30 November 2009

Totally like whatever, you know?

By Taylor Mali www.taylormali.com

In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

29 November 2009

Brian Tamaki is a visionary & leader

Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church sure pave their own path.

My friend Jemma commented on her blog after a big noise was made recently about Tamaki and a covenant some of his followers made. Jemma is an Anglican priest and university chaplain who desires to live a life of authentic faith and discipleship to Jesus Christ.
Plenty has been written about the oath of loyalty that members of Destiny Church took to their Bishop – Brian Tamaki.  If you haven’t followed the story, 700 spiritual sons took an oath and now wear a ring (that only cost them $295 + $5 admin) to show their commitment.  They’re required to stand when he or his wife enters a room, not to interrupt him when he’s speaking and not to begin eating until he has.  This “code of conduct”, aiming to ensure “obedience and honour” is spelled out for them in the covenant document.  Hundreds of others paid $30 to witness the ceremony.

Jemma also points us to Glenn Cardy's comments saying, "One of the most thoughtful pieces on this is by The Ven Glynn Cardy, a friend in the Diocese of Auckland, and can be found here."

Brian Tamaki, self-proclaimed bishop of the Destiny Church, now has 700 men sworn to loyalty and obedience.

At their recent conference these men pledged to "submit to God's chosen [Brian]", "to guard and protect him", to "always speak of him in a favourable and positive light", and to never openly disagree with him. In church the oath-takers are encouraged to sit as close to the front as possible and encourage him by clapping and saying "Amen".

They are not to tolerate anyone speaking critically of him. At times they are to give gifts to him out of love and respect, thereby earning spiritual rewards. Bishop Brian is for them "the tangible expression of the presence of God", elevated above mortal criticism.

It sounds incredible that in our day and age with analytical education the norm, such anachronistic thinking should not only exist but be publicly celebrated by Destiny's thousands of adherents. As the news of this oath broke in Auckland the reaction was mixed. Many laughed.

The cartoonists had fresh material. Around town the jokes flowed thick and fast. Many, too, were shocked that an adoration cult in the guise of religion should manifest itself here in secular ol' NZ. A religion, no matter what good deeds it might do, whose leader demands unquestioning obeisance and a male phalanx, is a throwback to spiritual feudalism.

Such a religion is also a concern to the mental health workers and mainstream religions' ministers who in time have to deal with disillusioned former followers.Yet before we continue to verbally lambast Bishop Brian, those of us with a stake in institutional Christianity would do well to pause. At ordination Anglicans and Catholics take an oath of obedience to their bishop, although most interpret that liberally.It wasn't so long ago in Anglicanism that all the ordained were men. At most major church services, seated close to the bishop, were these robed men. They might not have been clapping and saying "Amen" but the supportive effect was not dissimilar.

The titles that still waft around the church like "Most Reverend", "Very Reverend", "Venerable", "Your Eminence", "Your Holiness", etcetera, all serve to spiritually elevate the leader above other Christians and lead many to be reverential and hesitant to speak critically.

In church history it is not unknown that priests and laity were protective of their bishops, gave gifts, and were expected to be loyal to his "office" even if privately critical of his "person". Some of these practices continue. And, of course, "infallibility" has not yet been wholly relegated to the dustbin of history.

Nelson Mandela once said, "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

Good leadership is that which enhances the freedom of others. It is mindful of the temptations and negative impact of power, and seeks to continually keep open the means of critical appraisal.

Leaders who see robust criticism as destructive are dangerous. Leaders who encourage deference can become deluded about their own importance.

No leader is indispensable. If their organisation crumbles in their absence the foundations were never well laid.

For many decades now many mainline ministers have seen themselves as fallible guides, trying to enable others, sharing pain, hope and trust, and together with their parishioners seeking God.

The Christian churches have tried to flatten out their structures, emphasising teamwork and mutual accountability. God hasn't been delivered from the top down, like a head office directive, but discovered by ordinary people in the muddle of their ordinary lives. Some churches have been more successful in this than others.

Bishop Brian and his band are building up what most of the rest of Western Christianity has been trying to pull down. He's trying to elevate his God by elevating himself.

It's been tried many times before, and it doesn't work. It creates a dependency that stunts spiritual growth. Those of the Catholic and Protestant traditions know these things because they have been repeated time and again in our own history. The self-promotion and self-glorification of a gifted leader has little to do with a man from Nazareth who once said, "Blessed are the meek."

It's all very difficult, isn't it? Jesus walked and taught and lived amongst His followers, exhorted those who would abuse religious structures, and affirmed the marginalised and sincere believers.

These kinda things in headlines of mainstream newspapers do not represent Jesus well. I'm not saying they shouldn't be reported or discussed. I'm saying they make me sad and taint the beauty of what Jesus came to do.

28 November 2009

No Alibi for 28th!

I have no alibi as I leave USA on 27th and arrive on 29th! Ahh!

See previous post on International Date Line and how it affects dates & times.

27 November 2009

Grateful Prayer

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart

26 November 2009

Now just to do the bit between here & Chicago.

Guess where I am.

Reptilian Runaway

Green iguanas are so ugly they are beautiful. I was out looking for one today. Not just any iguana, mind you, but my friend Robin's iguana. Her name is Chili Pepper and she pushed open the door of her very spacious cage and then found the door to the outside was open, so out she went. Hmmm.

Robin's house backs up on to a bushy hillside on the edge of San Dimas, CA. The reptilian escapee could be anywhere.

Last time this happened, they looked for three days only to find her behind the bookcase. She crawled in and couldn't back out.

We've used flashlights, stomping through underbrush and a disinterested dog in our search. I looked over neighbouring fences, fearing Id be reported for casing nearby homes for illegal entry.

It'll be cool out tonight and there are coyotes and raptors who could be a danger to Robin's reptilian runaway.

We've left a light on for Chili Pepper.

Gratitude is good spirituality

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed.
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. Denis Waitley:

For what are you thankful?

Alfred Painter:

Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.

Brother David Steindl-Rast :

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more.


Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.


Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

Eric Hoffer:

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.

G. K. Chesterton:

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

H. U. Westermayer:

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.

Henry Ward Beecher:

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.

Jean Jacques Rousseau:

There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.

Johannes A. Gaertner:

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.

John F. Kennedy:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

Leroy [Satchel] Paige:

[D]on't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines.

New York Post, October 4, 1959

Marc Estrin:

Kindness trumps greed: it asks for sharing. Kindness trumps fear: it calls forth gratefulness and love. Kindness trumps even stupidity, for with sharing and love, one learns.

Margaret Cousins:

Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.

25 November 2009

Travel Art

On my way again.
From old high school facade, preserved in Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, IN

24 November 2009

Listening, Receptive & Attentive

David Tacey: What is religion for? Drawing out the Sacred in Secular Times
in Reimagining God and Mission, edited by Ross Langmead, pg 56.

“…rather than coming to people with fixed answers and dogmatic solutions, which serves to alienate [searchers & wayfarers] further from what they dislike and fail to understand about religion, let religion, instead, come to them with a listening heart, with an attitude of receptivity and attentiveness. This is slow and tedious work, to be sure, but it is the way that yields results that have lasting power. True power comes from within, and any ‘show of power’ from without will have an alienating effect. I’m not sure what this means at an institutional level for religion,
but I think that what I have in mind is something akin to spiritual direction and counseling...”

23 November 2009

Goodness Precedes Greatness: A Call For New Heroes In Troubled Times

Jon Foreman on Huffington Post Lead singer and guitarist of Switchfoot.

"I write songs for a living, which is to say that writing songs helps me to live. The song becomes a place where melody and tempo can cover some truly volatile topics. God, women, politics, sex, hatred, disillusionment- a song or a story can be a deeper vessel and more forgiving than most conversations. Poetry can get under the skin without your permission, and music can offer perspective or hope that might have been hidden before. And so the song becomes a vehicle to cover some serious ground.

These days I have a hard time writing a song that feels bright or hopeful. The unemployment rate is edging up even further and spending is down. Foreclosures are way up and stocks are down. Our headlines are full of war, natural disaster, and corruption. So I go looking for songs of hope and stories that remind me of the incredible privilege of living another day. I suppose I'm looking for a hero of sorts. Someone who rises above the situation and does something incredible.

Remember the guy who threw himself on top of the passenger who had suffered a seizure in the New York Subway? As the train was approaching he jumps down onto the tracks and risks his life to save the life of a complete stranger whose convulsions had thrown him into the path of an oncoming train. Incredible. Have you seen Team Hoyt, the dad who pushes his disabled son through all the marathons? They've even done the Iron Man competitions together as father and son, which makes me tear up. Or the story of Mother Teresa, a woman who gave her life to the less fortunate day after day after day. These are the stories that I want to sing about. These are stories of hope.

Such sacrifice, such patience and such goodness is rare and rightly called heroic. But these are not the heroes of our times. Wesley Autrey is not a household name and neither is Team Hoyt. If you want to know the heroes of our society, follow the money, look at the posters on the wall. We pay them seven digit salaries, we put their songs on our playlists, and follow them on Twitter. These are the heroes we emulate.

Let's face it. Mother Teresa doesn't look that good in a negligee. And Team Hoyt won't sell beer commercials to the networks. But when the ball players and the supermodels end up in rehab, we end up asking esoteric questions about what makes a hero. In the movies the good looking actor who gets the girl is easy to point to. But after he gets the girl, then the house, and then a few kids and then a divorce and then another girl. Then what? After all of the special effects are gone, we're left with an aging mortal who looks a bit awkward on the talk shows. Perhaps we've set our goals too low. Or perhaps we've got it backwards.

I would like to suggest that the best parts of our human nature can be seen in sacrifice or surrender. A mother sacrificing her time for her child, a teacher devoting her afternoons to help students off-the-clock. These are truly our most incredible moments as a species: moments of unmerited kindness. Goodness. Virtue. Nobility. Grace. Morality. These are the truly remarkable moments. Perhaps our current economic climate of debt needs a fresh perspective on worth and value. Maybe our monetary crisis indicates a broader loss of perspective.

We live in the land of plenty, the land of milk and honey, where the lottery of birth has given us the advantage of education, of wealth, and of opportunity. Ammon Hennessy puts it this way, "You came into the world armed to the teeth with... the weapons of privilege." A trip south of the border can be an incredible reminder. We are living in the land of entitlement, one of the wealthiest nations in the history of mankind. And yet, money cannot buy us the true wealth of happiness, or peace, or of a deeper form of a meaningful life.

Perhaps the current climate of uncertainty would be the appropriate time to ask the question: what are we aiming for? Our technological achievements as a species are impressive. Our cities, our advancements in flight and our iPhones are all fairly remarkable. But there is nothing heroic about my cell phone. There is nothing sacrificial about it. Where is the song that's worth singing? What is our measure of success? Renown psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl says that "success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a byproduct of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

Maybe the fix is not the money. Maybe two and a half hours in a theatre isn't enough time for a hero to be born. Maybe it takes a lifetime- a lifetime like John M. Perkins. John Perkins is a man who devoted his life to those around him in simple and profound ways. He was quick to forgive, quick to utilize resources to help those in need. He has been a tireless civil rights worker who has endured beatings, harassments, and even prison for what he believes. With the help of his wife, Vera Mae, and a few others, he founded a health center, leadership development program, thrift store, low-income housing development and training center in his hometown of Mendenhall, Mississippi. His is a story of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of patience. He endured the suffering, holding on to a cause greater than himself.

John Perkins has is a song I want to sing. A song of a great man, the story of a legend. How do you replicate this goodness? Do you monetize it? Do you subsidize it? No. It's bigger than Washington, it's bigger than Wall Street. And it looks better than Hollywood. His is the story of a hero, a song of hope. His is a story that reminds me of a goodness beneath the system. Though Perkins was a devout Christian, he was quick to point out that this goodness is bigger than stale religion. Mr. Perkins once said that "many congregations do nothing but outsource justice." John Perkins said it right- you can't outsource justice. You can't farm out goodness to someone else. Your life is yours alone. Those decisions are yours to make.

I am the system. You are the system. We, the system of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, choose goodness. Yes, the system is flawed. Yes, the church is flawed. Yes, Wall Street and Hollywood Boulevard are all fatally flawed. Yes, there will always be those who take the easy way out. But that ain't your game. Your choice is yours alone. Goodness precedes greatness. Maybe the mother will always have more power than the atomic bomb. Maybe under the skin there is a song of hope and meaning waiting to break free. Or maybe not. It's our story. You and I decide with our actions. It can be as small as simple courtesy. Or get involved in your hometown. Find out what the local food bank looks like. Look up the local Habitat for Humanity. What is the world you want? You choose it with every breath.

In our current climate of fear and debt I am reminded of what I hold most valuable in this life: the human souls closest to me. We need each other. Human beings will always be the most valuable natural resource on the planet. The human story is still unfolding. We are telling it as we speak. The human song is still weaving its way towards a chorus, through the suffering, through the fear. We need each other. We need heroes. Let your life be a beautiful song. We need hope. Tell a good story with the way you live. What is the world you want?"

22 November 2009

Will it matter?

He walked into the room and sat down. Time seemed to slip by, but oh so slowly.

Will they come? What if they don't? What if they do? Will it matter? Yes, it would matter, but they might not be aware of that.

The door began to open.

"His Glory Appears" Brooke Fraser Ligertwood

21 November 2009

NHS 'worse value than US provider'

NHS patients are getting poorer care than millions of people being treated for a similar price in the US, according to a study reported by the BBC.

It rejected the government's claim the British health service is efficient and gets more from its money than similar organisations abroad.

The University of California team said patients treated by a non-profit health service in the state had access to significantly more specialists than those in Britain, spent only a third as much time in hospital and had more time with doctors

If a Kaiser patient moved to the NHS they would be horrified

Professor Richard Feachem

They said the US organisation, Kaiser Permanente, offered the NHS valuable lessons on how to provide cost-effective care, integrate services and use information technology to ensure efficiency.

The report also highlighted the importance of competition in the US, claiming patients receive high quality care because health firms know they can go elsewhere if they are unhappy.

A spokesman for the British Department of Health said the findings showed there was still a long way to go with the modernisation of the NHS.

Professor Richard Feachem, one of the authors of the report, told BBC News Online British people should be asking questions about the standard of care they receive.

He said: "It is certainly true that the experience of the Kaiser patients in terms of access to care, the quality of it, and the friendliness and responsiveness of nurses is very much better than in the NHS.

"If an NHS patient moved to Kaiser they would be delighted with the experience, and if a Kaiser patient moved to the NHS they would be horrified."

Collected Wisdom Series

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
Abraham Lincoln

Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.
Mark Twain

Real happiness don't consist so much in what a man don't have as it does in what he doesn't want.
Josh Billings

Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

Credit given where known

20 November 2009

The Art of Being Brooke

Brooke Fraser, New Zealander & gifted musician, was interviewed a couple of years ago, but much of the conversation is interesting enough to reread now.

Editor of ACM, MarkT, caught up with Brooke Fraser to talk about her music, her faith and her, Albertine.

MarkT: Thanks for your time today Brooke! ACM is concerned with dialoguing around the perhaps unanswerable question, ‘What is Christian Music?'. How would you define Christian Music and where do you see yourself within its context?

Brooke Fraser: I suppose I'd say I'm vehemently opposed to being called a Christian Musician in terms of the CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] music industry. And I know a lot of people, particularly people making worship music, who feel the same way. They're pretty disturbed by what CCM has become -- the merchandising of the Gospel. There are those who are actually abusing the name of Jesus, making money off of what is sacred and turning the temple into a marketplace. And at the same time you have to acknowledge that there are those who have genuine hearts and who are truly doing what God has called them to do... you can't tar everyone with the same brush. So my position is that I refuse to be associated with that part of the industry, but am I a Christian? Absolutely I'm a Christian -- I'm a Christian before I'm a musician! But like with anything we do, we should approach our work, whatever that is, with a willingness and a desire to be led by the Holy Spirit... that the labour of our hands would result in giving glory to God and furthering the Great Commission... whatever that looks like. It could be in music, or in a construction company. But I definitely acknowledge that music is a tool -- that it is a heavenly language. There's actually no music in Hell... the Bible confirms that... but music has this ability to override, or bypass people's intellect and go straight to the soul. So I certainly recognise the responsibility of being a musician and a songwriter who knows Jesus and has the Holy Spirit living in them. It means I'm required to have a much greater perspective...

MarkT: So essentially you're a Christian who writes songs, rather than a ‘Christian Songwriter' as such? Now some people have set ideas about what Christian music should be, its purpose, its role within the Church etc. You're signed to Sony/BMG -- a major secular record company -- and have a large audience outside of the Church as well... do you find there is any sort of tension between these two particular ‘spheres', especially when it comes to the lyrics you write?

Brooke Fraser: No, not really. To be honest I've never struggled with this. You can't put what God is doing on this earth into a box... it can't be summarised into tidy categories. Whatever God is doing through my life, it's not just about me. There's a stirring happening in God's Church, through the creative arts, creative ministries and other things too... and as time moves on we get closer and closer to Jesus coming back. God has a plan for the whole earth and it involves everyone one of us doing our part -- it's not necessarily going to look like something we can easily understand on the natural. I write worship songs that are for the building up of God's people in the Church, and I love that because I'm able to express really clearly, and declare uncompromisingly my love for Jesus. But at the same time I recognise the importance of my other songs as being like parables... taking Church to people who would never walk into a church...

MarkT: Congratulations by the way on the new album, ‘Albertine', it's fantastic! I've been listening to it quite a lot recently. It's been some time coming... what's been happening for you over the last few years? ‘What To Do With Daylight' was released in 2003?

Brooke Fraser: I guess most people don't understand the ins and outs of the music industry, what happens in the journey, from writing the songs to actually getting them on the shelf... The work doesn't stop when you get the album into stores... it actually starts then, which you'd be well aware of. So with the last album, ‘What To Do With Daylight', I didn't actually finish promoting that ‘til late 2005... that was literally two and a half years of living with those songs, promoting them, talking about them and touring them. It wasn't until all that promotional work was out of the way, that I could then move on to something else. So in reality, it was only about a year from the completion of that album to making the next one.

MarkT: And you visited Africa during that time as well. That's obviously been a big influence on your new album?

Brooke Fraser: Yeah, definitely.

MarkT: Could you tell me about the impact that trip had on you, and perhaps a little bit about the song ‘Albertine' ? -- you touch on the story behind that song in the album liner notes...

Brooke Fraser: Yeah, I put that story in the liner notes ‘cause I knew I would be asked a lot about the song... it's difficult for me to talk about really... so I wanted to come up with a simple way of summarising it, without going into all the details. The details are hard to relive, and go over and over again -- I don't want to become numb to it. But going to Rwanda for the first time in 2005 had an indescribable effect on me. Not just on a soul level: my mind, my will, my emotions, but on a spiritual level. I felt something shift -- like I'd been handed the task for my life. I can't really articulate the way it's changed me, I just know I haven't been the same since going there. I returned again last year to see the new projects we'd established in different communities and to Hope Rwanda. I'll definitely be having an ongoing involvement with that country.

MarkT: How does your music, your performance, your touring fit with your desire to assist the work of these mission organisations? Do you actually have enough time? How does it work practically?

Brooke Fraser: Well it's hard! It's very stretching. But I'm really blessed to have management and a record company who really understand that that's a huge part of my heart... that if I don't go and do those things I'll be miserable, and that won't be good for anybody! And so it's really amazing. Obviously there are seasons when I need to be committed to doing promotion, but fortunately I am able to block out time in my schedule to be able to do those trips. For example last month I went to the Philippines with Opportunity International... those get blocked out of my calendar so everyone knows I'm not available for promotion during those times, so I am available to serve the Church. They're really amazing like that, I know that that's not normal.

MarkT: You mentioned earlier your dislike of the CCM industry, what about your own response to success and fame? How do you cope with that? Your life must have changed a lot since the success of your first album...

Brooke Fraser: It's definitely a test. It costs you so much. And unless I continually look at the big picture to get an eternal perspective on it, it can be really hard to handle. There's so much pressure and so much expectation, and the selfish part of me would be quite happy for things to stop right where they are now... I said to my best friend on the weekend, ‘I kinda don't want it to work in Australia', I want to live here, you know what I mean? I love my life here, I love my friends here, but that's just part of where you go... where the Holy Sprit takes you. It's like the Holy Spirit says, ‘Have you given me your whole life?'. ‘When you prayed, “Here I am, send me”, did you think that I wouldn't answer?'. And then the Holy Spirit rebukes you and you say, ‘Oh, you were right Lord!'. Personally, having a public profile costs you a lot, it costs your family a lot to have to read stuff about you, it costs your friends... it costs you. But then, even last week, I was at the offices of Sony/BMG playing a couple of songs to them, and the person who introduced me said that he'd been talking to one of the other staff earlier, who'd been listening to the album over the weekend. She'd been so moved listening to it that she'd decided to sponsor a child... And I've heard so many stories like that... people deciding to do something... the letters you get... knowing practically the difference it's making to people. I was at a church conference last weekend and someone came up to me and said ‘I listen to your album all the time, and it's brought me back to God'. And so it's about people and hopefully being a vessel for God to invade their lives. That makes it all worth it. I'm so aware it's nothing I can do by effort, but just by going ‘God I'm willing... whatever it takes'. ‘I'm willing to be used by you... I'm willing to throw all this stuff that the world says is important away, for the sake of your name and for the sake of your glory... to be despised for you'.

Health Care Reform: BBC's Q & A

US President Barack Obama made reform of the American healthcare system his top priority when he entered the White House.

He has pledged to get a reform bill passed this year.

Lawmakers in Congress have been finding it difficult to agree on a bill to implement reform, but the president's supporters received a major boost when the House of Representatives passed its bill on 7 November. BBC reports on US Health Care in a Q & A.

How is the US healthcare system currently structured?

Unlike other developed countries, the US does not have a universal system of healthcare coverage.

It is up to individuals to obtain health insurance. Most Americans obtain coverage through their employers, but others sign up for private insurance schemes.

Under the terms of most coverage plans, members pay regular premiums, but they are sometimes also required to pay part of the cost of their treatment (known in the US as a deductible) before the insurer covers the expense. The amount they pay varies according to their plan.

Does the US government provide health coverage for anyone?

Yes. Americans aged 65 or over can sign up for the government-run Medicare scheme, and low-income parents, children, pregnant women and people with certain disabilities are eligible for the government-administered Medicaid programme.

The US government also runs the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-Chip), which provides coverage to children whose parents are on modest incomes, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

Military veterans are also provided healthcare by a government-run scheme.

So what are the problems with the US system?

Healthcare costs for individuals are rising dramatically.

Premiums for employer-provided schemes have risen four times faster than wages, and are now double their cost nine years ago.

The percentage of employees with an annual deductible greater than $1,000 increased from 1% to 18% between 2000 and 2008.

As a nation, the US spent some $2.2tn (£1.34tn) on healthcare in 2007. That amounts to 16.2% of GDP, nearly twice the average of other OECD countries.

What are the effects of rising health costs?

The rising individual costs mean that more and more people in America are unable to afford health insurance. Tens of millions of Americans do not have insurance, and millions more are deemed "under-insured" - their coverage is inadequate for their needs.

When someone without insurance (or with inadequate cover) falls ill, they are obliged to pay their medical costs out of their own pocket.

Half of all personal bankruptcies in the US are at least partially the result of medical expenses.

Rising costs also mean the government is spending more and more on Medicare and Medicaid.

US government spending on the two schemes is projected to rise from 4% of GDP in 2007 to 7% in 2025 and 12% in 2050, making rising healthcare costs one of the biggest contributing factors to the spiralling US budget deficit.

How many people in America do not have health insurance?

The US census bureau estimates that 46.3 million people in America, out of a population of 300 million, were uninsured in 2008.

Supporters of healthcare reform often use this figure as evidence that the system is failing too many Americans and needs to change.

Some opponents, however, say the figure is misleading as it includes illegal immigrants, Americans who earn over $50,000 a year and Americans who are eligible for Medicaid or S-Chip who could get coverage if they wanted to. It also includes people who may have been temporarily in between jobs, and therefore only briefly without coverage.

The census bureau confirms that the 46.3 million figure includes 9.2 million non-citizens, and 18 million people who earn over $50,000 a year.

But backers of reform insist that - aside from illegal immigrants, who would not be covered under any of the plans for reform proposed by congress or the White House - many of the 46.3 million uninsured people would indeed benefit from an overhaul, and that it is therefore a meaningful figure to cite.

19 November 2009

Health Care Around The World

Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate will begin debating President Obama's healthcare reform bill this week. BBC

It is an issue that's gripped America in recent months and as America's leaders try to reach a compromise deal, there have been heated discussions about what does and doesn't work in other countries.

The BBC's Washington correspondent, Paul Adams, begins a week of coverage devoted to healthcare around the world with this look at the American system and the debate over how to change it.

Later on this week, The World Today will be reporting on healthcare systems in South Africa, China and the UK.

First broadcast 16 November 2009

Odd Art


Indiana State Museum,
Indianapolis, IN

18 November 2009

Going Rogue

Not all of Sarah Palin’s interview with Oprah Winfrey made it onto Monday’s show, says the CS Monitor.

Sure, Oprah’s broadcast had lots of good bits, from Palin’s statement that a run for the White House in 2012 is “not on my radar screen right now,” to the conciliatory Thanksgiving dinner invitation she says she proffered Levi Johnston, the father of daughter Bristol’s baby.

But the outtakes have great stuff, too. Some are posted on Oprah’s website.

Among the most interesting items:

Sarah’s journal. In discussing how and why the ex-governor of Alaska came to write her memoir, “Going Rogue,” Ms. Palin said “I have a journalism degree and have journalled all of my life.”

Oprah jumped at this, asking Palin when she first started writing down her thoughts. For a second, the question hangs there, giving the impression that perhaps Oprah has caught Palin out in some kind of misstatement.

But Palin jumps back in, saying she’s kept a dairy since she was in elementary school, and that recently she and her sister went over the diary entries. Lots of them dealt with chopping wood.

“Almost every day I have some kind of entry about having to stack firewood in order to heat the home,” Palin told Oprah.

Democracy in the Palin family. Palin told Oprah that at various points in her political life she has gathered all her family together, and the kids and her husband Todd have voted on her course of action.

“I’ve abided by the results of some of the polls that the kids have partaken in,” she said.

Joining Sen. John McCain’s presidential ticket was not one of those moments, though. When Palin thought Senator McCain was on the verge of asking her to be his running mate, she called her husband, who urged her to seize the opportunity.

“He said, yep, he would be there for me, and with me, and he has been,” said Palin.

Joe Lieberman sets Palin free. Palin said she found prepping for the vice-presidential debate onerous, in the sense that she thought the McCain campaign was force-feeding her answers to various questions. At one point, McCain’s good friend Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut came into the darkened hotel room where aides was peppering her with data.

Senator Lieberman said that the effort was “overly scripted,” and threw everybody out of the room, Palin told Oprah.

According to Palin, Liebrman said, “I think I know you well enough already, Gov. Palin, to know that you need to be free, you need some liberty, you need to speak from the heart.”

Lieberman told her to trust herself and have fun.

“Those things were so simplistic but so absolutely real and helpful at the time,” said Palin. “I was so thankful for his words.”

Sarah Palin impersonates Tina Fey. Palin told Oprah that at first she was only dimly aware of the popularity of Ms. Fey’s impersonations of her on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL). At one point, she saw a clip of the show, with the volume down.

“I thought it was me,” said Palin.

Later, when she went on SNL to try and neutralize the act a bit, she met Fey backstage. At the time, Fey was holding her three-year-old daughter Alice.

Alice looked at her mother, then at Palin, then back again.

“I said, ‘We’re confusing your daughter’,” said Palin. “And we were.”

Then Palin told Oprah that for years, people in Alaska had been telling her she looked like that gal on Saturday Night Live. So one Halloween, she dressed up as Tina Fey.

“Yeah, I did. I went one year as Tina Fey,” Palin said.

In an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, Palin, whose book, "Going Rogue: An American Life," lands on bookshelves Tuesday, said she would give the president a mere four for his job performance on a scale of one to 10.

"There are a lot of decisions being made that I -- and probably the majority of Americans -- are not impressed with right now," said Palin, the former governor of Alaska. "I think our economy is not being put on the right track, because we're strayed too far from, fundamentally, from free enterprise principles that built our country. And I question, too, some of the dithering, and, hesitation, with some of our national security questions that have got to be answered for our country."

She argued that the president has moved away from the "free enterprise principles that built our country" and, echoing former Vice President Dick Cheney, suggested he is "dithering" in making a decision on a way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even after last year's devastating defeat, Palin remains one of the Republican Party's brightest stars. From Alaska, she has been weighing in on issues and influencing policy debate in Washington.

See comments on Huffington Post too.

Collected Wisdom Series

A halo has to fall only a few inches to become a noose.

Happiness is a way station between too little and too much.
Channing Pollock

Isn't is funny how everyone in favor of abortion has already been born?
Patrick Murray

17 November 2009

David Tacey – Drawing Out the Sacred in Secular Times

"Paul writes – In his essay, What is Religion For? Drawing out the Sacred in Secular Times David Tacey believes that we find ourselves (as others have done in previous generations) in “a destitute time, a time devoid of spiritual meaning and direction, a time eclipsed by the darkness of the world… our present night”. Now, he doesn’t intend that to sound gloomy, rather, as he writes in this essay, and writes elsewhere, the spiritual is breaking through in lot’s of interesting ways in our contemporary Western context. Quoting Indian Poet Rabindranath Tagore he describes faith, as “the bird that feels the light and signs while the dawn is still dark.”

In this present time “religion [needs to move] from a spirituality of dwelling to a spirituality of seeking or journeying. Religion’s task is not to point to itself or to explain itself, but to reach beyond itself into the world. It does this by reaching into and drawing out the sacred depths in people’s lives” (p.47), says Tacey.

He continues, “In a secular time the majority of people no longer come to religion and do not participate in religion’s rituals, so religion has to go out to the people.” “The locus of engagement”, he believes, “is no longer primarily the sacred building, where most people are not gathering, but the wider secular community in which a great deal of activity and human restlessness is taking place. In a sense, the whole world becomes the new temple, because anywhere in the world can be made potentially holy by the advent of homecoming, that is [by recognizing and being drawn to or by] the presence of something sacred at work in it…”

Interestingly, he says “the task of ministry is different in a destitute time, because ministry must shift from preaching the word to listening for the word. It’s general direction shifts from evangelism to prophetic listening… We need to listen, as St. Benedict proclaims in his Rule [RB Prologue 1 which Terrence Kardong O.S.B. notes as “closely resembling the exhortations found in the wisdom literature of the Bible], with the ears of the heart to the thoughts and feelings that come from the hearts of others…”

You will find the introduction to this series, here.

From Prodigal Kiwi(s) Blog David Tacey – Drawing Out the Sacred in Secular Times – Part 1 of 3

SIGNS: Indiana

Find the Hoosier in the photo.

16 November 2009

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Ever wonder how many days you've been alive?
Or how much cereal or beef has been produced thus far this year?

Go to:

Poodwaddle Clocks and Stats Counters

  1. World Clock : Population and global stats for the world

  2. Earth Clock : Global stats clock displaying issues such as population growth, HIV infection rates, global warming, and nuclear waste

  3. Crime Clock : Crime rates and punishments in the U.S.

  4. Virtual Age : Calculate your virtual age with this health quiz

  5. How Old R U : See your age and when your birthday really should be (according to the orbit of the earth)

  6. Time Zones : Interactive globe displaying the time zones around the world

  7. 7 Clocks : Clock Collections displaying the times in select cities

  8. World Population : Globe of the major contenental and regional populations.

  9. Future Population : Estimate the growing population for many years into the future.

  10. Vital Stats : Compact stats counter and clock compatible with iGoogle.

  11. Alarm Clock : Simple alarm clock, just drag the hands to set.

  12. Countdown Timer : Count down to an important event such as a birthday or retirement.

  13. Holocaust Clock : Time machine to the tragedy of 1944.

  14. Illegal Immigrant Clock : Estimates the population of illegal immigrants in the U.S. and their various costs to American society.

  15. Abortion Counter : Display the estimated annual worldwide deathtoll from abortion.

  16. Food Clock : See the real toll of those hamburgers you ate. This clock calculates the number of animals slaughtered for food and of other crops produced.
. . . and more!
My dad introduced me to this site and it may come in handy some time!

Collected Wisdom Series

The faults of others are like the headlights of an approaching car – they always seem more glaring than our own.

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
Samuel Johnson

A baby is a small creature who soon ceases to be an armful and grows in to quite a handful.

Credit given when known.

15 November 2009

Indiana: crossroads of the world

Indiana University press:

"Until recently, central Indiana has not truly reflected the sheer diversity of races, religions, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds of the rest of the world. In recent decades and especially in the first years of the 21st century, however, cities, towns, and rural areas of the central portion of the Hoosier state have welcomed an increasing number of new residents who constitute a surprisingly broad and diverse cross section of world citizens.

To capture and celebrate these changes,
New Faces at the Crossroads features portraits of 30 recent newcomers from around the world by award-winning photographer Jeffrey A. Wolin, accompanied by stories of why they came to the area and their perspectives on living there. Together with John Sherman's text describing changes and additions to the region's population, these striking photographs show that central Indiana is no longer just the Crossroads of America: It is the crossroads of the world."

There are 39,386 foreign-born individuals in Marion County,
a 63% increase from 1990.
(Source: 2000 U.S. Census)

Watch The Weekly Special's interview with Jeffrey Wolin.

"I had heard Indiana was not one of the more friendly states that
were open to foreigners . . . but my experience has been the total opposite.
Everywhere you go, as long as you are genuine with who you are . . .
people are willing to open up the doors of opportunity for you without
looking at what your cultural background is. It's really one of the
things I love about this state." —Olawalle Mafolasire, from Ibadan, Nigeria

The number of foreign languages spoken in the homes of English language learners new to Indiana totals 231, up from 178 in 1993. (Source: Indiana Department of Education).

A decade ago, Sherman writes, immigrants generally settled in a half-dozen coastal, “gateway” states. However, in the past several years the pattern has shifted. First, immigrants began coming through a gateway state to get elsewhere in the country. Then, they bypassed the gateways to come directly to places like Central Indiana, which, for many of them, is the perfect blend of big city advantages with smaller town conveniences.

The International Center of Indianapolis's mission is to advance globalization in Indiana.

Found Art

What IS that?

14 November 2009

Cast Iron tea Pot?

A cast iron tea pot for $79.95?
Then I'd need to buy the base and tea light candles to keep everything hot.

Why do I have such expensive tastes?

The cast iron teapot, also known as “tetsubin" in Japan, is a classical Japanese teapot made from sturdy cast iron. Cast ironware heats evenly and retains heat well and is praised worldwide for their beauty, strength, and superb quality.

Exactly when the tetsubin first appeared in Japan is unclear, but much evidence suggests a close relationship with the rise of the sencha, a form of tea-drinking that uses tea leaves instead of powdered tea. Sencha was introduced to Japan from China around the middle of the 17th century, a period when Japan's literati were greatly influenced by China as well as by Neo-Confuciani thought. Sencha was not considered a formal ceremony but introduced tea as a drink that was closely associated with medicinal herbs. Most literati adopted sencha drinking as a symbolic revolt against the formality of chanoyu, favored by the ruling class.
During the 18th century, as more and more ordinary townspeople throughout Japan adopted tea drinking, sencha gradually became an informal setting for sharing a cup of tea with friends and family. For most Japanese citzenry, however, the Chinese tea utensils used in sencha remained too rare and expensive. Thus a market developed for a new Japanese style teapot to replace the expensive Chinese styles. That need was filled with the creation of the tetsubin.
Tetsubin or iron teapots were originally kitchen items used for boiling water and brewing tea. These tetsubin generally were not ornate as they were commonly left on or over a hearth, to provide heat and humidity during cold weather. During the mid-19th century as infused tea drinking became popular, tetsubin were no longer viewed as kitchen items, but as status symbols. Some of these tetsubin were elaborately decorated with high relief designs and inlays of copper, gold and silver. The two prefectures best known for tetsubin are Iwate, which is considered to produce the best designs and quality at a reasonable price, and Yamagata, which is best known for the handmade tetsubin and changama that are preferred by the tea ceremony masters.

What I'm Reading: Tracy Kidder on Strength in What Remains

" Strength in What Remains is the story of Deogratias, a young man from the central African nation of Burundi. In 1993, through no fault of his own, he was forced onto a terrifying journey, a journey that split his life in two. First he made a six-months-long escape, on foot, from ethnic violence in Burundi and from genocide in Rwanda. Then, in a strange twist of fate, he was, as it were, transported to New York City, where it sometimes seemed that his travails had only just begun.

I met Deo by chance 6 years ago. When I first heard his story, I had one simple thought: I would not have survived. I hoped in part to reproduce that feeling as I retold his story. I also hoped to humanize what, to most westerners anyway, is a mysterious, little-known part of the world. We hear about mass slaughter in distant countries and we imagine that murder and mayhem define those locales. Deo’s story opens up one of those places into a comprehensible landscape—and also opens up a part of New York that is designed to be invisible, the service entrances of the upper East Side, the camping sites that homeless people use in Central Park. But above all, I think, this is a book about coming to terms with memories. How can a person deal with memories like Deo’s, tormenting memories, memories with a distinctly ungovernable quality?

In the first part of Strength In What Remains, I recount Deo’s story. In the second part, I tell about going back with him to the stations of his life, in New York and Burundi. So the story that I tell isn’t only about the memories that Deo related to me. It’s also about seeing him overtaken by memories—again and again, and sometimes acutely. But Deo didn’t take me to Burundi just to show me around. Giving me a tour of his past was incidental to what he was up to in the present and the future. His story has a denoument that even now amazes me.

Deo is an American citizen. He doesn’t have to go back to Burundi. But he has returned continually and keeps on returning, and, amid the postwar wreckage, with the help of friends and family, he has created a clinic and public health system, free to those who can’t pay, in a rural village—part of a beginning, Deo dreams, of a new Burundi.

This facility was a pile of rocks when I visited the site in the summer of 2006. By the fall of 2008, it had become a medical center with several new buildings, a trained professional staff, and a fully stocked pharmacy. In its first year of operation it treated 21,000 different patients. (The organization that Deo founded and that sponsors and operates this facility is called Village Health Works.)

Deo was very young when he went through his long travail. Several strangers helped to save him from death and despair in Burundi and New York. So did sheer courage and pluck, and also Columbia University, which he attended as an undergraduate. But when it’s come to dealing with the burden of his memories, the public health system and clinic that he founded has been the nearest thing to a solution. In the end, it’s neither forgetting the past nor dwelling on the past that has worked for him. For him the answer has been remembering and acting. I once asked Deo why he had studied philosophy at Columbia. He told me, "I wanted to understand what had happened to me." In the end, he received what most students of philosophy receive—not answers, but more questions. As I was trying to describe his effort to build a clinic, I found myself writing: "Deo had discovered a way to quiet the questions he’d been asking at Columbia. That is, he saw there might be an answer for what troubled him most about the world, an answer that lay in his hands, indeed in his memory. You had to do something."—Tracy Kidder

13 November 2009

SIGNS: All Aboard!

Pewee Valley, Kentucky

Defined by what I'm not?

Perhaps I’m not alone when I say that it would be tempting to walk away from trying to follow Jesus, if for no other reason than to avoid the constant hassle of having to explain what I’m not.

Excerpted from Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)

12 November 2009

Tea Pot

I almost spent $70 on a cast iron tea pot this week.

M Leunig cartoon

Grave Tourism

(CNN) -- He's chipped his way through more than a foot of snow and ice to get to Ernest Hemingway. He's walked right up to Al Capone and Karl Marx. He's dragged his mom to visit the infamous cannibal Alferd Packer and just came back from seeing Farrah Fawcett.

He is Jim Tipton, founder of Find a Grave, a free online database of burial sites for the famous and otherwise around the globe.

"It does sound morbid and dark. But when you're actually visiting someone's grave, it's like visiting a relative; there's a closeness there," said Tipton, 37, of Salt Lake City, Utah. "And I've always liked the aesthetics of cemeteries. I've always called them parks for introverts because you don't have to worry about someone asking you to play a pick-up game."

At first glance, the idea of graveyard tourism may seem ghoulish. But for visitors who seek out headstones, this sort of destination travel is about more than death and grief-seeking. It can be a form of entertainment and inspiration, a history and architecture lesson, a cultural appreciation course, a genealogical journey and a source of relaxation.

After long days staring at a computer in Portland, Oregon, Scott Stanton caught this tourism bug when he'd unwind by strolling through neighborhoods, often cutting through graveyards.

It does sound morbid and dark. But when you're actually visiting someone's grave, it's like visiting a relative; there's a closeness there
--Jim Tipton, Find a Grave founder

The self-described "frustrated rock 'n' roll star" soon started seeking out the burial sites of musicians, which took him to more than 550 plots throughout the world. From punk rocker Joey Ramone in New Jersey and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in Russia to the Doors legend Jim Morrison in France and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan in Texas, he spent more than 15 years compiling information and taking photographs for his book "The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians."

"I'm not a Carnival Cruise sort of guy," said Stanton, 50, who owns a software company. Doing the book "took a long, long time, because they kept dying. I could never figure out when to stop."

Many cities have cemeteries that have long attracted throngs of visitors. Père Lachaise in Paris, France, where Morrison is buried -- along with Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin and Oscar Wilde, to name a few -- is one of them.

After-death stargazers can stay busy in Los Angeles, California, where outfits bearing names like Dearly Departed Tours are dedicated to showing visitors the way. At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, about 2,000 people come out every Saturday night to spend the evening with Rudolph Valentino and Fay Wray, picnic and watch classic films.

And no visit to New Orleans, Louisiana, would be complete without a visit to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. There are plenty of ghost, vampire and haunted tours, ones that play up the kitsch.

But Robert Florence of Historic New Orleans Walking Tours Inc. believes that the facts surrounding the city's burial sites -- which include family tombs that hold generations of remains and sit above ground, preventing caskets from floating away during floods -- are as good as fiction.

"Cemeteries reflect so much about the place you're in," Florence said, describing the ones in New Orleans as "repositories of thousands of years of traditions and legacies."

At Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, visitors can get close to Civil War soldiers and civil rights pioneers before dining nearby at a restaurant called Six Feet Under. This historic cemetery sponsors special events, such as Sunday in the Park, during which Victorian costumes are invited, and numerous tours for Halloween, lessons in African-American history and more.

Also at Oakland is golfing great Bobby Jones. Modern-day pros often stop by his headstone en route to the Masters in Augusta for good luck, said Rick Sebak, a documentary producer for WQED, the PBS station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the force behind "A Cemetery Special." Visitors leave golf balls and sometimes clubs, Sebak said.

Campbell's soup cans are strewn across Andy Warhol's grave in Pittsburgh. Guitar picks litter Jimi Hendrix's final resting place outside Seattle, Washington. Baseballs pile up at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, where visitors find Ray Chapman, a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians who was killed by a baseball in 1920.

But Sebak said tourists shouldn't overlook the not-famous. He's been struck by the little wooden houses that dot a Russian Orthodox cemetery in Fairbanks, Alaska, the photographs on tombstones in Key West, Florida, and the inscriptions he's come across during his travels. He still laughs when he remembers seeing this on a mausoleum marker for one woman: "I told you I was sick."

Learning about strangers is part of what drives Cristina Lugo of New York, who with a club she calls the "Cemetery Girls" takes self-guided day trips to graveyards in the area.

The headstones tell stories, such as the one in the Bronx that honors a family killed by a lightning strike, said Lugo, 37. She also sees visiting graves as a service to others -- the departed and the descendants who can't get there on their own.

For the Web site Find a Grave, she often volunteers to track down and photograph the burial sites of people's ancestors. She recently ventured into one New York graveyard for a family in England, giving them a piece of their genealogical history.

My own most recent geocaching visit to a cemetery is described in a previous post on this blog.