Saturday, October 13, 2012

Collin reads the November 2012 California ballot propositions

The state ballot pamphlet came the other day, and here's my whack at November's propositions.
  1. Temporary taxes to fund education…: YES

    This measure increases taxes on those who can certainly afford to pay them, to relieve the burden on those who can't afford an education -- and we as a state can't afford to destroy the dream of the UC and CSU systems. For more on this, google the "price of civilization" (with or without quotes).

  2. State budget. State and local government. Initiative constitutional amendment…: NO

    I was in favor of this until I heard the league of women voters were against it. Their argument makes sense to me: the bill has many flaws and that such minute details don't belong in the constitution.

  3. Political contributions by payroll deduction…: NO

    This would tilt the balance of power even more toward the rich and away from labor and the unions that represent them. I hate to disagree with my buddy Charles, and maybe before Citizens United I might have voted for 32. But corporations and super-PACs can raise and spend tons of money, anonymously in some cases, and this bill would make it even easier for them to crush workers.

    Sorry to sound like a Communist, and by the way I don't believe unions are all sweetness and light either. But golly, wasn't Citizens United bad enough? It's like the one side has machine-guns and we want to give them helicopter gunships, while the other side has only stone knives and slingshots.

  4. Auto insurance companies.…: YES

    Here's how I understand this, based upon the legislative analyst's summary: today, auto insurance companies can't offer you a discount based upon your being insured by some other company for some time. The proposal is to let them give you a discount for being continuously insured by some other company.

    So who could be against this? Incumbent insurers, that's who! If today my car is insured by, say, Allstate, and I'm considering switching to, say, GEICO... then Allstate can hold on to me by giving me a discount (if I've been insured by them for some years). GEICO might like to give me a discount, but Allstate doesn't want them to be able to do that.

    I think GEICO ought to be able to say "Sure, you've been insured with Allstate for 10 years continuously, we'll give you a discount on your rate."

  5. Death penalty…: YES

    For two reasons. First, if you execute an innocent prisoner, you can't give him anything back. We really are not 100% sure about all those guys on death row. Even if you think it's OK to kill a criminal, it's not OK to kill someone innocent.

    Second, it costs a lot of money, much of it from taxpayers, to go through all the court proceedings necessary to execute the prisoner. Or to change their sentence to life in prison. We do not need to spend this money.

  6. Human trafficking…: YES

    Human trafficking is an abomination. If the price of more vigorous enforcement is that the "erotic services industry" (read the ballot arguments) finds it a little more difficult to do business, I rally have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

  7. Three strikes law…: YES

    The point of this is the three strikes law currently means: "if you have two serious/violent felonies, and one not serious/violent, the judge may or may not be forced to give you a life sentence, depending on the order. If the non-violent/serious one is the third one, the judge must give you that life sentence—but not if it was the 1st or the 2nd."

    Huh? The proposition would change the law to require a life sentence to be imposed for the 3rd serious/violent felony. This only makes sense.

  8. Genetically engineered foods. Labeling.…: YES

    Some people think the law is too vague and will cause various problems. But it seems to me a step in the right direction, vs doing nothing.

  9. Tax to fund education…: YES

    The story I heard is that the worst case for schools is having both 30 and 38 fail. Some education advocates prefer 30, some prefer 38. But if they attack each other too much and both 30 and 38 fail, that's not a good situation for California's future. Thus I want to give both of them the best possible chance of succeeding.

  10. Tax treatment for multistate businesses…: YES

    Why should we give any company a tax break if it's selling a lot of stuff in California? Money from the state is going to the company; it should pay taxes here in proportion to sales.

  11. Redistricting. State senate districts…: YES

    The citizens' redistricting commission drew new districts and prop 40 ratifies those state senate districts. There isn't even an argument against 40 in the voter's pamphlet.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

"Be transformed," he said

We were talking the other day about how to become less apathetic, which in my case means "how to become less self-centered."

It's part of a more general question: how do we change, how do we grow? How does someone become warmer, more patient, less anxious? The Apostle Paul gave us a command ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind," Romans 12:2) and other biblical writers gave us various clues, but we don't have a lot of step-by-step instructions. I know a couple of ways that don't work:

  1. Just Trying Harder (Galatians 3:3)
    This doesn't work because my spiritual growth or formation isn't my project; it's God's! John Ortberg gave a terrific sermon on this topic January 10-11, 2009 (link). That command in Romans 12 wasn't worded "Transform yourself"!
  2. Hoping for change but not doing anything (James 2:14-17)
    My growth is God's project (we are his workmanship, Ephesians 2:10) but that doesn't mean I just sit like a block of wood. "Be transformed" is a command, as is "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, love...." (Colossians 3).
So what does work? I actually wrote an essay on this topic in February 2009, shortly after the sermon mentioned above. I still believe what I wrote back then (except for the links that have since broken), though I might summarize things a bit differently today.

The fact is that God must change us; we cannot change ourselves, as I think the Greeks knew too (besides Paul's rhetorical storm in Galatians 3). Our part is to put ourselves in the way of the means of grace.

Okay, sorry for the jargon, but there's a story of a boy who needed sunlight to be cured from some childhood malady. The cure was in the sun's rays, but the boy's part (or his parents' part) was to make sure he got in the way (the path) of sunlight. In a similar way, God must change me but I must stay connected to him.

If I never read the Bible, never pray, never listen to sermons, never share or celebrate or study with fellow Christians, never participate in the sacraments; if I spend my non-working hours watching television, reading pulp fiction and playing first-person shooter games... then I'm not putting myself in the means of grace and am not doing anything to be transformed.

So does this stuff work? If you put yourself in the way of the means of grace, where the sunshine of God's curative rays so to speak can reach you, will you be transformed?

I have to believe you will, if you want to be. What does Philippians 1:6 say? And what does the rest of Philippians say about how to have 1:6 happen in your life? Or mine? We need to practice humility, to give generously, to be aware that God is the one who changes us, to set our minds on what is true, noble, right, praiseworthy, to refrain from anxiety, to let our forbearance be evident to all, and so on. We put ourselves in the path of the means of grace, we walk in the road of grace, and we'll be transformed by the power of grace.

My February 2009 essay is a little less disjointed (and so is this November followup), but that's what I think. You and I can't just work ourselves into becoming better people without a change of heart, and we can't just wish ourselves there either. We need to focus on letting God work his change in us.

Come to think of it, I wonder if that's part of what Hebrews 4:11 means: "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest."

Saturday, October 06, 2012

When We Can't All Agree

Do you sometimes hear people say, "The Bible is clear on ________" and think, Clear to you, maybe; it's not quite clear to me?

Some issues, what I think are "essentials," really are clear: God created the world; Jesus commanded us to love each other; Jesus never sinned; he died for us.

But Christians who take the Bible seriously can disagree on other issues, particularly on certain "hot topics." On such topics, where sincere biblical Christians may in good conscience disagree, I find Greg Boyd's attitude and example tremendously helpful:

I can fully appreciate and understand how someone for exegetical reasons comes to the conclusion that Calvinism is true… I don't agree with that but I really understand how you can get to that position exegetically.
"Greg on the Open View: Video One"
recorded in 2008 at Azusa Pacific University (video link)
That view, of being able to appreciate and understand how someone can study the Bible and come to a different conclusion than I currently do, is a terrific example for me as I consider some "non-essential" issues.

With that background, let me outline four possible positions regarding an issue which is no longer controversial today, though it was at one time. Ready?

  1. The only reasonable position is that it's absolutely OK.
  2. I think the Bible permits it, but I understand others may disagree.
  3. I don't think the Bible allows it, but I understand others may disagree.
  4. The only reasonable position is that it's absolutely forbidden.
Oh, the issue I had in mind was slavery. On that issue I think I find myself at #4, though the viewpoints of 19th-century American Christians—even white American Christians—probably spanned the spectrum. American Christians moved over time away from #1 and toward #4 on slavery.

How about... can women be ordained as elders and pastors? There I think early 20th-century American evangelicals may have been mainly in the #3 and #4 camps, but over time more of us fall into #1 or #2 (though not all of us - click here for example). There we moved overall away from #4 and toward #1, but not all of us. Keller is a #3 on this issue but the PCUSA's position is #1 (link).

There are at least two hot-button non-essential issues in the American church today, which I need not mention here. But on these issues I think #2s and #3s can get along with each other. #1s don't seem to want to tolerate #3s, and #4s don't seem to want to tolerate #2s.

This model, with #1–4, is not original with me, but the originator didn't want to be quoted (I'll update this if they change their mind). I find these categories helpful as I think about these issues, and about others' positions on them.