Friday, September 01, 2006


What I hold onto and let go of

This morning while I was praying I thought about this image of my self and my sin.

I'm holding on to a piece of excrement. I have become accustomed to its smell, taste, texture, color, temperature. I eat it and look at it and hold it. It's comforting because it's familiar. I'm used to it and I like it. It doesn't really provide any profound health, but I'm used to it and I like it. I've become covered with brown goo since my hands and my face touch it all the time. Everything I touch gets contaminated.

This is my reality: me and my shit. I'm somewhat comfortable, except that it kind of gives me nausea. But I'm used to it. I hear God gently telling me that he has a banquet prepared for me, but since it doesn't include shit I am not interested. He tells me that before I can come enjoy the banquet, which he promises will be very tasty and enjoyable, I need to wash up a bit. He offers to help, but I need to be willing to let go of my little piece of crap I'm holding so I can get my hands in the sink to wash.

My shit is my lust, rage, bitterness, anger, resentment, rebellion, "the intrigue, the tease, the forbidden".

To surrender is to believe that God has somethig better for me, and to lay down the piece of brown shit. At least right now. I can't predict what will happen in an hour, but I can lay it down right now in this moment.


Friday, June 16, 2006



Humans seem to be wired to like things tidy. And it's a useful trait.

Here's what I mean. In order to navigate our way through life we need to simplify, to classify, to make decisions about whole classes of things all at once instead of wading through the details. This is the enterprise of science, to peel back the apparent chaos of everyday experience and explain it all using some simple equations, laws, rules. In physics, the more symmetry and simplicity a theory exhibits, the more profoudly it is regarded. Engineering is possible because the ptimary physical effects are understood and the minutia is ignored. Often in art we see a scene that has been been abstracted to a few pencil lines or brush strokes, and we praise the artist for capturing so much in so little.

The same search for tidiness happens in our own psyche. We each have organized our mind around some pervading myth against which, through which, by which we filter our everyday experience, we classify and store or discard sensory input. Humans have a remarkable capacity to ignore vast amounts of sensory input that is in contradiction to their myth, or that is irrelavant for the immediate task at hand. For some, the myth is a well articulated philosophy, for others it is a religion, and for others it is the sum total of their psychological wounds and phobias. Regardless, each person is guided by a myth, a story they belive about how the world works and where they fit into it. We begin acquiring these myths from the cradle when our parents hold us (or not), sing to us (or scream), protect us (or neglect), and interpret the world for us through stories and folklore.

The myths are products of our society, and while customized slightly by each person, are a critical element that holds society together. An evolutionary understanding of societies (e.g. Dawkins) would explain that the most successful (prevalant) myths are those which effectively unify and strengthen a society so that the carriers of the myth cause the myth to repoduce and be carried by more people. A creationist/theological understanding of society would explain that God created these myths so that society would be held together and people would prosper. People need to fit into society, do their jobs, and be good worker bees.

Regardless of their origin, the prevalence of a myth should be correlated with its effectiveness. Any correlation of the prevalece of myth with "truth" is, to first principles, accidental.

One of the most common elements of our personal myths is a strict taboo on suicide, which makes lots of sense given the purpose of these myths. They exist to hold society together and propogate the myth, results which are much less likely if the population has a propensity for suicide. However, the prevalence of this taboo does not mean that it is good for any particular individual or that it is in any fundamental way "true".

Another element of most myths is a fascination with immortality in one way or another. Some seek a sort of immortality through what they pass along to their children, while others seek fame and recognition as great contributors to society or as notorious criminals. Some seek literal immortality through constantly trying to get their health repaired. All of these are manifestations of the drive to contribute to society, which serves a useful purpose to the propogation of the myth. The only benefit to the individual comes as self-serving vanity, a method by which the individual attempts to assert his superiority over his fellow man.

On the other side of the spectrum is an individual deciding that he does not buy into the prevalent myth any longer, deciding with malice toward none that he doesn't believe his life is important. Instead of trying to assert superiority, he bows out, making space for others to live as they choose. Instead of blindly buying into the prevalant myth and being a good worker bee his whole life, he instead takes a road less travelled. He has stopped the vain search for happiness and meaning, and just checks out.

The only problems with this approach for me, personally, are that (1) I still believe that a Creator made me and has told me that it is not my right to take a life, (2) that this Creator has commanded me to love, and (3) I have two children who need a father and who would be damaged by my absence.

Sunday, February 12, 2006



On Saturday I took Oliver, my four year old, over to a nice park for learning to ride a bike. He finally agreed to take his two-wheeled bicycle on the condition that we also take his tricycle. I removed the training wheels awhile back, much to his consternation. I view training wheels as the most sure way to guarantee that the kid gets knocked over when he crosses the smallest irregularity in the road.

Anyway, we went to the park. I stumbled upon the one reason that motivated him to try, just for a few minutes, the bicycle. I told him he could go faster than on his tricycle. "Oh really?" And we were off. He actually learned pretty fast. After an hour of me running along beside him he found a little loop in the road that he could navigate well. A slight slope launched him down and around the corner and up the other side. He was in heaven. We had to call Mom and big sister on the cell phone to tell them the news.

I find that Oliver is a little hestitant to try new scarry things. Last winter he was content to run down the hill behind Emmanuelle on her sled, but he did not want to ride. He would pull the sled to the top of the hill for her. He would help her get going at the top of the hill. But he would not ride it down himself. Finally I grabbed him, held him, jumped on the sled with him and down we went. His screams changed from terror at the top of the hill to delight at the bottom. He had gotten over his fear.

Could it be that my heavenly father takes delight in me the way I delight in my son? Could it be he wants to just grab me and fly down the hill on a sled with me? Or that he sees beyond my fears and my timidity and is pushing me to do the work and take the risks to become someone new? Maybe. But I find it hard to accept. I find it hard to take the risks to trust. I am lazy and want the rewards without taking the risks and doing the work.

"We know and rely on the love God has for us."

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Tolerance and Freedom

In the west we value freedom to think whatever we want and say whatever we want. Not everyone in the world values these freedoms. No one is forcing people to live in the west, particularly people who view these freedoms as secondary to religious beliefs. While I understand that one might take offense when the leader of ones religion is mocked in public, in the west one is not entitled to an apology from the mocker. This is freedom.

One might argue that a society should not allow the mocking of religion. Those who would desire such a society are welcome to leave the west and go to a society without such freedom. However, we in the west have a society that we like and that we will fight to the death to protect. To those with a different set of values we say: We welcome you to our society with open arms, but if you join us you will need to adopt the rules we live by.

Thursday, December 22, 2005



Thanks to the folks at for the icon. I love this icon.


Starting about health care?

I had a conversation with the Governor of the State of Massachusetts last night. Mr. Romney and I had a chat about universal health care for the Commonwealth, something he's pushing for, at least in one form. I summarize our conversation for those of you who were not able to hear it. [it was 30 seconds on a WBZ talk radio! :P]

Many conservatives believe in the free market system as a good method of driving efficiency and innovation in the health care system. They also like the technical excellence that exists in the US system. They value the freedom to choose the kind of health care they purchase and use.

Many people on the other side of the political spectrum sense a need for universal health care; consideration of the basic human dignity of each of our neighbors, and a sense of solidarity with them, drives us to want to take care of them, or at least provide them with basic necessities.

Liberals are troubled by the fact that 20% of the population is uninsured, and consequently receive sub-standard health care. Conservatives recoil from proposals for reform that resemble in any way the quagmires of mediocrity that are accepted in Europe and Canada.

How about a plan that will combine the best of both? What if the market system could be used to drive efficiency and innovation while simultaneously allowing everyone to receive a humane and basic level of care? And what if we could do this with only small changes to our system, which is already serving most citizens pretty well?

I am proposing a system inspired by those "cafeteria" benefit plans common at some large corporations. There the company gives each employee a voucher for many thousand dollars per year which may be applied to a health plan, long term disability insurance, and life insurance. The employee is free to supplement the voucher with his or her own cash to pay for whatever options are desired.

We can do the same thing in the Commonwealth. All those large companies that are currently paying part of the health insurance premiums for their employees would instead divert all that money to a big fund, held by the state. Any employer would be required to contribute to the fund in proportion to the number of hours worked, exactly as employers do presently for FICA & Workmen's Comp. Out of this account each year each citizen or family would be given a health insurance voucher, redeemable for a health plan at a insurance company such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The voucher would probably not cover the entire plan, and everyone would need to kick in some of their own money, just as we all do now at our jobs. Of course, some sort of certification process would be needed to prevent fraud, but this could be phased in and would be paid for by the money saved on the part of companies who no longer would need to do their own footwork to provide a health plan to their employees. A variety of plans would be offered, no doubt, which would span a range of health care models from HMOs to PPO to whatever. One could choose a lower cost plan with higher co-pays and deductibles, or one could choose premium plans and supplement the voucher with one's own cash.

When I spoke with the governor last night he brought up the problem of those small businesses who have trouble getting health plans, or who just do not provide health plans. This plan I'm proposing would address this issue by forcing all employers, large or small, to contribute something proportional to the number of hours worked. In return, all the economies of scale enjoyed by large corporations in negotiating their health plans would be accessible to the employees of small businesses as well.

In addition, those companies who pay minimum wage to low-skilled workers would be effectively forced to provide health care benefits.

The plan I'm proposing would be a big aid to people who work two or three part-time jobs. Often part-time jobs provide no health benefits. So even though the person is working full time he receives no health insurance at a group rate. In this plan he would have the same access to the large plans currrently enjoyed by employees of large corporations.

Another benefit of this plan is that since health care would not longer be tied to a job, employees would be much more free to switch jobs. Their health coverage would stay with them as they transition between companies and careers. This mobility should increase the overall efficiency of the economy.

In exchange for providing vouchers to everyone in the state, we would require that everyone who enters a hospital have a health plan. If a person had not chosen a plan, the minimal plan would be assigned to them, a plan which is just paid for by the voucher, and which would probably have a fairly high deductible and co-pay. Hospitals would be more willing to accept these patients because their non-payment risk would be capped at the deductible. Furthermore, the state would have the authority to extract the copayments/deductibles from people who refused to pay, and the burden would not fall to the hospitals.

In summary, I believe this vision of universal health coverage combines the best elements of the current system and also the desire to provide care for all citizens. It does not require any radical changes to the current system, which works pretty well. While some transitions costs might arise, in the long term it should not be much more expensive than the current approach.

What do you think? How can we get those politicians on board?

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