Cast in Bronze

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
John 20:29 (NRSV)

We live in a time of great turmoil and change. Economically, socially, spiritually, and even biologically our nation is different every day. Our growing diversity should be a strength, not a weakness, if we can find ways to hold ourselves together by emphasizing the principles forged into traditions that made this nation great. But somehow, even simple decency and respect for each other often eludes us.

Why is this? I have come to believe that we have made our great principles far too intellectual, that the beliefs that should hold us together are exercises for the brain when they should be felt with every beat of our hearts. To change this we need more solid physical reminders in our every day life of who we are, as one people – because in the end we are all made as much in the image of the doubting Thomas as much as anyone.

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Be Thankful, Not Fearful

This is a time to be thankful for what we have. We gather with family or friends and celebrate the bounty of a great and prosperous Promised Land. The material wealth of North America has always been obvious, as it was demonstrated to the first Europeans by the natives.

But this is not a Promised Land for many people who live here. The systems that we have set up, often credited with our wealth, do not always work. When we are thankful on these days, it is rightly for the great gifts of our Democratic Republic – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hapiness. But as we have seen in the last few days, none of these are guaranteed to all by our system.

It is impossible to be truly thankful for our great gifts when we know that they are jealously kept from others.

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Boom! Goes PowerPoint

I am horrifically bizzy, and Friday should be fun. Enjoy this classic piece.

You find yourself in a dark room, dazzled by charts and graphs and pictures that go by just fast enough to lose you.   The speaker at the front is well intentioned and trying desperately to make you as enthusiastic as they are, but it’s no use.  Your mind wanders, desperately trying to find something to daydream about that will keep you from nodding off, drooling on yourself, or both.

Here’s something to think about before you drift off into an embarrassing situation:  Franz von Uchatius, General in the Austrian Artillery – and Grandfather of PowerPoint.

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William Penn and Religious Freedom

It naturally comes up in my family just before Thanksgiving every year.  The Puritans’ deliverance to America is billed as a search for religious freedom, something which is a core value of our nation. It’s good that we celebrate such a thing, but do the Puritans really deserve credit for it?  The short answer is no, they do not, because they were seeking to establish their own theocracy – and across the ocean where no one would bother them seemed like the perfect place.

Religious tolerance as a founding principle of America came from a different source – William Penn, the “absolute proprietor” of Pennsylvania.  The reason that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves is murky at best, but may have its origins in a prejudice that most of us wouldn’t even understand today.  I think it’s time to correct that.
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Guy Fawkes’ Day

The plotters are angry that their faith is persecuted and decide to strike back. Their plan is an outrageous act of terrorism, the destruction of the entire government in one big explosion. Fortunately, it is foiled in time but as news of the conspiracy leaks out the population is enraged. Soon, every member of this minority religious faith is viewed as a potential terrorist and things only go downhill from there.

If this sounds like today’s news, it isn’t. This is the story of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes led a Catholic group to plan the violent and public destruction of Protestant King James I and the entire Parliament. It reverberated through years of increased persecution of Catholics in England and all her colonies – including what became the United States.

And every year it is still celebrated on its anniversary, the Fifth of November, when Guy Fawkes is still burned in effigy in bonfires across the UK.

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Shadow Banking

In the old days, if you needed money you went to a bank. They might loan you money for your home, your car, or your business based on an interest rate slightly higher than the net paid out for deposits. They made their money on the “spread” between the two, matching up assets they had with liabilities (like you) outstanding. It was a quiet, conservative life. It was boring.

Today, most loans wind up not being held by banks in anything like the traditional sense. Nearly all liabilities are packaged up and sold to a “shadow banking” system where people buy these “asset backed securities” and make money based on the float. It’s a more flexible system that allows nearly all risk to be offloaded onto investors – who bear it as a system. It’s good for the borrower, it’s good for the bank – but the risk is held by the investment world as a whole.

That “brittleness” is the bane of the modern financial world – and the future. How we learn to manage it is the future of finance and the difference between a world that is stable and reliable or capricious and impossible to understand.

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Disruptive Philanthropy

“Change is now our constant companion and we can choose to be creative in our response to it, approaching it as an opportunity in partnership with each other.”

That was the message delivered by the Charities Review Council at their annual forum, “Disruptive Philanthropy”, held on September 30th at the University of St Thomas. Before that theme was elaborated in that quote from Executive Director Kris Kewitsch, however, the entire event was a demonstration of how disruptive change is not only inevitable but beneficial.

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