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!