29 August, 2009

Why Jesus Would Support Same Sex Marriage

Gay marriage was back in the news again this week because former Bush administration solicitor general, Theodore "Ted" Olsen, filed suit in federal court seeking to overturn California's Proposition 8 and re-establish the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Conservative talk show hosts know that few things rile up their listeners like gay marraige so they took to the airwaves this week and asked their callers what they think of gay marriage with predictable results: call after call citing the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality.

If America were a conservative, evangelical theocracy with the Bible as its constitution, Bible verses against homosexuality might be the debate enders these conservative callers want them to be, but America is not a conservative evangelical theocracy. Had the founders wanted America to be a theocracy based on the Bible, all they had to do was adopt the BIble as the constitution of our new nation. The kind of Bible-quoters who find it inconvenient that the founders didn't adopt the Bible as the our nation's constitution are the same ones who find it inconvenient that the "City On A Hill" theocrats who landed at Massachusetts in the early 1600s were long in their graves before our post-Renaissance founders, many of them skeptics or deists, established this nation in the late 1700s. Yes, it's true that Puritans and Anabaptists first came to this land to freely express their religious convictions but it was not Puritans or Anabaptists who founded this nation. This nation was, in fact, founded by the likes of Thomas Jefferson who actually excised from the gospels the parts he didn't believe and published what came to be known as The Jefferson Bible.

When people say I should oppose gay marriage because the Bible condemns homosexuality, I ask them if they think the Jesus of the Bible would be against theft. When they say, yes, of course he would, I tell them that I don't think the Jesus of the Bible would condone theft either and that our government is committing theft anytime it collects taxes from citizens who are denied the freedoms and justice paid for by taxes. I tell them that whatever Jesus may or may not think of same sex marriage, we can all agree that injustices angered Jesus and that they should anger us too.

But there is a way for Bible-quoting evangelicals who think the US should be a Christian theocracy to have their justice and their theocracy, too, though I note with fascination that they never suggest it. If conservatives had the courage of their convictions, they would move to stop taxing gay people, to repay all taxes paid by gay people, revoke the citizenship of gay people and declare gay people to be aliens or visitors who are not entitled to the same freedoms enjoyed by straight people and not subject to the taxation of our great, straight nation.

Former Bush lawyer, Ted Olsen, is right when he says ""It is our position in this case that Proposition 8, as upheld by the California Supreme Court, denies federal constitutional rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution,. The constitution protects individuals' basic rights that cannot be taken away by a vote. If the people of California had voted to ban interracial marriage, it would have been the responsibility of the courts to say that they cannot do that under the constitution. We believe that denying individuals in this category the right to lasting, loving relationships through marriage is a denial to them, on an impermissible basis, of the rights that the rest of us enjoy…I also personally believe that it is wrong for us to continue to deny rights to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation."

28 August, 2009

Why Becoming A News Snitch May Save Your Local Newspaper (From Itself) and Save You Some Tax Dollars

I was lucky enough to grow up in a great newspaper town - Charleston, WV, one of the few 2-newspaper towns left in America - and in a household that, for much of my childhood, took both the "Democrat" paper, the Charleston Gazette, and the "Republican" paper, the Charleston Daily Mail. By the time I was in high school, I was a total newspaper junkie. I couldn't get enough of LT Anderson's columns and James Dent's political cartoons. Each morning before I delivered the Gazette, I had already read most of it.

It's a wonder I didn't become a newspaper man myself since, as a kid, I could imagine no nobler profession, no higher calling, than keeping elected officials and other scoundrels accountable - which is what great newspapers do.

As I write this post, Sue Wylie is on her WVLK radio show asking if the Lexington Herald-Leader made a mistake when it ran a sports column on the front page of today's paper. Yes. When newspapers start putting opinion columns on the front page where only hard news belongs, they relinquish their raison d'etre and demonstrate why newspapers are going out of business and why the experts are saying that even major cities may awaken one morning to find that they must now get all their news from TV, radio and internet.

But please note: without the Lexington Herald-Leader, Sue Wylie didn't have a show from 10 to 11 today.

I once heard WLAP's talk shows do 6 hours of locally-originating talk radio on one op-ed that was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

What would blowhards like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh talk about if newspapers didn't report the news?

We're dangerously close to raising an entire generation of people who don't know the difference between news and commentary on the news, between facts and opinions, and it doesn't help when newspapers run sports columnists on the front page.

If newspapers have forgotten how to be great, there's something you and I can do to help them remember: we can become snitches.

It was a snitch who helped Woodward and Bernstein bring down the Nixon administration.

Lack of a snitch made Lexington Fayette Urban County Government a safe haven for a child molester who was using his city job and city resources to gain access to the children he molested. You can't tell me somebody in city government didn't know something that, if leaked to a newspaper reporter, may have saved dozens of kids from molestation.

And if you're not morally outraged by the knowledge that a Lexington city worker used his cushy job to victimize children, maybe you'll be outraged by the increased tax bills you're going to pay as Lexington pays $millions in legal costs.

I can't prove it, but I suspect the Herald-Leader's exposes on misuse of taxpayer money at the airport, the public library and the Kentucky League of Cities benefitted from insider information.

These whistleblowers have dislodged these abusers of the public trust from our wallets and saved us a lot of money.

What I'm saying is that even a newspaper that runs sports columns on the front page has enough sense to do investigative journalism when "average citizens" point them in the right direction so help newspapers keep the scoundrels accountable. Go to your local newspaper's website and look up the fax number of the news room or the email addresses of some reporters and start leaking news. Not only will you save your local newspaper from itself, you'll save all of us taxpayers some money and occasionally put some bad guys in jail where they belong.

21 August, 2009

From Flat Bible Christianity to Red Letter Christianity

An old acquaintance describes herself as a "red words Christian". For those of you who don't know, this is a reference to "red letter editions" of the BIble with the words of Christ in a red typeface. Members of what I call the Flat Bible Society object to red letter editions because, they say, every word of the Bible is just as infallible and just as inspired as every other word so the words of Jesus shouldn't be treated like they are special.

You can't get a red letter edition of the "Reformation Study Bible" with notes and comments by conservative, R C Sproul.

My acquaintance's religious self-description must drive her family nuts. Her father is one of those Flat Bible Society radio preachers who have done such a good job convincing followers that there's nothing special about Jesus' words that many modern professing Christians no longer even recognize the words of Jesus because preachers don't preach from the "red words" much and professing Christians don't read them.

I think my acquaintance's turn from Flat Bible Christianity to Red Letter Christianity is a symptom of a "christian" diet deficient in those red words nobody preaches or reads anymore, a predictable overcorrection on the part of a girl raised in a home that knows more about Paul than about Jesus, a product of the kind of anemic Christianity that caused David Wenham to write Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity?

A few years ago I started a deeply flawed, totally unpublishable novel whose main character often drove her car to some secluded place where she would read only the red letters of Jesus and come away deeply disturbed by Jesus' statements about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven and how the way is narrow and few find it.

People who have traded Jesus minority religion for a Moral Majority will find no comfort in those red letters. Jesus clearly didn't know anything about a day when professing your faith would make you rich or help you get elected to political office. He promised persecution, estrangement from friends and family, jail and even death to his followers.

So when I tune in to a conservative radio talk show and hear its pastor/talk show host using the terms "conservative" and "Christian" interchangeably or even "Republican" and "Christian" interchangeably to the delight and approval of his conservative callers, I know one thing for sure: that version of Christianity is not the one founded by Jesus. I don't have to know where this Christless Christianity stands on any issue or doctrine to know this: a christianity that has become so acceptable and so mainstream that you can't get elected dog catcher unless you belong to it is not the Christianity described by its nominal founder.

On the rare occasion when one of these modern, Flat Bible Society, faux Christians asks me if I am a Christian, my standard answer these days is "Well, let's see, I haven't sold all that I have and given the money to the poor, so, no, I guess I'm not. What about you?"

An alarming number of these Flat Bible Society Christians don't recognize my reference to Matthew 19:21. Those who do leave skid marks getting away from me.

Years ago, a small theological journal I wrote a few articles for ran a story about a group of Russian Baptists who were being persecuted by Kruschev. Year after year these persecuted Baptists sent letters to the Kremlin asking for a meeting and, at length, they got an audience with Kruschev. When the persecuted Baptists entered Kruschev's office they noticed that he seemed to be reading a book and as they described their grievances to him he glanced at the book occasionally. When he was tired of listening to them he read passages that promised followers of Jesus not peace but a sword, brothers betraying brothers to death, floggings and so on.

Then Kruschev looked up from the book and asked "Are not these the words of your Master?"

The persecuted Baptists admitted that they were.

"Then you are getting from me what your Master promised. Your grievance is not with me. Go talk to your Master."

I believe in religious liberty and if people want to practice a Christless, American Civil Religion that's a kind of unholy admixture of The Bible, the declaration of independence, The Federalist Papers, The US Constitution and talk radio, I have no beef with that. All I ask is truth in advertising. If your kind of Christianity is the kind that is more likely to land you in the White House than in prison, call it something else because it's not the Christianity of Jesus whatever your position on The Second Coming, abortion or whether God-fearing Americans should carry loaded guns to presidential and congressional events.

20 August, 2009

Why Employers Need Mystery Job Applicants

If the newest HR buzzword - "employer branding" - were more than just another pitiful, pathetic HR cry for a "seat at the table" and if employers were serious about protecting and enhancing their brands, employers would hire "secret shoppers" to "shop" their employee selection process - like restaurants and retailers hire secret shoppers to identify bad service.

I said this in a LinkedIn group where people were swapping their "bad interview" stories. Several HR people told me it was a great idea but nobody told me they were actually going to implement my suggestion.

When I hear people who do more brand damage in a single day than their marketing and PR departments could counterbalance in a year prattling on about concepts they don't understand - like brand - my mind searches for a metaphor. The first thing I came up with was the incongruity of Pat Boone singing heavy metal standards like "Crazy Train" and "Smoke On The Water" as he did in his 1997 album, "In A Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy". But that metaphor doesn't work because there's no hypocrisy involved in Pat Boone's covers of hard rock tunes. When Pat Boone sang "Holy Diver" he wasn't pretending to be something he's not. He wasn't trying to deceive anybody into thinking that the famously straight-laced, white shoed, evangelical, Republican 50s crooner had become a hotel room-wrecking hard-rocker. No, when Pat Boone mouths words that are totally out of place on his lips, it's funny and entertaining. Boone is making fun of himself and inviting us to laugh at him laughing at himself. In fact, by so unconvincingly playing against his own brand, Boone actually enhances and establishes his own brand. The difference between Pat Boone's amusing and endearing album and the "employer branding" initiatives that are all the rage these days in HR circles, is the difference between irony and insincerity, the difference between empathy and insensitivity. It's even the difference between sophistication and naiveté.

No, HR departments talking about "employer branding" is not like Pat Boone singing metal standards.

It's like Milli Vanilli pretending to be entertainers. It's deceit. It's fraud.

And job applicants draw unflattering conclusions about companies who let hypocrites and frauds interview candidates.

And while we're tossing around clichés ,like that HR favorite "a seat at the table", I actually think HR should have a "seat at the table" - but not before they've been "called on the carpet" and "taken to the woodshed" for lip-syncing about brand and then "taken to school" on what brand really is. By "taken to school", I mean that the CEO or somebody acting on the authority of the CEO needs to lock HR people in a room and not let them out until they understand that a company's brand is either enhanced or diminished by every contact with job applicants and that every job applicant tells his neighbors, his friends, his co-workers, his colleagues and his relatives about how he was treated during the selection process.

I believe every bad interview story I hear, by the way, because I have experienced so many bad interviews myself and, on the basis of my own experience alone I can believe that somewhere in America right now, there is a job applicant being told a dirty or offensive joke or asked an illegal question about their religion, their sex life or their health.

On the basis of my own experience alone I believe that somewhere there is a job applicant being pumped for dirt on the previous interviewer and that somewhere in America right now there is an interviewer having what appears to be some kind of mental breakdown right in front of the job applicant.

On the basis of my own experience alone I believe that somewhere in America right now, there is a 50-something job applicant being handed a paper job application while younger applicants are being seated at computers to apply digitally.

On the basis of my experience alone I believe you if you tell me that a 20-something interviewer who thinks C++ is a key signature started speaking l-o-u-d-l-y and s-l-o-w-l-y to you when she saw you use reading glasses to fill out an application.

And I know that somewhere in America right now there is a job applicant being scheduled for his or her 7th or 9th or 15th job interview with an employer that would do only slightly more brand damage if they leaked chemicals into the drinking water or ripped off their employees' retirement funds.

15 August, 2009

"Career Coach? Maybe All You Need Is A Friend

Every time I post something about employment and careers (see my June 14 and August 4 posts) I get emails from total strangers who need career advice. Wherever I go - even in job interviews - when people find out that, in addition to being a former hiring manager myself I have done a little headhunting, too, they ask me for career advice. Recently I was being interviewed by a young man with 12 years experience in his industry. He asked me for career advice.

"I've been thinking of leaving this industry" he said.

After a brief discussion of his industry I advised him against leaving it.

"You're just coming into your big earnings years in this industry. You're experienced and knowledgeable but you're not expensive yet. Headhunters will be calling. You'll be offered jobs you didn't apply for. If you leave your industry now, you'll be starting all over in an industry where you haven't yet established your value. Headhunters will stop calling. The unsolicited job offers will stop."

Then I did something I rarely do: I told him something personal. "Don't make the mistake I made" I said. "I left my first industry after 12 years of building my professional reputation, establishing my value, speaking at industry events, writing for the industry publications. I went from getting unsolicited job offers to sending resumes and going to interviews. And, as I said in my blog, your first clue you're not going to get the job is you're writing a resume. Your second clue you're not going to get the job is you have to interview. Sending resumes and going to interviews is an inefficient, low percentage way to get a job. Most so-called job openings are filled by an industry insider or friend of the hiring manager before the interviews even begin. Most so-called searches are shams, window-dressing to make it look like a thorough search was conducted. If you stay in this industry you'll be the guy who gets the job without writing a resume or sitting for an interview. "

Most of the unemployed and underemployed people who ask me for advice have one thing in common: they've become detached from either their professional network or from the showcase where their talents were self evidentiary to an audience of peers who knew how to assess what they were seeing. Or both. If, for example, you are a stay-at-home mom who dropped out of office life to raise kids and now you're trying to return to the world of work, you have probably experienced detachment from both your professional network and from the natural showcase for your talents. Chances are, you got busy raising kids and didn't keep up with your former bosses and colleagues. While you were out of the industry, it changed and you weren't around to keep up with technological, regulatory or other changes that occurred in your old business while you were away.

Your old industry may not even exist anymore. Your old network has scattered.

I became detached from my first career's talent showcase and professional network by geography and by time. First, I became geographically detached from a chunk of my professional network by moving to a strange city. Two years later I became detached from the showcase of my self evidentiary skills when I switched industries altogether.

The editors I used to write for, the people who used to call me out of the blue to offer me jobs or speaking engagements are mostly retired or dead.

Most of the underemployed or unemployed people who ask me for career advice have become detached from their professional network or from their skills showcase or both.

"Do I need to hire a career coach or a life coach?" they sometimes ask.

"Only if you have no friends" I say.

If you're unemployed or underemployed, you're about to find out who your friends are. Your friends will usher you into their own professional networks and help this new network understand your transferable skills, the skills that were self evident to your old network.

And there's something else your friends can do for you that, in my opinion, you shouldn't have to pay for: your friends can help you see yourself as others see you.

You know those people who humiliate themselves in front of millions of people every week on TV's "America's Got Talent" and "American Idol"? Nobody loved them enough to tell them they can't sing or dance or tell jokes.

It can work the other way, too. Friends can see skills and abilities in us that we don't see in ourselves and then they can "sell' those skills to people in their network. My trusted old friend, Joe Bird, recently told me something about myself that I can't see and he recommended me for a job I would have never thought of on my own. Even if Joe's recommendation never results in a job offer, his insight into my skills and aptitudes is precious information that I can trust because he has been in a position to assess my skills in a number of contexts for decades.

Have you become detached from your professional network or from the place where your skills were observed by people who could understand and appreciate them? Go to your friends and ask them to provide you with an honest assessment of your skills. Ask them to usher you into their professional networks and help these new people to see your "transferable skills".