Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some thoughts about names of time and the sections of the Bible

One of the current struggles in Academia and in the Church is naming things and times in ways that don't upset anyone.  In some circles people use BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini that is year of our Lord) to talk about the time before the coming of Jesus and the time after the coming of Jesus.  This may make sense in Church circles.  After all in the Church we see Jesus as the center of the Biblical story and also as the center of history. 
Our big struggle is not in the Church but in society and particularly in academic conversation.  Scholars have come to recognize that insisting that everyone divide history according to the Christian calendar denies religious or other narratives of humans. 
We can't really expect Jews, Muslims, etc to divide history according to the Christian narrative.  In fact both Jews and Muslims when within their own communities measure history by other methods; Jews since the creation of the universe and Muslims from the time of Mohammed. 
So in the scholarly world and in some other circles time is measured by the abbreviations BCE (before the Common Era) and CE (the Common Era).  All seem  to accept that BCE and BC still refer to the Christian measure of time but have agreed to ignore that and use terms that do not directly refer to Christian measurement of time.  There are curmudgeons that insist we retain BC and AD but BCE and CE are accepted in the majority of the scholarly community.  And I think outside the Church we should use the newer terms.  We can't expect the whole world to name time according to our beliefs.
Of more controversy is what to name the first and the second parts of the Bible.  Christian tradition has used a couple of curious titles: Old Testament and New Testament.  These titles are rejected by more and more scholars and curiously by more and more pastors and other Christian leaders.  The most popular replacements at this point seem to be "Hebrew Scriptures" and "Christian Scriptures."  As I have thought about this recently I have come to the conclusion that neither the old method nor the new method is acceptable.
I find the old names to be unacceptable mainly from a Calvinist perspective.  The following definitions of "testament" come from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a archaic: a covenant between God and the human race
b capitalized: either of two main divisions of the Bible
a: a tangible proof or tribute
b: an expression of conviction: creed
a: an act by which a person determines the disposition of his or her property after death.[1]
I think we can eliminate 2 and 3 for the purpose of this essay.  We are left with 1 a and b.  B simply describes the names.  A, I think, is the proper definition and is the core of the problem.  Calvinists have believed since there were Calvinists that there is one covenant between God and humanity.  Some will say that there are two covenants, the one between God and Adam and Eve (a covenant of works) and the covenant that follows the sin of Adam and Eve (a covenant of grace).  Putting that theological disagreement aside I think Calvinists can agree that at least since the sin of Adam and Eve there is only one covenant. 
There is of course the not so small problem of the series of covenants in the Old Testament (hold on, we haven't gotten to my suggestion for a better way to name the two parts of the Bible).  There are covenants between God and Noah, Abraham, the Israelites at Mount Sinai and David.  We also see references to a new covenant between God and Israel in Jeremiah 31.  There is also the clear statement in the New Testament that Jesus brings and makes a new covenant between God and the people of Israel but also all who put their faith in God through Jesus.  There are references to the new covenant not only in the passages about the Lord's Supper but also in other places (particularly in Hebrews) that make a distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant suggesting that the new covenant is better than the old covenant.  The question at hand is does the new covenant replace the old covenant?
Calvinists have said throughout history that all the covenants from Noah down through Jesus are part of God's covenant of grace.  Thus the new covenant in Jesus is an extension – and a very important extension – of the covenant of grace that is the story of God's loving pursuit of sinful humanity.  To speak of a new covenant smacks of supersessionism, that God's covenant with Christians through Jesus replaces God's covenant with Israel. 
There is a further problem with the titles Old Testament (or covenant) and New Testament (or covenant).  The very titles suggest a radical division between the Scripture from Genesis to Malachi and Matthew to Revelation.   If there is a new covenant does that covenant replace the old covenant?  If there is a new covenant does that make the Scripture of the old covenant no longer relevant?  NO!  The Scripture of what is called the New Testament builds on that of the New Testament.  There can be no real separation between the Scripture in this sense.  We do not reject the earlier Scripture because of the coming of Jesus.
The most common new way of naming the two parts of the Bible has this same problem and others.  The new names are Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures.  One is picky but then I am a picky person.  Parts of Scripture in the section from Genesis to Malachi are not in Hebrew.  They are in Aramaic.  So while it is mostly Hebrew calling it Hebrew Scripture is not exactly accurate. 
Further if the term "Hebrew Scripture is meant to refer to the Scripture of the Hebrew people as over against the Scripture of Christians we have the same problem we have with Old Testament and New Testament.  The section of Scripture from Matthew to Revelation is not the full content of Christian Scripture.  Christians believe that the section from Genesis to Malachi is also Scripture and fought for centuries against those who would exclude that section of Scripture for a variety of reasons. 
The main group that rejected the first section of Scripture was the Gnostics, or at least some of them.  "Gnostics" is a complicated term that refers to a lot of different groups.  Most of them rejected the first section of Scripture insisting that the God of that first section of Scripture is a different God than that of the second section of Scripture – or at least those parts of that second section they accepted along with other documents.  They considered the God of the first section of Scripture to be evil and the God of the parts of the second section and the other documents they accepted as Scripture to be the greater and good God. 
So we cannot make a division between the first and second second sections of Scripture.  To do so is to commit not only an error but a form of heresy.  While we can say there is a distinction between them there can be no separation between the two sections of Scripture.
Nevertheless for the sake of our Jewish brothers and sisters (and for Christian reasons as well) we need to make a distinction between the first section of Scripture that they accept as Scripture and the second section of Scripture that Christians accept along with the first section.  I therefore suggest different terms altogether.  Jews call what they would call the three parts of their Scripture, (Torah or Law, Nevi’im or Prophets and Kethuvim or Writings), the Tanach which translated actually means Bible.  Thus we can call the first section the Tanach – the Hebrew word for Bible and the second section Additional Christian Scriptures.  This would allow us to recognize that Jews believe only the first section of what Christians claim is Scripture as Scripture and that Christians recognize both the first section (from a Christian perspective) as Christian Scripture and the Additional Christian Scriptures as also a part of Scripture.
Of course there is also the text of the Moslem Scripture – the Quran. Muslims believe that the Tanach and the Additional Christian Scriptures are corrupted.  And there are also the various Scriptures (although I am not certain that Scripture is the correct word) of various other religions like the various types of Hinduism and Buddhism but since Christians have used "Old Testament" and "New Testament" and scholars and some Christians have changed that to Hebrew and Christian Scriptures I think we can limit the new titles I have given to refer to the Tanach and the Additional Christian Scripture.
Of course I recognize that neither those who use the old terms nor those who use the new terms are going to listen to me.  This is merely a suggestion that from both Jewish and Christian perspectives there is better way to name the two sections of what Christians would accept as Scripture.
Have at me all who like or dislike my suggested titles!

[1] http://mw1.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/testament

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I've watched the yearly culture wars about what to say to people during the month of December, and particularly about what store clerks ought to say to customers.  I have recently come to the conclusion that Christians seeking to celebrate the birth of Jesus have no horse in this race. 
What caused me to come to this conclusion was the refusal of a senator from Oklahoma to participate in a Christmas parade because the Mayor had changed the name of the parade to something like "Holiday Parade."  I got to thinking about Christmas parades and what and who are usually in the parades.  Maybe there is a small chance that some church put a manger scene in the parade.  I suspect most of the floats, bands and people are unspecific advertisements for shopping, fat men in red suits and strange references to winter. 
So what does all this say about the birth of Jesus?  Nothing.  Why should I care what a sales clerk says to me when I buy something at Wal-Mart during the month of December?  "Have a nice day" is sufficient for the rest of the year.  Happy Holidays is nice as it makes a reference to three different celebrations but what about all the other religious groups that don't celebrate anything in December or non religious folk?  Besides I think the real message in the store is "It's time to buy presents so come back and spend some more money."  Which, unfortunately, has come to be the real meaning of Christmas. 
Yet there is this massive yearly battle over whether sales clerks should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."  Now if I happen to know the sales clerk and know that s/he actually believes in Jesus a Merry Christmas would be nice, although I'm not quite sure what "Merry" has to do with the birth of the Savior of the world.  Most of the time, given where I live I have never met the sales clerk before and have no idea why s/he would say "Merry Christmas" to me.  So why should Christians care what a sales clerk says to them during December?
I think the real issues are power and tradition.  Some seem to think if one does not say "Merry Christmas" the myth of Christian America is being threatened by secular humanists.  They think they are losing power.  Worse, those people from other religious traditions are getting uppity and want some validation for their faith.  So refusing to say Merry Christmas ultimately will destroy America and the people who are for free sex, drug use and allowing immigrants into the country will turn America into some kind of land of Satan (which is what the Iranians have been saying for years!).
Those of us in the Reformed tradition who remember our history know that for centuries Presbyterians didn't celebrate Christmas.  We also didn't celebrate Easter, have crosses or stained glass windows in our places of worship, use musical instruments during worship or sing anything but psalms during worship but that is the subject of another blog.  Presbyterians didn't celebrate Christmas partly because it was "Romanish" (meaning the Catholics did it so we shouldn't) but mainly because the celebration of Christmas in England had become a time to get drunk, dance, and generally carry on.  Presbyterians didn't believe in carrying on.  It wasn't that Presbyterians didn't have fun it was rather that they wanted to have holy fun.  Wearing sexy clothes, puking after drinking too much and dancing into the wee hours of the morning just didn't seem very Christian to them.  So they didn't celebrate Christmas.
Then the Queen of England, Victoria, got married to this Elector or something from Germany and brought the German tradition of Christmas trees to England.  Songs about Yule logs came back into fashion as did St. Nicholas (now renamed Santa Claus because of a rather poor poem) who no longer left food and gifts for poor Children.  He left big presents for all good children.  But Yule logs came from Norse celebrations and evergreen trees from pre Christian German religions (probably some form of Druidic belief). 
The modern version of Christmas (at least the shopping version) began sometime in the last 50 or 60 years.  Before that kids in most families got new socks, maybe some new clothes if they had outgrown the old clothes, an orange and one toy.  Rich folk went for the big spending.  Santa Claus became omniscient and kept a list like the Book of Life from Revelation.  In America more people had more money and the middle class started buying more and more toys for the children.  And good old scientific research enabled toy companies to move from talking dolls to Wiis.
To top all this off some now believe it necessary to get the most popular toy for their child (or for themselves) so people sit outside of stores starting at 2:00 AM on the day after Thanksgiving in order to they can buy that particular toy.  Early in the morning on Black Friday the doors to the stores open, the crowds rush in, (injuring or killing the poor underpaid employee who had the bad luck to be assigned the task of opening the door) and fight with other customers for that particular toy (thus the last part of my title).  Christmas has become a celebration of that most important of American dreams, the increase of the Gross Domestic Product.
What does all this have to do with Jesus?  Nothing, as far as I can tell.  Finding some way to celebrate the birth of the second person of the Trinity as a human being (and the not so subtle message that God physically stands with the poor) I think is necessary.  But somewhere in all of this we need to make a separation between the traditions borrowed from other religions and cultures, the secular celebration of economic growth and the primary idolatry in America that having more makes one better.
I suggest that we go back to giving presents that meet real human needs along with one toy.  That does mean that the yearly tie or sweater has to go.  I suspect most Americans have many more articles of clothing than they actually need.  No, one toy and a gift the Heifer Project or some equally worthy cause is the way to go. 
And outside of that?  Worship and service to others on Christmas day.  If God served us by sending his Son shouldn't we follow the model and serve others?
In any case I think the argument about what to say to people in December has to end.  Except about cursing out the person who go the last toy that you wanted on Black Friday.  I suggest we don't shop on Black Friday at all and that those who feel they must learn to be polite and kind.  That would be a big and pleasant change in the language of December.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


My friend John Shuck has blogged about Peak Oil quite a bit over the past few months. I discovered yesterday that it pays to ignore the issue in the short term.

My sister invited us to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. We live in Philadelphia and she lives in Northern Virginia. I looked into public transportation, admittedly because I didn't feel like driving four hours each way. I discovered that those who use public transportation between cities are punished.

Here in the Northeast Corridor Amtrak has many trains. One leaves Philadelphia and Washington about every hour each day. It would take less time to go from my house to my sister's on the train and I could sleep or read on the way. The problem is that there is a significant cost to using Amtrak. Given the distance and the miles per gallon that my trusty eleven year old Jeep achieves it will cost about $75.00 for the gas to drive round trip. If we take Amtrak it will cost almost $350.00. And that's just for my wife and me. We simply cannot afford to save energy and take the train.

I also checked flying and discovered it would us cost a twice as much to fly than it would to take the train.  And to fly from Philadelphia to Washington almost every airline requires that one fly to Atlanta from Philadelphia and then to Washington. Talk about a waste of fossil fuels!  Further, we could fly to California and celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents for the same price! There are nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Washington.  They cost over $900.00 per person.  And yes, I check Greyhound.  You can't get there from here.

Since the U.S. government owns Amtrak it could supplement public transportation. It chooses not to do so. Frankly it pays to drive. There has been some talk about placing a significant tax on gasoline and using the moneys from that tax to fund public transportation. The tax, the argument goes, would encourage people to use public transportation. The problem with this idea is that it places a significant burden on the poor. As people seek (if they do so) to buy more fuel efficient cars or even to move to electric cars those who cannot afford new cars will be stuck with their old gas guzzlers as the price of gasoline rises. And in many parts of America there simply is no adequate public transportation. Once you get out of the cities (and frankly some cities have very poor public transportation) there is no way to get from one place to another without driving.

The sad thing about all of this is that as recently as the mid 1940s there was a fairly adequate public transportation system between cities and within cities in America. As the American love of cars grew and those who could moved to the suburbs the infrastructure of public transportation was allowed to decay in many cities and between cities.

We who live in Philadelphia are fortunate. Public transportation may take more time and frankly costs more unless you are driving downtown and have to pay for parking but you can get just about anywhere in Philadelphia by train, bus or trolley. This is simply no longer true in too many cities and is practically non existent or costs way too much between cities.

So I learned yesterday that the Federal government wants me to drive instead of taking public transportation between my house and my sister's. And that is a tragedy.

A small correction thanks to Jim Loomis:

"Small detail: The government does not own Amtrak. It's a private corporation that is subsidized by the government."

Jim and I agree that Amtrak is not subsidized enough.  I would add a couple things:

1. That rider load does affect price: the less riders the less effective rail travel is as a cost of fuel; and
2. That routes have been cut so that less interuban rail is available.  THERE IS NO MORE BROADWAY LIMITED!  That means to take the train from NYC to Chicago you now have to go either to Pittsburgh or D.C. and wait for another train to get to Chicago.  One more incentive to NOT take the train.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Way back, Way, way back in the early 70’s I smoked marijuana. And unlike a certain former president, I inhaled. Yeah, right, like he was telling the truth about that! Frankly I respect our current president more for telling the truth about his drug use. I didn’t do it very much and quit pretty fast because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. Probably has something to do with having bipolar disorder. I haven’t used the stuff since 1972. I didn’t drink for a long time either for the same reason. I shouldn’t drink at all.

I write this particular blog because of the war against drugs. In the war against drugs we have lost. Worse our war against drugs is not honest. The plants from which the drugs are made would not be grown, at least in such quantities in South America, South and Central Asia and in US National Forests if it wasn’t for the fact that there is a market out there. We have blamed on and caused problems in the countries that grow the drugs when the real problem is the users. We have a percentage of users that desperately need rehab. We have another (higher I think) percentage of users that are recreational users. They buy the drugs that the suppliers sell. If no one used the drugs there would be no market for them and there would be no poppy growers, coca growers, marijuana growers etc at least none selling their products in the US. AND the drug wars in Mexico would at least be smaller. Users in America are the reason for the drug wars in Mexico. Sale of guns from America to Mexico to drug gangs is the reason for the drug wars in Mexico. And the US government contributes to the problem. The US has exported the war on drugs to Mexico and the Mexican people are paying the price.

I’m not going to talk about various forms of cocaine, opiates or amphetamines. These can be terribly dangerous drugs. But we do need to talk about marijuana. Whatever you call it, dope, weed, herb, buds people use marijuana. Its use goes back a long way. We get the word assassin from the use of hashish to get killers in the mood to kill someone. That goes back at least to the 1200s.

There are two core questions: is marijuana worse than alcohol? Studies say probably not. You shouldn’t drive while high and it does a number on your lungs and leaves chemicals in your brain synapses but it is no more addicting than alcohol.

The other is why do we try to enforce and unenforceable law? Ever since the US government made it illegal to use marijuana in any way the law has been unenforceable. There is too much out there. And frankly buying and using illegal marijuana is worse for you than legal marijuana would be. You can’t know what’s in there from weed cut with another drug to herbicides sprayed by the government.

So what should be done? Make it legal and sell it in stores that sell alcohol. Make sure no one under 21 can buy it and try to prevent teens from buying it (and fail) just like we do with alcohol. Make the seller have a license to sell. There could even be levels for taste and strength like there is with alcohol. On top of that tax the hell out of it like various governments do on alcohol and cigarettes. And make sure that the growers have to uphold stringent rules that make the product pure, like the growers of chickens and eggs are supposed to do. Make it a moral issue rather than a legal issue. Then concentrate on the drugs that do real harm.

Is marijuana good for you? Nope. Neither are alcohol, cigarettes and eating regularly at fast food restaurants or even great restaurants that slowly kill people with fat. Christians should see the use of all these things as a moral issue.

There are a lot of things out there that are bad for you and can cause an addiction, not necessarily a physical addiction but an addiction that causes certain brain chemicals to be released. Obesity is a bigger problem than using marijuana. Gambling is not good for the addicted because of those brain chemicals. So is sex for the sex addict. Are we going to ban McDonalds, gambling, sex, alcohol, glue, cigarettes, etc, etc? And if we try will it work?

So let’s get out of the business of trying to enforce laws at least against marijuana. Unenforceable laws are bad for the public because they contribute to disobedience against other, more important laws.

Let’s try something that makes sense.

Boy is this one going to get me in trouble!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I want to go back to Israel! And I want to take a trip and spend it all with Palestinians. That confuses the heck out of people I know. Why do I have to chose sides? I want the best for everyone who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

GAs, GAPJCs and AIs

This past summer the 219th General Assembly considered an overture that sought a General Assembly Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution that said the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission could not make Authoritative Interpretations of the Constitution.  Only the General Assembly could do so.  The General Assembly voted it down. 

There is a certain irony about the General Assembly seeking to make an Authoritative Interpretation about Authoritative Interpretations but that isn’t the intent of this blog.  I’m wondering how much the General Assembly knew about the history of disciplinary decisions that reached the top governing body or its Permanent Judicial Commission.  Just so I don’t have to type as many letters, General Assembly will be GA, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission will be the GAPJC and Authoritative Interpretations will be AIs.  And before anyone jumps up and down saying I don’t know everything:

1.    I didn’t research this so I’m going from memory; and
2.    This will be a history that follows the Northern branch of the Church.

It looks like there was a time when there weren’t PJCs.  Back in the day the GA at the very least became a court when it made judicial decisions.  We can hear this in old references to governing bodies as courts of the church.  Then of course they became judicatories (hear the word judicial in there?) then governing bodies and if the new Form of Government passes they will be councils.  I hope I can remember the change if it passes.  I still have trouble calling the Committee on Preparation for Ministry by its name instead of Candidates Committee and I’ve had since 1983 to make the change.

ANYWAY you can read in the Session minutes of any congregation that was established before 1875 records of trials held by the Session.  And in fact the Book of Order still says the Session tries cases related to members of the congregation, elders and deacons.  Those found guilty of offenses could always appeal the decisions to the presbytery.  And here is where things change.

For a long time presbyteries, synods and GAs would become courts and hear judicial matters when necessary.  There were no PJCs.  You can find an example back in the mid 1830s when a case from Philadelphia Presbytery came before the GA.  The Presbytery had refused membership to a pastor from New Jersey because the members didn’t like his theology.  The GA became a court for the time it spent considering the matter and then overturned the Presbytery’s decision.  This, by the way, was one of the factors in the Old School/New School split back in 1938.  (And did you know that the two sides went to civil court both claiming the name “Presbyterian Church in the USA?”)

I’m not sure when PJCs were established.  My guess is that at some point courts of the church got too busy and decided to turn over judicial cases over to PJCs.  But for a long time the GAPJC’s decisions weren’t permanent until the GA approved them. 
I’m not sure when the GA stopped making decisions on the GAPJC’s decisions.  My guess is it was back in 1983 when a new Book of Order joined the polity of the Northern and Southern branches of the church.  Whether it was a southern tradition is beyond my knowledge.

So what I find curious about the AI that would have said that GAPJC AIs were not AIs is that was we always did things before 1983.  It would have been less confusing. 

Weird, huh?

Anyone who knows more about the history of the Book of Order is invited to write a more complete blog on the subject with quotes from past Books or Order and footnotes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Last year the Supreme Court decided that the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Law was unconstitutional because it violated a portion of the first amendment to the constitution: the right to free speech.  A few days ago Target used its “right to free speech to give one politician millions of dollars.

I freely admit I am not a legal scholar and am not and never will be a candidate for the Supreme Court, thank God. Neither am I rich.  All of which disturbs me when we talk about campaign contributions and free speech.

It has seemed to me for some years now that those who have money or control media corporations have a larger amount of freedom when it comes to speech.  This doesn’t mean I can’t and don’t have my say.  Just ask anyone in Philadelphia Presbytery.   But if freedom of speech is measured in part by the ability to have large groups of people hear what I have to say I’m not even in the running.

There are two ways money buys more free speech for some than for others.  The first is simply buying stock.  If you have enough money or enough money and friends who have money you can make sure that everyone hears your perspective.  Rupert Murdoch gets his opinions, through the voices of others, heard around the world by owning Fox Network and a bunch of newspapers.  Others argue, and I think with some justification that what used to be the mainline TV news stations had and have a decidedly more liberal bent.  But perspective is beside the point.  Money equals the ability to get your views and perspectives heard by more people, that is if you put your money into media: newspapers, radio stations, TV networks and now news slots on the internet.  Who decides which stories are important enough to put on my Yahoo page? 

So buy a lot of stock and you can decide what is really news.  But buy a candidate and you get to help make decisions that shape laws.  Campaign finance laws sought to limit the amount any individual, union or corporation could give to a particular candidate.  Of course there were ways around this.  You didn’t have to give to the candidate all you had to do was form a political action committee.  After all George W. Bush didn’t pay for all those ads about John Kerry and his career in swift boats in Vietnam.  Did someone lie about his bravery over there?  Ya got me.  But we can all be very sure that he road in small boats along with other brave men who fought in a dangerous place.  Meanwhile what no one managed to say loud enough, Bush was busy playing with National Guard fighter jets.

But now you or your organization can give all you want to a particular candidate.  You can in effect buy the candidate.  Anyone who thinks that large campaign contributions don’t affect the candidate who received them has forgotten how easy it is to corrupt humans.

So the second way to get lots of free speech is to buy a candidate.  Then you don’t actually have to say anything to the whole world.  You just remind the politician who got her there and who will make sure she wins again if she does what you want. 

So the Supreme Court says that free speech is up for sale.  Wonderful.  Thus is made a new American dream.  Now you don’t have to grow up to be president.  You only have to buy one of your very own.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I live about two miles from the border of the city of Philadelphia.  This has both good effects and bad.  If I want to go to the ballet, the art museum or the latest musical I can get there in less than half an hour on public transportation.  It also brings some of the best hospitals in the nation within reach for treatment.  The latter became important when I received some serious injuries a couple years ago and was in a fantastic trauma unit.

And then there are the negatives.  The traffic into and from Philadelphia affects traffic here.  Violence hasn't really arrived from Philly but it right at the edges of town.  And the poverty in the nearby section of Philly spills over.

But tonight I celebrate the fact that I don't live in Philly, even with all its benefits.  In the Washington Post today there was an article that says Philadelphia has begun to demand that bloggers get business licenses to the tune of $300.00 and pay tax on any money they make.  I immediately thought: a. I am very glad I live outside of Philly and b. you can make money by blogging without doing it for some corporation?  Who knew?  One poor person was told to get a business license and to pay taxes on the $11.00 he made over the past two years! 

Granted Philadelphia like many cities and states has some serious financial problems.  With the recession/depression tax income has gone down and the city has two choices: cut programs or raise taxes.  Of course if the city raises taxes more businesses will move to the suburbs ultimately sending the city deficit higher.  And the problem is so great that the city has terrible choices.  Should it cut police and fire personnel or close libraries and pools?  Or will it have to do both? 

But a tax on blogging?  It's not like most of us bloggers work for newspapers, magazines, or televisions stations or networks.  Most of us are individuals who shoot off our big mouths on the internet just like we would on the telephone or the public street.  A lot of us talk about important issues, or at least what we think are important issues.  And we have the joy of carrying on long distance conversations/arguments with other bloggers around the nation and world.

I suppose it would be impossible to tax people talking on the public street or gossiping on their phones (now there is a good idea: tax gossip, another sin tax!) .  Or maybe not Big Brother is always watching, in parking lots, businesses and even at traffic lights.  Big brother could just as easily listen, at least on telephones. 

So bloggers let us hope and pray that states and the feds and other cities do not jump to follow Philadelphia's lead.  Blog tax would be just as chilling on free speech as Google's suggestion that they keep an eye on who goes where, does what and says what on the internet. 

In the meantime it is very nice to live two miles outside the Philadelphia city limits. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


We Americans all come from someplace else. One could argue that Native Americans didn’t immigrate but the evidence suggests that even the ancestors of Native Americans came from somewhere else. Whether they got here by walking or by boat is a current controversy. There are these bones down in South America that shouldn't be there.  If we go back to some ancestor that can be identified as THE ancestor (at least one that we can find in the fossil record) we all have to say our ancestors came from Africa. Strangely enough here in America that has political connotations.

In any case my father’s people came from Scotland by way of Northern Ireland and from England. (I don’t think they intermarried until they were here in America otherwise the Scots would have refused to marry the English and vice versa.) My mother’s people came from Germany (no not Pennsylvania Dutch, a religious distinction, but all the same from Germany) and England (Pilgrims and Puritans, so what, right?) My great aunts always wanted me to join the Mayflower Society and/or the Sons of the American Revolution. I’ve always figured I wasn’t there so I'm not going to take the blame or the credit. I did join the Saint Andrew's Society (descendants of Scots) but that was mainly so I have an excuse to wear a skirt and various implements of destruction.  They also wanted my wife to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and this is where things get complicated.

It seems that whether any of your direct ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock or fought in the American Revolution you can join the Mayflower Society and/or Sons or Daughters of the Revolution if you marry someone who’s direct ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock or fought in the American Revolution. So my lovely wife could, if she chose to, become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But her father came to these shores just after the First World War as a first generation immigrant from Italy. She is half Italian. Can you imagine what all those Pilgrims and Puritans would think of that? The first word that would come to their minds would be “Romanish.” The second word would be “stocks” as in locked up in one of those things that you put your head and hands into and people get to throw rotten vegetables at you all day.

Curiously it is the other side of her family that makes her a true blue American. On her mother’s side of the family her ancestors have been in America since the 1700’s. In Maryland. Jews. That’s right she has Jewish relatives that go back to before the Revolution and may have fought in the Revolution! (The rustling noise you hear is those Pilgrims and Puritans spinning in their graves again.)  I haven’t heard of Jews being accepted into the Daughters of the American Revolution but my wife doesn’t want to join whether it’s because she is married to me (no great honor) or because some ancestor fought against the British.

Another curiosity is that white Americans assume that their relatives have been here in America longer than, let us say, “those of color.” For some reason if you have East or South Asian features white folk assume that you are just off the boat. This used to and may still infuriate a friend of mine. Her relatives had been here time out of mind but white Americans kept coming up to her and asking, “When did you come to America?” She gave them both barrels “My Great Great Grandfather was a missionary in San Francisco in the late 1800’s! When did YOU get here?"  And if you are a Sikh from India the uneducated among us may throw stones at you because they can't tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim!

Worse, particularly in the Southwest are the problems of Americans of Hispanic and Native American descent. In Arizona you better have your passport with you these days or they may just throw you over the border even if your relatives have been here for a couple thousand years! And good luck getting a passport in Arizona if you look like you are Hispanic!  (I had a curious conversation with a legal immigrant from Mexico yesterday about how she could get passports for her daughters who were born here and are American citizens!  We were afraid birth certificates wouldn't be enough.  She is afraid that if she takes her children down to visit their grandparents they won't be allowed back in!)

Alas, there are those whose ancestors never chose to come here. Their ancestors were captured by their neighbors, sold to white folks and arrived here by ship. Some could even be in the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution!  (I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.  Just ask Thomas Jefferson's black descendants.)  And while it is true that many more Africans went to Brazil and the Caribbean as slaves than to what became the United States that doesn’t excuse what British and American slavers did. As Malcolm X said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!” And alas African Americans have always been forced to the back of the line, right in front of the Native Americans.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a better way to end this little essay than this: let’s get some latkes, some collard greens, some cous cous, a pizza, some curry, some Peking Duck, enchiladas, apple pie and if I forgot the food your grandmother made be sure to bring it (and some antacids) and sit down to dinner. If nothing else we can eat together.

Oh, and since God created all of us we are all relatives ya’ll come to the next reunion yes? It occurs right here at Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church next Sunday. Be prepared to enjoy the fried plantain cooked by our recently arrived African Immigrant brothers and sisters!