21 November 2005

Removers vs. Restorers

This article from today’s edition of USA Today is one of the most encouraging articles I’ve read lately on the topic of religion in public schools.  It presents a balanced viewpoint, siding with neither the “Removers” nor the “Restorers”, which is about where I stand on the issue.

The problem I have with the “Removers” is with their premise that curricula should be religion-free.  I find it hard to imagine learning the history of our world without considering the religious context in which it takes place.  Was Martin Luther merely a political activist agitating for a more just society?  Did the Pilgrims cross the Atlantic simply to fulfill a sense of adventure?  Can current events be understood absent their religious context?  Good luck figuring out Middle Eastern politics without factoring in religion.  

And in the realm of literature, can one really understand Milton’s Paradise Lost or Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience without respectively engaging these authors’ understanding of Christian theology?

A religion-free worldview is a faulty one, having huge blind spots.  Ignoring the religious dimension of humanity and pretending it doesn’t exist is hardly good educational policy.  To advocate such a view seems akin to burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich.

The “Restorers” don’t fare much better in my book.  So many people just assume that my being a pastor means that I naturally would support efforts to undo the Supreme Court’s 40-year old decision removing prayer from the classroom.  But I don’t.  In my community, which is quite homogenous (99.6% white according to the last census), the school administration enjoys a cozy relationship with the local ministerial association.  The tacit assumption among the local “Restorers” seems to be that any prayers in school will be of a Protestant white bread flavor, which certainly is in line with the dominant demographic here.  

If that doesn’t fly, I suppose the fallback position for them would be having prayers of a generic universalist variety.  Masons are thick in these parts, and that would be right up their alley.  Same goes for the fans of the nearby Quaker pastor whose several “Christian” best sellers unabashedly advocate universalism.  I have no use for such prayers, and certainly don’t want the children of my parishioners praying them.

The “Restorers” never seem to think very often of that huge mosque 5 miles to the north, and what will happen when Muslim families move in and demand equal time in the official prayer rotation for their kids.  I suppose the local Jehovah’s Witlesses and Mormons would want in also, not to mention the Wiccans and pagans.  I want no part of any of that for my parishioners.

Another beef I have is with Lutherans that support the “Restorers”.  Why should the government have any responsibility for your child’s religious upbringing?  That should be happening first and foremost at home, and also at church.  If it’s so important to you that religious values are passed on to your kids at school, why aren’t they enrolled at a Lutheran school?  A Lutheran school will do a much better job of teaching the Christian faith than any public school ever will.

If the issue is simply being able to pray in school, there’s nothing stopping you from teaching your child how to take a moment for silent prayer in school.  For that matter, your kid might even be able to get his circle of friends to say grace at the lunch table together.  Besides, you’ve probably heard the phrase already—as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school!  Most people in the workplace have to do the very same things if they want any sort of prayer in their workplace.  Teaching your kid how he may pray in school on his own will be a skill he can use throughout his life.

UPDATE:  Orycteropus Afer at Aardvark Alley has awarded this particular post an Aardie, the Aardvark Award for Raillery, Doctrine, or Intellect in Exposition.  I haven’t even had a chance to practice my acceptance speech (“I’d like to thank the Aacademy…”)!

14 November 2005

On Veterans' Day

Veterans’ Day is one of those holidays federal workers catch a lot of grief over.  I ought to know, I once was a federal worker.  I’ve heard on more than a few occasions folks green with envy going off on how “those (insert favorite expletive here) government workers” get way too much time off.  But those people are often strangely silent on days like Christmas Eve or the day after Thanksgiving or any of those picture perfect Saturdays in the summertime that seem like they were made for getting away from it all—days off those people take for granted.  On those days somebody still has to show up at your post office and put in a full days’ work of getting your mail and all your neighbors’ mail delivered to your neighborhood.

A healthy percentage of postal employees are veterans, due in part to a 5 to 10 point preference they receive on the competitive postal examinations used to hire postal employees.  There may be similar preferences in place for civil servants, although I really don’t know.  It has always struck me as a little ironic that people would begrudge the many veterans that still serve the public through their government job the time off on the day specially designated for honoring them.

My brother-in-law, who writes From On High, wrote a very nice piece on Veterans’ Day (you’ll have to scroll down to the November 11 entries on his blog).  It’s a nice tribute to one of the countless many veterans that made a contribution to our nation’s welfare.  There is no statue raised to him anywhere, and neither his name nor face are recognized by most that come across them.  Although he might be a rather anonymous contributor to our common good, I’m sure there are many more like this guy that should also be remembered, especially on Veterans’ Day.  This guy happens to be my brother-in-law’s father, and is, therefore, the father of my lovely wife.

Turn Right at the Intersection of Science and Religion

Today’s USA TODAY ran a story about how meditation helps brain functions.  It really isn’t anything earth-shattering, but I thought the last paragraph was notable:
On Saturday, the exiled leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, spoke to neuroscientists, urging them to continue their crucial work on meditation. Such studies may help identify practices that will help people rein in negative emotions, he says. More than 500 scientists signed a petition against the Dalai Lama's talk: Many said they didn't want to mix religion with science.
The last sentence spoke volumes to me, as it is indicative of the scientific community’s unwillingness to even acknowledge that there may be points where science and religion intersect.  It seems to me that a true scientist would go wherever the data leads him, regardless of any religious implications the data may present along the way.  To rule out something a priori because it may carry some religious overtones strikes me as neither objective nor scientific.  

Is everything religious antithetical to science?  Such a proposition seems untenable to me, yet this seems to be the operative assumption made here.  The way I see it, this knee-jerk reaction against anything having a religious overtone is nothing more than an exchange of one bias for another, and unworthy of even being associated with science and the scientific method.

If all these scientists, and there appears to be at least 500 of them, are so threatened by the intersection of religion and science, why aren’t they doing research on this very same subject to conclusively demonstrate their conviction that science and religion are two such distinct fields that never the twain shall meet?

03 November 2005

Supply and Demand

If you were planning on giving the new Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord as a gift for Christmas, you might want to re-consider.  It’s out of stock and won’t be available again until March.  I guess it’s a good sign when the demand seems to have exceeded CPH’s expectations.  CPH will still honor the special sale price of $20 on orders made before the end of the year.

01 November 2005

A Tale of Two Delegations

With all this hoopla about delegates at last year’s synodical convention, I decided to poke around a bit with what little data I have and see what I come up with.

Before we embark upon our tale of two delegations we should review synodical bylaw 3.1.2, which states:
Voting delegates shall consist of one pastor and one layman from each electoral circuit.
  1. An electoral circuit shall consist either of one or two adjacent visitation circuits, as shall be determined by each district on the basis of the following requirements: each pair of delegates shall represent from 7 to 20 member congregations, involving an aggregate communicant membership ranging from 1,500 to 10,000.

  2. Exceptions to these requirements may be made only by the President of the Synod upon request of a district board of directors.

All the hoopla seems to stem from there being a record number of exceptions (88) to the requirements for an electoral circuit requested of the President, coupled with the rather odd fact that not even one request was denied by him.

It should be noted that two factors determine an electoral circuit — the number of congregations (7 to 20) and the total number of communicants in the circuit’s congregations (1500 to 10000).  There is a degree of flexibility built in to this definition.  You could have as little as 7 congregations totaling 1500 communicants or as many as 20 congregations totaling 1500 communicants.  Or you could have 7 congregations totaling 10000 communicants or 20 congregations totaling 10000 communicants.  If you have the latter, that circuit is a prime candidate to be split.  You could have 2 circuits of 10 congregations totaling around 5000 communicants — or if you could peel off a congregation from a neighboring circuit, you could conceivably split 20 congregations (plus one more) totaling 10000 communicants (plus a few more from that one congregation) into 3 circuits of 7 congregations each, each circuit having about 3400 communicants.  Splitting the circuit into 3 yields 6 delegates where there once were 2.  

It works well in theory, but in reality, geography and the differing size of congregations work against splitting circuits or re-aligning them.  You can’t easily split a dual or triple parish and put them in different circuits.  The pastor serving the dual or triple parish can only be a member of one circuit.  In parts of the country where Lutherans are scarce, a circuit of seven congregations can be spread over a large area, and might barely meet the minimum number of communicants to be an electoral circuit.

And now here follows our tale of two delegations:

District X has 196 congregations, 3.18 % of all the congregations in the synod.  It has 54388 communicant members, 2.87 % of all the communicant members in the synod.  

District Y, on the other hand, has 236 congregations, 3.83% of all the congregations in the synod.  It has 84934 communicant members, 4.48% of all the communicant members in the synod.

It would seem reasonable to expect that since District X has 3.18% of the congregations and 2.87% of communicants in the synod, that it would have somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% of all the delegates in the synod.  District Y, having 3.83% of the congregations and 4.48% of the communicants should be expected to have around 4% of the delegates.  As it turns out, neither District X nor District Y had the expected number of delegates at the 2004 convention.  They each had 44 delegates, 3.53% of the 1246 total delegates.  It would seem that District X exceeded expectations by about half a percent, while District Y fell short of expectations by about half a percent.  Half a percent might not seem like a lot until you realize that half a percent is 6 delegates.  

So how is it that a district with 20% more congregations and 56% more communicants gets the same number of delegates as the other?  What might account for such discrepancies between the expected and the actual?  Several factors seem to have contributed to the differences.  District X had 7 circuits granted exceptions, meaning that 14 of their 44 delegates, nearly one third, were there on the basis of exceptions granted by the synodical president.  All 22 of their visitation circuits were counted as electoral circuits this year.  District Y, on the other hand, requested and received only one exception from the synodical president, giving them 22 electoral circuits out of 23 visitation circuits.  Perhaps they should have requested an exception for the one remaining circuit — the synodical president didn’t seem to have been in the mood to deny any requests that year, so why not?

Before you go off half-cocked about there being some nefarious scheme to stack the deck, another factor should be considered.  For lack of a better term, I call it circuit efficiency.  The politically savvy district won’t long abide having circuits closer to the 20 congregations totaling 10000 communicants standard than to the 7 congregations totaling 1500 standard.  It’s not efficient.  Through the simple splitting of large circuits or through re-aligning circuits throughout a district into smaller circuits, a district can extend its political voice by creating more electoral circuits from what it already has.  A district with 10 circuits of 14 congregations each could increase its representation 40% by re-aligning in 14 circuits of 10 congregations each.  It could increase its representation 100% if it could pull off a re-alignment into 20 circuits of 7 congregations each.

If 7 congregations totaling 1500 communicants is the most efficient configuration of a circuit for electoral votes, what then are the circuits granted an exception?  I am assuming that no circuit was granted an exception because it had 21 or more congregations or had more than 10000 communicant members, and I’m well aware of what happens when one assumes…but anyway, there were 88 circuits that presumably had fewer than 7 congregations or fewer than 1500 communicants in them or both.  These exceptional circuits would be superefficient, yielding voting delegates where none would have seemed even possible.  District X is quite efficient, having 8.91 congregations per electoral circuit (including exceptions) and 2472.18 communicants per electoral circuit.  District Y is less efficient, having 10.73 congregations per electoral circuit and 3860.63 communicants per electoral circuit.  Geography probably has aided District X, for Lutherans are generally farther and fewer between than in District Y.  But District Y could conceivably re-align its circuits and improve its efficiency.  If District Y could achieve a similar efficiency as District X, it would add a minimum of 4 circuits.  That’s 8 delegates!

These superefficient exceptional circuits do concern me, because based on the precedent set at the last convention, how small does a circuit have to get before the synodical president denies the request to make it an exception?  After 88 exceptions granted and no denials, I’m not sure.  Could a large congregation be declared a circuit unto itself?  I wish I could say with certainty that it would not.

What if the SELC District, perhaps the most under-represented district in the synod, re-aligned its 54 congregations into 9 circuits of 6 each?  Aside from geographical considerations, that doesn’t sound so unreasonable.  If each circuit was granted an exception, the SELC would triple its current representation from 6 delegates to 18.  At what point, then, does the exception become the rule?

For what it’s worth, and in the interest of full disclosure, District X is the Florida-Georgia District.  The district president, Gerhard Michael, was once my next-door neighbor, and I bear him no ill will.  District Y is the Indiana District, and I was part of their delegation in 2004.

31 October 2005

Cue the Vikings

I keep receiving spam from an individual who seems to think that if the contention that the lawsuit brought against the synodical president and first vice-president is useless and divisive is repeated often enough, it becomes necessarily so.   I don’t know the sender, and certainly never made a request to receive e-mail from this sender.  Unsolicited e-mail from an unknown source — I spell that with an “S”, a “P”, an  “A”, and an “M”.

I read the first few missives sent my way since they seemed to pertain to synodical affairs, and because I was willing to give the unknown sender the benefit of the doubt—but (cue the Vikings) it became clear that it was spam, spam, spam…of a Lutheran variety.  I didn’t expect to see Lutheran spam, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.  It certainly seems a cost-effective, though disreputable, means for disseminating one’s message.

Although I really have no means of verifying it, my gut feeling is that this individual is not working alone, but is acting as an operative for one of the political factions active in our synod.  I would be curious to know how this individual happened to come upon a list with my e-mail address on it.  It’s a relatively new address and wasn’t published in the last Lutheran Annual.   I have, however, updated my e-mail address at the synodical website’s section for updating one’s profile for the Lutheran Annual, and I would like to think that whatever I post there isn’t made available to Lutheran spammers (or Anglican, Zoroastrian, or any other stripe of spammer).  

Like most other people, I don’t hold spammers in very high esteem.  And any individual or entity that has to resort to spamming to get its point across isn’t likely to convince me that it sits on the ethical high ground.

10 October 2005

Lunchin with Loofrin

I had a nice lunch with my new friend, loofrin, whose blog is Full Throttle & an Empty Gas Tank.  Over beer & wings, we got to know each other a bit and shared our common affinity for the New York Mets (kindred fans are a rarity in central Indiana).  

We also explored some of the common points in our respective histories.  It’s like doing the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, only, as loofrin puts it, in the Missouri Synod, it’s more like 2 degrees.  It’s almost spooky how it works.  For instance, he mentioned Dr. Clyburn Duder from Austin, and that was a blast from the past for me, given that Dr. Duder was both a classmate of my father’s at Springfield (class of ’66), and also was an English professor at River Forest the last year I was there.  I never had Dr. Duder for any classes, but I sometimes joined the English department that year when they took their usual coffee / cigarette break down in the basement of Kohn Hall.  It was real convenient for me, since I lived up on 2nd Lindemann that year.  Even though we were mostly just shootin’ the breeze there, Duder was usually pretty good about asking me how my dad was doing.

You certainly should check out loofrin’s blog, since he is hosting Lutheran Carnival VIII, sort of the recent Greatest Hits of the Lutheran blogosphere.  I think he posted it in the wee hours this morning, and I must admit that I’m still working my way through it.  Good stuff so far.  I was surprised to find loofrin had even submitted my meager work and posted it—even though they’re certainly not Greatest Hits caliber (He may be the only person that knows I’m out here).  I’m still working on figuring this blogging stuff out.  Scott Stiegemeyer submitted some useful stuff on the art of blogging, and I’m working my way through it all, hoping to glean some pointers along the way.  You will note, that I actually have real-live links in this posting, my very first ones!  I guess that’s progress.  Loofrin explained how to do that at lunch today.  I thank him for his patience.

09 October 2005

Liturgical NASCAR?

I’d heard how NASCAR was making a real effort to broaden its base, and now it seems they’ve decided to go after the liturgical crowd.  Why else would they have the Banquet 400 on the day the Series A Gospel is the Parable of the Wedding Banquet?