January 15, 2010

The bad news: the Synchronicity Podcast has come to an end. The good news: I’m back to blogging on a regular basis.  However, instead of continuing in this space, I’ll be posting on a dedicated domain, where I will have more flexibility in terms of page theme options and cool sidebar gadgets. The new blog will be similar to this one, except that it will focus more on legal and economic issues, and the ways that they interact with Christian theology. Adjust your feed readers and bookmarks to

Hope to see you there.

–          Matt


Evil and the Justice of God Review at Synchronicity

October 26, 2009

If anyone is still out there following this feed, you might be interested to know that I just started a series reviewing NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God over on the synchronicity podcast site.

No Death Panel Overlords Here

August 22, 2009

Yesterday, I had a chance to watch John Stewart’s recent interview of Betsy McCaughey, an interview that apparently resulted in Ms. McCaughey’s resignation as director of Cantel Medical Corporation.

Ms. McCaughey’s now infamous interview focused on a section of House Bill 3200, titled “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” which you can read for yourself here. McCaughey claimed that the bill implemented so-called “death panels” which would decide whether a person with a chronic or terminal condition would be afforded federally-funded health care.

I was fascinated by the claim, and by the apparent inability of McCaughey and Stewart to agree on what was in the bill, that I decided to check it out.

Not the whole thing, mind you. Like a lot of Federal legislation, HB 3200 is unimaginably complex. If it is implemented, entire careers will be devoted to trying to understand and implement the bill. Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting to at least check out the provision that was the focus of the discussion.

The journey through this bill began on page 424, the beginning of the section which McCaughey claimed creates a “death panel.”

This section amends the Social Security Act by adding “advance care planning consultation” to the Social Security Act’s definition of “medical and other health care services.” (You can find the section of the SSA that would be amended here.) 

Why is the SSA’s definition of “medical and other health care services” important? Because it is one of the key phrases that describes the types of treatment that will qualify for Medicare benefits. (The section where the definition is deployed in the Medicare statute can be found here.)

In other words, what HB 3200 does is provide Medicare patients with an opportunity to meet with their physician to discuss “advance health care planning” on the Federal government’s nickel.

Notably, this meeting does NOT appear to be mandatory. No one is forced to participate in this discussion. The bill simply provides that, if a patient elects to discuss this issue with their doctor, Medicare will pay for it.

HB 3200’s definition of “advance health care planning consultation” goes into some detail, but the practical upshot of it is that the phrase refers to a meeting between a doctor and a patient on the subject of advance directives, which are decisions that are made by a patient about how their health care should be handled in the event they become mentally incapacitated.

There are two key components that have long played a role in advance directives, and HB 3200 recognizes them explicitly:

First, there is the living will, which provides guidance to the patient’s family and health care providers about the circumstances, if any, under which life-sustaining treatment should be withdrawn. The decision regarding the contents of a living will, or even whether a living will is created, are completely up to the patient.

Second, there is the “durable power of attorney.” This is a document that a patient can execute which indicates who will make health care decisions for the patient in the event the patient cannot make decisions for themselves.

As Stewart, and a good many folks in the media, have since observed, there is no “death panel” – or anything even remotely like it – in this part of the bill.

However, what fascinated me about this particular provision of the bill was the fact that it appears to do exactly the opposite of what McCaughey was claiming it does. Rather than handing over end-of-life decisions to a Federal panel, this bill reinforces  the patient’s power to make their own choices – by ensuring that they have an opportunity to apprise themselves of their options before they become incapacitated, and by providing them with an opportunity to designate the person who will make their decisions for them.

No shadow overlords here, I’m afraid. Just a fairly innocuous provision that will probably help elderly patients to become more aware of the ways they can continue to exercise a degree of self-determination if or when they become gravely ill.

What is disturbing here, of course, is the way a debate over complex Federal legislation can be hijacked by profoundly misleading accusations. It probably took me an hour to work through this to see for myself what was going on. Most folks won’t have the time or inclination, and may not even have the education – or internet access – to do it. They are stuck relying on their trusted news sources – CNN, Fox News, radio talk show hosts – or even entertainment sources (such as Stewart’s show) to tell them what is going on.

Synchronicity Has Moved

August 1, 2009

I’ve moved the Synchronicity podcast from pod0matic to its own web site. The address is now

I still haven’t decided on the final fate of this blog. I’m going to leave it dormant for a while longer, at least. However, my plan is to post some written entries on the synchronicity site, many of which will be along the lines of things I have posted here before. So… even if you don’t want to listen to the podcasts, you might think about subscribing to the feed.

The Five Best Modern Worship Songs You (Probably) Never Heard Of

June 13, 2009

Been hard at work on the Synchronicity podcast lately, so I haven’t been posting any, but I just started listening to the latest Hillsong United album, and it has me thinking about some older modern worship songs that I really love.

Modern and contemporary worship has a reputation among a lot of folks as being bland and uninspired. The typical critique is that it is no more than 3 chords played repeatedly to some bland and theologically questionable lyrics. My experience has been very hit-and-miss, but over the years, I’ve run across some stuff that I’ve found to be very inspiring, and some of it has never been widely used in worship events, at least that I know of.

What follows is my list of my top five songs that never seemed to “make it big.”

#5: I Was Made for Loving You (Rock n Roll Worship Circus, Welcome to the Rock n Roll Worship Circus). Rock n Roll Worship Circus brought a vintage 60s/70s rock feel to their music that made their concerts feel about halfway like Church and halfway like Woodstock. The chorus starts and peaks with the triumphant lyric: “And when I dance with you/I’ve finally found my place/Its so extraordinary/in a normal way/Cause I was made for loving you.” Another really good track on the same album is the prophetic-sounding and Pink Floyd-esque The Undiscovered.

#4: Hallelujah (Newsboys, Adoration). If there is one concept in New Testament theology that seems largely lost on the modern Church, it is realized eschatology (what some call “the already and the not yet"). This song, however, gets it right, and does it in the bright, flashy style of that makes the Newsboys irresistable: “And I know that its coming/but I can’t see it now/And I’ve touched it in moments/but I can’t hold it yet/And it glows in the darkness/And it calls us away/to that true destination/to that glorious day.” The title track on this album, which celebrates the way the Christ child “grabs my finger and he won’t let go” also offers a very cool metaphor for God’s love and grace.

#3: Hosanna (Jason Morant, Open). Morant brings a coffee house rock feel to his worship music, and – on an album with a lot of lyrically rich tracks – this one stands above the rest. Hosanna alternates between meditations on Christ’s humanity and his divinity (“He humbly dressed just like a vagabond/with discourse like a king/And when he talked/the angels stopped to listen”). The last lyrics are beautifully punctuated by a 5 minute instrumental-only section that arcs from quiet simplicity to full-orchestral triumph to serene peace.

#2: You Are Good (Jeff Deyo, Saturate and Surrender). I’m becoming a big liturgical junkie these days, but every once in a while, I still need a good-old-fashioned, ear-ringing, hand-raising, quasi-Charismatic worship experience to shake things up. Deyo does this better than anyone that I know of. You Are Good, however, is a marked contrast for Deyo. It comes on the Saturate album in three tracks, two of which are instrument-only meditation pieces featuring piano and string. The middle track contains this simple song with a beautiful melody. I don’t know why more churches don’t do this one – or at least use it for altar calls and eucharist background. It really is wonderful. For a more rock-oriented version of the song that gives you a feel for how it works in one of Deyo’s worship events, check out the same song on the Surrender album.

#1: Unify (Hillsong United, To the Ends of the Earth). “The whole earth falls to its knees/at the sound of your beautiful Name/And all the voices in the world/unify today/to bring you this song of praise.” From the first time it is presented as a soft understatement, the lyrics to this chorus make the hairs on my arms stand up. Also subtlety playing on the idea of realized eschatology (the lyrics are present tense, but they speak of a reality we aren’t fully experiencing), these lyrics are presented as a song which is offered by all humanity on the day when God’s kingdom is fully realized. The chorus builds and repeats multiple times, which I know is a turn-off to some, but which I really love when its done right. Michele Fragar, the vocalist on this track is just unbelievable. I don’t know why this one never became as popular as some of the other stuff that has come out of the Hillsong church.

The missional-oriented title track on this album is also worthy of a lot more use than it is getting.

So…what songs would you place on this list?

Podcast Update

April 26, 2009

For anyone who is interested, the podcast is now twittering @SyncPod.

Synchronicity Episode 1 is Live!

March 17, 2009

atomI’m excited to announce that the first episode of the Synchronicity podcast is now live.

I started working on Synchronicity about eight months ago. Since then, I’ve been conceptualizing, outlining, re-conceptualizing, recording, and generally trying to develop the technical expertise to put together something that has some fairly decent production value.

Synchronicity will offer a somewhat intensive study of the Christian scriptures in an environment that is friendly both to long-time students of the Bible, as well as curious onlookers. Among other things, it is meant to be a “safe” place where people on the edges of faith (whether they are on the way out or on the outside looking in) can ask questions and explore ideas about the Biblical text.

For the time being, the home for Synchronicity is going to be on the podOmatic service. However, if it begins to draw a larger audience, it will probably move to its own site.

If you’re interested in listening, you can jump to the Synchronicity Podcast site, or you can feed on it here.

In the meantime, while I’m getting the first few episodes of Synchronicity under my belt, I probably won’t be posting much here.