Saturday, February 21, 2015

Duty Calls

I will be busy most of the weekend listening to high school age tenors and sopranos audition over the Internets for the vocal music program at the Arkansas Governor's School.  So no blogging this weekend.  If history is any guide my hands will be shaking too badly to type anyway.

Talk amongst yourselves.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I got a letter the other day from an unexpected source.  The return address indicated that it was from a gentleman that I know from church.  K is a retired real estate man as I recall.  In my experience, unsolicited correspondence of this sort tends to generally be limited to fundraising.  So imagine my surprise when I read the first paragraph.

"For the past several years, rather than giving up something for Lent, I have instead given special time to thoughts and prayers for special people."

My day is Friday the 20th.

"[I] will pause to thank God for you.  I will ask that he make his presence known to you in all you do and to bless your life and, through you, the lives of others. I'll be praying about your family and all those you love, about all the things that keep you busy, and about your health.  I'll be expressing particular thanks for your talent as a writer and the education you received at Hendrix and for your long membership in the church I love.  Finally, I'll thank him for you friendship and the privilege I have to know you."

To say that I was stunned is to to understate the case considerably.  In the first place, I don't think that I've had a conversation of any substance with this gentleman in 2-3 years.  Secondly, while God knows I could use it, I don't exactly consider myself a fit subject for such intervention.

My initial thought is that K had obviously reached the bottom of the barrel of available candidates for intercessory prayer after all of these years.  After all, as I said, I haven't had many dealings with K in some time.  

But I was mainly struck by what a profound kindness out of the blue the letter represented.  To know that someone thought about me and was thankful of it is profoundly humbling.  And while I am not superstitious in the slightest I confess that it is comforting to know that someone will be praying on my behalf next Friday.  

We live in a brutal world filled seemingly to the brim with fear and hatred.  And that's just the Arkansas legislature.  It is all to easy to forget that people are capable of "random acts of kindness" as the saying goes.  

Ash Wednesday is at hand.  It is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. It is the day that we remember that we were formed from dust. And that unto dust we will return. 

I will also remember that people can be capable of indescribable grace and kindness even to those that are completely undeserving of same.  Such as myself. 

And I will try to pay it forward if I can.  

Sunday, February 08, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I never cease to be amazed by the persecution complex present among certain majorities.  Some straights claim to be persecuted by gays.  Rich folks by lazy welfare cheats. Whites by African-Americans.  And some Christians by everything.  Scientists, historians, "secularists" and people that say "Happy Holidays" during the Winter Solstice.  

A recent example of this paranoia may be seen in its full flower over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky where a ministry called "Answers in Genesis" has sued over Kentucky tourism officials denying AiG (not to be confused with the financial and insurance conglomerate that damn near took down the world's economy when it defaulted on all the credit-swaps it "insured" during the real estate bust in 2008) 18 million bucks in tax incentives to build a theme park called the Ark Encounter which would feature a 500 foot long replica of the vessel used by Noah to save all of the animal kingdom (except the dinosaurs) during either one or both of the Great Floods as recounted in the Book of Genesis.   AiG is no stranger to this type of real estate development.  The ministry opened the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky which promotes a strict interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.  

According to an AP story in the Lexington Herald Leader, AiG is suing because Kentucky's actions allegedly violate the organization's right to free expression of religion which is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.  

Which, of course, is complete hooey.  Here's what happened.  

Kentucky was on board with this project until it found out that AiG would require applicants for jobs at the park to sign a statement that they believed in the Genesis account of Creation including the belief-considered non-sensical even by many fundamentalists(even that known rationalist Pat Robertson)-that the Earth is a relatively juvenile 6000 years old. The tourism board considered this to be discrimination based on religion which the state could not support through taxpayer financed tax incentives.  

As I say at times like these, this is an opportunity to teach.  

Religious institutions, to a certain extent. are free to discriminate in their hiring practices.  A Catholic school may limit the pool of applicants considered for a position teaching theology to Catholics.  A Jewish school may likewise hire only Jews to teach Torah.  A Baptist church in the Southern Baptist communion may hire only graduates from a Southern Baptist seminary for its clergy.  And so on.

Where it gets less clear is if a Catholic school would only consider Catholics for positions to discharge strictly non-ministerial duties such as teaching math or coaching football.  Or being a janitor or food services worker. The case law, as I remember it, is that our hypothetical Catholic school could not discriminate in this fashion for every position that it offered to the public.

But we don't need to go there.

What is clear in the present case(at least to the Kentucky tourism folks) is that if the park is primarily an extension of AiG's ministry, it is not eligible for state tax incentives.  Further, if the purpose is primarily a business, such as a football stadium or water park, it is not eligible for assistance from the state if it discriminates in its hiring practices.  AiG cannot have it both ways.

This is not discrimination against religion by Kentucky.  This is not suppression of free expression of religion.  If AiG can gin up the money for this silly park through private donations as it did for the equally silly Creation Museum ( where I read that there are exhibits depicting humans cavorting Flintstone-like with dinosaurs), then God bless. But every application for state funding for private business ( loans and loan guarantees, bids on building projects, government contracts, you name it) I have ever seen in my illustrious career requires the applicant to sign a statement that it will not discriminate in its hiring practices. Which is where I am guessing the trouble started here.

Answers in Genesis, as a ministry, may limit its pool of job applicants to "young Earth" types if it so desires.  It just can't ask the government to help finance such an endeavor.

It can't have it both ways.  And I like the Commonwealth's chances in Federal Court. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

My Super Bowl Feeling

It is somehow fitting, at least to the sort of person that thinks along these lines, that the NFL's liturgical year should end with today's Super Bowl being played at something called the University of Phoenix Stadium.  

Unlike, neighboring schools like, for instance, the University of Arizona or Arizona State, the University of Phoenix does not participate in intercollegiate athletics.  Indeed, some might say that it doesn't participate in academics.  

It primarily exists as an online alternative to traditional colleges and caters what the education industry refers to as "non-traditional" students.  The cynics among us might also refer to UP as a mercenary diploma mill which, along with its other equally aggressively marketed "for profit" competitors, issues phony credentials to those few students that actually finish a prescribed course of study in whatever "degree" path they elect to follow.  

Go ahead.  Google "University of Phoenix." You will read tales of woe on various consumer sites from former students.  No respect for a diploma earned there. Credits earned there that are not transferable to the average community college.  Accumulation of student loan debt that would choke a mule enforced by predatory collection practices.  

But what do they expect?  Everybody is accepted.  Student loans are pretty much the way that every student's tuition is paid.  

Now are some of these posters merely disgruntled hacks?  Sure.  Are some of these stories anecdotal?  No doubt.  Are some of them planted by competitors? Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.  

By the same token you are unlikely to find someone complain about their experience at Columbia University in "The Ripoff Report."

But today's post is ostensibly about the Super Bowl which will bring down the curtain on Roger Goodell and the NFL's annus horribilis in which you had a player cold-cock his wife, a botched and insensitive investigation of same, and a star running back spank his 4 year old with a tree limb along with the usual garden variety failed drugs tests and car wrecks.  

There has been some speculation as to whether this clown car of unusual travesty will cost Goodell his job.  Nah.  Not likely.  The Commissioner's job is to make the owners money and to bust the NFL Players Association.  On the former he is succeeding wildly.  On the latter, well, he is not doing them any favors.  

The NFL is all about product.  The game is almost irrelevant, dwarfed as it is by the endless commercials and a halftime show that Baz Luhrmann would find lurid. 

But of course I am going to watch.  Not that I particularly care about the outcome.  Actually, I don't care at all.  The Super Bowl provides me with an excuse to eat chili and to spend the day with somebody I like. Overly high-minded about these things I am not.  I walk as closely with hypocrisy as the next man. 

And so I find that it is right and proper that a phony baloney academic institution like the University of Phoenix should play a prominent role in today's extravaganza. It's all about money, honey.

Speaking of which, the line in this morning's paper calls the game even.  From what I can tell, most of the sports books in Vegas have the Patriots by one or two over the Seahawks.  

This means that the pros in the sports investment industry are predicting a close game.  Which also means that the first half might be a great warm up act for Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz.