According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Upshot - Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?

From The Upshot...

Green means life is good and orange means not so good according to a collection of data points by The Upshot.

If you live in the Midwest, or on either coast, or even in parts of Texas and Florida you may be better off than the rest of the country.

See what you think and then ask why?

Are there more opportunities for reform in government, education, the labor market, earth-care, and transportation?

Do they work well together in open communities that communicate well with one another?

Has weather been a contributing factor to these areas? If not, then why?

Have the green population areas worked harder at assimilating disparate people-groups and cultures to achieve this success? Are they less boundary-oriented?

Are the green areas more open-minded, less traditional, more progressive?

As you can tell from the data points below the sociological interpretation of the map of America to these and other questions remains silent.

Nonetheless, they are intriguing questions to ask of communities re how they tick and what makes them tick so successfully.

R.E. Slater
September 30, 2014
* * * * * * * * * * * *


A composite ranking of where Americans are healthy and wealthy, or struggling.
Interactive Map link

June 26, 2014

Annie Lowrey writes in the Times Magazine this week about the troubles of Clay County, Ky., which by several measures is the hardest place in America to live.

The Upshot came to this conclusion by looking at six data points for each county in the United States:  education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity. We then averaged each county’s relative rank in these categories to create an overall ranking.

(We tried to include other factors, including income mobility and measures of environmental quality, but we were not able to find data sets covering all counties in the United States.)

The 10 lowest counties in the country, by this ranking, include a cluster of six in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky (Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin), along with four others in various parts of the rural South: Humphreys County, Miss.; East Carroll Parish, La.; Jefferson County, Ga.; and Lee County, Ark.

SLIDE SHOW|12 Photos: The Hardest Place to Live in AmericaCredit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

We used disability — the percentage of the population collecting federal disability benefits but not also collecting Social Security retirement benefits — as a proxy for the number of working-age people who don’t have jobs but are not counted as unemployed. Appalachian Kentucky scores especially badly on this count; in four counties in the region, more than 10 percent of the total population is on disability, a phenomenon seen nowhere else except nearby McDowell County, W.Va.

Remove disability from the equation, though, and eastern Kentucky would still fare badly in the overall rankings. The same is true for most of the other six factors.

The exception is education. If you exclude educational attainment, or lack of it, in measuring disadvantage, five counties in Mississippi and one in Louisiana rank lower than anywhere in Kentucky. This suggests that while more people in the lower Mississippi River basin have a college degree than do their counterparts in Appalachian Kentucky, that education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being.

As Ms. Lowrey writes, this combination of problems is an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon. Not a single major urban county ranks in the bottom 20 percent or so on this scale, and when you do get to one — Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit — there are some significant differences. While Wayne County’s unemployment rate (11.7 percent) is almost as high as Clay County’s, and its life expectancy (75.1 years) and obesity rate (41.3 percent) are also similar, almost three times as many residents (20.8 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income ($41,504) is almost twice as high.

Wayne County may not make for the best comparison — in addition to Detroit, it includes the Grosse Pointes and some other wealthy suburbs that could be pulling its rankings up. But St. Louis, another struggling city, stands alone as a jurisdiction for statistical purposes and ranks even higher over all, slightly, with better education and lower unemployment making up for a median household income ($34,384) that is lower than Wayne County’s but still quite a bit higher than Clay County’s $22,296.

At the other end of the scale, the different variations on our formula consistently yielded the same result. Six of the top 10 counties in the United States are in the suburbs of Washington (especially on the Virginia side of the Potomac River), but the top ranking of all goes to Los Alamos County, N.M., home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which does much of the scientific work underpinning the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The lab directly employs one out of every five county residents and has a budget of $2.1 billion; only a fraction of that is spent within the county, but that’s still an enormous economic engine for a county of just 18,000 people.

Here are some specific comparisons: Only 7.4 percent of Clay County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 63.2 percent do in Los Alamos. The median household income in Los Alamos County is $106,426, almost five times what the median Clay County household earns. In Clay County, 12.7 percent of residents are unemployed, and 11.7 percent are on disability; the corresponding figures in Los Alamos County are 3.5 percent and 0.3 percent. Los Alamos County’s obesity rate is 22.8 percent, while Clay County’s is 45.5 percent. And Los Alamos County residents live 11 years longer, on average — 82.4 years vs. 71.4 years in Clay County.

Clay and Los Alamos Counties are part of the same country. But they are truly different worlds.


Four Teachings of Jesus That Everybody Gets Wrong



The Parables of Jesus by James Christenson


4 teachings from Jesus that everybody gets wrong
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/09/21/four-teachings-from-jesus-that-everybody-gets-wrong/?sr=fb092114jesusteachings7pstorylink

by Amy-Jill Levine, special to CNN
September 21, 2014

(CNN) – It was once said, “religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

Jesus’ parables – short stories with moral lessons – were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.

These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners – first century Jews in Galilee and Judea – heard much more challenging messages.

Only when we hear the parables as Jesus’ own audience did can we fully experience their power and find ourselves surprised and challenged today.

Here are four examples of Jesus’ teachings that everybody gets wrong:


Return of the Prodigal Son to the Father


1. The 'Parable of the Prodigal Son'

This parable is usually seen as a story of how our “Father in heaven” loves us regardless of how despicable our actions. This is a lovely message, and I would not want to dismiss it.

It is not, however, what first-century Jews would have heard. Jesus’ Jewish audience already knew that their “Father in heaven” was loving, forgiving, and compassionate.

It is Luke who sets up a message of repenting and forgiving. Luke prefaces our parable with two shorter ones: the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.

The evangelist concludes them with, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

But is this really what the parables are about? Jesus was not talking about ovine sin or coinage cupidity; sheep don’t feel guilty and coins don’t repent.

Moreover, the man loses the sheep; the woman loses her coin. But God does not “lose us.”

The first two parables are not about repenting and forgiving. They are about counting: The shepherd noticed one sheep missing out of 100, and the woman noticed one coin missing from 10.

And they searched, found, rejoiced, and celebrated. In doing so, they set up the third parable. The Prodigal Son story begins: “There was a man who had two sons … ”

If we focus on the one prodigal son, we mishear the opening. Every biblically literate Jew would know that if there are two sons, go with the younger: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh.

But parables never go the way we want. We cannot identify with junior, who “squandered all he had in dissolute living.”

Next, if we see the father as surprising when he welcomes junior home, we mishear again. Dad is simply delighted that junior has returned: He rejoices and throws a party. If we stop here, we’ve failed to count.

The older brother – remember him? – hears music and dancing. Dad had enough time to hire the band and the caterer, but he never searched for his older son. He had two sons, and he didn’t count.

Our parable is less about forgiving and more about counting, and making sure everyone counts. Whom have we lost? If we don’t count, it may be too late.


The 'Good Samaritan' by David Teniers the younger after Francesco Bassano.


2. The 'Parable of the Good Samaritan'

Our usual understanding of this famous story goes astray in several ways. Here are two.

First, readers presume that a priest and Levite bypass the wounded man because they are attempting to avoid becoming “unclean.” Nonsense.

All this interpretation does is make Jewish Law look bad. The priest is not going up to Jerusalem where purity would be a concern – he is “going down” to Jericho.

No law prevents Levites from touching corpses, and there are numerous other reasons why ritual purity is not relevant here.

Jesus mentions priest and Levite because they set up a third category: Israelite. To mention the first two is to invoke the third.

If I say, “Larry, Moe …” you will say “Curly.” However, to go from priest to Levite to Samaritan is like going from Larry to Moe to Osama bin Laden.

That analogy leads us to the second misreading.

The parable is often seen as a story of how the oppressed minority – immigrants, gay people, people on parole – are “nice” and therefore we should check our prejudices.

Samaritans, then, were not the oppressed minority: They were the enemy. We know this not only from the historian Josephus, but also from Luke the evangelist.

Just one chapter before our parable, Jesus seeks lodging in a Samaritan village, but they refuse him hospitality.

Moreover, Samaria had another name: Shechem. At Shechem, Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped or seduced by the local prince. At Shechem, the murderous judge Abimelech is based.

We are the person in the ditch, and we see the Samaritan. Our first thought: “He’s going to rape me. He’s going to murder me.”

Then we realize: Our enemy may be the very person who will save us. Indeed, if we simply ask “where is Samaria today?” we can see the import of this parable for the Israeli/Palestinian crisis.


Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, c.1769
Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna


3. The 'Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard'

This parable tells the story of a series of workers who come in at different points of the day, but the owner pays them all the same amount.

The parable is sometimes read with an anti-Jewish lens, so that the first-hired are the “Jews” who resent the gentiles or the sinners entering into God’s vineyard. Nonsense again.

Jesus’ first listeners heard not a parable about salvation in the afterlife but about economics in present. They heard a lesson about how the employed must speak on behalf of those who lack a daily wage.

They also discovered a prompt for people with resources: Attend to those who do not have jobs, and make sure everyone has what is needed.

Jesus does not invent this idea of advocating for the unemployed and sharing resources. The same concerns occur in Jewish tradition from King David onward. But, unless we know the biblical and historical sources, again we will mishear the parable.


Domenico Fetti - The Parable of the Precious Pearl or The Pearl of Great Price


4. The 'Parable of the Pearl of Great Price'

This parable describes a man who sells everything in order to obtain his prized pearl. It is usually allegorized to tell us about the centrality of faith, or the church, or Jesus, or the Kingdom of Heaven. But commentators cannot conclude what the pearl represents.

Perhaps they are looking in the wrong place.

We don’t recognize the parable’s initial absurdity today – the merchant (a wholesaler who sells us what we don’t need at a price we cannot afford) sells everything he has for a pearl.

He can’t eat it, or sit on it; it will not cover much if it’s all he wears. But, he thinks this pearl will fulfill him.

What if the parable challenges us to determine our own pearl of great price? If we know our ultimate concern, we should be less acquisitive. We won’t sweat the small stuff.

More, we become better able to love our neighbors, because we will know what is most important to them.

Jesus’ short stories provoke us because they tell us what, somehow, we already know to be true, but don’t want to acknowledge.

I am not a Christian, but I hear profound messages in these parables. If I as an outsider can be so moved by Jesus’ stories, surely people who worship him as Lord and Savior can appreciate them even more.

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Amy-Jill Levine is the author of "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi," and a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. The views expressed in this column belong to Levine.