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Archive for the category “religion”

Whom To Leave Behind – a new version of the same old Lifeboat

This really belongs on Bob Hunt’s Thoughts and Prayers for the Faithful, but I’ll take a crack at this myself from the perspective of time.

On Google Plus, Joyce Donahue shared a Daily Kos story about a school district who used a questionable instructional exercise.

A middle school assignment asking children to play God and choose who gets to live or die—based solely on demographics—has parents demanding an explanation from a northeast Ohio school district this week. The earth is doomed for destruction, the worksheet reads, and only eight people (who are apparently all based in the United States, because ‘Merica) can fit on a spaceship bound for the safety of another planet—which means four must die. The paper then asks the students which eight they’d save, before coming to a group consensus on the final passenger list.

In “Whom To Leave Behind,” the participants are supposed to choose the lucky eight by weighing which of the following twelve people are most deserving to live, and which of them might as well die.

An accountant with a substance abuse problem
A militant African-American medical student
A 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English
The accountant’s pregnant wife
A famous novelist with a physical disability
A 21-year-old female who is a Muslim international student
A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality
A female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault
A racist, armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force
A homosexual male who is a professional athlete
An Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy
A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator

There is no right or wrong answer in such an exercise. The point is for the group to come to a consensus on a decision.

Daily Kos was horrified.

Honestly, whatever the intention may be, the impact of this assignment toes a very strange, and dangerous, line, especially in today’s Trumpian climate of blatant bigotry.


But those of you with a historical memory will realize that “Whom To Leave Behind” is nothing new. And it wasn’t always the evil right-wing fascists that were pushing such morally objectionable ideas. Back in the 1980s, the evangelical Christian community was upset about the game “Lifeboat,” which was obviously a plot by the evil left-wing Communist liberals to get more babies to be aborted or to get decrepit people to be euthanized. Provocative Christian musician Steve Taylor even wrote a song and released a video about it:

Taylor, who is probably the best satirist since Randy Newman, drove the point home by having a bunch of kids sing the song’s chorus:

Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rocking the boat

When Taylor released the video, I’m sure a lot of people were convinced that the wingnut Christians were making the whole thing up. But it’s easy enough to find examples of the Lifeboat exercise even today. Wonderful corporate team-building exercise…right?

But this is my favorite example – playing “Lifeboat” at a children’s hospital school where the participants may be facing death themselves. This version has a nice wrinkle in which the participants actually role play the people in the lifeboat. So, after the group makes its decision on whom to murder, the “game” ends as follows:

And then, most importantly, the person who is to be sacrificed has to be able to articulate why he or she was chosen, and in particular, the principle that was used to make that choice.

In other words, the kid has to say why he or she should die.

Regardless of the flavor of the game or the name given it, the emphasis on this wonderful ethics exercise is to value rank people, putting some below the line and determining that they do not deserve to live. But if you watch the Steve Taylor video, you’ll see that the kids come up with their own solution – one with which the Daily Kos writer would heartily agree.

They made the boat bigger so that EVERYONE could fit.

P.S. For those who followed my “provocative” link above and read about Steve Taylor’s song “I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,” I encourage you to read this other post, which not only touches on the song “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” but also on Taylor’s thoughts on Kurt Cobain.

Changes in donation collections

The types of folks who read Jim Ulvog’s Nonprofit Update have had to deal with some changes over the years.

Back when Jim (and I) were growing up, nonprofit organizations of all types could depend upon receiving funds from something called “spare change.” Kids would carry UNICEF boxes around. The Girl Scouts could count on you having a little bit of money to buy a box of cookies. And the offering plate could take a coin or a bill or two.

But even back in those days, we had to deal with Karl Malden urging us, “Don’t carry cash!”


Now the specific product that he was hawking – American Express Travelers Cheques – has (almost) gone the way of the dodo bird, but more and more of us are using the fantastic plastic (or the smartphone) to fund our purchases, and therefore might not have the spare change to give to the Girl Scouts or whoever.

PYMNTS recently talked about a company called DipJar that provides a solution to this. DipJar has been around for a while, though – TechCrunch wrote about it in 2014. While the idea originated as a way to pay tips to workers by deducting a predetermined amount from a credit card, the idea has extended to the nonprofit realm. PYMNTS:

[T]he payment solution has enabled many charities to accept credit cards, including the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, which uses DipJar in both a retail setting to collect money for themselves and to collect money at events, and the Salvation Army, which uses branded DipJars for various campaigns.

The reliance on a single donation amount contributes to ease of use. And while there are other solutions (such as SMS-based solutions) that allow the same thing, some people probably feel more comfortable using a physical card to make the donation.

The man of the future, re-visualized

Larry Rosenthal shared something, and as is his wont, he added a brief comment. In this case, his comment was “geekbot 3000.”

I have a slightly different view about the post that Rosenthal shared, a post from the Future and Cosmos blog entitled The Man of the Future Visualized. The author, M Mahin, took some time to gather up the latest thinking about how technology can enhance our bodies.

And before some of you complain that cyborg body enhancements should never be pursued, remember that we’ve been enhancing our bodies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For example, I wear glasses. Now my glasses may not handle Foursquare checkins, but they allow my body to do things that it could not otherwise do. To a point, I have no problem with enhancing my body to make it better.

To a point.

However, when deciding whether or not to implement a particular body enhancement, it is wise to look at both the advantages and the disadvantages of such a move. Now perhaps it was beyond M Mahin’s scope to analyze this, but it’s certainly something that you should do before you plunk down your six million dollars to buy the Cyborg belt and its accessories.

Let me look at two examples of body enhancements cited by Mahin. Here’s one of them:

The Cyborg Belt … serves as a monitor of all of the future man’s bodily functions. The future man does not have to go to a doctor for a physical examination to find out how his body is doing. He need merely look down at the vital signs display on his belt. If there is any medical problem such as high blood pressure, cancer, or high cholesterol, the vital signs indicator on the Cyborg Belt will alert the man with a flash of warning messages.

There’s only one thing that is not mentioned. Yes, the vital signs indicator will alert the man to medical issues. But others will be alerted also.

You can guarantee that if some entity is going to pay a lot of money to implant a medical monitoring system in your body, then at a very minimum all of the readings will go to your health insurance provider.

Why? Because your health provider will NEED this information to take care of you properly. After all, you are not the trained medical professional; your health insurance provider is.

And it’s also a near-guarantee that the readings will also go to your national medical governmental agency – in my country, the Department of Health and Human Services. Or perhaps to the Food and Drug Administration. Or perhaps to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Why? Because various government agencies are mandated by law to ensure that citizens take care of themselves properly. In past generations, governments could pass laws (or try to pass laws) to accomplish these goals – ending child labor, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, prohibiting the purchase or large sugared soft drinks. Now with a Cyborg Belt, government agencies will actually have the power to enforce these laws. Smoke that crack, eat that double cheeseburger…you WILL be corrected.

But that pales in comparison to one of the other body enhancements:

The orange arrow points to the future man’s Supercard. The Supercard is like an identification card, a credit card, a bank ATM card, and a passport, all rolled into one. The Supercard is embedded into the future man’s flesh, so there is no chance of him losing it. It is good that the future man cannot lose his Supercard, because if he lost it, it would be impossible for him to function in the complicated society in which he lives. Since every future citizen has his Supercard embedded into his flesh above his wrist, there is no danger of one person pretending to be another.

Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I am going to quote a passage from the Biblical book of Revelation – specifically, Revelation 13:16-17:

Also it [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Now I realize that many of my readers do not believe that this is a divinely inspired sentence, and that even those who do believe so have a number of interpretations of what these words actually mean.

So, bearing in mind that there are over six hundred and sixty views of the words above, what’s wrong with such a system?

A universal mandatory financial system such as this will only work if the governing body managing it is good. Now the Bible, of course, takes it as a given that this particular financial system is being run by someone who is VERY bad. And a non-Christian who happens to be a libertarian or an anarchist would also conclude that such a system is a recipe for disaster.

But even if you believe that one world government is a good thing, it is clear that such a system would need a huge number of built in safeguards to prevent abuse, since one little infiltration of the system could create economic chaos, and could literally result in death and destruction.

You know the safeguards that Microsoft has built in to ensure that the monthly Windows patch distributions don’t turn all of our computers into terroristic zombies? Well, a worldwide universal financial system would need safeguards that are six hundred and sixty orders (or more) of magnitude beyond what Microsoft does today.

And that’s just two examples. If you go through the entire list of body enhancements, you can find positive aspects to them…and negative aspects to them.

Of course, this is true of any technological advance. They all come with positives and negatives. But before we all become Steve Austins, we need to consider the ramifications of such a move.

Internal control, B.C. version

As part of his day job, Jim Ulvog advises nonprofits on financial issues, including the need for financial controls to minimize the chance of fraudulent activity (see “The Tragedy of Fraud” post series. In a recent post in his blog Attestation Update, one of Ulvog’s former colleagues brought a 5th century text to Ulvog’s attention. According to the colleague, the quote below is taken from the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 449 A.D.:

As we have learned, in some churches, the bishops administer the material goods of the church without a treasurer; it has seemed right and proper that every church with a bishop should also have a treasurer taken from the clergy who will administer the church’s goods with advice of his own bishop. In this way the administration of the church will not be without checks and balances, the goods of the church will not be dissipated, and the priesthood will be free from all suspicion.

Let’s face it – no matter what type of organization you’re talking about, money is a temptation, and it’s wise to impose some type of control over the handling of money.

Not all nonprofits feel this way, unfortunately. In fact, according to a 2007 Christianity Today article, an entire “we’re not a denomination” denomination holds to a different practice, and cites Biblical authority for justification of its view:

“We take the model from the work that God established in the nation of Israel,” [Chuck] Smith says. “Moses was the leader appointed by God. He took 70 men, and they assisted Moses in overseeing the mundane types of issues that developed within the nation. There was the priesthood under Aaron.” Similarly, he says, “we have assistant pastors, and they look to me as the senior pastor. I’m responsible to the Lord. We have a board of elders. We go over the budget. The people recognize that God has called me to be the leader of this fellowship. We are not led by a board of elders. I feel my primary responsibility is to the Lord. And one day I’m going to answer to him, not to a board of elders.”

Critics say this “Moses model” produces pastors who refuse to let their authority be challenged. Such pastors often resist accountability measures such as financial audits and providing detailed financial statements. Some curious Calvary Chapel attendees, who have sought financial information from their churches, say they were ostracized.

Did the twelve tribes have lax financial controls during their years in the desert? Well, according to this abstract, they certainly established financial controls by the time they settled down:

Abstract: We examine the Hebrew Talmud’s account of internal controls in the ancient Jerusalem Temple (c.823 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.) This far-reaching enterprise involved an extensive system of sacrificial offerings, management of three annual pilgrimages, a court system and maintenance of a priestly class. We outline the annual process of collecting half-shekel and other donations, withdrawals from the Temple treasury and the sale of libations. The Talmud describes numerous internal controls: donations were segregated according to their specific purposes and donation chests were shaped with small openings to prevent theft. When making withdrawals from the Temple treasury, the priest-treasurer was required to wear specific clothing to prevent misappropriation of assets. The Treasury chamber itself had seven seals, requiring the presence of seven different individuals, including the king, in order to open it. The process of selling libations and meal offerings required purchasing and then redeeming different tickets, which were specifically marked to prevent fraud. In explaining the reasoning for this tight system of internal controls, the Talmud reveals that an individual “shall be guiltless before G-D and before Israel” [Numbers 32: 22], so that a sound system of internal controls prevents both theft and any suspicion of theft, thus establishing the fiscal credibility of the Temple institution in the eyes of its congregants. Such an approach indicates that accounting did not represent a profane, secular vocation at odds with the Temple’s mission. To the contrary, a system of accountability formed integral steps in the Temple’s ritual processes.

Now for me personally the Talmud is not an authoritative religious book that governs my life, but it appears that there is some wisdom in its financial control system.

Jesse Stay, futurist? Or presentist? (With a little help from the Firesign Theatre)

Perhaps it’s just me, but whenever I hear someone utter the word “paradigm,” my first inclination is to duck for cover. There have been too many instances of people that start blabbering about paradigm shifts and then end up peddling the same old snake oil that scammers have been using for decades. “The social paradigm shift means that you can make a seven-figure income selling toilet paper via Twitter!”

But then there are people whom I respect, and when they use the word “paradigm,” I know that they know what they’re talking about. One such person is Jesse Stay, who said the following while discussing his future plans:

I have secured a wonderful agent with Waterside Literary Agents to represent what I hope will be a best-selling book on the paradigm change caused by social media and the things I’ve learned leading social media for major organizations as well as understanding the software behind them. Stay tuned for that (and any interested publishers please contact me!)

This is not Stay’s first book – I reviewed one of his previous books here. But it appears that this book will allow Stay to share more of his personal experiences. As he details in his post, Stay has spent the last several years working for two large organizations – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Deseret Digital Media. Now while I have theological differences with this church, I recognize the worldwide presence of the LDS, and the efforts of the Church and other organizations (such as Deseret Digital Media, a for-profit entity owned by the Church) to conduct outreach via social media. And as I can attest from working for some large (secular) organizations, it’s hard for an organization that has been around for decades to suddenly embrace new technologies.

Which gets us back to the p-word. In Stay’s case, he speaks of “the paradigm change caused by social media.” Now there have certainly been technological changes that have affected religious and other organizations in the past – television, radio, the telephone, the printing press – but social media introduces some new wrinkles to the equation. Unlike television and radio, it is (potentially) a bidirectional form of communication, and unlike all prior technologies, it is easy to use across long distances. This becomes key when, for example, you work for a French company that is implementing a system in India, or if you work for a church in Utah that is sending people to southeast Asia.

Now I have no idea what Stay is going to write – at this stage, even he may not know the details of what he is going to write – but I’m curious to see if Stay tries to extrapolate into the future. When some people talking about shifting some paradigms around (after taking them out of the box first), they state that the shift has already happened, and we have to deal with it now. But in some cases, the initial shift that we perceive may result in additional shifts in the future. (Radio begat television which begat cable/satellite which begat streaming.)

Well, let’s stay tuned for the book, and I guess we’ll all find out.

Oh, and Jesse, thanks to your post, I now have an earworm. No, this song is not strictly Gene Autry, but it does fit in with the theme of this blog. Just don’t go downstream from it.

Relationships change – Wallace Henley and Chuck Colson

In 1973, Wallace Henley and Chuck Colson both worked in the Nixon White House. Colson was Special Counsel to the President. Henley occupied a significantly lower position.

By 1974, both Henley and Colson found themselves in Alabama. Henley, after leaving the White House, responded to a previously-ignored call to become a pastor. Colson, after leaving the White House, became a prisoner in a Federal facility at Maxwell Air Force Base.

When Henley first went to visit Colson, he reflected on how things had changed:

I was stunned when I saw Chuck. I had known him in the White House garbed in expensive lawyer-type, elegantly tailored pinstriped suits. Now Chuck was dressed in prison garb, the pants and shirtsleeves too-short. They smelled of the prison laundry, where Chuck had been put to work folding clothes.

When we were together in meetings in the White House Roosevelt Room, across from the Oval Office, Chuck, a senior staffer, had been at the big table in the middle of the room. I was a low-grade aide who sat around the periphery. The unofficial protocol dictated that those not at the table were to be silent, take good notes, and not bother the big people.

But on that first encounter at Maxwell, the protocols were gone.

Henley subsequently assisted Colson in the latter’s Prison Fellowship outreach.

The initial movement to keep prayer out of public schools

Political positions change over time. For example, some people who condemn the Republican party as racist and praise the Democratic party for its inclusiveness are surprised to learn about the origins of the Republican Party. While it would be a stretch to claim that the initial Republicans promoted equality of the races, and while there was self-interest involved, the fact remains that one party was more favorably inclined to the emancipated blacks during Reconstruction than the other.

Then there is the long-standing debate on the proper role of religion in American society, and what the religious clauses to the First Amendment actually mean. This debate has resulted in statements such as this:

The public school system of the several states is the bulwark of the American republic; and, with a view to its security and permanence, we recommend an amendment to the constitution of the United States, forbidding the application of any public funds or property for the benefit of any school or institution under sectarian control.

And no, this wasn’t the position of some obscure kooks – this was in the party platform of a major party.

Specifically, the Republican Party, in its 1876 platform.

However, the party had changed its tune by 1892:

The ultimate reliance of free popular government is the intelligence of the people, and the maintenance of freedom among men. We therefore declare anew our devotion to liberty of thought and conscience, of speech and press, and approve all agencies and instrumentalities which contribute to the education of the children of the land, but while insisting upon the fullest measure of religious liberty, we are opposed to any union of Church and State.

As you can see, by 1892 the Republican Party was not only opposed to religious influence upon public education, but was also opposed to religious influence upon any governmental entity.

See Warren Throckmorton’s blog post for more details.

Technology and the megachurch – or any church

I was struck by something when I was reading a 2009 post about a megachurch. For purposes of this post, I will ignore the theology of the megachurch in question – after all, Greg Laurie’s theology is very diferent from Joel Osteen’s theology – but I will note something that was said about the PRESENTATION. While reading this description, note that the author, Ben Myers, was actually present within the church itself.

Every moment of the service, from start to finish, was broadcast on to huge screens around the auditorium. When the pastor spoke, he would address one of the many cameras. When the worship-leader spoke to the congregation, he would speak into the camera. Even the heartfelt altar call at the end of the service was addressed to the camera.

But at one point Myers’ eyes strayed from the screens.

…towards the end of the church service I glanced down from the vast screen, and for a moment I glimpsed the flesh-and-blood pastor speaking passionately into the camera. It was strange to see the man standing there like this: a miniature version – touchingly flimsy and remote and insubstantial – of the real preacher whom I’d been watching on the screen. I felt embarrassed to have seen him like this – like the embarrassment of visitors at a hospital, who don’t know where to look – so I quickly averted my eyes, and returned my gaze to the big reassuring smile on the screen high above.

But this is not limited to the megachurch. Many years ago, I remember attending a church. I’ve forgotten the circumstances, and I don’t think that it was a megachurch, but I remember being struck by a thought – this looks just like a TV show.

Again I don’t want to get into a theological discussion here, but many churches of many different theological persuasions have incorporated not only certain technologies, but certain practices that are related to the use of those technologies. My own church, which is certainly not a megachurch in any sense and which does not include a video feed of the services, is one of several gazillion churches that makes heavy use of the greatest theological tool of the 21st century, Microsoft PowerPoint.

But the biggest technological change in church history is probably not PowerPoint, or the television camera, or online bank deductions for church offerings. The biggest technological change in church history (with the exception of the printing press) is voice amplification. Back in the 1700s, George Whitefield had to yell to be heard. Today’s pastor can speak in a much softer voice, yet potentially still be heard by thousands.

Lutheran address numbers

Sometimes something significant can stare you right in the face, and you don’t realize it.

Consider this:

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran School is at 1530 S. Main Street, Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel is at 1530 Main Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Concordia University Irvine is at 1530 Concordia West, Irvine, California.

Why do all of these places have a street address of 1530?

This should give you a hint: St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is at 1530 Augsburg Drive, Hilltown, Pennsylvania.

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