A few years ago, I did a series on homosexuality. I’m going to link a few of the posts below. This week, I hope to summarize a couple of these posts and reframe them in the context of transgender issues. I have no answers, but hope to shed some light on the topic from past research.
It’s been spoken by comedian Sarah Silverman:
MEDIA CLIP: Oh, hi. I’m Sarah Silverman, writer, comedian, and vagina owner. Women make up almost half the working population, yet we typically earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man makes in almost every profession.
And Senator Bernie Sanders:
There is no rational economic reason why women should earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. That has got to change.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 13, 2016
But according to Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard University, the gender pay gap results from multiple contributing factors. And one of those is the price women pay for being moms:
Some of the best studies that we have of the gender pay gap, following individuals longitudinally, show that when they show up right out of college, or out of law school, or after they get their M.B.A. — all the studies that we have indicate that wages are pretty similar then. So if men were better bargainers, they would have been better right then. And it doesn’t look as if they’re better bargainers to a degree that shows up as a very large number. But further down the pike in their lives, by 10-15 years out, we see very large differences in their pay. But we also see large differences in where they are, in their job titles, and a lot of that occurs a year or two after a kid is born, and it occurs for women and not for men. If anything, men tend to work somewhat harder. And I know that there are many who have done many experiments on the fact that women don’t necessarily like competition as much as men do — they value temporal flexibility, men value income growth — that there are various differences. But in terms of bargaining and competition it doesn’t look like it’s showing up that much at the very beginning.
This is not discrimination. This is a direct result of the real differences in women and men, and the impact a baby has on a woman’s life.
In the last post, I noted that the Southern U.S. more people incarcerated in local, state and federal prisons than any other region on the country. In fact, the South has 7 of the top 10 incarceration rates, with Louisiana being number one.
According to a recent study from MetricMaps.com, there are Sixteen states have more people in prison cells than college dorms. What is intriguing about this is that nearly all of these 16 states are located in the South.
— MetricMaps (@MetricMaps) January 20, 2015
The question is, why?
Prison population and the failed war on drugs
According to the Institute for Southern Studies, the prison population increase “can be attributed largely to ‘tough-on-crime’ criminal justice policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. Among them are mandatory drug sentences, ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ laws for repeat offenders, and ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws that restrict early releases.”
Probably the biggest driver of this growth has been ever-harsher drug penalties. In response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Congress and state legislatures began passing laws that meted out mandatory-minimum sentences for drug-related crimes. These were intended to help nab major traffickers, but the sentences were triggered by the possession of tiny quantities of drugs: five grams of crack, for instance, resulted in a mandatory-minimum sentence of five years. Conspiracy laws made everyone involved in a drug-running operation legally liable for all of the operation’s activities: a child hired for a few dollars a day to act as a lookout at the door of a crack house was on the hook for all the drugs sold in that house and all the crimes associated with their sale.
For instance, in 2014, “Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation that imposes a 10-year sentence — without the possibility of probation or a suspended sentence — on anyone convicted of selling any amount of heroin as a first offense.” Ten years without the possibility of parole for a first offender? Really?
If it were reducing crime, then it might be justified. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Earlier this year, a new study from the Brennan Center for Justice sought to explain what caused the “dramatic drop in crime in the United States over the past couple decades — and to what extent the decline can be linked to the expansion of the prison industrial complex. In the past 20 years…the country has experienced a drastic drop in crime at the same time the state’s prison population has doubled.”
What did they discover? The 139 page report revealed that while
mass incarceration has had a limited role in lower crime rates, other factors are much more important. The Brennan Center found that, “police officers, some data-driven policing techniques, changes in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and an aging population played a role in reducing crime.”
Reduction in crime can primarily be attributed to better training, better policing techniques, and the aging population, among other things. But increasing incarceration rates have a negligible affect on crime. The report noted that since “2000 [Louisiana] imprisonment has increased four fold to over 35,000 prisoners. The effectiveness on crime has declined to zero and that’s because of the marginal effect of adding more people to prison.”
So harsher drug penalties have increased the prison population in country where criminal activity has been decreasing. And most of this is happening in the South.
Who are being targeted? Who fills our prisons? That will be the focus of the next post.
During the Baltimore riots earlier this year, I ran across an article that spoke to the community impact on Baltimore due to the lack of an older generation with the Black community. The article, titled ‘Lord of the Flies’ comes to Baltimore, interviewed 28-year-old Zachary Lewis, with the author asking him about the absence of older men. He responded:
“This is old here,” he said, pointing to himself. “There ain’t no more ‘Old Heads’ anymore, where you been? They got big numbers or they in pine boxes.” In street syntax, that meant long prison sentences or death.
Big Prison Numbers
I’ve been thinking some about the prison system in the U.S. since then and I decided to spend some time writing about it.
To begin this series, in this post, I wanted to just look at some general stats from various sources about the prison population in the U.S.
According the recent numbers, there are more than “2.4 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.” And this does not account for the 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole.
To visualize what that looks like, consider this chart from the non-partisan Prison Policy Institute:
In total, there are over 6.89 million people under supervision by various correctional systems in the United States.
The most interesting stat that I have seen so far, however, has been the incarceration rates by state. Five states imprisoned at least 600 persons per 100,000 state residents on December 31, 2013:
- Louisiana (847 per 100,000 residents of Louisiana)
- Mississippi (692 per 100,000)
- Oklahoma (659 per 100,000)
- Alabama (647 per 100,000)
- Texas (602 per 100,000) 
What these states have in common is their location: they are all in the South. How do we interpret this data? That’ll be the subject of the next post.
 From the non-partisan Prison Policy Institute, accessed July 12, 2015.
 From the Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed July 12, 2015.
M-PESA (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money) is a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 by Safaricom, the country’s largest mobile network operator. M-PESA was originally designed as a way to allow microfinance-loan repayments to be made by phone. Doing this reduced costs, and made it possible for lower interest rates. During a pilot program, however, the company realized that it could work as a general money-transfer system.
M-Pesa is now used by over 17 million Kenyans, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the adult population. In fact, around 25% of the country’s gross national product flows through it. But the system has also expanded. It is now being used in Afghanistan, South Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
How does M-PESA work?
First, a person creates an account. Then the user pays money into the system by bringing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents. The agent credits the money to the user’s M-PESA account. The user withdraws money by visiting another agent, who checks that they have sufficient funds before debiting the account and handing over the cash. Users are charged a small fee for sending and withdrawing money using the service.
The user can also transfer money to others using a menu on your their mobile phone. Cash can thus be sent one place to another more quickly, safely and easily than taking bundles of money in person, or asking others to carry it for you. This is particularly useful in a country where many workers in cities send money back home to their families in rural villages. Electronic transfers save people time, freeing them to do other, more productive things instead.
M-Pesa has become the most successful mobile-phone based financial service in the developing world and has since been extended, offering loans and savings products. It can also be used to pay employees or pay bills, which saves users further time and money since they don’t need to waste hours standing in line at the bank.
It has also had an impact on salaries. One study found that in rural Kenyan households that adopted M-PESA, incomes increased by 5-30%. The success of the platform has also helped launch a host of start-ups in Nairobi.
The application is secure, even securing text messages sent to others. And it is lightly regulated.
People in developing countries may not have a lot of money, credit/debit cards, or cutting edge technology. But they do have mobile phones. M-Pesa has enabled the countries where it operates the ability to grow incomes, reduce crime, lower costs, and increase efficiency in payments. It’s also made it easier to send and receive money.
Could it work in a Western Culture, such as the US? I think it could, but unfortunately I think federal regulators and banks would fight to stop it’s implementation.
To read more, go here
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia Commons
The following video is a TED talk delivered in Vancouver, BC in March, 2015 by Chris Urmson, head of Google’s self-driving car program. He talks about where his program is right now, and shares fascinating footage that shows how the car sees the road and makes autonomous decisions about what to do next. Why would we want this to be developed? Statistically, the least reliable part of the car is the driver, and self-driving cars can make the average commute, 50 minutes today, much safer.
One quote from this TED Talk that I found most interesting: “1.2 million people are killed on the world’s roads every year. In America alone, 33,000 people are killed each year. To put that in perspective, that’s the same as a 737 falling out of the sky every working day.”
On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor released it’s jobs report for June, 2015. According to the report, the economy added 223,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.3%. The problem with the jobs report is that, while the unemployment rate dropped, the reason it dropped is that people have stopped trying to find work. They have given up hope finding a job.
But the unemployment rate of 5.3% is an important number. The Federal Reserve, as recent as December 2014, stated that an unemployment rate between 5% and 5.2% is considered full employment. With June’s job numbers, we are reaching the upper threshold of full employment. 
This is significant. Why? “The Fed could try to push the unemployment rate lower, but in theory that would stoke inflation.” What can happen at full employment The Federal Reserve could raise the interest rate. With this, prices rise and lending rates rates for mortgages, auto loans and other borrowing increase. Who does this hurt the most? Those in the middle and lower socio-economic classes.
A second part of the report also provides the number of people who are not employed and no longer looking for work. The labor force participation rate is only 62.6% That means that only 62% of all people 16 years old and older are working. That’s the lowest since 1977. It also equates to 93,626,000. That’s roughly 1/3 of the entire population of the United States. 
Obviously, there is a major economic impact on the country when only 62% of the labor force is actually participating. But there is also a societal impact as well. Let’s look at a few of those.
- An expansion of the social safety net. Less people working means more people needing services such as food stamps, Medicaid/Medicare, subsidized child care, subsidized health care, etc. There should be an obvious concern because of the labor participation number. As fewer people work, there are fewer people to draw monies from through taxation to pay for those services. That means that to provide those services, taxes have to be increased, leaving less money out of a paycheck to buy goods and services which provide jobs, resulting in…well, you know. And, it also limits donations to charities which help people who need those services.
- The need for more immigrants. The lower participation rate limits the ability of employers to find quality people to hire, limiting expansion and job creation. Helping companies find qualified employees will require either a resetting of our immigration policy, or outsourcing more jobs overseas.
- Increased government intervention in our lives. The expansion of the social safety net will lead to greater involvement by government officials. My wife and I are foster parents. If you ever want to see how the local, state, and federal government involve themselves in a person’s life, become a foster parent.
- Extended joblessness can be the start of generational poverty. Think about this: you’ve looked for months or even years trying to find a job, and haven’t been able to find one. It affects your mental health, your family, and your future. You lose hope. Why even try? That way of thinking can get passed down to your kids and it becomes an mindset. And it can get passed down to future generations.
Is there an answer? More jobs! How? In our current political climate I’m not sure it’s possible, but so much of our laws and policies have to be reviewed and restructured. Some days I think that we should just tear it all down and start over. It might actually be easier that way.
But I know this: The implications of this jobs report continues to concern me. It should concern all of us.
Q4U: How would you address the implications of June’s job report?
Ferguson, Missouri. New York. Walter Scott. The racial upheaval resulting from these killings have dominated the news for much of the past nine months.
But the Charleston massacre last week may have been a tipping point, ripping a large piece of the scab off the racial wound of this country, exposing the infection that keeps healing from occurring.
Charleston was different than the other three incidents: it was civilian killing instead of a police shooting. A twenty-one year wanted to start a race war, ironically with the very race from which many of his friends are a member.
The other three killings were police incidents, which provides some with an defense. They happened in the line of duty to people who had committed a crime or who were thought to have committed a crime. Thus, they had an “out” for the shootings could be classified as justifiable based on the situation.
But not Charleston. Charleston affected everyone.
I was raised in the South, in the same city where the Scottsboro Boys made national headlines in the early 1900’s. I pastored a church in Louisiana, where I heard the N-word more than I can ever remember hearing in the city where I grew up. I was told there that “I don’t believe blacks and whites should worship together,” and that “my momma taught me from the Bible that blacks and whites are not to be in church together.” I didn’t stay long.
I was once contacted by a church in Southern Mississippi about their vacant pastor position.They told me they were “the last bastion of white supremacy in [their] county.” I told them they probably wouldn’t like me then.
I know racism is still alive and well in parts of the country. And Charleston exposed that in its fullest.
Here’s why Charleston may be a tipping point in the racism discussion
1. It happened in a church. After a prayer meeting. This didn’t happen during a riot or the commission of a crime, but after a prayer meeting where the shooter almost decided not to go through with it because of how well he was treated in the church. And despite the attitude many have about “the church,” there is a sacredness and respect that still exists for the spiritual and for prayer that made these victims martyrs in the eyes of many.
2. It was done by a kid, a 21 year-old. If racism was not an issue in this country any more, then a 21 year-old wouldn’t be filled with so much hate towards a specific race. He had to learn that hate from someone, whether it was someone he knew or through someone’s words. Something that should be stamped out by now is still very real. And while it may not be as prevalent as it used to, it still exists. This killing by a 21 year-old exposed again what many hoped had quietly gone away.
3. It has a symbol – the Confederate Flag. And I believe this is the most important reason I think Charleston may have been a tipping point. Something can be done about a flag. It can be removed or burned. There is something specific that people can fight against. We can’t legislate heart change but we can remove the symbols of that belief system. Sure, taking down the flag will not guarantee that we will all just get along. But there’s something about a symbol coming down that allows for healing and the feeling of closure. The Berlin Wall coming down didn’t end oppression or Communism in the world. But it did end it for those who were experiencing it.
A change in a person’s belief system can’t be legislated, and taking down the Confederate Flag will not end the racism that still exists. But for those who see it as a reminder of the pain their family members when through and for whom it is a symbol of oppression and pain, bringing down the flag offers a sense of relief.
Racism will continue to be with us, just like the poor will. We still live in a broken world and evil is still very real. But Charleston has brought together so many disparate groups – the church, political leaders, and races – that I believe another huge step in the breakdown of the racial divide has been made.
Deep change always requires death on some level. Unfortunately, nine people died. Hopefully, their deaths will not be in vain.
During the late ’80s, Rev. Jeffrey Brown was watching his neighborhood become overrun with drugs and violence. He decided to listen to the young people in the community — not preach to them — in order to bring about change. He is one of the co-founders of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group that was an integral part of the “Boston Miracle,” a process by which the city experienced a significant decline in violent crime in the ’90s.
I heard about Rev. Brown on a recent episode of TED Radio from NPR. Here is his full TED Talk:
Here’s a few quotes from the talk…
“I’ve learned some of my most important life lessons from drug dealers and gang members and prostitutes, and I’ve had some of my most profound theological conversations not in the hallowed halls of a seminary but on a street corner on a Friday night, at 1 a.m.
“That’s a little unusual, since I am a Baptist minister, seminary-trained, and pastored a church for over 20 years, but it’s true. It came as a part of my participation in a public safety crime reduction strategy that saw a 79 percent reduction in violent crime over an eight-year period in a major city.
“And so while my colleagues were building these cathedrals great and tall and buying property outside of the city and moving their congregations out so that they could create or recreate their cities of God, the social structures in the inner cities were sagging under the weight of all of this violence.
“Now, there is a movement in the United States of young people who I am very proud of who are dealing with the structural issues that need to change if we’re going to be a better society. But there is this political ploy to try to pit police brutality and police misconduct against black-on-black violence. But it’s a fiction. It’s all connected. When you think about decades of failed housing policies and poor educational structures, when you think about persistent unemployment and underemployment in a community, when you think about poor healthcare, and then you throw drugs into the mix and duffel bags full of guns, little wonder that you would see this culture of violence emerge. And then the response that comes from the state is more cops and more suppression of hot spots. It’s all connected, and one of the wonderful things that we’ve been able to do is to be able to show the value of partnering together — community, law enforcement, private sector, the city — in order to reduce violence. You have to value that community component.
Growing up, I listened to a lot of Christian music. One of my favorites was a guy named Russ Taff. He had a great song that I still enjoy – in fact, it’s on my goto playlist on my iPhone. The song is called Table in the Wilderness, and the lyrics begin this way:
There’s a table in the wilderness
Where the blind can see and the poor possess
Where the weak are strong and the first one’s last
There’s a table in the wilderness
There’s a table in the wilderness
Where the blessed sing of His tenderness
Where the lame can walk and the weary rest
At the table in the wilderness…
Another verse that I really like…
When you close your eyes kneeling by your bed
All the working hours spinning through your head
You remember the place that your heart desires
Where you found your life, you’ll found life
At the table in the wilderness
Where the blind can see and the poor possess
Where the weak are strong and the first one’s last
There’s a table in the wilderness…
When I read Len Sweet’s latest book, From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed, I thought of this song, because in my mind, I picture God’s table filled with the poor, and blind, the weak and weary, the rich and the strong. It’s a table big enough to gather the extremes of society, and everyone in between. And it’s around that table that we all are equal, and where we get formed into the beautiful body of Christ.
Len opens his book in this way:
When any species undergoes a reproduction crisis, a name is given it: “endangered.” Arguably Christianity has entered such a crisis; our inability to reproduce the faith is the number one problem facing our families and churches today.
“The dominant means” he says “of addressing the church’s reproduction crisis has been to devise new methodologies and strategies for how we do church. This is a misdiagnosis of the problem, however, and without the right diagnosis of the disease, a cure is difficult.” And he’s no doubt right on this? We’re seeker, progressive, emergent…All of these terms have, in some way, been hailed as the new way of doing church. And yet Christianity continues to decline in the West.
So what is the problem? Len says:
Christianity in the West is suffering from an identity crisis. Instead of finding our identity in Jesus , we have tried to build an alternative identity on a Christian worldview, on biblical values, or on Christian principles, as though these are the cure-alls for our deteriorating faith and declining condition.
And the cure for our identity problem? Bring back the table!
The table is the place where identity is born. It is the place where the story of our lives is retold, re-minded, and re-lived.
Humans are wired for story. We become our stories. When we go in search of our identity, we don’t look for values or principles or worldviews; we look for fireworks in the sky, synapses that cause our cells to fire together and wire together. Story and image are the protons and neutrons swirling in the cells of our self-concept. At the subcellular level, we don’t crave a tablet full of values and principles and props; at the core of who we are, we crave a narraphor (a story made with metaphors that help us understand the world, ourselves, and God better).
You see, “families are defined by the stories they generate, by the stories they remember together over and over. Christian families are defined by the Story of Jesus and God’s relationship to humanity throughout history. And this story of our identity as a Christian people is relayed through the narraphors we tell ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren around the table generation after generation.”
The problem is, “modern Christianity has become more ‘modern’ than Christian, having sold out to a fast-paced, word-based, verse-backed, principles-driven template for truth, a handy little tablet of rules and regulations.”
So we need more table talk, more sharing life together instead of the passive tablet talk, where someone tells us how to live. Table talk is relational and participatory. Tablet talk is primarily structured and passive. You see,
At the table we don’t just feed people; we build relationships—stories and memories. We associate people with the stories we hear of them and the memories we have of them, especially sensory memories: the sounds, tastes, smells, textures, and pictures of them. These are the stuff of metaphors and narraphors.
Also, it is at the table, “where food and stories are passed from one person to another and one generation to another, is where each of us learns who we are, where we come from, what we can be, to whom we belong, and to what we are called.”
And those stories are important. Why? When you tell a story, “you are transferring your experiences directly to the brains of those listening; they feel what you feel, think what you think, smell what you smell. You are teleporting your story to their brain.” Stories allow people to resonate together, to influence, impact and affect each other. They allow us to move together, feel together, and identify with each other.
Want to see your church grow spiritually? Get people around the table, sharing life and being formed together. Want to see the kingdom increase around you? Make time with others, particularly unchurched and no-churched, around a table.
I’ve seen this happen. I’ve been a part of it. An older pastor told me once that when he could get a visiting couple to a meal in his house, they became a part of the church he pastored about 90% of the time. While pastoring in Delaware, I made that an intentional part of my ministry. I found that if I could get them to a meal in general, they became part of our church about 95% of the time. And the greatest spiritual growth I’ve had came around the table with friends, sharing life together.
While the first part of the book describes the table and it’s importance, along with how we learn and how our identities are formed, the second part of the book shows how the table can be lived out in the home, in the church, and in the world. With this, it is inherently practical.
David Fitch said on twitter that he thinks this is Len’s best book ever. “Ever” is a big word. I mean So Beautiful was probably his Magnum Opus. Nudge was a wonderful book on signs and evangelism. 11: Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without was beautiful. I’ll just say this is certainly in the top 2-3 books of his I’ve read of his.
There were so many quotes from this book that I wanted to share, but I’m sure I would be breaking some kind of copyright law. So my suggestion is to buy the book and read it. Take it in. Linger in and with it. Then read it again. You’ll be glad you did.