Ensuring that one can’t be insured

Last month, we dealt up-close-with the broken, ill-conceived system that is supposed to be helping people get health insurance.

N.B.  This is not an advertisement for/against either Democrats or Republicans.  I am philosophically committed to the notion of not being a proponent of any political party or system.  This rather succinct diatribe comes after multiple, personal (non-partisan) experiences of how inept the current health care system can be. 

The Department of Human Services in the state of Arkansas has a seriously disabled ACA-associated arm, we found out.  The end for us came a year after we moved away—and after multiple letters and phone calls over a period of months.  We had moved out of the state, told them so several times, and they repeatedly missed that key fact and were trying to charge us thousands of dollars for insurance for which we could not have qualified if we tried.  Arkansas simply could not get its records straight, and we were eventually told we had a hearing, and we had to retain an attorney who rolled his eyes along with us and shut them up.  One sensical soul at the AR DHS, a foreigner who had a clear head and could communicate realities far better than the native Arkansans we dealt with, finally helped put the matter to rest.  I think Arkansas DHS should pay our legal expenses and have asked for same, so far without response from the appropriate sub-department.

On the other hand, the state of Kansas did its job well, as far as we could tell.  We got a single-coverage medical policy cheaply for a year and a half, but the degree to which Federal red tape and impossible processes were involved was impressive—even to one who starts from a point of skepticism about any government’s or big business’s ability to do much of anything well.

We were informed by letter, smack-dab in the middle of our 2nd year of a policy for our son, that we no longer qualified for that policy.  We had anticipated that we’d have to pay more after a year in order to keep the same plan for our son, but we were renewed, so it came as a shock that were booted out altogether about five months later.  The letter said, and I quote, “You can reapply at any time, but the “anytime” part turned out to be false.  We quickly found that the “Marketplace” (which is fettered, not free) actually prohibited us from applying until after the first policy had expired.  Yes, you read that right.  We had to wait eight more days, on the first day our son would be uninsured, in order to apply.  In other words, it was not possible, within the system provided, to satisfy the requirements of the same system.  This scenario is as illogical as it is frustrating, in case you were wondering.

Upon investigation on the day after the first policy had expired, my wife found that the options available to us began with a policy that (a) cost nine times as much as we had been paying and (b) covered almost nothing.  Specifically, an insured person would have to pay the full price, “out of pocket,” for any service, including prescriptions or doctor visits, until the massive deductible was met.  There were no better options for sale in this marketplace.

Next step:  I went back to my employer’s plans, one of which covers my wife and me.  Currently, we pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay.  This is a non-starter for us.  (I do not lay the blame at the feet of the benefits plan devised by the employer.  In general terms, I would tend to blame corporate greed and medical litigation for the now-insane costs of medical insurance and services.)

Next, I made a couple of calls to local insurance agents.  One didn’t answer.  No message left.  Another referred me to yet another who did sell the type of policy we needed.  I was already thinking about having our son go uninsured and paying the penalty, but, in talking to the next agent, we learned that President Trump’s administration had done away with the penalty.  Okay, that’s good, but we’d still rather have our son insured if we can.  We were then faced with choosing from among 36 three-month policies that feature various combinations of high deductibles, out-of-pocket-maximums, and premiums that were relatively affordable but still 2-5x more than we had been paying.  In our case, we will almost certainly never reap any benefits from this medical insurance unless we have a catastrophic need—an event that would surely bankrupt us, anyway.  We now have to reapply every time the three-month policy expires, to boot.

Now, to put this insurance product in perspective with need and perceived worth.  All three of us have been to a physician for sickness precisely zero (0) times in 18 months.  Our son went to the doc for a free children’s checkup last summer, and I “took advantage” of insurance for physical therapy.  The insurance covered about 40% of the total bill.  Not very good insurance, I would say, but we are blessed with the ability to pay the rest, so it was OK.  Yes, 40% is better than nothing.  I only hope that if any of us is ever hospitalized, the insurance will pay more than 40% of that bill.¹

In going through all this in my mind, I do wonder about the potential benefits of socialized medicine.  I’m not interested in moving to Canada or Europe or wherever they have different systems, but if any of us ever need surgery, I imagine we’ll investigate international travel.  In the meantime, until something breaks, it appears that we’re stuck with paying too much for two “major medical” policies that we’ll likely never use.


¹ I also hope the bills come from one place if services are rendered in one place.  In the case of my physical therapy, I saw an orthopedist, had an X-ray, and had the physical therapy itself in the same building, and separate bills came from three or different offices.  There was a separate fee for the outsourced radiologist “reading,” which could have been accomplished just as well by the orthopedist but had to be sent out to another because of some insurance-related agreement.

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Technology and instruction (2 of 2)–online conducting??

The notion of skepticism about technology in educational endeavors (see here for part 1) serves as a segue to the sharing of something I’d written two years ago to a fellow ensemble instrumentalist.

A person of multiple talents, my interlocutor is a fine instrumentalist and a devoted father.  He is employed in a computer technology field, and I perceived that he was knowledgeable within that general field.  More to the point, this man was substantially younger than I, and he immediately showed himself to be of a different generational mindset regarding technology.  (I’d say he is something of a GenXer with Millennial leanings whereas I am an older “mutt” who has at least equal affinity with prior generations.)

To set the stage:  we were riding in a carpool, and I had opened a can of worms too late—when we were almost done with our second hour-long ride, after one of the typically frustrating (for me) rehearsals.  I had recently read a job posting for a college conducting/teaching position, and this one Image result for batonemphasized technology-based instruction more explicitly than any I had seen.  It manifest the assumption that the teaching of conducting would be technology-dependent and technology-focused.  No matter the credentials or general intellect of the VP or Dean who made such a determination, I will say unequivocally that the mind that conceives of an entirely online conducting degree is a mind that does not comprehend conducting.  One could say the same thing about online degrees in other physically based vocations.  Conducting education may be well enhanced by technologies, and even entire courses could be based on technology, but a conducting program may not legitimately be borne entirely on technological wings.  The very idea of a distance-learning conducting degree program is flat-out ridiculous.  Here is how the interview for a such a graduate should  go:  “Your master’s in conducting was an online degree?  (Or, you learned how to cut hair or how to be a chef or how to counsel abused women entirely on a computer screen?)  Thank you for your time.  Next candidate, please.”

I would assert that distance learning scenarios will rarely if ever prove more effective than classrooms and other real-life (or should I say counter-virtual these days?) venues.  I suppose some students might do fairly well studying accounting, actuarial science or literature online, but vocations based in physicality are especially dependent on real-life learning. 

Back to my conversation with this trumpet-playing musician-computer-technologist.  I had opened it in an admittedly biased manner, and he reacted as though I needed to be shown the light.  “Technology is the way everything is heading,” he said, instructing me along these lines (I imagine) because I was than a dozen years his senior.  So I reacted back, and I regretted it a bit, and I wrote him a letter a few days later.  My introduction was half a page long, apologizing relationally for the tension I’d created through my timing and manner.  I stand firm on the substance of the disagreement, though.  Here is the non-personal portion of that letter that pertains, both philosophically and practically, to technology and education:

My basic presupposition is that, no matter how the world is heading, there are some areas that should not be given entirely over to technologically based education.  These areas would include cosmetology, surgery, and conducting.  The physicality of the necessary skills demands that the lion’s share of the training be hands-on with the real materials—not behind a screen, a joystick, or a set of headphones.

I also resist fight (a futile fight, I know) the apparently irresistible inclination for those in enterprise-level authority to move quickly, and often with only shallow thought, toward technology as “savior” when they don’t know what else to do.  This syndrome among one institution’s administrators, I would assert, is why that institution is entertaining the idea of an entirely online conducting master’s degree.  It may be cheaper to do certain things online, but that doesn’t make it wiser, and some things may not be viable at all online.

I’ve always been tech-capable and tech-involved.  I like and use many technologies every day.  None of this is about disavowing technology; it’s about being honest about some of its limitations.  Technology can obviously be a great support, but it is not itself the content for most of us, and it does not always represent the best direction for instruction.

The point that certain education gurus and deans of instruction and vice presidents for academic affairs and provosts need to hear, and hear well, is this:  technology is a tool to be used in the service of teaching students.  Technology is a means, not an end; the degree to which it becomes the focus of curricula and disciplines other than technology itself is the degree to which it is being misused.  Technology may be used effectively—or it may be used simply for the sake of using it, which is a futile endeavor, devoid of meaning.  In a remote region (including two in which I’ve taught), there might be no other way to give a student contact with a credentialed private voice or trumpet teacher.  Applied music might in those cases be taught via a Wifi connection and a tablet-sized screen, but not very effectively.  Such methods are not optimal; they are concessions to geography.  And conducting instruction, while it might be enhanced by a few cool technologies available these days, is also better in person.  (Some readers might be interested in this account of the use of Google Glass in conducting.  I have heard this very fine conductor and cutting-edge professor speak and have observed her ensemble leadership.  I’ll attest to the fact that she would acknowledge that Google Glass use wasn’t quite what she’d envisioned in all respects.  Note the limitations mentioned under the YouTube video image.)

Again, the very idea of an online conducting degree is as ludicrous—although obviously not as medically consequential as an online brain surgery credential.  Sure, technological tools can be amazing and should be used, where possible, and where they can enhance education.  Imaging technologies can be revelatory for medical students and veteran physicians, and also for conducting students, but never should those tools be the only platforms from which the skills are deployed and assimilated.  In conducting, as in hair cutting and lawn care, one does the thing in real life with real people, and there are real implications in real air with real sound.  One cannot learn the implications of preparatory gestures or profligate beat-division on a screen or by listening and gesturing and having a laser-based device plot and graph the gestures.  Learning the discipline and skill of conducting must be directly tied to musicians (persons) and the sounds they make.

Currently, in one worker’s non-academic position, she uses a few technologies.  She is limited by a backward computer technology framework and a seriously lacking application that make her a prisoner to embarrassingly outdated visuals, comatose response times, and the lack of basic functionality.  This scenario nearly daily gives her frustrations.  (People care about technology, including when it is bad.)  When technology that should be serving the content or core process does not do what it should, or does it poorly, we should acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes!  An elephant is in the room!  We should also aim to estimate properly the contribution of technology to the thing, i.e., neither overestimating nor underestimating what technology does, and this point ties back to the assertion that technology must be seen as the means, not the end in itself.

I strenuously resist the notion that major, enterprise-wide decisions should be driven by shallow estimations of the worth of certain technologies—or worse, by unilateral or under-informed prognostications about various, ephemeral technologies.  The programmers should be more attentive to function and to the work (and learning) of real people.  The Cram flashcard app helps me learn Greek vocabulary, but its scope is limited.  My GPS screen and a mobile map can be helpful, but the perspective is tiny.  I’m more agile with full-size screens and keyboards, so I will nearly always choose a computer over a mobile app if both are accessible, but there is place for both.  Whatever the technology under consideration, it is important not to remove (inadvertently or otherwise) functionalities that people use effectively, in favor of some cool, cutting-edge glitz that is less functional.²  Do Millennials trust mobile devices and apps and internet-based financial infrastructures more than going to the bank or talking to a financial advisor.  Millennials have my sympathies, and I do love the convenience of my apps for certain things, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily think young programmers or workers possess foresight or wisdom.  Sometimes, technology is neither here nor there.  Sometimes it’s just gadgetry without longevity or improved function.

For my part, I hope the next life begins before banks and traditional colleges fade away.  More and more, colleges and universities, because of financial pressures, are moving toward part-time, adjunct instructors who teach mostly online courses on a part-time basis.  It’s a cheaper way to offer courses of instruction.  As long as there are more and more layers of management and administrivia, that trend will continue.  I’m not a fan of the tenure idea or the process, but I do think there should be fewer managers and program directors and assistant deans, making way for more full-time faculty members who teach students around tables, in classrooms, and in studios and offices.  And I am available to present to academic deans on the ridiculous enterprise of online conducting degrees!  I will do this for the first five institutions who pay my expenses!

It will continue to be important for deans and provosts and academic VPs—and, dare I say it, H/R people and educators and teachers’ unions—to give prominence to education and learning, more than to technology as an end in itself.


¹ I have tended to gloss over H/R-infused boilerplate language, knowing first-hand how H/R folks can sometimes commandeer such communication vehicles as job postings from the academic departments they are supposedly serving.

² I am a witness to reversions or loss of capability in, for example, Google Drive, the editor in WordPress, AirDroid, Microsoft Word (don’t get me started about how WordPerfect was a better word processor that lost our to marketing giant Microsoft), Media Player, sound file conversion software, and even Windows Task Manager.  And that’s just off the top of my head.

Technology and Millennials

Within the context of a finance/banking and technology perspective, a new friend cites industry authorities.  With good statistical reasons, he believes that Millennials

  • prefer phone apps over traditional banking with “tellers”
  • trust “FinTech” companies over banks for most consumer-oriented financial purposes

I’m sure my friend is right, yet I question the wisdom, scope, and longevity of some of the enterprises in which Millennials are apparently placing their trust.  My ruminations have continued about generational technology preferences and general inclinations.  I don’t keep in mind the year-boundaries that are used to delineate between the “Baby Boom” and “GenX” and “GenY”/Millennial generational groupings, so I get foggy, but of this I am sure:  there will always be exceptions within the groups.

Based on age, my friend would be classed as a Millennial, but he is thoughtful and intelligent, a unique set of experiences in the world, so I imagine that he would be somewhat an exception himself, defying any label “Millennial” at points.

As for myself, sometimes, I am kind of an “old soul” who harks back to the values of minds and spirits of the long-ago past.  In some respects, I share the opinions and worldviews of those 5-10 years older than I, or even of my parents’ generation.  In other spheres, I am an impatient whippersnapper who wants desperately to move past silly traditions and pointless machinations.  In all, I long for substance and actual value over form.  Perhaps I am a quasi-postmodernist-1/3-Boomer-1/3-GenXer with a few GenY traits (who experiences deep angst about being labeled at all).

It’s no surprise that Millennials will gravitate to phone apps.  As for me, I see the apps’ shortcomings and inefficiencies, as compared to desktop computers and even in-person banking.  Are all Millennials so oriented?  I must admit that I wonder about those individuals who don’t own printed Bibles and who never see more than a tiny screen’s worth of scripture text at a time.  Yes, I use a Bible phone app, and I greatly appreciate its capabilities.  I like running Bible software on my computer even more, because it allows me to see more and to use it in other dimensions and formats.  It simply must be admitted that seeing only 3-4 verses at a time on a tiny phone screen will have ramifications, including limiting one’s contextual awareness.

I also wonder frequently about the interpersonal connectedness of anyone—Millennial or otherwise—

  • whose neck and hand are permanently locked into the look-at-my phone position
  • whose quick first impulse is to go to the mobile device for answers

Could it be that non-high-tech sources are better for some things in life?

I remember two very fine students who were the only two (that I knew) without their own cell phones.  I remember each of the students as very having very strong character, and as being spiritually sensitive, service-oriented people.  One was particularly focused and engaged as a student, and they were both dedicated to their studies and to people.  I can see each of their faces as if it were yesterday, and it has been five years since I last saw them.

Now, I would strongly suspect each of those students has one or more mobile devices at this point, but my point is that those Millennials were really okay without devices then.  I’d say their whole selves were at the time wonderfully unfettered by phonedom, and they were none the worse for it.  Quite possibly, they were better off, not having all the technologies their peers had.

In the next post I’ll deal with technology in instruction, touching on “distance learning.”

Businesses that deserve praise

I don’t know what it is in my recent experiences, but I’ve been noticing several local businesses that deserve praise.

Photo of Cedar Ridge Catering & Banquet Hall - Atchison, KS, United States. Cool place good foodCedar Ridge is a unique restaurant near Atchison, Kansas.  Offering special buffet fare on Friday and Saturday evenings and on Sundays mid-day, this place is a gem in the rolling hills of eastern Kansas.  The hosts/owners have established the restaurant on their farm in a barn.  From outside, one wouldn’t be able to tell what delights await inside.  Some will enjoy the eclectic, sometimes “shabby chic” decor (or even driving a mile and a half on a dirt road), and all will enjoy the well-prepared food.  We particularly enjoy the brunch fare on Sundays around noon.

 

Los Tucanes is a Mexican restaurant in Kensett, Arkansas.  Apparently family run, the

Photo of Los Tucanes - Kensett, AR, United States. Interior of restaurantprecious children take minor serving roles and do a stellar job—far better, actually, than many older servers at chain restaurants.  The food is good, the salsa is fantastic, the prices are reasonable, and the whole place is a pleasure every time.

 

The final and most extended mention here goes to Powell Funeral Home, west of Searcy, Arkansas.  Although I have sung for and attended dozens of funerals, I had never really been a “customer” before.  From the first time I walked in with my mom to the last visit to finalize a few things a week ago, I’ve continued to feel that there’s no way every funeral home could be as good as this one.  The comments below are abbreviated from an online survey I completed.

     Our experience with each staff member and the facilities has been so positive that it would not seem right not to comment.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of local establishments that I would take the initiative to recommend to others, and Powell is without doubt now on that very short list.  [Since we opted to take care of some things by ourselves as a family, etc.], we did not have as complete an experience of the funeral home as other families, but that does not in any way alter our entirely positive impression of the facility and the way the people go about the business.
     Specifically, we were without exception greeted hospitably and with an obvious willingness to answer any questions.  Members of the family visited Powell approximately six times.  Each staff member, without exception (even where we cannot remember names) was 10patient and helpful.
     The standouts in our minds at this point are Brooks Sawyers, whose absolutely excellent demeanor is combined with rare efficiency and capability in office logistics and processes.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how Brooks could have been better throughout the last six weeks, up to and including our most recent visit to the office regarding additional insurance company needs for documentation.  I’m sure you have heard this before, but it is an exceptionally significant relief to be ushered through the process of assigning a portion of a life insurance policy to pay expenses.  Dale suggested this at just the right time and worked through Brooks on the details while two of us waited with confidence that things were being taken care of.  Dale manifest both knowledge and a strong ability to gauge our needs and personalities.  Again, each staff member has been a credit to the organization, without exception, but Brooks and Dale rise to the top in our memories.
Photo of Powell Funeral Home

Of harvest fruits, seasons, and chills

We are not good vegetable gardeners, but my wife planted some good stuff this year, and a faithful tomato plant in the backyard, having given so much fruit, has now given its last.  We got some good string beans and a few more things, but this tomato plant has been a particularly amazing producer.  Its vine extended 12 or 15 feet upward onto our 2nd-floor deck.  (See below, lower left.)  For about three months,. we have never been in want for these sweet delights.  They are like candy, and they also go nicely on salads, and in halves on grilled fish and in sandwiches.  Since we’ve had a freeze now, it was time for the plant’s life to end, so Karly even picked the green ones and canned them with jalapenos.  Yum.   

Saturday was the last day for the local farmer’s market, and we got some good late-season vegetables, including a butternut squash (that doesn’t seem to be as much of an item here as it was in New York’s Southern Tier).  It’s not time for a fireplace yet, and part of me wishes we had one.  It’s also time for chili, hot tea, and maybe more coffee than usual.  A recent spending spree on syrup flavors for drinks was extravagant.  These will last us well past the winter!

Not having a live TV service has more pluses than minuses, but we haven’t been able to watch much baseball this year.  We were on the other hand happy to find out that we can get the Fox channel with an antenna and have been enjoying the World Series, another sign of fall.  The second game in L.A. was exciting; Saturday night’s game in Houston brought some great moments; and Sunday night’s slugfest was pretty intense.  A Saturday night commentator mentioned the chill in the Houston air, and I recalled amusement at South Texas students who donned light jackets when it dipped below 80.  (“We get cold!” a bass trombonist told me with a smile, while sweat was still dripping from my brow in November.)  You might notice the lack of a mention of football here.  I simply don’t care about it as a national occupation and rather feel that the marching band ought to be viewed as the central act of a high school or college football game.

Since I spend half the year too warm, I do like chilly weather—if it’s clear and not too windy, that is.  Brisk walks to work in the morning can occur for a month or two.  Something tells me it’s going to be a cold winter with more snow than last.  Since my little truck is rear-wheel drive, and there are real hills here in town, it might be better to plan on walking to work in boots instead of driving.

We turned the heater on 3 days ago and dug out jackets and coats we hadn’t seen in a few months.  Strange noises outside remind me that I need to chop a weed-become-tree so it doesn’t scrape the side of the house as the branches move with the wind.  Better get out the space heaters.  We don’t need a plug-in heater for the car engine blocks here, but I do wonder when I last had the anti-freeze flushed and filled.

Where we live, the wind has been kicking up lately.  It ’bout blew me off the road coming home from Oskie a week ago.  Motorcycle season is about over, and my bike sprocket was recently severed from the axle in the wind and cold.  An acquaintance who frequents our bookstore and often regales us with regional tales made a comment about the wind coming from Alaska.  In an odd mood, I regaled him right back with something about the linguistic connection of wind and breath and Spirit, Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma, and the interesting convergence of physical and spiritual realities, you know, with what Jesus told Nicodemus about the wind and all, i.e., that no one sees the wind’s origin.  He was silent for about four seconds, affirmed vaguely, and then cast his eyes back in the direction of an Alaska photo book.

I’m still not sure what season of life I’m in, but it seems like late fall at times, and my father may be heading into a final winter.  Spring is marvelous, but sometimes it seems good to embrace the cold, looking full into the wind.¹  Warmth, shelter, and a looking-beyond faith are not to be taken for granted in any season.


¹ This is the imagery of Craig Smith’s song “Spirit Wind.”  The song once inspired me a lot but has left me out in the cold lately.

Marketing the Bible:  affiliative groups and special-purpose editions

I think it had been more than 15 years since I perused a CBD (Christian book Distributors) catalog, and the number of pages devoted to Bibles has probably doubled since that time.  Among the new offerings are study Bibles published with notes by famous folks.  In addition to the emphases of such recognized, popular teachers as John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, and David Jeremiah, there are study Bibles focused on Jewish history, cultural groups, and reader age group, e.g., children, tweens, and teens.  I didn’t notice an age-group Bible for senior citizens, but that is surely on the way if not already available.

A new, supposedly chronological¹ Bible “weaves Old and New Testaments together into one continuous story,” so The Story Bible is no longer the only one that purports to be an epic, across-the-board telling.

There is a Jesus Bible.  Hmm … in a bedrock sense, every Bible that includes NT documents is a Jesus Bible, but I would hasten to suggest that it is not sound practice to read Old Testament texts with only New Testament eyes.  If there were a pervasive-theme Bible that I might buy, it would be a kingdom Bible or a discipleship Bible.  I saw nothing of the former and only a couple of the latter in the CBD catalog.

I was especially struck by the proliferation of Bibles for affiliative groups and/or designed for special purposes.  I can certainly understand economy, pew, and evangelism- or outreach-purposed Bibles.  Special-edition gift Bibles, sure.  But I’m not so sure about the Guys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Everyman’s, and She Reads Truth editions.  Maybe these have pages filled with essays and stories about guys, girls, men, and women, and stories are fine.  Some trouble could come when attempting to interpret ancient texts in terms of contemporary women’s issues, for example.

There are recovery and “new hope” Bibles that I imagine include devotional meditations and pull-outs for recovery and addiction groups.  There are multiple editions for artists and creative people, with extra space for calligraphy and artistic doodling and journaling.  There is even a children’s Hands-On NLT with things-to-do projects—and an NKJV Airship Bible that blasts off to “discover the wonders of God’s world.”  I don’t know for sure, but perhaps these are designed with Sunday School teachers or home school groups in mind.  Some editions are particularly suspect, such as (1) the Children’s Fire Bible (in ESV and NKJV versions) for teaching children about “the work and person of the Holy Spirit in their life” [sic] and (2) The Passion translation, which seems to select certain documents and passages that the editor-compilers found related to human passion and “God’s fiery love speaking” to my heart.

The Gaither Homecoming Bible will surely have quite a few takers in its niche market.  There is an NIV Hope for the Highway Bible that apparently presupposes (1) that only motorcyclists do highways, and (2) that motorcyclists only do highways, neither of which is true in my own life.  I think the most provocative (take that however you wish) new Bible offerings are the “heroes,” first-responder, and multiple military Bibles—in some cases delineating each of the four major branches of U.S. military service.  Maybe the Navy edition has blue-green highlights over all the passages that deal with water or boats.  Does the Air Force edition have cloudburst markings in the margins alongside the sky and heaven passages, with an inspirational eschatological piece about going off into the “wild, blue yonder”?  Surely fighting men are not encouraged, through margin notes beside Old Testament battle stories, to bomb the bad guys.  I can only hope the “Marine’s Hymn” is nowhere included in a military Bible.  (See here for a diatribe on that song [which is in no real sense a hymn].)

Marketing interests are alive and well within the Bible publishing world.  While there could be genuine a pastoral concern for affiliative groups, leading to a sense of ministry to their needs, the possibility that scripture could be appropriated, based on market- and profit-driven thinking, into specialized messages for specialized groups scares me more than it sparks me.

As for me and my house, we have divested ourselves of a few print editions in the last couple of years.  We no longer have an NLT or a Good News Bible, for instance.  We do retain about 25 Bibles, including most of the established, recognized English versions.  Most of them stay on this shelf and are referenced periodically, but each of us keeps two or three Bibles close by in other spots.  We own two or three copies of (at least portions of) the RSV, the NRSV, the NIV, the NASB, and the Phillips paraphrase.  I feel no need for affiliation Bibles for brass players or motorcycle owners or audiophiles or bibliophiles.  (Oh, okay, I might be interested in a Bible for budding linguists or introverts or poets-at-heart, but these would be little more than curiosities.)  Our only recent purchases have been the CEB (Common English Bible) and a relatively new paraphrase, The Voice.  I look forward to using these new ones now and then.  Maybe they will turn out to have served a “special purpose” in my life.


¹ A 1999 publication, The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order (NIV) by F. LaGard  Smith, did not so integrate the OT and the NT.

Impressing pastors, parishioners, and accountants

The card shown below (front and back) appears in the pew of a large institutional church near us.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to the appearance of these cards in the pews, I imagine there was an extended conversation in the regular Tuesday morning church staff meeting.  Let’s listen in on the meeting. . . .

Pastor Being:  So I assume most of you have noticed that our offering is dropping off.

Staff of 19 (not including the custodial staff of 5) [in unison, sighing ] Yes, we know.  What can we do? 

Advisory Accountant:  So glad you asked.  Here is a graph of the weekly and monthly figures leading up to Reformation Sunday.  We are off 20%, especially after that sermon series on Ecclesiastes.  Ahem, sorry, Pastor Being.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, A.A.  Now let’s get down to business.  We at RLSC¹ need to find a way to ensure that everyone feels the tug to give.  I mean, it’s good for people to be involved, and to hear sermons and all that, but we can’t do any of this unless we put forward a new pitch for pesos, if you know what I mean.  A decisive dash for dollars.  A bigger buttload of bucks.  (Smiling winsomely) . . . hey, this Christmas, if there’s no cash-y, there’s no creche-y!

Staff of 19:  [collectively, aggrandizingly]  Hahahahaha! 

Advisory Accountant:  Projecting out current trends, it is a distinct possibility that we’ll have to cut 25-35% on holiday expenditures.  The issue, if you ask me, is accountability.  Everyone’s concerned about privacy and identity theft, so donation practices are more private then ever.  I mean, how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing if all the giving is done on an app in the privacy of one’s home?  That doesn’t make a good impression on visitors . . . and what are the pastors supposed to think when the plate is passed through the pews and only 40-50% of the parishioners are dropping in cash and checks?  We need more accountability!

Pastor Being:  Based on A.A.’s recommendation, I support the notion of accountability.  Something doesn’t smell right about the left hand and right hand thing there . . . I’m not sure why . . . but I agree that the impression left when fewer hands touch the collection plates is a downer.

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Growth class last semester that if funds are being contributed by less than 75% of the membership, there is less than a 25% chance of growth during the next two quarters.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, P.I.  We definitely need a steady growth rate if we’re going to break ground next year on the new office annex, and if we don’t increase the rate, we can kiss the organ loft and pastor bonuses goodbye.  

Staff of 19:  [Collective sigh and downcast countenances]

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Methods class last fall that organs and choirs . . .

Pastor Being:  [interrupting]  For the moment, we can’t expect to have much esprit de corps unless we all have a shared sense of everyone else’s giving.  You know, like the workplace that displays a United Way contributions thermometer, coloring in the increasing level as it moves toward the goal. . . . 

Staff of 19:  [collectively]  Hahaha! 

P.B. [continuing] I’ve been wondering about those internet-savvy hipsters, working in tech companies and carrying the latest devices.  How do we know if they’re contributing regularly?  

Lead Tech Pastor:  Some of them might have encryption devices, or they might know how to disable our spyware so we can’t track their use of our new donation app.  For the run-of-the-mill donor, we are working on flash projection, using the robotics we use with the cams for the worship team.  When the team is taking a break, we can live-stream the contribution amounts in real-time, moving the screen down the row on the robotic arms in sync with the collection plate.  Later on, we can add the number of new donation app users as a sort of soft incentive.

Pastoral Accountant:  Studies have shown that people feel more obligated to give if everyone around them is giving.

GenX Involvement Pastor:  Seriously?  We’re going to make people feel uncomfortable?  I guess so, if we have to.

Creativity Pastor:  I was talking to the Pastoral Accountant after I saw the contribution figures last Sunday—thank goodness for our lay accountancy team that counts the money during worship.  Anyway, the P.A. and I both think we need to develop a card or some object that everyone who contributes online can drop into the collection plate on Sundays.  It would be symbolic, but it would increase the pressure on others to donate, too.

Pastoral Accountant:  Absolutely.  I think it should be a card that says “I give electronically.”  A card is heavy, so the sound of them being dropped into the plates will add sonic stimuli.  An additional benefit of a card would be that it gives the lay accountancy team something more to count, and that makes them feel more involved, and then they’ll probably give more money, too.  

Pastor Being:  What biblical passages can you think of that support such a card?

Biblically Learned, Subservient Pastor:  Hmm.  None, really.  Not even a principle that I know of.  Come to think of it, not even 1 Corinthians 16 . . . 

Pastor B:  [interrupting] Well, we can keep researching that.  Surely there’s something. . . .

Devoted Sheep among the Staff:  There is another way, you know.  Has anyone read about Francis Chan’s new movement? Check this out.  According to this report, “Chan leads a house church movement in San Francisco called We Are Church.  There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free.  Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.”

Pastor Being:  [Never having considered a simpler, less costly way]  That seems sort of pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it?

Assistant Pastoral Advisory Accountant:  You can’t be serious, little follower-sheep!!  What would that kind of model do to our cash flow and our end-of-decade projections?  We would experience more decline in our contribution income, and we would default on our installment notes.  Two or three banks would accelerate the balances on our loans.  We’d probably have to tap into our investment funds—or worse, go into hock with HQ.  The tax returns would be a nightmare!  Who would want to consult for us next quarter or serve as our independent auditors if we’re right around the corner from filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy??!

Pastor Being:  [continuing and calming the others]  Okay, okay. . . .  We all know we have this wonderful facility, and we’re not going to lose it just yet.  You know what?  Look around you.  There are some really well-to-do people in our immediate vicinity.  I see no reason the Lord wouldn’t want us to reach out to them just as much as to the lower classes. 

To inspire and to impress—our twofold mission.  We as a pastoral staff do the inspiring, and that impresses our parishioners to the point that they in turn are inspired to impress all those around them by giving more.  Everyone is inspired by all the giving, and more giving is the result of that, and that surely impresses our visitors and God, too.

All:  Amen.

P.B.:  All right, it’s settled then.  Let’s develop these contribution cards and roll them out in first month of the fourth quarter.  Then we can engage independent teams of auditors and church growth consultants to study the effects on cash flow and institutional involvement. . . .


For the complete blog referred to by “Devoted Sheep among the Staff” above, click here.

For a prior blog specifically about e-giving, click here.  Near the bottom are two additional links to posts about 1Cor 16:1-2, often cited in support of Christian contributions to churches.

Annnnd . . . I had last written about contributions and tithing in institutional churches here.  That piece was a protracted tearing-apart of a very poorly done brochure.  At the end, I expressed that I hoped I had the restraint, when coming on this topic again, merely to refer to that post.  Unfortunately, the sighting of the cards above brought the topic back, and I was compelled to speak against it.


¹ RLSC:  Reformed Large Swanky Church

(Im)maturity

Maturity involves a developed sense of thought, discernment, and the capacity for appropriate response in various situations.  I suppose, then, that immaturity would involve a lack of discernment.  An immature person would be prone to respond inappropriately, without a developed sense of what is acceptable.

A business might reach a mature stage.

A person might mature in his/her ability to communicate or paint or write music.

We might observe that there are immature ears of corn, immature savings bonds, immature singing voices, and immature people and behaviors.

How should one begin a meditational post about the last kind of immaturity?

tantrum child: Little girl with her arms crossed and angry expression Out of the gate, I want to acknowledge the immaturity in me,¹ and I do so in all sincerity, but a full disclosure would also confess that this piece started out, a couple of months ago, as a less-than-mature, silent tantrum thrown over other people’s immaturities.  Below are some behaviors that strike me as immature.  Some of these are recent, and some are long past.  Some just might be mine, or potentially mine, and some might have been observed in others.

  • A young musician takes every opportunity to show off skills and knowledge (say, on the piano or trumpet or saxophone).
  • A Little League baseball mom with some knowledge and skills tries to push her way into the coaches’ ring.  When her conceited efforts are not appreciated, she begins a campaign to show the assistant coaches she is better than they are.  (And actually, she is.)  Once, when her child is held at third base, she erupts in the full colors of immaturity by yelling, loudly enough that both sides of the bleachers can hear, “I don’t care what he says!  You’re my kid!  You run when I tell you to run!!”
  • An office worker asserts thoroughly detailed knowledge while manifesting little appreciation for relationship, let alone insight or discernment in particulars.
  • A Bible student inserts corrections, responsible questions, and textual insights, regardless of the group’s interest level or capacity for understanding.
  • A coworker reacts outwardly to mistakes in punctuation² and regional symptoms of poor grammar.
  • An employee takes liberties when the boss is on vacation.
  • A parent who’s having a bad day places too many restrictions on a child just because the parent is mad or worried.

No one is completely mature.  We all have more or less serious immaturities that come out from time to time.  Some of these behaviors are seen in less-than-emotionally responsible, less-than-considerate, and less-than-grown-up people, while others are more run-of-the-mill.  Surely there are countless marks of immaturity.  Yes, I’ve pointed the finger at others and have been rather irritated over a couple of the above.  But again, I’m also aware of some of my own immaturities.  We are all carriers of the immaturity disease.

And then there’s spiritual immaturity.

When I drafted this in early July, I knew I wanted to end it with a spiritual emphasis, but I’ve never become settled on a conclusion.  It’s not that I don’t have something to ask or something to say (although I often do).  It’s not that it’s an awkward segue (although it is).  I think it’s that I feel increasingly spiritually immature myself.  I don’t handle some things with as much discernment or mature Christian response as I once did, and this is of much greater concern to me than the behaviors listed above.  Regression here is worse than ironic; it might be putting Grace to the test.

So, what to say about spiritual maturation . . . I could spout some verbiage about the illusory doctrine of “total sanctification,” as though I were experiencing it.  I could manufacture some exhortation about “iron sharpening iron” or “letting go and letting God.”  Those might amount to little more than a diversion of attention.  

I could cherry-pick any of several mentions of maturity from New Testament passages, but that might prove to be immature in itself.  Few of the scriptual mentions seem related to what I have shared above, anyway.  Philippians 3:15 has something specific at its root.  Hebrews 5:14 might be close, but I’m not sure.  Any of these, including the one I am deciding to leave in below, is purloined from its literary context—a times a spiritually criminal act.  I will not be satisfied, no matter what I say, how I feel, or however I close this little essay.  I am in need of refinement and growth and more maturity—likely more than you are.  Perhaps unwiselyI suppose I will opt to finish this with James 1:4, in isolation from its context (although perhaps some readers will read/ponder the context):

Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

I don’t currently have any illusions of enduring very well, but my weak self hopes to attain to the growth—the maturation—that can come later from having endured.


¹ Some of the following parts of my past and present might at any moment lead to manifestations of immaturity:

  • deep losses of human trust
  • general irritation and anger at things both big and small
  • vocational injustices and misfortunes
  • various insecurities
  • an ebbing/flowing faith in God (now in an ebb phase), and a sense of not feeling cared for by the Almighty

² “Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking,” said Lynne Truss famously in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  In that same book, she also wrote, “The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”  Truss is essentially right, but I’m also thankful for grammar that gives us a shot at aptly interpreting most Greek passages that didn’t have any punctuation to begin with.

Inexplicable courses of action

HastingsLogo.PNGIn a good-sized city, a Hastings store went out of business last year.  Inexplicably, a new store with essentially the same slate of business lines just installed a store at the same location.

Also last year, in a small town with a fairly prominent Taco John’s and two fine mid-range Mexican restaurants, a Taco Bell/KFC went out of business.  Subsequently, an entrepreneur decided to add to the somewhat lacking mix of fast-food options Taco Bell 2016.svgwith a startup burrito joint that offers mostly Mexican fare.  Later, a restaurant group inexplicably tore down a ramshackle building and broke ground to install a new Taco Bell . . . a block away from the Taco John’s and five blocks from where the last Taco Bell failed.

Both of these examples call to mind the proverbial definition of insanity—doing the same things and expecting different results.

In a new locale, tired Christians try to maintain a trusting outlook.  Almost inexplicably, they visit church after church, hoping to find a small, biblically attentive, mutuality-emphasizing, non-franchise group to work with.  Nearly every visit to an established congregation results in listlessness, discouragement, waning hope, and windless sails.  (Churchiness has a way of doing that.)  I think these folks are more idealistic and fatigued than insane, but the matter might be argued otherwise.

– B. Casey, 7/29/17

Early summer potpourri

Summer Camps
For two extended periods in my personal history, Christian camping played a very important role in my spiritual and social life.  I began my summer Christian camp experience as an eight-year-old at Camp Hunt, a fairly small camp in upstate New York.  I was stomach-sick that week and had a bad time, transferring the next summer to a much closer camp with burgeoning loyalty.

Camp Manatawny in Southeast PA always offered something to look forward to.  From age 9 through 17, I annually spent a week there as a camper, and I also served a few weeks of my later years as a staff member (dish washer and counselor).  In 1998-2001, I returned as an adult and counseled and led hymn sings and devotionals, forming some lasting relationships.  My memories include cabin devotionals, hymn sings, campfires with equally rich silly and spiritual sides, and girlfriends.  It was an athletic experience, too, actually:  I have a few athletic awards to my credit, notably including placing in the softball accuracy throw and winning the push-ups event at least one year.  I don’t think I ever placed higher than 4th in a track event.  Manatawny and I parted ways (arguably its choice, not mine), but I still have many fond memories.

I was pleased last year to learn a little of my nieces’ Christian camp experiences.  They are growing similarly at other camps.  Last year, my son Jedd went to a day camp at Camp Wyldewood and enjoyed himself.  This year, baseball and a theater camp are filling the first half of the summer for him.  At some point within the next year or two, I want to find a good camp at which he can grow relationally with God and with others.  I want to start him fairly early, not waiting until the pre-teen or teen years for this important part of summer.

Naming Rights
Academic buildings, dorms, and fields, etc., are often named with the largest donor’s name.  This practice has always bothered me a bit, feeling that the “money talks” principle could end up compromising academics.  The problem becomes more acute when it’s a church room or building that’s named for an individual.  I’m such a purist about this that I don’t even think church facilities should be named for one of the twelve apostles.  Of course, this problem doesn’t occur when a Christian group owns no real estate.  Keeping it simple is better.  And living rooms are more homey and comfortable, too.

Time was when more pro baseball stadiums were named for their teams (Dodger Stadium, Astrodome, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium).  A couple 1970s-built parks were named for their settings near rivers.  These days (see complete list here), only three stadiums use their teams’ names, and the rest appear to have large corporate sponsors that presumably paid for naming rights.  The ballparks now sport such names as Comerica, Miller, Citizens Bank, Minutemaid, and Target.  Having some knowledge of the Kauffman Foundation’s work in the Kansas City area, I don’t mind that the Royals stadium is named Kauffman, but I end up doubting the philanthropy of major insurance companies and banking conglomerates.  Incidentally, we’ve enjoyed one Royals game already and look forward to another.  Kauffman is my second favorite stadium experience, just behind Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, but Kauffman is easier to get to.

Kids’ baseball teams also have sponsors, and this scene is good for the community and for the kids.  Personally, I’m glad that my son Jedd’s team is sponsored by the River Cities Credit Union and not by a denomination or para-church organization like one of the other teams is.  I wouldn’t prefer to play a role in advertising for churchy business concerns.

Mulberries Revisited
The mulberries have just about stopped attracting the birds, which probably spend half their time now nesting in diabetic comas.  It is almost safe to park our cars in the driveway again.  See Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree for the backstory.  I’ve since learned that Mrs. Shuck did indeed have quite a Christian legacy, and that she passed from this life a year or two ago.

Summer Sounds
Time was when a friend and I attended a few Philly Orchestra concerts at the Mann Music Center.  One could often get cheap or free tickets to sit on the lawn.  Good times.

This year, I’ll again be missing the summer Concerts Under the Stars at the Garden Theater at UNC.   There is really only one UNC, by the way, and it’s in Greeley, Colorado, not in North Carolina.  Since I was a UNC grad student and was able to participate in one or two of said outdoor concerts, I’ve only been able to attend one or two other concerts there.  It’s always a nice time.  For some reason, I feel more loyalty to UNC than I ever did to my high school or to two other universities I had attended prior to my last degree.  I’ve never been a rah-rah type, but hey, “Once a Bear, always a Bear.”

Summer sounds in eastern Kansas have so far involved raucous, sporadically nocturnal neighbors who don’t handle the clock or their booze very well.  On the plus side, Jedd and I heard the Kansas City Symphony a few weeks ago, and I look forward to hearing a local jazz group and a children’s folk singer in July.

Bonus:  the Android “Gumdrop” ringtone sound
And now for a cool sound that has nothing to do with hot summer.  At some point while listening to this “Gumdrop” ringtone on my phone, I realized it included asymmetric meter.¹  I couldn’t resist writing it out.  For us rhythm geeks, the fun is built into the 7/8 bar, which makes it seem like the repeat comes an eighth-note too early.

Here is a recording, too.


¹ Since none of the first six WWW sources I found had a very good definition of “asymmetric meter,” here is my simple one:  a unit or measure of music in which not all pulses (beats) have the same duration.  

In the above case, the 7/8 bar

  1. contains one eighth note less than the 4/4 bars
  2. theoretically has a final, or fourth, pulse that’s only half the length of the others (one eighth vs. one quarter . . . or one quaver vs. one crochet, for the two Brits or British-trained musicians who might be reading this), but it
  3. would be conducted with three pulses—beats one and two are “simple,” containing an evenly spaced two eighth notes each; whereas the final pulse is “compound,” comprising three eighth notes, and requiring 50% more time than each of the first two pulses