Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Dr. Raymond Bailey died this week, a man who influenced at least three generations of people who took their faith seriously, including me.
Arriving in Waco in 2000 to teach at Baylor, I found myself at 7th and James Baptist Church, a city church on the edge of Baylor's campus. Rev. Bailey was the senior minister there, and he had a tough job-- the church was chock-full of ordained ministers, religion professors, and a good number of people who imagined themselves to be one of those two things (I fell into this last group). The average education among the adults in the church was a master's degree; it took a special kind of intelligence and passion to hold all that together, and Rev. Bailey had that.
Like a lot of other people at Baylor at that time, he was a refugee from the fundamentalist take-over of the Baptist seminaries in the early 1990's. He had taught preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville for 16 years, until he was pushed out with other moderates. 7th and James left the Southern Baptist Convention just as I got there (fortunately for us all, I suspect). As a professor, he trained a generation of people who became leaders in a wide variety of churches, and I learned not to be surprised when this or that person said they had learned preaching from Raymond Bailey.
And, of course, he was a great preacher. I learned preaching more directly from Hulitt Gloer and Randall O'Brien, of course (because we taught it together), but Raymond Bailey was a model to aspire towards. His sermons were intelligent and challenging, and sometimes involved surprising drama. He was (as a preacher must be) a performer, conscious of his audience. And he was capable of surprises. I came in late to church once and upon seeing me come in-- during the announcements-- he said "well, I'm glad Mark Osler is here, because I am preaching about sin today!" Which... kept me on my toes. People did laugh.
He influenced a generation of kids, too. As adults, some of them revealed to me that in their childhood they had thought that the honorific given to a senior minister was "The Raymond," and that every church had one.
And maybe they should. And, in a way, many of them probably do, through Raymond Bailey's remarkable legacy of profound influence.
I know people who see preserving the environment as a Christian imperative. I struggle to get there, though, at least the way that they express it-- usually through inference and a fair amount of quoting the Old Testament. If you know me at all, you know that my faith is rooted in the Gospels and what Jesus actually taught; I don't have a lot of need for the rest of it, except as context (which, of course, can be important). I worship Jesus, not the Bible.
There is this deep sense, though, in which I see things in nature as God's creation, by the method of evolution. It's intricate and beautiful and wonderful-- something that has been a big part of much of the joy in my life. It's the same way that I see the light of God even in those who are most reviled, those in prison. I know that does not make sense to some people, but I feel like it would make sense to Jesus, who told us to visit those in prison. Not just that, but that when we visited those in prison we visited him, Jesus.
It kind of stops me from judging as much as I am inclined. And that, I suspect, is a very good thing.
Stephen Sondheim died yesterday at the age of 91. He was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Williams, and wrote West Side Story. He won eight Grammies, an Oscar, and nine Tony awards. And I'll bet you recognize at least one of his songs....
"Professor Osler, there is some weird stuff about you on the web," one of my students asked me.
"Hmmm... like what?" I asked him.
"Well, one place says you are worth $206 million," he responded.
That's really not true at all (it is about $206 million off), but he was right that there is a site that claims exactly that-- and that I weigh 86 kg. It wasn't the only strange thing out there though.
Some of the sites were useful. This one, for example, compiled all the times I have appeared on a podcast (some of which I didn't remember). Another lists most (but not all) of the short-form pieces I have written, going back for years.
Others, not so much. If you believe several cites, my best known quote is this: "I'll beat you like a red-headed stepchild." I don't think I've ever said that, but there you go. In fact, it took me a while to figure out what that would even mean...
Many of the people I know are prison abolitionists-- they think we would be better off without anyone incarcerated. I disagree with them, as I do think there are some people who can only be incapacitated from committing crime through incarceration (and even then, only if we do incarceration right and they don't victimize others in the prison).
As most people know, there was a terrible tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin on Sunday. Darrell Brooks is suspected of being the person who plowed through a Christmas parade in an SUV, killing five people and injuring 48. Some of those killed and injured were part of the "Dancing Grannies" who were performing in the parade.
Brooks reportedly was involved in a "domestic incident," and then fled that scene-- right through the Christmas parade. Brooks was free on $1,000 bail on charges related to running over a woman with his car-- something that happened on November 5. At the time of that incident he was already out on bail for charges asserting he fired a handgun during an argument in 2020. He also jumped bail on a 2016 charge out of Nevada.
How he got $1,000 bail after jumping bail twice is baffling.
It gets complicated, of course. The primary purpose of bail is not incapacitation-- it is to ensure that defendants show up for their next court date. If the point was simply incapacitation, we would just detain people without bail. But, clearly, bail had failed to serve that function in Brooks's previous cases.
Bail is problematic, of course-- it too often serves as a way to incarcerate poor people who are presumed innocent while wealthier people get out pending trial. But there are ways to combine ways of assuring later appearances without using bail that would still detain people like Brooks who flaunt the rules. For example, in the federal system, the two most-often used pretrial tools are unsecured bond and detention pending trial. Neither involves bail, and the latter is useful in cases such as this one (where the issue is not innocence or guilt, but failure to show up for court in the past).
People who know me know that I think there are some people in prison who shouldn't be. But there are also some people NOT in prison who should be-- and this may well be one of them.
It looked for a while like the pandemic was ending. But... no. Right now, the numbers here in Minnesota are about the same as they were this time a year ago, when we were pretty much locked down-- and that is nearly a year after vaccines were released. Sigh.
Can I be honest? I'm worn down by it-- by teaching in a mask or over Zoom, of limiting so much of what I do, of the loss of the presence of people. I am having trouble writing anything longer than 1,000 words, and the vibrancy that came from contact with people in my field is gone. There are things that are just stagnating-- clemency at the federal and state level-- and my usual tactic of going there to change things isn't available.
I do wonder if we are changing as a species because of the shifts created by the pandemic-- more isolated, more focused on the internet than one another, less social--in ways that will last.
Churches are dealing with this challenge in a number of ways. Well, not a big number-- maybe two or three ways, actually. Most of them are having some kind of online service, where the minister will be in his office or her pulpit, alone. Congregants are encouraged to sing along at home. It's kind of depressing. We were asked, after all, to gather in his name.
But, right now, we can't. That is one of the costs of all this. In the end, I suspect that the social, spiritual, and economic costs of the pandemic will be all intermingled. Churches will close not just because they are no longer economically viable, but because they are no longer spiritually viable-- they will not be able to minister to those in need when that need is greatest. People will die alone, drift from faith, and despair.
And now that we are approaching year two of the pandemic, I fear that I was right.
BUT... I'm not a total pessimist. Today in the Waco paper, I have a piece about how the Great Resignation might just have some positive effects in the long run. You can read that here.
I spent a lot of yesterday trying to explain the Rittenhouse verdict (Including on the PBS Show Almanac-- you can see that here). But mostly, I was bugged about the stupid turkey pardon. Man, I hate that thing.
Thanksgiving is our holiday that most purely is about an idea. And it is a great idea-- that we should pause in gratitude. There is much to be thankful for, even while recognizing the hardships so many have faced in the past two years.
Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
I love many things
But one is my vocation
Work renews each day.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: Ugh-- another turkey pardon
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday-- I love almost everything about it: the food, the family gatherings, the weather, the way it evades commercialism, and mostly the sentiment at its heart. Recently, I heard my friend Susan Stabile give a great talk about gratitude, and it made me look forward to Thanksgiving even more.
The is one part of the holiday I absolutely can't stand-- the Presidential Turkey Pardon. I mean... here is a whole lighthearted event about something I care about and think is tragic in its dysfunction. It's like having a Drone Strike Christmas Event at the White House.
Every year (often with my friend and NYU Prof. Rachel Barkow), I write some kind of objection to the whole thing. Over the years, they have appeared in the Washington Post, CNN. com, the Dallas Morning News, and other outlets. This year, Rachel and I sent our diatribe to The Hill, and you can read it here. Please do! It breaks down an underlying problem with how clemency is not working under President Biden. I will also have a second screed on the same topic (but a different focus) later in the week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Do you find yourself wondering "huh-- I wonder what Qanon is up to now that the whole Trump thing has kind of faded?" Yeah, me neither. I pretty much had forgotten about them. After all, their "prophesies" were pretty much 100% failures.
But at least some of them are still at it, churning up new theories and doing weird stuff. Most recently, a Qanon subgroup has taken to gathering in Dealey Plaza in Dallas (I keep wanting to call it "Daley Plaza," as a midwesterner) to await the appearance of John F. Kennedy Jr., who they believed faked his own death. They have been there waiting, while at times breaking out into the Lord's Prayer and "We Are the World."
As Vice described one weird turn in their journey:
weeks ago, when JFK failed to materialize, Protzman led his followers
to a $300-a-ticket Rolling Stones concert that was taking place in the
city and now claims without any evidence that the band had actually been
replaced by Jackson (playing Mick Jagger), JFK Jr. (Keith Richards),
and Prince (drummer Steve Jordan), while one of the backing singers was
replaced by Aaliyah, the U.S. singer who died in a plane crash in 2001.
then, the group has been holed up in the Hyatt hotel in Dallas, with
videos posted to the group’s Telegram channels showing them dancing and
singing, while Protzman continues to make wild predictions. In audio
chats on Telegram channels populated by Protzman’s followers, the
group’s members have discussed plans to establish a permanent base in the area, with one member of the group claiming his family has a property that could be use
But, it is not ending. Here in Minnesota, we now have the worst rate of infections in the nation, somehow. 95% of inpatient hospital beds in the state are currently full, meaning that people are being turned away all over. Unvaccinated people make up only 22% of the population, but are more than half of the people admitted to hospitals for COVID.
Like a lot of others, I viewed the release of vaccines as the start of the end. It turns out that maybe it was just the middle. Sigh.
No doubt, part of the problem was lagging infection rates and a dip in the use of masks and distancing. But beyond that... how did we get here?
I really thought people would get into the haiku topic of "family traditions"-- but I was really wrong! Only two people submitted poems. Still, this one by Jill Scoggins made it all worthwhile, since it made me look forward to Thanksgiving:
Fav’rite holiday. Family, friends, football, food. Fulfilling and fun.
Yesterday, I got way into college football. There were great games involving teams I care about: Michigan, Baylor, Minnesota, Wisconsin. I was so happy to see Michigan beat Penn State and Baylor beat Oklahoma.
But then a thought occurred to me... I actually have no idea who won those games last year. I wasn't really paying attention last year, I guess, with everything going on. Meanwhile, there is a whole realm of pro soccer that I don't know anything about. Who is in the pro soccer playoffs? I have no idea. In fact, I don't even know if they are going on right now. But to some people, the outcome of those events mean the world.
People are buried in their favorite Packers sweatshirt. Others, maybe in the same town, aren't totally sure what sport the Packers play.
Many of the things we care about we care about because we chose those things to care about.
Some things are bigger that those things we chose, because they chose us. Love. God. Grace.
I'm hoping to learn how to discern the one from the other.
A few years ago, a producer from a video outfit called "Now This" asked me to do a short Zoom call and explain how federal clemency works. I get that a lot, and I almost always say yes-- I want people to know about this mess. And this one was focusing on a particularly important case, involving a man named John Knock whose sister, Beth Curtis, was a fierce advocate I had come to know because she showed up whenever people gathered to talk about clemency.
I taped the segment between classes on a busy day and didn't think much about it.
But a lot of other people did. Since then, it has had 1.8 million views. That's a lot of people!
I discovered this yesterday when I looked at the video again. And, of course, I noticed again that in the video like I just woke up. IPLawGuy's comment at the time was "maybe you should comb your hair before these things." He has a point.
It's coming into that time of year that families get together and renew all kinds of traditions: kitchen dancing with your sister (pictured here), watching the Bills (or whoever), annual expressions of longstanding grudges, etc. Most of them are fun! So let's haiku about those this week.
Here, I will go first:
I make a few pies
And an enormous big mess
Both, a tradition.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Now this is bad news: Inflation in spiking like we haven't seen in the last 30 years. According to the Washington Post, driven by ongoing supply-chain issues and gas prices (which act both directly as a hit to consumers when they fuel up their cars, and indirectly through increased transportation costs for other goods).
This is something we haven't had to worry about for a while-- not in the lifetime of most of my students, actually. They don't remember the dark days of the 1970's, when energy costs prompted an enduring shock.
Politically, this is problematic for Democrats. The underlying truth is that politics don't very strongly influence the economy, but we blame politics and politicians for economic problems. This one might be more fixable that most via government, if that government can figure out a way to address the supply chain issues. Some of those issues-- like a lack of truckers-- seem immune to direct government intervention.
For months, many experts have been claiming that inflation was a temporary blip, but now it is looking like a more serious issue-- and it's a challenge that neither party has a good solution for, since their usual answers of tax cuts (by Republicans) and government spending (by Democrats) tend to actually exacerbate this particular problem.
Athletes at the most elite levels often feel pretty entitled: entitled to lots of money, to adoration, to having the freedom to do what they want. Aaron Rodgers, apparently, felt entitled to have his own science, even.
Rogers tested positive for COVID and was out for last week's game after giving false signals about his vaccination status. Back in August, Rodgers claimed he was "immunized," but it turns out that he didn't take the vaccine; rather, he got some quack treatment instead. He now admits that he "mislead" people.
That's the problem with taking sports too seriously-- we create heroes who aren't really so heroic.
Student aid isn't exactly a hot topic-- unless you are repaying your own student debt or that of someone else.
Baylor is doing some explaining right now, as a Wall Street Journal report revealed that Baylor's practice of urging poorer families to finance a kid's Baylor education through "Parent Plus" loans with a stiff origination fee and relatively high interest rates has backfired. Apparently, just 28% of Baylor parents had begun repaying the loans within two years (repayment is supposed to start right away), suggesting a strikingly high default rate and unmistakable strain on working class families. This was the worst repayment rate in the nation-- in second place (well, second-to-last place) was Liberty University in Virginia, Jerry Falwell's school.
The problem has been exacerbated by Baylor's rapid rise in tuition-- something we have seen at schools across the country, both public and private. In 2000, undergrad tuition there was just under $12,000, but now it is $50,232 per year. Yikes!
Baylor has adjusted to this problem by shifting from need-blind admissions (where wealth is not considered when applications are considered) to need-aware admissions (that consider ability to pay). But... is it really so great to let in fewer kids who are not wealthy?
It's November in Minnesota. The palette shifts from a riot of color to grayscale in these weeks, just before the shift to stark black and white.
This morning I am giving a sermon on this text from Mark 12:
38 As he
taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long
robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then
he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor
widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the
treasury. 44 For
all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her
poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The "Widow's mite" parable embedded here is well-known. But it is important to recognize that it is only one of two references to the widow-- the first one is to her house being "devoured" (such evocative language!) by the wealthy scribes.
Taken together, we see the widow in two roles: first as a person harmed by another's greed, and then as the empowered willing giver. We tend to over-simplify the view we have of the poor or oppressed-- as victims or criminals--but as usual, Jesus complicates things with truth. She is not simple. And she is the possessor of a heart the others in the story lack.
Tomorrow morning I'll be giving the sermon at First Covenant Church-Minneapolis, with the service starting at 9 am. The text is Mark 12, and I've got a lot to say.
Writing a sermon is like baking bread-- to do it well requires some patience, and sometimes you have to just leave it alone and let it rise. Hulitt Gloer called this the "brooding" period, and I get it--- it's just not the kind of thing one should blast out at one sitting.
So many interesting places to stay... last week I stayed at the "Graduate" hotel in New Haven, which is really just a revamping of the old Duncan Hotel (above the Old Heidelberg) on Chapel Street. Still an interesting, possibly haunted place-- just cleaner and more expensive than it used to be.
Whether on a buddy's couch, a swanky hotel, or some dive, we have all spent the night someplace interesting now and then. Let's haiku about that this week!
Here, I will go first:
It had a bidet
In the middle of the room
But... ten Euros? Sure!
[actually, it was Francs at the time (1987), but I updated for poetic reasons]
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: The Day after the Day after Election Day
In a nutshell: That didn't go well for Democrats.
They lost all of the statewide elections in Virginia. They nearly lost the Goverrnor's race in New Jersey. And there is a certain amount of panicking going on among Democrats as they look to the national midterms coming up next year.
I don't claim to know why Republicans did better than expected, though it probably does have something to do with with under-performance of some Democrats in office right now-- and a failure to have an effective message about what will happen in the future, it would seem.
Here in Minneapolis, the ballot measure that would transition the Police Department into a Department of Public Safety failed. It was termed by some a "defund the police" measure, but that really wasn't the heart of it-- resources devoted to crime prevention and investigation were probably going to the same or be increased-- so much as a structural change that potentially could bring reforms. In the end, the vote for the status quo will probably solidify the status quo.
In the long view, I fear that this election cycle will even further cool any interest in criminal justice reform-- where it was an issue, it was one that drove suburbanites to vote Republican out of fear of crime.
And that may be the closing of the window of opportunity that opened in the summer of 2020.
Politics? Ugh. Yeah-- we will get to that tomorrow.
But today, let's talk about some football! The first CFP rankings-- the ones that really count in determining who will go to which bowl and the national championship games-- came out last night, and there are some real surprises in there!
Sure, Georgia at number 1 is no surprise. But here are some of the outcomes that jump out at me as unexpected:
1) Michigan State at #3! It's a great outcome (well, partial outcome) for State. I suspect, though, that when they play Ohio State on November 20, Ohio State will be a prohibitive favorite. But... Michigan State controls its own destiny-- win out, and they can't be denied a ticket to the national semifinals.
2) Cincinnati fans-- and pretty much anyone outside the "Power 5" conferences-- must be upset at the 6 slot for their unbeaten team. Because they have a weak schedule and no strong teams left to play, it will be hard for them to fight their way into the top 4. Unlike Michigan State, they probably do not control their own destiny.
3) Wake Forest is undefeated and in the 8 slot. That's something no one saw coming!
4a) A one-loss Michigan team (a close loss to Michigan State) is ahead of undefeated Oklahoma.
4b) In fact, the Michigan ranking means there are three Big 10 teams in front of the first Big 12 team (and the first ACC team, Wake Forest). That probably means that the ACC and Big 12 won't have a representative in the semifinals, unless things take an unexpected turn (like Oregon and Cincinnati losing once or twice).
5) Baylor is at 12-- and they have to be happy with that. However, it would seem very difficult to get into the top 4 given the disrespect the selectors seem to have for the Big 12. Beating Oklahoma twice probably would raise their stock, but not enough.
6) Minnesota is at 20! That's a little crazy. They lost to a last-place MAC team (Bowling Green), after all-- but since then, they have been chugging along and winning games against good-but-not-great teams. Upcoming games against Iowa and Wisconsin will show where they should be, for good or bad.
7) Clemson is nowhere to be seen. That's kind of shocking. But... I suspect they will be back in the next few years.
Yesterday, as provided for in Minnesota law, the names of the jurors who voted to convict Derek Chauvin here in Minneapolis were released to the press.
I think it's a terrible law. Already, jurors are true public servants-- they work for almost nothing, face hard decisions, and have to deal with deeply traumatic situations. The least we could do is preserve their anonymity. I can't imagine what the justification would be that outweighs the dangers of outing jurors in high-profile cases like this one.