19 February 2009

Now Discuss

I will be away from the screen for a few days so, like Linda Richman from long ago ago...

"The Industrial Revolution! Was it either or neither?
Discuss!"

15 February 2009

If I Only Had The Nerve

Spoke on courage today, because it is something I was not given in abundance. Maybe I need to become a Republican, as they have nerves of steel (or something else made of brass, forgive me) for Senators in DC to say the president has not been bipartisan as he promised.

It takes two, friends. Bipartisan is not another word for, "Please sir, may have another." Now, you can be the loyal opposition, defending your ideological stand all you want. But you cannot defend your own position without real compromise and then criticise someone else for not giving in to it.

When someone says he is willing to play ball, but the other fellow then insists on playing by his rules (which seem to include ceding the game at the outset), to call the first fellow a bad sport is either delusional (which makes you crazy) or deceitful (which makes you vile).

Your ideology drove the economy off a cliff, made the Constitution into scrap paper and convinced voters to elect someone else. He was being nice to you, a good sport in the world I grew up in. You are like those sore losers from my childhood who pretend they didn't lose, hoping to change reality by refusing to accept it.

But that's the sort of thinking that made you a a minority. Go ahead, bite the hand extended. Next time you'll get a rolled up newspaper on the nose.

Not really, but you should.

14 February 2009

Dance The Night Away

My son brought his friends home between dinner and the school dance. Yes, there are still dances, and at his school they are encouraged to date formally - ask someone out, give flowers, go to dinner, attend the dance. That sounded sort of retrograde when we heard about it four years ago, but now I am seeing some wisdom. He has learned how to do this whereas neither his brother (nor I for that matter) ever did. He likes dressing up - suit, tie! - and has even learned to dance. I can wear the suit well enough, but he laps me when it comes to dancing for sure.

They are still kids, actually seniors in high school now, but still kids in the way they play and shout and even fight. Nothing of gravity has touched them yet - the boys still boys even in their suits and the girls still girls despite their shimmery dresses and high heels. It is sweet, and funny, and encouraging to someone who often wonders whether the world is on the right track.

Right now they are leaving. I can hear the car doors opening and their voices loud and merry in the cold. I feel almost as good as I did on election night.

12 February 2009

What A Week

In case you haven’t read between the lines, my church is going to try and raise additional money, a lot, before cutting costs. We’ve given ourselves until Easter.

My expert friends say the chance of success rises the closer people get to each other, that is, when someone actually asks someone for money. That’s something we have not done here, and so we have the double challenge of meeting an extraordinary need in an extraordinary way.

So, using examples from others in the ‘philanthropy’ field, I have written out information and instructions for those who will be doing the asking. I’ve helped assemble a team who will mobilize themselves and others to go speak to people. And there is all the communicating with the church to let them know why, what, how, when and so forth.

I know we’re not the only one to be dealing with this. How come I haven’t heard about it, though? We read daily about businesses struggling, but nothing about houses of worship. Clergy life is notably lonely, and yet, in a time when we are saying we should be reaching out and helping each other the least likely to do so are those who are preaching it – literally.

So here’s the deal, fellow clergy friends. Tell me how it’s going with you. Be anonymous if you want. If all is well say how grateful you are. If times are rough, say so. Tough times invite us to be tender toward each other. But it takes a bit of courage to admit it.

I just did. Who wants to join me?

10 February 2009

Poised or Merely Paused?

A fourth, and last, full day of spring. After two solid months of unalloyed winter we have had almost of a week of spring – melting temps, sunshine, the smell of dirt. It is still cold enough in the early morning to chill my fingers, but I have been liberated from my parka and even my sweat pants. Knobby 56 year old knees bared themselves to the elements today and lived.

This will not last. We’ve barely passed the midpoint of official winter, which here in the Great Lakes is only that – official. Snow and cold can make appearances well into April, even May. By tomorrow evening the artic will be blowing back into town. But such is the nature of grace – not the theological dogma so much as the prosaic grace that is the rain (or snow) which falls on the just and unjust alike.

Life’s work is overwhelming right now. In addition to the daily tasks of pushing an institution from today into tomorrow, there are two funerals this week. We are mounting a second pledge drive to close a yawning gap between what we have and what we need. I am filling out the FAFSA this week, and preparing a page for his yearbook (didn’t know I was a graphic designer? Well, I am no better at that than playing the piano which I did in church this past week.)

Life is rich in all things it seems – blessings, burdens, hopes and fears.

08 February 2009

Poetry is Hurried Thought


I turn from the keyboard,
sermon dressed like a turkey to cook.
Raw, clammy, pale and puckered,


And see a sunbeam coming through the sheers.
Two days of sun?
Both Above freezing?

Is this spring?
Or some cruel temptation
like Tantalus’ grapes?

Who cares?
After weeks of twigs and ice
Even the sight of grapes
is wine to a parched soul.

06 February 2009

Coincidence?


I found this in today's NYTimes, in the online feature called Economix

"Readers may also wonder why, in the United States, the ratio of total executive compensation (including bonuses and deferred compensation, pensions and perks) to the comparable figure earned by non-management employees rose from 50 in 1980 (even lower than the 1940 figure quoted yestersday), to 301 by 2003 for the 300 to 400 largest corporations (and to 500 in very large corporations) (far beyond the 170 I noted as the upper limit yesterday), while that ratio typically has remained so much lower in Europe and in Asia. Are corporate executives in Europe and Asia so vastly inferior to their American counterparts, or is the supply of potential C.E.O.’s so much larger there as to drive down the ratio in, say, Japan, to as low a 3?"

Makes one think...

05 February 2009

It's All Relative...

Now for something completely different.

Wasn't it Twain who said "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics?" A new book I just read about (The Numbers Game) tries to reveal how even numbers can mislead us, depending on how they are calculated, situated and promulgated.

I mention this because of the CEO pay flap for bankrupt banks and the CEOs who ruined them. We are seeing figures and numbers and not seeing what matters....

... How much more than the average employee should the CEO make. This is best expressed as a ratio not a number. Drilling down into the NYTimes archive I found this nugget:

"The average top executive's salary at a big company was more than 170 times the average worker's earnings in 2004, up from a multiple of 68 in 1940." (NYTimes April 9, 2006. I suspect it is even higher now.)

Now, 1940 was not a high water mark year, financially, but the point is how much more AS A RATIO should the top employee get compared to the AVERAGE worker which means not the lowest but the typical.

How much should a bank receiving federal rescue support, or auto company for that matter, pay their top executive should be figured as a ratio compared to other workers in the company. To be really fair, "average" can be artificially raised by paying some executives a lot, so a better measure would be the "median" wage, the actual one precisely in the middle if all the different pay figures were lined up in a row.)

In my workplace I am the CEO and highest paid employee. The median full time income (several employees are part-time and so each has been calculated as if they were full time) is $38k. I am paid $108k. The ratio is slightly less than 3/1.

The suggested figure of $500k is probably too low. A ratio of 10/1 would mean the median income would be $50k, which is not far from likely. The median income for NY City is $47k, which is nearly the same for Michigan, by the way, but about 9k higher than Grand Rapids where I live. But 10/1 is not practical, really. Remember even in 1940, before the war, the Depression lingering, the raio was 68/1.

Would 100/1 be too high? That's less than half the distance between 1940 and 2004. Probably not, as it is well below the halfway point between 68/1 and 170/1. And there are additional factors, such as the size of the company. Though I make only 3 times as much as the median wage, my pay is about 10% of the organization's annual expenses. Even a multi millionaire CEO gets only a fraction of a percent of the total company expenses.

But then comes the moral point, which is how much disparity is acceptable in a company or community? That's a long conversation and this post is already lengthy. So let's guesstimate for now.

How about we agree on an 75/1 ratio for CEOs under federal assistance. If the median wage is $50k, that yields $3.75m. But I am moralistic enough to agree that a large portion of that should be in bank stock, which cannot be sold until after one leaves the company and then not all at once.

Heck, I'll even say that the pay can go up, so long as the ratio remains the same. He/she gets rich only as fast as everyone else in the company.

Now that's an incentive I think.

04 February 2009

On This Day, February 4th…

1783 - Britain declared a formal cessation of hostilities with its former colonies, the United States of America.

1789 - Electors unanimously chose George Washington to be the first president of the United States.

1801 - John Marshall was sworn in as chief justice of the United States.

1861 - Delegates from six southern states met in Montgomery, Ala., to form the Confederate States of America.

1899 - The Philippine-American War begins.

1938 - The Thornton Wilder play "Our Town" opened on Broadway. Adolf Hitler assumed control of the German Army.

1945 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin began a wartime conference at Yalta.

1948 - The island nation of Ceylon - now Sri Lanka - became an independent dominion within the British Commonwealth.

1974 - newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped in Berkeley, Calif., by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

1983 - Singer Karen Carpenter died at age 32.

1987 - Pianist Liberace died at age 67.

1996 - Major snowstorm paralyzes Midwestern United States, Milwaukee, Wisconsin ties all-time record low temperature at -26°F (-32.2°C)

1997 - A civil jury found O.J. Simpson liable for the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

1998 - An earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale in northeast Afghanistan kills more than 5,000.

1999 - Unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot and killed

2000 - A coalition government that included Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party came to power in Austria, triggering European Union sanctions.

2004 - The Massachusetts high court declared that gays were entitled to marry.

Birthdays

Tadeusz Kościuszko,
Rosa Parks
Clint Black
George A. Romero
Dan Quayle
Alice Cooper
Gabrielle Anwar
Betty Friedan
Oscar de la Hoya

... And Yours Truly.

Given the overall history of the day, I suggest you duck.

02 February 2009

Fatigue, Like Wine, Loosens the Tongue

Sleep is dragging my eyelids down after a long day at work. But when you write little squibs about momentary moods as I did yesterday, they get stale fast.

For the record, Sunday went well. It is always uncertain, and the surest rule is that when I go into the pulpit with something I know is good it is rarely that good. But when I approach the task with ‘fear and trembling’ there is room for the spirit. Pride goeth, as they say.

Also for the record, a member sent a critical letter last week in response to my Christmas Eve sermon (The second written protest actually; you can read what I said iat that service n my post from last month if you like.) “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," as someone else said.

The longer I do this the more it seems to me to be a mandate, an order, something I must do. Over the years my sermons have gotten more stark, less pretty. No wonder some people complain, I guess. But being true to the deepest heart of one’s calling may mean not being as ‘successful.’ Those whom I admire – Socrates, Jesus and Paul notably – were not successful in the usual sense. All three died criminal deaths after all.

I am not courting their fate, you can be sure, but to know your words can and will bring offense or sorrow, even when you know them to speak with integrity and truth, is still hard. God knows that I wouldn’t do it unless I had not choice.

01 February 2009

Peeking

It's Sunday morning, just past 7, and I am about to engage the sermon/serpent that is my weekly laocoon.

I thought it out on Wednesday, as you know. I wrote it out on Saturday, and this morning it looks really lame. No, not lame, but dull. The spark is there but hidden, but how to reveal it?

At some point, you (meaning the preacher) have to give it all over (to God, luck, Zeus, Ishtar, the people) because there is an element of offering in every sermon. And it could be rejected, absolutely.

it is not even dawn and my pulse is racing. I suppose that's a good thing, but only my cardiologist knows for sure.