Monday, December 9, 2013

Lord, In Your Mercy

Lord, in your mercy...

I came into work today and saw two barricades at the end of our block. When I turned the corner I saw numerous police cars and officers in an area just beyond our building. After talking to some neighbors I learned about that around two o'clock this morning there was a shooting. A 20 year old man had been shot and was in the hospital. An hour later the police told us he had died and I could see the sorrow in the officers eyes.

Our world, our country, our city, and our neighborhood suffer too much violence. Poverty has run rampant and with it so has violence. We are left with yet another tragedy. Yet another memorial on our block, the fifth in the area that I'll have seen in my time at AUMS. How many people must die before the cries of the people are heard?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?

We pray this day for healing, for the loved ones of this man, for the one who took another's life, for the neighborhood shaken by one more act of violence.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.


Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's easy to get mad at the stores that open their doors today forcing their low income workers to miss time with their families. It's easy to call for a boycott of these stores. It's probably pretty easy to actually stop shopping at these stores.

Huffington Post is leading with the headline "Happy Thanksgiving... Now get back to work!" due to these businesses that think sales are more important than respecting their employees.

But here's the thing, these stores are actually getting sales. People are actually forsaking their own time with their family to shop. Why are we not yelling about the people doing the shopping. Stores will keep opening up their doors on thanksgiving if we keep shopping there. All of these stores pay their workers extra for working on the holiday which means they need even more sales than normal to make this a good business decision. What's the outcome after stores were open last year? They're open even longer this year! Meaning they need even more sales to make it a good decision.

Many yell and complain about the corporate greed but we are only fueling it. Corporations don't do things that they think will lose them money. And they aren't. We're handing them money for being open on thanksgiving.

If you really want people to have a happy thanksgiving and you or somebody you know was planning on going shopping today, it's time to stay home, read a book, watch some football, eat some turkey, and spend it with your friends and family.

The only way to stop the black Friday creep is to starve it out. And on thanksgiving, that's the only acceptable form of starving around.

Happy Thanksgiving 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Some more sexism

This is getting ridiculous. After seeing a TV show talk about the realities of sexism in the media and politics, I decided I'd finally read one of the many articles that have been using a headline regarding Miley Cyrus smoking a joint while on stage at the EMAs. Like all articles about an award show it contained some information about who won certain awards, but most of the article was focused on Miley Cyrus. And in an article supposedly about her smoking weed, they couldn't help but mention that she twerked with her female dance partner in two different places in the article. Fine I guess. Whatever.

The part that shows the sexism is they have a gallery of pictures from the event in the article as well. After a few Miley pictures you come to some of Robin Thike, the man that performed at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus singing his high performing, pro-rape, song. The same man that was assigned zero blame in the outrage over what was done on stage even if Miley was just dancing, and he was singing a song that is, again, pro-rape. Not to mention that certain parts people took offense to, like the foam finger, comes directly out of Thike's own music video for his pro-rape song. And, of course we can't forget the part where he has an explicit music video of his pro-rape song that has all the women dancing topless in it. No outrage for him after the VMAs though.

And no outrage for him after the EMAs, despite the fact that he was, once again, singing a song that's pro-rape onstage. And wouldn't you know it, his backup dancers (all female obviously), were all wearing even less clothes than Miley Cyrus during the VMAs. The amount of clothes Miley had on was another source of outrage remember. Except in this case it was for backup dancers who would've had no say in what they wore. It was Thicke's choice to make them almost naked. Is Thicke going to get any large segment outraged for further reducing women to sexualized objects while singing his very pro-rape song? No. But are we going to hear that Miley twerked again? Yes.

Lisa Kudrow couldn't have been more right.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sexism, with a healthy dash or racism

Isn't that topic a fun one? Don't worry, I'm keeping this one brief.

Yesterday was election day in America and Albany elected it's first female Mayor, Kathy Sheehan, after having the same guy at the helm of the city for the last twenty or so years. I saw on facebook today a friend in Albany posting about her win and the historic nature of it. Of course sexism is alive and well in our country so somebody commented saying:
Now hopefully; she's competent. I find a lot of people are obsessed with this notion "its (sic) time for a woman ins ((x)position)) -- for what reason? Because we need a woman!" Sort of like what we did for presidencies. 

Now perhaps this white male isn't being sexist or racist. Maybe, when a white male wins an election he says something like:
Now hopefully; he's competent. I find a lot of people are obsessed with this notion "it's time to keep white men in ((x) position) -- for what reason? Because white men are better! Sort of like we've done for most of our history. 
Of course, that's almost completely unlikely. Considering he posted a second comment about how he was willing to concede that the other options against President Obama were awful choices but he adds the caveat that we've romanticized the notion of a minority leading America, or as he put it: 'murrica (yes, double r and all). After my friend posted a thing about everybody being equal he had to add on that comments like that stank of affirmative action which is a bad mindset because
being someone outside the norm of things doesn't make you more qualified for the sake of equality, it simply makes you different.
I didn't see that last comment by the time I responded to him. I was focused solely on the Albany Mayoral election. I did a quick fact check since he brought up how we've romanticized electing minorities I checked. And it turns out that women outnumber men by about five million people in this country. Looking more specifically I found that white women also outnumber white men by about three million people in America. In other words, electing Kathy Sheehan is a member of the majority of the majority. How crazy is that? Did you have any idea that women outnumber men both across the board and among whites? Or have white men been so steadfast in their (our) privilege that they've (we've) hoarded the power and influence so that we can think of women as being a minority group?

This is the heart of white male privilege. We are so privileged that if you're not one of us, you're a minority. Louis CK has made a joke about this. He says:
I read something in the paper that really confused me. It said that 80% of New Yorkers are minorities... Shouldn't you not call them minorities when they get to be 80% of the population? That's a very white attitude, don't you think? I mean, you could take a white guy to Africa and he'd be like "look at all the minorities around here! I'm the only majority!
It's time for true equality. We should ask whether Kathy Sheehan is competent to be mayor. But we should ask that of every person we vote for, not just women and minorities.

Also if you want an extra little helping of humor know that Kathy Sheehan got over 10,000 more votes than the other three people on the ballot combined. The second place candidate didn't even hit 1000 votes. It was known that whoever won the Democratic primary would win the general election. And Kathy's opponent in the primary? A black male who would've also made history if he had been elected. Turns out sometimes your options are making history, or making history. And some people just can't stand that.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Connecting the Church in Mission Part 2

Back in February I wrote about my experience down in Georgia and highlighted how connected I was to the disparate groups of missionaries in the United Methodist Church even if most of us came from different parts of the world and worked through different organizations. It was the connectionalism of the United Methodist Church at work.

My experience in Georgia highlighted how the global church can move together and support each other. I have recently noticed that this highly connectional part of the church doesn't always translate very well down to local levels, particularly in the Albany area. In fact, it is in noticing this that I have finally been able to begin to form my justification for seeking ordination in the church.

Disclaimer: if you are not familiar with how the United Methodist Church is organized this post could get confusing. If you read this and get lost let me know and I'll write a post that explains the basics of it all. But if I don't hear from anybody than we'll just leave good enough alone.

Yesterday was Bishop Mark Webb's district day with Albany. I attended the afternoon session set aside for a discussion on urban ministry. Clergy from most of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area urban ministries attended the session, and while Bishop Webb sat with us, District Superintendent Rich Weihing led us in conversation around how we think our district should conduct urban ministry.

After listening to us for a while Bishop Webb interjected, looking to push us in figuring out how to lead the conference in urban ministry and the phrase the Bishop used was to become one church with many locations. And if I may twist his words a bit, we should have one mission with many locations.

Good old Missio Dei.

It was affirming and energizing for me to hear the Bishop and the DS say the things they were saying. After thinking about how poorly the Albany District connects to one another, having the Bishop look at us and tell us that we should connect with each other and have the DS express this same desire was just incredible. As I've been thinking about the nine months I have left it felt a little daunting. I cannot change this district in nine months on my own. But with the DS and the Bishop clearing the path, calling for a church that is active and engaged in the urban setting there is no excuse anymore.

Part of my role as a missionary is to Connect the Church in Mission, and that just got a whole lot easier to do.

Amen and amen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking Bread

We're going to do an exercise. Something to get you to realize just how big of an impact we, as individuals, as churches, and as NGOs have on feeding the hungry in this country. Take a look at the section of circles below. There are 24 of them, each representing an equal portion of the monetary value of all supplemental food in the United States. How many of these 24 circles do we, outside of the federal government, represent? Think it through thoughtfully before you continue.

0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0

Now that you've thought critically about how large of an impact those outside of the federal government have, here's how it really breaks down. The red circles are non-federal giving.

0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0

Do you see that? One circle. 1/24th of all supplemental food is given by sources outside of the federal government. If you haven't heard yet the House of Representatives past a bill this last week that would cut SNAP benefits by $40,000,000,000 over ten years. That's $4,000,000,000 a year. It just so happens that each of the circles above represent $4,000,000,000. Which means in ten years time, if this bill were to become law, would get rid of ten of the circles. Here's what we have now compared to what we could have in ten years, side by side.

Now........Ten years from now

0 0 0...0 0 0
0 0 0...0 0 0
0 0 0...0 0 0
0 0 0...0 0 0
0 0 0...0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0

Food pantries are over worked already. Money going into the pantries has decreased and there are more people that need to use the pantries than ever. My placement site, AUMS, has struggled to meet the growing demand as support as diminished. In order for those most in need to still just barely get by at the current level our churches and NGOs and individuals would have to double their giving next year. Then they'd have to do that every year after that until 2024. And that's only to stay at the current, too low, levels. We cannot meet this need with food drives or store donations. 

The United Methodist community, the ecumenical community, and the inter-faith community need to respond to the food crises in this country and we need to respond in a way that doesn't give us warm and fuzzy feelings. We need to write, call, and email our representatives in the house and senate and tell them to not cut SNAP. In fact we need to tell them that SNAP needs more money. Congress doesn't like to look at the facts. But SNAP is the most efficient government program. For every dollar spent by the government $1.79 is put back into the economy. No other government program can touch those numbers. 

But why should we care?

Is not this the fast that we have chosen? Is it not to share our bread with the hungry? Feeding people, even if economically painful, is the right thing to do. But when it makes sense economically, how can we even debate it like it's an issue? Yet we debate it, and our nation pushes to cut the help for those in need. So let me take a moment to talk about where we are in this debate.

Justice is far from us and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but there is darkness. For brightness, but we walk in gloom. We reach for the wall like the blind, reaching as if we had no eyes. We stumble under the sun at noon as if it were pitch black out. We have become as if we are dead in a desolate place. We all growl like bears and moan sadly like a dove. We look out for justice, but there is none. We look for salvation, but it is so far from us because our transgressions have been multiplied. Our sins testify against us, because our transgressions are with us. And as for our iniquities, we know them: in transgressing and lying against our God; and departing from our God; and speaking oppression and revolt; and conceiving and uttering from our hearts false words. Justice is turned back and righteousness stands far off. Truth has fallen in the street and equity cannot enter. And so truth fails, and those that depart from evil have made themselves prey. And God has seen all this and it displeased him. That there was no justice. He saw that there was none and has been appalled that there has been no one to intervene. 

So I beg all of you, organize your friends, family, loved ones, communities, and churches around standing for justice. We need to intervene. We need to advocate. The more you advocate the stronger our voices will be heard. So please, go to and read about what's happening and email your representative. Or click here to go straight to the form to email your representative. But do more. Use that website to find resources on how to engage and organize your church and community into action. And then click this link to get the phone number for your representatives and senators and call them and tell them how SNAP needs more funding not less. Together we can stand for justice and make an impactful change in Washington. It is time for faith communities to come together and join their prophetic voices for the change the world needs to see.

In the Peace of Christ,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Injustice, Profiling, and Racism

I don't believe in predestination or fate. I don't like hearing people say that something happened because it was God's plan because it is almost always said after a tragedy. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans there were some that said it was God's punishment for their sin. Claiming God's punishment is another way of saying God's plan has been fulfilled.

This last weekend George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin.

In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Zimmerman said he didn't regret any of the actions he took the night he killed Trayvon. If he could do it again he would do everything the same. He would follow and kill Trayvon Martin all over again, knowing that Trayvon was guilty of no crimes because he feels it's what God wanted.

As a Christian, this is terrifying. It's a theology of God using us to met out judgement. It's a theology that is as wrong as it is dangerous. And it's the theology of a man who killed a teenager and was acquitted for it.

Justice was not served with that acquittal. It's fairly certain now that they fought each other and that Trayvon felt threatened by Zimmerman. His own account of what happened says that when he and Trayvon met up Trayvon asked him what his problem was and the girl who was on the phone with Trayvon said she heard as much herself.

Trayvon felt threatened by a man who was following him, confronted him, and the man reached immediately into his pocket. According to Zimmerman that was the point that Trayvon punched him in the nose.

We can't know what Trayvon was thinking that night but it is possible that Trayvon felt that the man who had been stalking him was reaching for a weapon. Zimmerman was so convinced that Trayvon was guilty and didn't think how his actions would look to an innocent person.

And so we wound up with a dead teenager. Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as a criminal and assumed his guilt by the way he looked. Trayvon profiled Zimmerman and assumed he was a pervert or somebody looking for trouble based on the way he looked and acted. In the end, profiling left a young man dead.

There have also been cries of Zimmerman's racism since this case first came to light. Ultimately, after examination of all the evidence there really hasn't been anything to suggest racial prejudice being the reason behind Zimmerman's actions, at least not anymore than most people have inherently coming from our broken society.

But there was racism at play here. Zimmerman was acquitted when there have been other cases, also in Florida, where a 69 year old man was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 years in prison in an incredibly similar situation. That man was black. There's a case where a woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing warning shots (not actually shooting to hit anybody or accidentally hitting anybody) to keep her husband, who had previously abused her, from doing it again. That woman was black.

The racism in the Zimmerman case isn't his racism, it's societies. We have institutionalized racism. Society has taught us that black people, males especially, are dangerous. When a black man kills a white man there's no reasonable doubt to be found that he didn't have to, even though the white man was 28 years younger, confronted him, and had served in the military. When a hispanic man kills a black teen there's reasonable doubt that he didn't have to. Maybe he really felt threatened enough to pull the trigger. Never mind how the teen felt in the situation.

Trayvon Martin looked like the kids that I see and work with every day. He had tattoos, wore a hoody, white tennis shoes, and baggy pants. And just like the kids that I see, he was judged for looking like that. He was judged as a criminal for wearing certain clothes. Clothes that people have decided means that you're a thug, or to put it more aptly, a punk and up to no good.

It's the same thing that people assume about the people in this inner city neighborhood in Albany, NY. If you dress like that, and come from here, you must be guilty. I've seen it in Albany, in Memphis,  and I've seen it in Detroit. This is what causes people to fear coming to inner city neighborhoods. Everybody must be a criminal. We ignore the realities of crime, particularly violent crime in these neighborhoods. That the person committing the crime almost always knows the victim, that violent crime never really happens before 10 pm and most of it is after midnight. That you are just as safe outside our building at lunch time as you are in the expensive part of town. It's just the people dress differently and the music sounds different. But what is key to remember is that they are still people. And as people they have some of the same fears, insecurities, and dreams you have.

And that's something George Zimmerman never took into account. He saw somebody that he thought looked like a punk and a criminal and acted like they were guilty beyond a doubt. He took the way somebody looked and used it to dehumanize them so that he could forget that they might be afraid, or might think he looks suspicious, or might be innocent of any crime. Zimmerman never thought about this because he's human, broken, and selfish just like the rest of us. This is not to excuse him but we risk dehumanizing him just like he dehumanized Trayvon.

As a Christian community we need to respond to this tragedy. Not because Zimmerman was acquitted, but because Trayvon is dead. If Zimmerman had been convicted it would still require our action. Our action must be to first educate ourselves, and then educate others, on getting rid of the prejudices that we have. And that's difficult. Because prejudice isn't a conscious action. It stems from little things, usually societal, that shape us to see things a certain way. We act on prejudices all the time, sometimes positively, often negatively. You don't consciously recognize it, it's an automatic response. But we can learn to control it. Take breathing (congratulations, you are now aware of how you're breathing). When you think about it you can control it. You can stop it, slow it down, speed it up, shorten it, and lengthen it. Breathing is one of the easiest automatic responses we have to control. Controlling prejudice is much harder. It takes a lot of effort to remind yourself, over and over, that a certain article of clothing, or type of music, or yes, the color of somebody's skin, does not make them dangerous. It is a hugely difficult thing to do but the inability to control it is exactly what led to an innocent teenager being killed. Two different people with two different set of prejudices both assumed the worst about each other. They both assumed the guilt of the other. They both were unwilling to have any reasonable doubt that the other was innocent.

In the end it was other people's reasonable doubt that led to Zimmerman's acquittal.

Perhaps we can start with that. Start with reasonable doubt anytime we start to judge somebody without knowing a thing about them. Give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe, just maybe, they aren't out to get you, aren't a punk, aren't guilty.

Maybe if we can extend just that little bit of mercy, we can avoid another innocent persons death. We can avoid the violence that is very much not in God's plan. We can speak out against violence with acts of love and compassion. We can break violence with open hearts. We can begin heal ourselves through the hard effort it takes to get rid of our prejudices.

And maybe begin to heal the world.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Did I Miss Something?

If you read my post "Pride" yesterday you saw me come to an interpretation of scripture that I have never heard used before.

The scripture in question can be found in all the synoptic gospels. Mark and Luke are pretty much identical. Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, goes and eats at Levi's house with other tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees ask "why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?" to which Jesus replies "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

This response should seem odd to anybody that reads it. Is Jesus really saying that the Pharisees are righteous? Doesn't he blast them for their actions repeatedly?

I think this is one of those "ears to hear" moments.

Matthew's account of the story is slightly different. Levi is now named Matthew. But there's one other difference. Jesus' response is three sentences instead of two. He still says the same two sentences found in Mark and Luke but in the middle of them there is this "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"

That line comes out of Hosea 6:6. And I have to ask: Did I miss something?

In all the times I've heard this story told I don't think I've ever heard Matthew's account. I don't think I've ever heard Jesus remind them that God wants mercy, not sacrifice.

I argued yesterday that the sickness Jesus is talking about is not their sin. We know that all are sinners. When they bring Jesus a woman to be stoned he tells that if they are without sin they may throw the first stone and they all walk away. So when Jesus says he's come to call the sinners he's actually talking about everybody.

So why does he use the doctor line?

I think it's because tax collectors and those who were labeled as "sinners" knew how low they were in society. They were, after all, labeled. Their sickness comes from society. I related this to how the gay community is treated today. There is a reason suicide among gay teens is so much higher than the norm. They have been labeled. They suffer from society's abuse. Their sickness is having to live in a society that tells them they deserve to be treated as less than human, not from their own feelings or actions.

Today I had a similar experience where I had to ask "Did I miss something?"

Today was even more striking than yesterday. Today I was presented with a scripture I am positive I have never heard preached on. The scripture is Romans 4:13-17. See if you've ever heard it preached:

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations.")
How have I never heard this preached? Did I miss something?

I've heard being justified by faith alone. But why haven't I heard for this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants.

I've heard faith without works is dead. But why haven't I heard if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void?

I've heard loud preachers say that natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina were caused by the sin of New Orleans. But why haven't I heard the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation?

Why is the topic of civil rights for all people even an issue for Christians when we have Romans? The law certainly brings wrath but we are not adherents of the law. There is no law. There is no violation.

Romans is revolutionary even today! We are not bound by the constraints of the law. God demands mercy not sacrifice; forgiveness not judgement. Grace is guaranteed to all not just to those that follow the law.

So I ask again: Did I miss something?

When did we go from being a church that told people to come as they are, that God loves them as they are, to being a church that required you to follow certain rules? Did I miss Paul's recant?

Reading Romans 4:13-17 today was mind blowing, paradigm shifting, and most of all confusing.

I've never heard anybody preach on it. Maybe it's too radical to be said in church. We are not bound by the law and that is good; for where there is no law, neither is there violation. Grace is free to all. There is no wrath when there is no law. And maybe we're afraid to preach this because we're worried that if we admit that this is true than what's to stop people from just letting their hair down, so to speak.

Can this really be it? Do we have such a low opinion of ourselves that we think that if we tell people this that faithful disciples of Jesus are going to go out and act against the law any more than they already do?

We are redeemed. Our faith has washed us clean and the law never can. The law can only dirty us.

Maybe it's time we stopped throwing the law at each other. Maybe it's time we just went back to our roots of welcoming others as they are. Maybe it's time that our doors, hearts, and minds were open and left unchained by the law.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "pride"?

What images or words come to mind if you think about "pride" for a little bit?

Feel free to share your answers in the comments below. ⬇

The reason I bring this up is because I read two different things from two very different sources last night that spoke about how two different minority groups have been forced to deal with oppression.

The first was from my favorite comedy website, clicking that link will take you to the article. For those not willing to click things let me cover the important part. The author covers how Paula Dean fans have rushed to her defense in the most counter-intuitive way possible. Like using the N-word to show how unoffensive it is and, this is not a joke, how the only people who should be offended by the N-word are N-words. Seriously. You should just click the link. There's a picture of a person making that argument on Facebook. The other example is of a person whose argument boils down to this:

If you're black you need to stop living in the past and get over slavery. Also you should be glad that white people gave you freedom after the civil war. Yes, we made a mistake with slavery but we stopped it now so why don't you go home. Stop crying and get on with living the lives you owe to the white race

I should note that the bold parts are the actual words used by this person. The underlined and italicized bit is my emphasis. As the author of the article points out this person is saying "Black people, you owe whites for something that happened 148 years ago! But, please, leave the past in the past."

The second thing I read came from my friend and former roommate. He also happens to be gay and this is what he had to say:

"Q:If they can why can’t we? Am I right? Or do we not have the right to free speech?
A:no you don’t get to have straight pride

politicians don’t fight to have straight marriage banned. parents do not kick their children out of their homes because they’re straight. friends do not abandon their friends once they realize they’re straight. people are not assaulted by bigots for being straight. people do not commit suicide because everyone around them treated them like shit for being straight you have nothing to be proud of. you haven’t been discriminated against or insulted for being heterosexual. you haven’t struggled to feel normal in a society which tells you that being queer is unnatural. you don’t get a straight pride because you don’t need one you have nothing to be proud of. you haven’t been discriminated against or insulted for being heterosexual. you haven’t struggled to feel normal in a society which tells you that being queer is unnatural. you don’t get a straight pride because you don’t need oneyou have nothing to be proud of. you haven’t been discriminated against or insulted for being heterosexual. you haven’t struggled to feel normal in a society which tells you that being queer is unnatural. you don’t get a straight pride because you don’t need one"

Powerful stuff and I was surprised to see a couple of very, very odd responses to this post. The first was how we should all be proud of who we are, which is nice, except the responder likened it to his own love of macaroni and cheese and how every month is "mac n cheese pride month". As offensive as it is to just equate mac n cheese to the suffering of people the underlying argument is that we should have straight pride and it should be every month for us. Of course there should be gay pride as well. But each group should have their own pride. But this misses the point that it's easy for straight people to be proud. They don't have the world telling them they're wrong every day of their lives. Being proud as a minority isn't automatic in a world that oppresses minorities.

The second odd response was that pride should be reserved for accomplishments, not for being born a certain race or with a sexual orientation.

This seemed odd to me, especially since pride is often completely unrelated to accomplishments. So here's my reflection on pride.

Pride is a double edged sword. It is often wielded by those who do the oppression because they had relatively little to overcome in order to become powerful. Pride when wielded by the oppressed becomes a refusal to accept that those in power are right, that the norm is unjust, and that there is nothing wrong, but everything right, with being different from the powerful. To not be proud of who you are when you are the oppressed is to agree with the oppressor that you are fundamentally wrong. To disagree and demand justice for the wrongs placed on humans of all shapes, sizes, colors and orientation is a bigger accomplishment than anything the powerful have ever done. And it is certainly something to be proud of.

The response to my reflection on pride got a little silly and included an example of how children demand things all the time from their parents and how making a demand like a child isn't something to be proud of. And that's when it really set in for me. For the second time in the same thread somebody had totally missed the point and made a comment that was insulting and offensive. Gay people being proud is the same as liking mac n cheese and gay people demanding equal rights is the same as a child demanding a new toy or ice cream.

But this goes back to the article from Cracked. On the one hand the oppressing class thought the oppressed should be grateful that they aren't oppressed even more. And in the other case the oppressing class equated the struggles of the oppressed to the trivial matters like mac n cheese and whining children.

Forgive us Father for we know not what we do. 

Why are the loudest Christian voices in this country trying to stop equal rights? How did we end up as the oppressing class? 

Whatever happened to the good news? 

Whatever happened to standing up for the oppressed? 

Whatever happened to the first shall be last and the last shall be first?

As Christians we are called to be a voice for justice in this world but we've resorted spreading injustice for our brothers and sisters under the guise of "sin". But it's not because of "sin" that we spread this injustice. Unless you want to say it's because of our sin. And that's the most troubling part of it. We don't love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We demand our neighbors be like us first. It's not the sins of the gay community, real or perceived that makes us oppress them just like slavery was never about the sins of the black community. Oppression is always about the sins of the oppressor. It is never justified. It is never trivial. The oppressors are never owed anything.

Jesus was asked by the religious elite why He always hung out with sinners and not with them. Jesus told them it's the sick that need a doctor not the healthy. But they missed the point behind His words just as we still do today. Jesus wasn't saying the religious elite were without sin. He speaks against their sins over and over again. He was with these "sinners" because they were the oppressed. They were sick because the powerful in society told them they were wrong, unnatural and deserve abuse because of their "sin" just like we tell the gay community these things today. The Christians of the world need to follow Christ. They need to stand with the oppressed and show them that they have worth, are loved, and that nothing can stop God's love for them. 

Let's bring back the Gospel.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Annual Conference: Day 1

After day one of my first ever Annual Conference I have to say... It's really not so bad.

I'm serving in the Upper New York Annual Conference. This is a conference which was four different conferences only a few years ago, and some of those conferences didn't even bring their full membership over. On top of that a new Bishop was appointed less than a year ago so this is his first Annual Conference with the UNYAC.

Despite the turmoils that can come with merging lots of conferences, and having a new person leading the proceedings day one was pretty alright.

My day at conference started off in an impossible to hear seminar for lay members that pretty much focused on how apportionments work. After we moved so we could kind of hear everything we got some wrong information on how the whole system works. Luckily we had enough people handy who were willing to guide others through the process.

If you're not United Methodist or you have no idea what apportionments are and/or how they work here's a handy explanation:

Apportionments are paid by churches to the larger church to keep all the support pieces of the church operating that don't have an actual congregation attached to them. The actual breakdown of apportionments is based on an individual dollar put into a collection plate. Of that dollar: $0.84 stays in the church that it was given in. $0.13 goes to Jurisdictions, Annual Conferences, and Districts. $0.02 goes to the general church and $0.01 goes to other general funds like the Advance, World Service Specials, and Special Sundays.

There. Not so complicated right?

The voting today went well too. A motion to make any votes regarding human sexuality to be made by ballot and not by a show of hands was quickly approved which was a great early motion to have. And the only motion that caused any sort of stir today had to do with an amendment to how the requirement of internet for clergy in their homes would be addressed. It was rather funny after the vote was ruled as passed by the Bishop there arose a great grumbling from the crowd. So they did a recount, and the Bishop again ruled it as passed.

When the only controversy in voting stems from internet access, it's a good day I think.

So that's day one of the UNYAC .

I'll try to post a recap as we go along of each day. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Growing Community

For those who don't know, I have an older brother who is about to become a pastor. While he was still in undergrad he met a lot of people who were also on track to become pastors. I chalked this up by and large to him going to a very small Methodist founded college and being actively involved in one of the very few student ministries available on such a small campus. But maybe that's not why he knew so many future pastors going into Seminary. A friend of mine has made me re-examine who I know that will be future pastors.

I decided I couldn't count the people I know who will be, or are now, pastors that I met only because of my brother. That gets rid of a lot of people but not all. There are two that still count that know both of us. The first is my friend Thom who worked with my brother one summer at the Young Leaders Initiative/Motown Mission. I first met Thom because of this but as it would turn out I ended up going to CMU which was where Thom was going to school and getting to know him through our Wesley Foundation.

The other example is my friend Mark who I don't remember meeting originally. Mark went to the same small school as my brother and I surely met him there when I visited. He was also at my brother's wedding. Surely I saw him there. But then Mark and I worked and lived together last summer at the Motown Mission in Detroit.

There are some coincidences above that you might have noticed. My brother went to Albion and Thom when to CMU. They were in the same year and worked together at Motown Mission. Mark went to Albion and I went to CMU. We were in the same year and worked together at Motown Mission. Oddly enough both Thom and Mark went to the same Seminary in Atlanta too. At this point the twilight zone theme song should be playing in your head.

But Thom and Mark are just the exceptions to the rule that I can't count people I know through my brother.

At CMU I met two other people called to pastoral leadership. The first person I know that is going into it is my friend Stephen who is currently studying to be a priest. Stephen lived down the hall from me my freshman year at CMU. The other is my very good friend Taylor who is still exploring a call but is driving down to visit a seminary tomorrow. Taylor lived in the room next to Stephen, slightly less down the hall from my room freshman year.

My freshman year in college, on my floor, within 4 rooms of each other (we were all on the same side of the hall) there was: a future priest, an exploring future pastor, and a current missionary. This is at a school of over 25,000 people. What are the odds of that?

So maybe my brother didn't meet so many future pastors at his school because it was so small. Maybe when God calls you find yourself with other people figuring out what that means too. I'm certainly in a community of missionaries going through that. But even when I was an undergrad I found myself around people who were searching for what their call meant. We were all at different stages of discovery, but we were all searching.

Of course this doesn't even count the people I knew before college who are looking at pastoral leadership. But you sometimes you have to limit where you look to keep your point concise.

So if you find yourself surrounded by people exploring a call to ministry, maybe you should listen and find out if you have your own call. And if you don't find yourself surrounded by people exploring their own call... Well open your ears anyway. I'm not guaranteeing anything after all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Supporting Equal Marriage Is Right, No Matter Your View Of Sin

Right now the Supreme Court of the United States is considering two different cases on marriage equality. The topic of marriage equality brings out a lot of anger and arguments. When debating marriage equality with those who think we shouldn't allow it I always start by conceding a single point. That point, is sin. I do this because if I didn't the debate would remain completely on two different interpretations of scripture and never move off of that. The conversation would end before we even got to marriage. Both sides of the sin argument have valid points. There are parts of the Bible that talk about homosexuality while on the other side you have the arguments of context for what the word homosexual means; it's very different today from what it meant 2000 years ago and 4000 years ago in two different languages. So I'd like to start by conceding homosexuality as a sin. I do this because it really doesn't matter what your view on sin is when it comes to marriage equality.

For gay marriage to become legal there is one thing that would need to happen. That is the government (be it state or federal) would have to recognize it as such. Note, the church does not need to recognize it. Right there the conversation should realistically be done. The church can say it's a sin? Great, we're done here now churches can continue figuring out whether they'll marry gay couples or not. As a nation we should move on. Of course the debate isn't that simple.

There is a perception among some people is that the United States of America is a Christian nation formed on Christian principles for a Christian people; give or take one or two of those depending on the person. This is simply untrue. The only mention or religion, God, or anything relating to God in the original constitution is, of course, the date ("the year of our Lord..."). The Declaration of Independence has some religious sounding language in it. However, the Declaration of Independence was: 1) a document written for foreigners, not Americans; 2) written before the government was established with the constitution; and 3) includes the most famous phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness". Or to put in another way, we believe that everybody has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and it is the job of the government to make sure we can all pursue these rights. To deny marriage equality is to deny somebody these rights which our government is not supposed to do. Therefore it is the right of the people to alter our government, to pass new laws that protect these rights.

But we're getting away from the religion side of things. People will still think we're a Christian nation. I've heard many arguments declaring it. One of these is that our laws are based on the 10 commandments. Now there are a few different ways to count the 10 commandments but let's look at federal law compared to them. If you can be guilty of breaking a federal for going against a commandment it counts. (I'm going to use the Philonic numbering system starting with the intro)

Intro- "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Not a felony to disagree

1- "You shall have no other gods before Me." Not a crime to have other gods

2-  "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." Not a crime to create idols

3- "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." Not a crime

4- "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Not a crime

5- "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." Not a crime (oh boy we're through have of them with no felonies).

6- "You shall not murder." Can be a federal crime! We found one

7- "You shall not commit adultery." Not a crime on the federal level (is a crime in 22 states)

8- "You shall not steal." Can be a federal crime!

9- "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." A federal crime for sure

10- "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's." Not only is this not a crime. This behavior is encouraged in America.

There you go. Out of 10 commandments, you can only break federal law by breaking 3 of them. Out of the remaining 7 only one of them is a crime on any state level. At best you're looking at following 40% of the commandments in any given state. The nation only holds 30% of them to be true. And not murdering, stealing, or committing perjury aren't really things that are purely Christian or Jewish ideals. The 10 commandments, realistically, had zero sway on our nations laws.

"BUT!" (you might say) "Marriage is an institution that comes from God right? And God says "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." - Genesis 2:24. It doesn't say two men or two women. It says one man and one woman!"

Well actually it doesn't say one man and one woman. It says a man is united to his wife and they become one flesh. Marriage in the Bible doesn't actually look like the "traditional" marriage we like to talk about. If we look at the founder of the monotheistic faiths what do we see? Well Abraham had a wife Sarah. Sarah gave her slave, Hagar (which are illegal now), to Abraham so he could have sex with her. Hagar became his concubine, or his "lesser-wife". Jacob, also known as Israel the founder of the Jewish nation, had 2 wives given to him by his uncle and 2 wives given to him by his first two wives, so 4 in total. The great King David, a man after God's own heart, had 8 wives (one of whom he slept with while she was married to another man). King David's son, King Solomon, the wisest man, is listed in the Bible as having 700 wives and 300 concubines (again, lesser-wives) totally 1,000. A thousand wives. See, the traditional marriage found in the Bible is one man and multiple wives, with no limit on how many he may have. Any idea that God has ordained marriage to be one man and one woman is wrong.

Jesus never talked about homosexuality. What he did talk about was divorce, which he said "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." -Matthew 19:8-9. Despite Jesus calling remarrying after a divorce adultery (breaking a commandment remember), we allow divorce in this country for reasons other than sexual immorality. If we're such a Christian nation and we can't let our marriage laws go against God's word how can we stand by with divorce being ok?

My favorite part of that Matthew scripture happens to be the disciples reaction to it. They say "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." -Matthew 19:10. Good old silly disciples. Jesus says you're not allowed to divorce and they get all nervous and say they'd rather just not marry so they don't risk it! Ha!

Turns out this is hugely important. Because while I've shown Old Testament beliefs on marriage it is arguable that by Jesus' time it was one man and one woman (which I think is true but I'm not sure). But let's assume it's true. That's still at least 2000 years of tradition. But Jesus says no divorce, the disciples say they'd rather not marry if they can't divorce and Jesus comes back with some more "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." -Matthew 19:11-12. So what does that mean? Jesus says if you can live without ever getting married, you should do it. That's right, the Lord himself actively encourages you to not get married at all. He doesn't bar marriage but he doesn't really want you to do it if you don't have to.

These words from Jesus impacted Paul, the author of most of the New Testament. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that he wishes everybody could be like him and not get married. He concedes that some people can't help themselves so marriage is allowable and sex in marriage is allowable but you should only have sex as infrequently as possible so you can focus on your prayers instead. Seriously. Look "But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer." - 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.

But Paul doesn't stop there "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." - 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. There it is. The most recent words the Bible has on marriage is to stay unmarried. Pardon my vernacular but the only reason to get married according to Paul is if you can't keep it in your pants. And then once you're married you should pray a lot and only succumb to your desires as rarely as possible. 

That is the most recent word on marriage in the Bible. If you are a Christian and married, Paul is disappointed in you and Jesus wishes you would have been able to stay unwed. 

Not really the way we look at marriage in this country right? But I almost forgot the part about marriage being ordained by God and God alone. It's His institution not the governments.

Well that's just wrong. In fact if we want to say that only marriages that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob has ordained are legitimate in this country than nobody that is a Hindu, or a Jain, or a Buddhist, or an Atheist, etc. may marry legally in this country. If that is the case then the fight for marriage equality isn't for gay people it's for all non-Christians. But of course that's not the case. All of those marriages are legally recognized. Atheists can get married without ever stepping foot in a church. So why can't gay people? Marriage in this country has two forms. The state level where a state recognizes a marriage and the church level where a priest or pastor or religious leader of some variety oversees a ceremony and two people are joined in the eyes of God (or gods) and people. The state recognizing a marriage doesn't mean the church has to.  

And that comes to the last point. The argument that religious leaders will be sued for refusing to marry gay people. If that were anywhere close to the case than an atheist couple could go to a Catholic church and sue them when they refused to marry them. The church is allowed certain discriminations concerning religion without fear of retaliation. A church that says being gay is a sin has no fear of being retaliated against for refusing to marry a couple, at least from the government. People might be upset about it.

And this is why it doesn't matter what your view on sin is. Because the government marrying two people together doesn't mean you have to accept it in your church. You can have your view and call it a sin but the government doesn't deal in sins. The government is supposed to treat all people equal. Justice is supposed to be blind in our country. And blind justice doesn't care if you're gay or straight.

Finally, there is one more argument that follows the slippery slope logical fallacy. It goes like this "if we let gay people marry then we have to let people marry objects and animals and children too because of equality". In a few words, no it doesn't. Objects, animals, and children do not have the cognitive functions required to make a commitment like marriage. Consenting adults are completely different from any of those things. This is one of the worst arguments out there and if I never hear it again it will have been too soon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Connecting The Church In Mission

I recently spent five days in Columbus, Georgia at Pierce Chapel United Methodist Church with 13 other "missionary units" as we each spoke about our call to mission, the work that we are doing now, and how their church could walk along side us. I was sought out and invited by one of the pastors at Pierce Chapel who previously served as a US-2. I went down to Georgia (I wasn't looking for a soul to steal) with some pre-conceived notions in my head. Primarily, I thought I'd be there with 13 other missionaries from the General Board of Global Ministries. Instead, I found out that out of all the missionary units there were only 3 of us connected to the board. This was very educational to me for I had assumed that in the United Methodist Church that missionary meant Global Ministries. Pierce Chapel showed me that missionary could also mean "mission society" (won't get into the history of the board and them but we're all nice and friendly now and that's what matters), it could mean "mission on the move", it could mean the local church decided to act, and most importantly, it could mean people who serve without any formal title of missionary in the first place.

While the General Board of Global Ministries is the official agency for sending out United Methodist missionaries it is not the only one. And while the board's slogan is "connecting the church in mission" I really think that should be adopted to the whole church (maybe replace the word "church" with "world" in the slogan". See what I learned at this event was just how connected we all are. Let me explain these connections in some detail (if you don't like hearing how awesome the church is at connecting us then you should skip down to the end. I'll put some "!" down there so you know to start reading again).

The first missionary I met at Pierce Chapel was sent out by his local church to serve the youth of the Navajo Nation. He liked to talk about how the closest Walmart to him is almost 100 miles away in Farmington, New Mexico. As it should so happen one of my fellow US-2s works with the women of the Navajo Nation in Farmington. In fact she lives right by that very Walmart. Two United Methodist missionaries have been serving the Navajo and, at times, been fairly close to one another without every knowing it.

One of the Global Ministries missionaries serves as the regional auditor for Central America which means she works in a lot of countries overseeing lots of missions. But she lives in Costa Rica. While I was in Georgia I saw that my home church back in Michigan was sending a team down to Costa Rica. I told her this and she knew they'd be going to one of two places in the country. She was right of course since she is the one overseeing these ministries.

The other person connected to Global Ministries is a deaconess who works for UMCOR. I asked her if she knew the deaconess that works with us young adult missionaries and of course she knows her even if one is in NYC and one is in Louisiana.

Two missionaries, a husband and wife, that I met will be heading off to India on July 1st where they will live out the rest of their lives. I thought I had heard all the best bits of their story by the fourth night of being in Georgia when I found out I was completely wrong. It turns out that the husband had previously been to Ghana, which if you don't know I have been to as well. After his talk I went up to him and the conversation went something like this:
Me: "You went to Ghana!? I went to Ghana too! Where were you at?"
Him: "I spent my time in both Accra and Kumasi"
Me: "That's where I was! When did you go?"
Him: "I was there in 2007"
Me: " I was there in 2007! When exactly were you there?"
Him: "I was there for the month of May"
Me: "I missed you by two weeks. I arrived in the middle of June."

Sunday morning they had George Howard, the new Deputy General Secretary for Mission and Evangelism of the General Board of Global Ministries (whew, what a title) give the sermon. Now, the way I like to phrase it is that George is my new bosses, bosses, boss at the board. So it was nice for me to get to meet him since he only came on four months ago. But what was more was George told his history in mission and before he came to the board he had done a lot of awesome things. Most recently he helped start a church in Columbus, Ohio called The Church For All People. My ears perked up at that point because I knew one of my fellow young adult missionaries came out of that church. Unfortunately I wasn't able to talk to George after the service and he had to fly back to New York. Fortunately (for me), George wasn't able to leave that night and instead had to leave early the next morning. We were driven to the airport together. So I decided to ask George if he knew Brittany. I said "Do you..." at which point he started to smile at softly laugh "know Brittany?" Of course George knows Brittany. He knew the question before I even asked it.

While I was in Georgia I stayed with a lovely family who treated me excellently. The two boys in the family have both been to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky which I have been to on three occasions. I asked them if they knew my friend Bob. They didn't remember names so I pulled up a picture of Bob and showed them. They definitely know Bob as I thought they would. It was awesome to stay in the house of people who start off as strangers and find out that you know some of the same people.

Another missionary I met works with Henderson Settlement, a part of the Red Bird Mission in Kentucky. While I have been to the main campus of Red Bird I have never been to the Henderson Settlement. But I knew that my home church has sent teams to Henderson so I decided to ask her if she remembered anybody from my church. This is where things get a little bit crazy. There were two stories she really liked to tell to show how spending a week at Henderson could really change the lives of the kids she serves. The first story was about work that Pierce Chapel youth had done with her kids. But her other story was about a church that taught her kids financial management skills. Things they never learn otherwise including how to order off of a menu at a restaurant. When I told her that my home church was the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham Michigan her eyes got big and she said "that's the church I've been talking about!" Seems that my church back home has been able to provide the kids at the Henderson Settlement with real life changing experiences that get shared with other churches. I just happened to be in the audience to hear about the great work my church is doing.


So now that we've covered the connectionism of the church let's get to the coolest part of my time in Georgia.

On Sunday night Pierce Chapel held a worship service that they call their "life commitment service". It was a touching service in general but at the end of it the congregation filled out these cards that let them check off some options. There were a number of options and when you filled it out you were to bring it to the front and place it in one of two bowls. However, if you had checked off "feeling a call to service but you still need to discern what that call is" or if you checked off "feeling called to full-time missionary service" you were to hand your card to the senior pastor. After everybody had come forward the senior pastor called up each person who had handed him a card. Over a dozen people had checked off one of these two options. Half of them were college-aged or younger.

These kids were incredible. From the 7th grader still going through confirmation to the college students figuring out where they want to take their lives. From one of my host families kids to the PK who came forward to the 15 year old who would be moving to Kenya right this moment if he only had a plane ticket. This church was full of young people who want to be in mission. And as the youngest missionary there, who was there to show the youth that the church has space for them to serve, it was an incredible sight to see.

One last thought. Shortly before I went to Georgia I preached at a church in Albany. I preached about the importance, and the Biblical nature of doubt when God calls and how I think we as the Church like to encourage a vision that discourages those who doubt from following their call. While at Pierce Chapel the missionaries repeatedly told the congregation one thing. "We are nothing special". We are super-people being called by God. We're the same as anybody else. So when I was meeting with the youth group Saturday night and a member of the youth raised her hand and asked "Do you ever doubt what you do?" I could unashamedly tell her "all the time". A young person was brave enough to ask about doubt because even in a church where mission is held up so high and a five day event is put on to show off mission and how you could indeed be a missionary too, there was still a question of whether or not doubt was ok. So take with you that to be a missionary you don't have to be anything special, you don't have to be 100% confident. You can doubt and drag your feet but what ultimately matters is that you say yes, even in the midst of doubt. And when you do you'll find that you can travel 1000 miles away to meet complete strangers and learn that they aren't really strangers after all.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Felines And Minimum Wage

First and foremost, I got a cat this weekend. I'm super pumped about it. Don't judge me. How could you judge me for loving her?

You can't. I rest my case. This picture is from the first time she came out from under the bed while somebody was around her. Last night she finally was comfortable enough to come see what was so cool about the top of my bed while I was sitting on it. She's quite the scaredy cat but she's getting more comfortable every day and I can't wait to go home today and see if she's spending more time out from under the bed (even with her exploration, it is short lived and she quickly goes back to her fort). Anyway, I'll leave this topic just after one more picture.

This morning I was on the bus coming to work when craziness started to happen. The bus kept having more and more people get on. Way more people than normal and all of them wearing suits. Now last week there was a class of kids from the College of Saint Rose who got on my bus in the morning and none of whom, the professor included, knew how the bus works, but that was one group. These were people at different stops, dressed the same, and in large numbers. Now I saw the effects of this last week when trying to go home where busses were so overloaded that I wasn't let on, but I hadn't seen it in the morning until today. All of these new people that didn't exist before are now here for one reason. Congress. Last week the legislature kicked off its new session in Albany so right now every member of congress and the entirety of their staffs are in town. Now I've lived here for nearly 5 months and never saw the effect of legislatures being in town on public transportation. This leads me to believe one thing, these people aren't sticking around for very long. I'm not really sure what that means for the democratic process when it takes 5 months before I could realize that the people running New York aren't actually ever at the capital in anywhere close to a complete capacity during most of the year. I understand the importance of the members of congress going back to their districts to talk to the people they represent. But has there been nothing noteworthy voted on since before I arrived? Does anybody show up to session ever? Or do I only have to deal with staffers on the busses for a couple of weeks in the new year? Time will tell but it's looking like the last option will be the right one. 

Now, while surrounded by staffers this morning my mind wandered over to a topic for who knows what reason, the minimum wage. Now the Federal Minimum Wage is set at $7.25/hour. My home state has a higher minimum wage of $7.40 (Whoot so high!), and New York just keeps the Federal minimum wage requirements. Putting minimum wage in different terms, minimum wage for somebody that works full time year round is $15,080. Now this is technically a wage that is livable (I survive on less than this and it's above the Federal poverty level for a single person). That being said I'm not sure how many people can get a full time, minimum wage job. If a person needs a car to commute to their job then this is unfeasible to survive off of, insurance alone would destroy a bank account let alone maintenance and other car issues. 

So if we aren't employing people 40 hours a week in minimum wage jobs then our minimum wage isn't providing people with wages that are livable. 

When adjusted for inflation our minimum waged peaked in the 1960s when it was worth about $10/hour in todays money. That would put people at $20,800 a year working full time. People would only have to work 29 hours a week to reach what our current minimum wage gets people for working 40 hours a week. This is better, but still not perfect.

Now, I understand that if you raise the minimum wage it therefore becomes more expensive to operate your business. I also understand that some business probably cannot afford a higher minimum wage (you can always argue that you can not pay higher-ups as much but you also need to pay them enough to attract the type of talent you want and in some cases the higher-ups is the single owner and that is it and if a company is barely making a profit raising the minimum wage would literrally kill the business or force layoffs and shorter hours or lead the business owner to work even longer. These will usually just be start ups). 

But I have a solution to these problems. A new company has x (let's say 10) years to operate on the federal (or state if it's higher) minimum wage level. This gives the company a chance to keep costs of labor low and grow as fast as possible. After that, or for any company older than 10 years, your net profits for the last x (let's say 3) years are averaged. If your a company of x (say 50 or less) employees and you average a certain amount in profits your minimum wage requirements go up to a higher level. Essentially you tier minimum wage with a floor (we can use the current $7.25) that goes up to a ceiling (there does have to be a limit, we are still talking about unskilled labor mostly). This encourages companies to to increase their profit margins even more than we currently do but without cutting the cost of labor. Companies with bigger profits must pay employees more, and that means more people want to work for them. If you are stuck in the $7.25 minimum wage category you're the last place people want to work. It is in your best interest to make yourself more marketable to potential employees to attract better employees. 

But doesn't this hurt start ups? Yes and no. There are enough good employees looking for work and only a limited number of spots available, even in higher paying minimum wage jobs. So you could still get good talent. That, and it encourages employers to train their employees to be good employees. You're not going to fire your entire staff and start anew with every new tier. You want the people you already have to be worth the extra you have to pay them as you advance up the system. So you train them to be better at their jobs and teach them good work habits and ethics. In the end the economy grows and people can afford to survive. 

I welcome thoughts on this as it's something I hadn't thought of before and can't find anybody else talking about any similar ideas after a quick google search.