Saturday, June 4, 2011


With thanks to the Anarchic Comedians in general and the Marx Brothers in particular.
THIS IS NOT A BLOG ABOUT AMENDMENT 10-A.     And while it relates to the nFOG that is not the true intent.  It is about accretions.
I am a presbytery curmudgeon.  That is if I am not convinced that it is worth voting for the motion before the house I vote against it.  Usually my negative vote is singular.  I am the only no vote.  I have voted against many amendments to the constitution in my time.  If it doesn't add to the meaning of the constitution or to the need to further define particular sections of the constitution or necessary additions I vote no.  I've done so for the past 20 years, give or take.
I am not sure why the house generally votes yes.  I wonder sometimes if people simply haven't read the amendments.  I've read them.  Have others?  So if it isn't necessary I vote no.
There is a great irony this year.  The nFOG is intended to remove the various accretions to the Form of Government.  The argument is that back in 1983 the Book of Order was about 1/3 of its present size.  Over the past 27 years the Form of Government grew like a weed.  Problem is presbyteries just kept voting for amendments.
The great irony is that while the nFOG is on the ballot this year to remove all the accretions like scraping the bottom of a wooden ship we have before us 10 more amendments.  The nFOG removes the accretions.  The amendments add accretions.  Go figure. 
Aside from amendment 10-A there are nine amendments to the Form of Government, three to the Directory for Worship and nine to the Rules of Discipline.  Putting aside the amendments to the Directory of Worship and the Rules of Discipline the nine amendments to the Form of Government have started the accretions all over again.  No sooner have we an nFOG (if it passes) than we have people proposing accretions.  Why?
I wasn't at the May presbytery to vote against the new accretions.  I don't see much point in an nFOG if we are just going to start the whole process over again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Unfortunately many people tend to think of the world in either/or ways.  That is people see events in the world and acts by others as good vs. bad.  Life is never so simple.  
My wife hates seafood of any kind.  I love it.  She eats peanut butter.  The very idea of eating peanut butter in any form gives me the shudders.  Of course I am allergic to the stuff.
From the Sunday after Labor Day to Fathers' Day I am expected to wear a robe and either a tie or a clergy shirt.  Over the summer I can wear a dress shirt or a polo shirt.  Colleagues of mine wear polo shirts and jeans all year long.  No robes.
We use traditional worship and traditional hymns.  Others use contemporary worship and contemporary Christian music.
The Session of the congregation I serve chooses to give directly to mission causes.  Others choose to give by general giving through the presbytery.
As a Christian I choose to make my ethical choices according to the Scriptures – or I should say according to the best interpretation of the Scriptures I can do.  I would call this ethics of divine command.  Others, non Christians choose other sources as a basis for ethical decisions.  Atheists may choose a humanist method of ethics.  While the various decisions we make can be good or bad, good or better or bad or bad or even bad or worse the means by which we make the decisions can all be good.  This doesn't mean that I don't think all should be Christians.  It does mean that living the good ethical life is more dependent on particular acts rather than the means by which one comes to a conclusion about which act is good. 
Exercising is good, based on your ability to do so.  (Always consult your doctor first!)  But walking, running, riding a bike, lifting weights, pilates and other means can all be good. 
All good is not equal.  Cutting back on your use of oil is a good.  We’re going to run out of the stuff sooner than most people think.  It should be used for fixing roads, clothing and medicine, not to keep our cars running.  So driving less and buying a more fuel efficient car is good.  Taking public transportation to the extent that it is available better.  Turning the temperature in your house to a lower setting in the winter and wearing sweaters is good.  Putting solar cells on your roof or running a wind mill is better. 
Paying your credit cards bills and all your other bills on time is good.  Taking a look at what you really need as opposed to what you want is better.  If we Americans take a look at what people around the world survive on we in comparison are all rich.  Do you really need that new computer, cell phone, car, suit, shirt, etc., etc.?  Buying less is better no matter what people say about stimulating the economy by going out and buying.
Let's face it we are going to disagree about some of this.  Can fighting in a war ever be good?  Was killing Osama bin Laden good?  But I think there are things we would all agree are good and all agree are bad.  Putting your trash in a trash can and recycling are good.  Throwing your trash on the ground and throwing recyclables away is bad.  Robbing a bank under any circumstances is bad.  Talking things through with someone is good.  Calling the other names or refusing to listen is bad.  Ending arguments when you disagree with the other with politeness is good.  Stabbing the other with a knife or shooting the other is bad.  Rearing you children to respect others is good.  Rearing your children to hate others because of their religion, race or ethnic origins is bad.  Our list could go on and on in this area.
Can two actions be equally bad?  I think so.  Shooting someone in the head as compared to beating the other to death is equally bad.  Failing to feed the hungry yourself or failing to give to organizations that feed the hungry might be equally bad.  I suspect we could make a rather long list of this. 
Some will disagree with me about this.  I think war is always a choice between bad and worse.  I use the just war way of deciding whether it is appropriate for a country to go to war or not.  I believe that there have been very few justified wars of late.  That would include both the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But there can be wars in which choosing to go to war is bad but better than choosing not to go to war.  A war to protect the innocent would be an example.  A war to stop an unprovoked attack on one's country is bad but failing to do so would be worse.
This statement is also going to be controversial.  I believe all abortion is wrong.  Abortion can't be right.  But there are limited instances when abortion is better than not aborting a baby.  The one on which we would all agree is when the baby threatens the life of the mother.
Ethics are a lot more complicated that many people think.  You can hear politicians talk about either/or ethic when running for office.  Curiously the better politicians will switch to a more complicated ethic while ruling.  So let's think things through rather than reacting from our guts.  The sinner you prevent from sinning may be you.

Friday, May 6, 2011


The Federal Tax Code and the codes of those states that have policies that are similar to the federal code are almost impossible to understand.  The IRS when giving advice to taxpayers concerning the code clearly say that if the representative of the IRS who gives advice to a tax payer gives the wrong advice the tax payer is still responsible for payment, interest and penalties if that tax payer follows the advice that representative and the advice proves to be wrong.  I experienced this curious problem when seeking advice from the IRS.  In three different phone calls representatives of the IRS gave three different answers.
However the biggest problem with the current Federal Tax Code is that it penalizes some taxpayers and rewards others.
Here is an example for pastors.  A pastor who owns a house can take a deduction just like anyone else on the interest paid on the mortgage.  But the pastor can also deduct part or the entire amount paid in a housing allowance including the full cost of that same mortgage; both the interest and the principle.  This puts pastors (and members of the military who own their houses) in the curious position of being able to take deductions for the same expense (the interest on mortgages) twice.  Other citizens do not have this benefit.
Large corporations have deductions and credits.  Oil companies, despite their huge profits over the past few years, are allowed tax credits.
The list goes on and on.  One of the reasons it is so difficult to prepare one's own tax reporting is that the Tax Code is so complicated. 
Why does Congress allow such deductions and credits?  Through tax policy Congress seeks to reward certain groups and thus set public policy through deductions and credits.  Further lobbyists for corporations and groups of citizens influence Congress to provide tax relief for the people and corporations that they represent tax relief at the expense of others. This often has the curious result that a person who earns much more in salary, bonuses, investment income and capital gains than a person in the middle class may pay less taxes that that same person in the middle class. 
It is time to stop such social engineering.  If a government is going to be just taxes paid by any individual or corporation must be fair and not benefit one group of people or corporations at the expense of others.  If Christians seek to influence governments to provide justice by law tax law must do the same.  The basis for such Christians attempt to influence governments is based in the attempt by Christian to make this world as much like the Kingdom of God as possible.  In the Kingdom of God there is equality for all people.  Thus for the Christian a tax code must be equitable.  Without an equitable tax code there is no justice
The government has the further problem that the debt owed by the government is astounding and growing every day.  Just as families and most states in the USA have to balance their budgets so should Congress and the IRS.
I therefore submit the following suggestions for equity in taxes equity based on the fairness and justice proposed for the Kingdom of God
1.    That FICA taxes be paid on all income from salaries and bonuses earned by all people.  At the present time those who earn more than a certain amount pay FICA taxes only on a part of their income.  The cap on earned income is currently $106,800.00.  Anyone who earns more than this pays FICA taxes only on this portion of their income.  The given reason for this cap is that those who earn more than this amount will never receive a proportional return on their FICA taxes.  But FICA has never given a specific amount of money to any retired person or couple.  If an individual or both people in a couple die at the relatively young age of 70 neither they nor their heirs will ever receive back all the moneys put into FICA taxes by them or their employers.  Given the current crises in Medicare and Social Security payments on all income and bonuses would go a long way to providing more income to Medicare and Social Security.
2.    Remove all deductions and credits.  Deductions and credits provide lower taxes to a portion of individuals and corporations at the expense of others.  Some of these deductions and credits are encouraged by lobbyists who help members of congress get reelected by encouraging individuals, corporations and unions to give to or support a candidate.  This is a blatant conflict of interest.  Further deductions and credits are attempts at social engineering.  The purpose of taxes is to pay the bills of the federal government not to change society.
3.    After removing all deductions and credits graduated percentages of income would provide more income to the federal government.  Persons and families who earn less than a certain amount should pay less tax.  As income grows so should the percentage of income paid in taxes grow.  Under the current system of deductions and credits the burden of taxes falls proportionately higher on the middle class. 
Tax code should not be so confusing that an individual who has graduated from high school cannot understand how to pay his or her taxes.  Complicated tax code only benefits a particular group of people in a particular business: those who prepare tax returns for others.
Justice required in Scripture demands that taxes be just.  Christians should demand the same.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


This is not a theological screed.  Neither is it a complaint about someone.  It is . . . well you will see.

I'm used to fixing various things around the manse; things within my ability.  Fixing the drain plug in the sink certainly seemed to be within my ability.  I knew what to do. I had the tools.  I had the time.  The job took longer than I thought it would but that is the nature of plumbing.  Actually I gave up and told myself I would finish it tomorrow.

The next day I discovered that the cost was higher than I thought it would be.  My neck hurt.  I dealt with it the way I deal with most medical issues: I ignored it for about a week.  This was more of a feat than one would think as the pain was pretty strong.  It got to the point that I couldn't do my job.  Finally I gave in and went to see the doctor.

Contrary to my expectations the doctor said my problem was not muscular and she sent me off to see the orthopedist.  The orthopedist told me it couldn't be muscular because I was too old for that (thanks a lot doc), took an x ray and told me I had arthritis in my neck and possibly a problem with the discs in my neck.  To make a long story short he sent me off to have an MRI.

I've heard lots of horror stories about MRIs, about the tiny tube and claustrophobia and the noises that sound like someone hammering.  Maybe it's just me but when I closed my eyes I was able to forget that the top of the tube was about six inches above my nose.  And yes the noises were loud but I've heard worse.  The biggest problem I had was the bump on the MRI machine right under the spot where my neck hurt.  I got through it.

Back to the orthopedist the next day where I am told that I have two bulging discs in my neck.  This is not good news.  If I do nothing about it my neck will continue to hurt all the time and believe me the pain was bad.  I could just go on taking the pain killers the doctor had given me but I decided that long term use of oxycodone was a bad idea.  I was left with door number three: steroid shots.

Don't get me wrong; as much as it costs modern medicine can be a wonderful thing.  A decade or three ago I would have had to take pain killers for the rest of my life.  Still, someone sticking a needle into my spinal cord is just a bit disconcerting.  That's scheduled for Wednesday.  In the meantime I have severe pain except for when I give in and take a pain pill.

I suppose this is where I'm supposed to make Biblical and theological statements.  I don't believe that God punishes people in this world for their sins except for the obvious like liver problems from drinking too much.  What kind of spiritual message is there?  Use the down time to pray and get closer to God.  That's all for now.

P.S.  I never did get the drain fixed and now I'm not going to try!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Unless something totally unexpected happens Amendment 10-A will garner the necessary number of presbyteries voting in the affirmative to become a part of the Form of Government.  Here is the amendment with both deletions and additions:
Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added is shown as italic.]
“b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003).  Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

The section with the strike-through was originally added to the Form of Government in 1997.  The section in italics will soon replace that section.  It is my opinion that both either are or have a section that is intended to garner votes from those in the middle of the denomination who needed to be fooled in order to vote in favor of the amendment.  It is also my opinion that both failed miserably in this attempt and in fact were not necessary.
The current G-6.0106b was approved by the 1996 General Assembly.  A large minority of the GAPJC the previous year had clearly implied that Authoritative Interpretations of the Constitution were no longer going to cut it if the denomination wanted to continue to deny ordination to (using the words of the time) "self affirming, practicing homosexuals."  To deny that ordination those who opposed it saw that they would have to amend the Form of Government in a way that would pass the General Assembly and a majority of the presbyteries. 
I may be a starry-eyed idealist but I believe that the writers of the amendment really intended that heterosexuals involved in sexual relationships outside the bonds of marriage and homosexuals involved in sexual relationships should be denied ordination.  It is also my opinion that they did not believe that such an amendment would pass the GA and the presbyteries if it only referred to sex.  Therefore the last line was added.  The last line gave the appearance of inclusion: that is inclusion of sins.  The last line was intended to say that the amendment was not just about sex, that amendment was equal opportunity.  If one sinned in any way and did not repent of that sin one could not be ordained.
I suggest that the last line fooled people as easily as the child who failed to see the emperor's new clothes.  Those who supported the amendment argued that the emperor (the amendment) was so clothed as to cover a multitude of sins.  Those opposed and those in "the broad middle of the church" (who are supposed to be ignorant and easily led around by the nose), were not fooled.  Everyone knew the primary purpose of the amendment was to deny ordination to self affirming, practicing homosexuals.  At that point in history a majority of the denomination opposed the ordination of a homosexual who was having sex with another homosexual.  It is my strong suspicion that the last sentence was not needed.  The only people who thought it was necessary to "fool" others were those who proposed the amendment.
14 years later, after voting on the issue several times the General Assembly of 2010 sent an amendment to the presbyteries, the lines in italics above.  An earlier attempt to simply remove the current wording had failed.  In 2010 the General Assembly proposed that the section of the Form of Government that denied ordination to self affirming, practicing homosexuals be replaced with a paragraph that requires stricter examinations for those seeking ordination and/or installation as  Ministers of Word and Sacrament, Elders or Deacons.
At the meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia today (the amendment passed 182-108) every single statement for or against the amendment was about ordination of self affirming, practicing homosexuals except one.  The exception was a short and clearly ignored speech by a wandering Don Quixote who tilted at the windmill of the amendment itself, namely me.  Again an amendment was dressed up in fine new clothes for the emperor (the amendment) and all the fine children noted that the emperor had no clothes and that the amendment was really about sex.  Each person voted on that basis, even this not so foolish Don Quixote.  It is my suspicion that an amendment to simply delete the current G-6.0106b would have passed this year.
All of which is to say that the "broad middle of the church," despite the opinions of those on the left and the right is not so easily fooled.  The whole denomination in both 1997 and 2011 knew what Amendment A (same letter both times!) knew what was at stake.  The amendments passed in 1997 and 2011 because both the denomination and the culture had changed.
And so I go back to tilting at windmills.  I hope that future amendments (which will not be about sex between persons of the same sex) will not be sent to the presbyteries by future General Assemblies with some idea that presbyters can and will be fooled.  Those who attend presbytery meetings are a rather canny bunch.  Let's just tell the truth and let the votes fall where they may.  Here I go, galloping toward that windmill.
Oh, and congratulations to those who have voted for and will vote for amendment 10-A.  To those who voted or will vote in opposition I say that Jesus is a tough guy and so is His Body.  The Church will endure, particularly if we stick together on the essentials (there, I said it: this issue not an essential!)  And to those who voted or will vote in the affirmative, let's go forward together doing the work of Christ.  I hope some of you will join me in tilting at windmills.  There are others that I think we all can agree should be knocked flat.