this morning. It is a wonderful thing for me to have these dialogues within the faculty at St. Thomas... and now I get to write and write and write. It's going to be a great summer.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Humbled, raw, and quiet

I recently heard a radio preacher explain how it was ok to be rich— that, in fact, it was a mark of being blessed by God. It was a rational argument. That makes sense, after all: If God likes us, we will be rewarded with money and the other things we want, and should enjoy that. The callers to this preacher affirmed his view and told wonderful stories of how God had favored them. One woman, in tears, talked about the inheritance that had come to her after a period of prayer, letting her provide herself and her children with everything that they desired.

It made sense to me. The catch, of course, is that Christ taught the exact opposite. Unambiguously and irrationally (to our minds) he said plainly that it is the meek who are blessed by God, that people should not “not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth,” and that “you cannot serve God and mammon.” He insisted on poverty for his own followers, to the point of not even allowing the 70 followers he sent out to spread the good news to take even a change of clothes with them. Over and over, he taught that worldly riches detract from the riches of the spirit. Christ, on this point, was not rational.

So… my rationality says one thing. Christ says another. This occurs over and over on a wide variety of issues: Loving my enemies, keeping the Sabbath, taking oaths. Which should I choose to believe—the irrational Christ, or the rational views of myself and my society?

In facing this conundrum, there are basically three answers, only two of which are honest (and the third of which is popular).

First, I can decide that my rational thoughts and those of others should guide me rather than the teachings of Christ, and I can stop calling myself Christian. Many people I like and respect have made this choice, and it is an honest one. They call themselves Atheists, or Agnostic, or Ethical Humanists, or Unitarian Universalists.

Second, I could decide that I will set aside my own conclusions (and those of mainstream society) and follow the seemingly irrational Christ. This is an honest answer, but a very difficult one. It is profoundly humbling, is hard to explain to others, and may even seem anti-intellectual.

The third (dishonest) route is to somehow convince myself that Christ agrees with me, even when he taught the opposite in plain language. Under this model, I call myself Christian while putting my own reasoning above the clear teaching of Jesus. Sure, Christ said that we are not to make a public display of prayer, but surely he did not mean that, right? There are good reasons to sit at the head table at the prayer breakfast, after all, and everyone I know (besides Christ) agrees with me. On that one, he just doesn’t make sense.

Too much of our own faith (including my own) takes this third path. Too often, it is our leaders who have led us down that path.

Much of American theology, high and low, seems devoted to making Christianity unthreatening to our base desires, our culture, and our economy. This project is nothing less than a denial of God. If put our reasoning above the teachings of Christ, then who is on the throne of God? We are there, alone, with a flag of false allegiance over our head.

My friend and mentor Susan Stabile once summed up the root of her faith in two short sentences: "There is a God. I am not God." So much flows from that, including something very hard-- allowing mystery to fill the void between our reason and the far greater knowledge of God as revealed through Christ. That chasm of mystery and humility is a sacred space, and like all sacred spaces our instinct is to conquer it in our own names, to pave it over to fit the contours of our own understanding.

As a professor, this truth is constantly humbling. My work is my intellect, yet I must constantly humble that intellect beneath a greater truth. Yes, Christ’s truths seem irrational to me, many times, but should I expect anything different? If God is God, and I am his creation, then of course his ways surpass my understanding and reason. Against every instinct, I must lay down my will and come to him like a child, as a student: humbled, raw, and quiet.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


The Bruin returns

I love the Boston Bruin...

But... doesn't it seem like he is at least related to the A & W Root Bear?

Friday, June 03, 2011


Haiku Friday: Weird Businesses

I have been lucky enough to spend much of my life in Detroit and Waco, two communities which seem to breed businesses based on ridiculous ideas.

In Detroit we had a shop called Shoeshine and Worms. Don't you hate it when you need a shine and some worms and have to make two stops? Not a problem if you are headed to downtown Detroit from the East Side.

Waco was even better. A sign appeared once for "Christmas Eve Trampoline Set-Up," and I have always wondered if anyone called the number. And who could resist the lure of "Rent-a-Tire?" I never figured that one out.

Here in Minnesota, it's not so zany. Sure, up North there is the Bong Memorial Bridge, which seemingly has a Bong Memorial beneath it, but that's not quite the same. (Did you know Larry Bates is from Minnesota? It's true).

So, let's haiku today about weird businesses. Make it three short lines, and true, or at least plausible.

Here is mine:

Bong Memorial:
I suspect that people go
Just for the gift shop.

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, June 02, 2011


The amazing price for seeking the death penalty...

Over $10 million dollars in one New York case... and the jury rejected death in just a few hours. See the details here.


Political Mayhem Thursday-- The Republican Field

The Presidential race is shaping up now for the elections next year, and it is time to start paying attention to the candidates.

On the Democratic side, of course, President Obama will be the candidate, and a likely favorite to win at this point.

For the Republicans, here are the leading contenders. I have listed them in the order in which I see their likelihood of being elected.

1) Mitt Romney (Former Gov., Mass.)

Pros: Strong network, experience as candidate, articulate, good fundraiser, mad DJ skillz
Cons: Suspected to be secretly liberal, hard to love

2) Sarah Palin (Former Alaska Gov.)

Pros: Popular with Tea Party, good use of social media, wide recognition
Cons: Not well-read, shallow answers to complex problems, quit her last job (as Governor)

3) Newt Gingrich (Former Speaker of the House)

Pros: Smart, innovative, widely recognized
Cons: Quit as speaker in scandal, people think he might not stick it out

4) Jon Huntsman (Former Gov. of Utah, Ambassador to China)

Pros: Actually pretty smart
Cons: Quit high school to play keyboards for a rock band called "Wizard."

5) Ron Paul (TX Congressman)

Pros: Actually right about many issues, innovative, has a job right now
Cons: Suspected affiliation with the "Aqua Buddha"

5) Michelle Bachman (TIE) (MN Congresswoman)

Pros: Employed, Strong appeal to Tea Party people
Cons: Comes off as "crazy."

6) Herman Cain (Former CEO, Godfather Pizza)

Pros: Outsider, business background
Con: Inexperience (especially when Republicans hit Obama hard on this), Godfather's Pizza is God-awful

14) Tim Pawlenty (Former Gov., Minn.)

Pros: None
Cons: Boring, left huge deficit behind in Minnesota, is running on the promise "he will do to America what he did to Minnesota" (really, he is).

[included in positions 7-13: Steven Colbert, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Gary Johnson, Cosmo Kramer, Gordon Davenport, That Guy From The "Rent Is Too High" Party, Dan Quayle, Tom Miller]

How do you rank them?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Talking to NPR about narcotics

Recently I got to talk to one of my favorite radio people, Derek Smith, about narcotics policy. You can link to the audio here; it is short and to the point.


On my Bad Guy List: Northwestern Mutual Insurance

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk at St. Thomas doing work when the phone rang. That in itself is not unusual. What happened next was.

The caller identified himself as being from Northwestern Mutual Insurance, and asked if this was a good time to talk about my insurance coverage (I don't currently have insurance with them). I told him it was NOT a good time to talk about my insurance coverage.

He kept going. I told him again that I was at work and didn't want to talk about this. He got snotty at this point, saying "Well, you don't even know what I'm going to say." Then he kept going.

Finally, I just had to cut him off and hang up. I was raised not to be rude, but I couldn't take any more. This is the only call like this I have gotten since moving to Minnesota.

Here's the thing-- why would I ever want to be the customer of a business that treats people like that? Not only did that guy not make a sale, but lost the chance that I will ever buy anything from that company.

Is anyone else out there as turned off as I am by over-aggressive sales calls? How do you handle them?

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