Monday, January 22, 2018

Who the Heck Are We?

1.22.18 Study Group

News yesterday: Chaos.
News the day before: Chaos.
News last week, last month: Chaos.
News today: Chaos.
News tomorrow? Chaos.
News: Chaos.

At best, democracy is always messy, as it should be, because no one is singularly in charge, but, rather, a whole lot of people, agencies, and entities.

But, and you knew a “but” was coming, these days strike me as odd, in the ferocity of their chaos … “no one is in charge” with a vengeance, and the party in power seems helpless to craft reasonable policies, either domestic or foreign, appointing people with marginal experience and often lousy track records.

Yet, I give myself away … for me, the role of government is vital to the wellbeing of the nation … it’s always, for me, the third leg of our strength: corporations, unions, and government, working together to bring balance and direction, paying attention to the past, yet knowing that the past is a done deal; what lies open to us is the future, yet right now, no one seems to be paying attention, while 45 deconstructs our government, unravels long-standing policies and throws foreign policy into chaos, playing to a rather small, but vociferous, and often violently religious, base.

I’m reading a remarkable book on FDR, A Political Life, by Robert Dallek … once again, I’m struck by FDR’s determination to use government to lift up the needy with emergency assistance, and job creation … while regulating big business and banks, in contrast to Hoover, who was a good and decent man, and stymied and saddened by the Depression, but held prisoner, or so it seems to me, by his Republican philosophy.

As FDR went to work, it didn’t take long for his detractors to start calling him a Communist, a Fascist, and a dictator, telling America through their newspapers (the wealthy owned nearly all of America’s leading newspapers) that FDR was going to ruin America’s democracy, destroy our economy and become a dictator like Mussolini (whom many of the rich secretly admired for his take-charge attitude, an admiration that would, but a few years later, include Hitler for his anti-communist stance - and both admired for their pro-business attitude).

William Shirer, in his autobiography, writes:

The General Strike in Britain that spring [1926] had shown the malaise in British society. Its failure had brought out the determination of the upper classes to keep the lower classes down on depressed wages, which were near the starvation level. Obviously, class war in Britain was far from over and the upper classes were winning [p.280, vol. 1].

Writing of France in the same time period, Shire notes:

I had begun to suspect that in France the possessing classes were even more greedy and venal than in Britain and at home. All through the crisis of the franc they had sent their capital abroad and thus further weakened the country’s precarious position. Appeals to their patriotism were in vain. The tax system was shocking, soaking the poor and sparing the rich [p.281].

And adds:

They feared that democracy in France, however badly it was served by Parliament, might continue to threaten their money bags. They began to look over the Alps at Italy to see if perhaps the rights of Big Business and Big Finance might not be better protected by a system of government the had destroyed democracy [p.282].

I doubt if any of us gathered around this table can comprehend the madness of wealth, the fears associated with losing even a dime of it. Or as Eric Trump said of his father, He’s not racist; there’s only one color he sees, and it’s green.

Then or now and throughout our history, there are those who look askance at democracy as a threat to their moneybags. And I think we’re deluding ourselves to ever hope that the possessors might think or behave differently. It is the disease of money that shapes their world view, and as long as the disease persists, so will their attitudes of greed and fear.

Such attitudes gave us, of course, the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.

As Hoover helplessly stood by as the country slid into the Great Depression, one of his associates said, “Sooner or later the economy will straighten itself out” (good Republican thinking).

To which an associate of FDR replied, “People don’t eat sooner or later, but today.”

For many years now, beginning with Reagan, the mantra has been: Government is the problem, a theme which has resonated convincingly with many voters who unwittingly miss the point of just how helpful big government has been for them. Since Reagan, we’ve seen much of our government deconstructed (something Bill Clinton also abetted); the civil service greatly reduced, life-time employees devoted to their agencies replaced by political appointees, most of whom come from the very industries these agencies were created to regulate.


In a recent sermon, I offered the following:

Can we be hopeful today?

Can we we face the harsh winds of life and be brave?
 Can we speak truth to power, because we believe in the truth, the truth of Christ, the truth that really sets people free?

Can we look at the homeless on our streets and demand that the organs of government get their act together and do a better job for the needy and the downcast?

Can we look at our schools and demand that as a nation we stand by our children, we fund our schools, we keep them in repair, and see to it that our children are safe and secure?

Can we look at the elderly in our land and celebrate what Social Security has meant to millions of Americans, hard working Americans, decent and good Americans who need Social Security to avoid the abyss of poverty?

Can we celebrate the goodness of Medicare … for millions of Americans who need decent health care… 

Can we truly be patriots, and care for one another … 

Can we be Christian enough to know that we owe a debt of love to one another … and that God desires good government … God is the god of kings and queens and prime ministers and parliaments, and Senators and Legislators and Presidents, too … and all who hold the reigns of power will be held accountable before the LORD of heaven and earth, not for how much money they saved, but for how much money they spent, to make life better for children, for women and young mothers, for all who have needs, for all who are in want … God will not ask our leaders about walls built to keep people out, but bridges built to welcome the world! Not about war, but about peace. Not about exclusion, but welcome. Not about punishment, but forgiveness … and how we all cared for God’s good earth.

Both conservatives and socialists live in a world of ideals … focused on economic principles, with the former believing the market to be the ultimate arbiter of social wellbeing … and the latter believing that government regulation is the solution to social ills. 

Seems to me the strength of America has best been achieved when elements of both are combined into what might be called a thoughtful capitalism, or, as in Norway, democratic socialism … a reliance on the market, yet, also a realistic understanding that markets, left to themselves, ultimately result in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, resulting in a growing economic and social disparity and the expansion of poverty, and only with careful and consistent regulation, can markets truly deliver the goods on social wellbeing.

Given this, I’ve long believed that America’s Middle Class is an artificial construct - thanks in large part to FDR, and subsequent administrations that understood America’s market system is fundamentally sound when sufficiently regulated to insure that those who have much won’t have too much, and those who have little, won’t have too little (2 Corinthians 8.15).

Jesus makes it abundantly clear that wealth is a problem, not a blessing, and those of wealth are likely to miss the meaning and purpose of life (the Kingdom of God). 

No doubt, elements in the Old Testament, and subsequent Christian tradition, celebrate wealth as a sign of God’s blessing, God’s approval, and poverty as a sign of moral failure and personal sloth and even God’s punishment. 

Sadly, this paradigm has taken root with a vengeance in American evangelicalism. But the New Testament, and the words of Jesus, give us a very different message, essentially ignored by many contemporary Christians and much of America, with our long-standing Horatio Alger stories, our love of wealth, our admiration for the wealthy and their power, our fascination with their life styles, and our continuing belief that the wealthy really have our own best interests at heart.

As a nation, we’ve not yet decided who we are, nor have we decided how to be a nation of 330 million, as we often imagine ourselves still a frontier nation, with all of our silly notions of guns, wilderness, wagon trains and toughness, flavored by White Supremacy (well established in our European ancestors), the legacy of Southern slavery, and States’ Rights, creating a maelstrom of American Exceptionalism, an illegitimate idea that can be defended only by bombast and the threat of violence, just to prove how righteous we are.

Into this mix, toss DACA and immigration issues (a long-standing struggle in America), and we have the perfect storm for bigotry, racial and religious violence, and the strange “election” of a man unfit for the Oval Office.

We have a real mess on our hands, and much of it is because we cannot decide who we are - John Wayne or Martin Luther King, Jr..

Hoover and FDR represented two radically different notions of government. While times change, and situations differ, the fundamental struggle remains between a Laissez-faire form of government that let’s the market (and those who profit most from it) have its way and a pro-active government willing to take on big business and banks and to provide welfare for the needy.

As for the needy, we will always have them, for a variety of reasons - DNA, drugs, hideous poverty, illness, the luck of the draw - and a nation unduly fussy about “putting them to work and getting them off of welfare” will ultimately become cruel in its social policies, as we have seen with many of our congressional leaders who endlessly fixate on those who are “abusing the system,” playing upon the sentiments of white voters on the bottom of the social ladder, who at least feel slightly better about themselves when they can still look down on others.

Yet, I contend, those who most abuse the system are the wealthy of this nation, the possessors, who have been able to buy our political system and manipulate it to funnel even more wealth into their pockets, wealth that creates very few jobs, because it’s funneled into exotic financial devices, likely overseas, hedged about with unintelligible language and an army of accountants and attorneys, making even more money for the possessors, but producing little of material value to society and changing nothing for the better.

Often, the conservatives talk about running the government like a family and its budget … while I fundamentally disagree with that notion, I might add this: many a family has a needy child, and because of physical or mental limitations, that child will remain needy to the end of her days. Does that family turn a cold shoulder to the child, reprimanding it for not working, not standing on her own two feet, making a living for herself? Not at all. But, rather, the family knows that it will have to provide support, nurture, and safety for the long term. If there’s an example from family life that has some bearing on the nature of our economy and those who remain needy, this works for me.

Prior to FDR’s election in 1932, he looked at the nation and said:

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it and try another. But above all try something.

Nothing works a 100 percent … but some things work better than others, and it’s clear to me that FDR’s efforts, and those of other administrations who believed in the role of government to effect positive social change while regulating the engines of commerce have more than proved their worth.

———————————

  1. What parts of this paper caught your attention? … and why?
  2. How free should our markets be?
  3. Government as problem? What was Reagan, do you suppose, seeking to accomplish with this?
  4. Evangelicalism seems to have lost its way … more in service to the wealthy than to Christ. ???
  5. Where do Roman Catholic teachings fit into this?
  6. Any thoughts about Social Security and Medicare?



Sunday, November 19, 2017

If FDR Were Alive Today

If FDR were alive today, and doing what he did in his earliest political efforts, he would be hawkish on defense, to help America promote democracy around the world. He loved the Navy, and believed that a strong Navy was vital for American interests, politically and economically.

But, and that's the big piece of it for me, he would also be a populist ... devoted to making life better for everyone through a strong government willing to tackle the morbid interests of the wealthy for their own betterment at the expense of the people.

He was, in many ways, a student of his Uncle Teddy who embodied these sentiments so powerfully - a strong military and a strong government devoted to all the people, but especially those on the bottom of the heap.

I think FDR would be appalled at the current administration. While he would affirm the commitment to a strong military, he would decry the collapse of this nation before the feet of Wall Street as a formula for disaster.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mean-Spirited President

My heart is broken for the thousands of transgenders serving our armed forces ... and for the thousands of transgender youth in our nation who now have a president who hates them, and is more than willing to cause them untold harm in order for him to pander a bit further to the likes of Franklin Graham and the rest of the hoodwinkers, charlatans, means-spirited, religion-hucksters who crow like idiots over this man and his mindless and self-serving ways.

What's up with this except meanness?

Is this not a threat to our armed forces?

And, now, one-by-one, our transgender service members will be "lined up" and evaluated as to their "deployability"?

And then, to add harm to harm, to stop all medical treatment?

This is just plain mean-spirited ... a policy without purpose ... hurting people because this is what the mean-spirited do.

And that's what we have for a president, a man of mean-spirit, limited intelligence, emotional bankruptcy, and a penchant for bling.

Shame on him ... double, triple, infinite shame ...

And shame on those people standing behind him in Phoenix, with maniacal grins on their faces, cheering the fool on in his narcissism, feeding his bloated ego, loving his lies ... are they not mean-spirited, too?

They are ... and couldn't care less about the pain they inflict because in their own demented way, they feel power, they feel in control, in charge, and what better way to "be in charge," than to crush the life out of another human being.

In a world full of real sorrow, real threats and dangers, to go after the transgender soldier is just meanness ... spite ... and plain bullheadedness ... it proves nothing for good, it accomplishes nothing of value ... and feeds the fires of hell now burning bright and hot.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

No One Needs to Speak English

No one needs to speak English to come here.
Soon enough, they'll learn.
And so will their children.
And children's children.

And soon enough the native tongue is forgotten.
Gramma and Grampa still use it.
But no longer the kids.
And no longer the grandkids.

Oh, they learn a few choice phrases:
How to cuss and call someone an asshole.
But it's all English by now.
The native tongue is forgotten.

No one needs to speak English to come here.
Soon enough, they'll learn.
And so will their children.
And children's children.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Disliking or Liking tRump

Accurately, someone noted that I don't like tRump ... "really, really, really don't like him." Which is true, of course, but if that were the sum total of the deal, I wouldn't be worth my salt.

And if it were only a matter of liking or disliking, who really could care?

If such a person were my neighbor, someone I didn't like, I'd likely step around them and try not to engage. I might well conclude that the person in question is, in their own right, a good person, with family and friends, worth and work, a value to many others.
We've all known folks we just couldn't like ... call it chemistry, call it primordial nonsense, whatever ... it might be a teacher, a classmate, a student, a neighbor, even a family member ... we just don't like them. Maybe we put up with them, try our best, and console ourselves with the simple reality that this reality is all there is, and all there is is what's likely to be.

But me not liking tRump?

Is that the question?

In another world, perhaps, I'd like the man, if not as a friend, at least as an entertaining buffoon, but never to be trusted.

But like or dislike is not the issue.

Danger is the issue.

tRump is clear and present danger to my nation, and to my world ... he's a threat to all because of his pathological lying, his bluffing, a penchant for intimidation, his greed, his malice, his need for sycophants, his abuse of women and his general mean-spirit.

That he should be praised by so many Christians only heightens my concern ... but it's not the first time that Christians have been mesmerized by power and money.

The Jerusalem crowds decided that Pilate and his Temple cronies were right, and so the crowd joined in the chorus to "crucify him."

Down through the ages, history makes clear, painfully clear, that Christians have often been on the wrong side of history ... from the flat-earth gang to those who thought slavery was a godsend, Christians have backed the wrong horse, and have sided with evil.

So it is ... and whether I like tRump or not is beside the point.

What I care about is the welfare of my nation - equality, liberty and justice (which is not about punishment, but recalibrating the social scales so that everyone has a fair chance, and those who can't make it will be well protected and cared for).

I care about our children and their schools ... women and their health ... our environment and our food supply ... I care about international relations, our treaties and our allies, and our enemies, too.

In all of this, I find tRump to be a clear and present danger, and more than a danger, but rather an active element in the deconstruction of our civil rights and the diminution of our democracy.

Whatever feelings I might have for the man are quite irrelevant ... it's the issues, the programs, the people he's appointed to critical agencies, and his permission to white supremacists and evangelicals to be as hateful as they want, and to arm themselves to the hilt.

He's a bad man ... and his cronies are crooks, if not in the flesh, then in the spirit, for they rob and pillage and destroy all along the way, in order to enhance their own bank accounts and promote their own safety, abandoning much of the nation.

So, that's the deal, as I see it.

I'd like to think that Jeremiah might pat me on the back and encourage me in my writing to stay the course, pay attention, be a man of prayer, read and study, and speak out where there is hurt against the vulnerable, where the powerful are stealing, where justice is threatened and peace ignored.

And if I'm wrong, then say a prayer for me, and offer pity ... defriend me, or simply scroll down and pay no attention.

With that in mind, until I sense something different in my bones, I will keep on writing.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Critique of Capitalism


Capitalism pits the worker against the fellow worker, and finally the worker against even herself and the world around her.

It breeds desires that can never be fulfilled, yet are constantly used as life-goals, and creates a dislike for those who work along side, as threats to one's own advancement, and then a dislike for the boss, as well, who, in turn, dislikes the worker, for fear that the worker will fail to achieve the goals set by the boss, and make the boss look bad, who in turn will look bad in the eyes of the owners, who, themselves, are striving against impossible goals of achievement and acquisition, in competition with other owners who always pose a threat with their desires for achievement and acquisition, desires that are out of bounds, unchecked, and never to be fulfilled, because they're artificial, shallow, and self-serving.

Capitalism is a system fundamentally opposed to God's order of creation ... wherein work is purposeful for the worker, and ends regularly with rest and reflection, with room for compassion and mercy and kindness, and a commitment to the notion that all work is work for others, as well as for myself, that whatever I owe to my family, I owe to the world.

What is happening now in America is truly King of the Hill madness, as the young shove aside the elderly, the healthy push away the sick, adults disregard children, the powerful abuse the weak ... families are fractured, the social contract is cancelled, kindness is termed weakness, compassion is perceived as a waste of time, and within this mix of tension and fear, all the usual suspects of sin appear: racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia ... and various additions as the weary human seeks some form of solace, pleasure and escape.

And into this bizarre mix, the Prosperity Gospel, which is no gospel at all, but a tyrant shredding the soul of those who buy into it, because the tyrant of prosperity allows no rest, no reflection, no compassion for those who work alongside ... no compassion for the sick, the aged, the infirm, the poor, who are regarded only as drains upon the system, slugs in the way, disrupters of "my" desires to achieve and acquire.

That the Christian Community has failed to critique Capitalism is Christianity's greatest failure ... that primal failure that cripples the church and renders it incapable of truly proclaiming the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sin, the reconciliation of life, and the love that makes all things new.

The Christianity Community devolves into an evangelical "salvation machine," getting people to heaven, or a dispenser of psychological nostrums to ease the tension of a capitalism no one wants to confront, or a "charity machine," doing good things, promoting "social justice," patting itself on the back, and still failing to deal with the central issues that destroy life.

For me, there is always hope ... in that human beings ultimately tire of their sin, and seek something beyond themselves.

The quite voices of reason and hope are always there, and so are the materials of faith - the prophets, preachers and poets ... wanderers and writers, people of prayer and mindfulness ... those who seek the Kingdom of God above all else ... in every religion, in every mosque, temple and church ... in quiet corners and on the streets, with those who speak truth to power and confront the evils of the day, without flinching, with fear and trepidation, of course, but with a courage created in the fires of honesty, humility and hope, grounded in the great Mystery of the Spiritual Presence and its boundless hope.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dimwits and Bozos on Gun Violence

I'm having a hard time putting up with all the self-righteous blowhard coming from the GOP on gun violence against one of their own.

Sure, it's a tragedy, on all counts.

But, thousands of innocent people are killed every year in American-style gun violence - children, women, men - and not a peep from these bozos, except to want more guns, to fill our schools and playgrounds with more weapons, to militarize our police, to arm everyone they can, because the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and all the Texas-style BBQ with trimmings.

Well, now, the chickens have come home to roost, and, gosh, are these dimwits howling with indignation, self-righteous posturing, and political condemnation, to feather their own nest by appearing oh so innocent, meek and mild, before this wretched left-wing shooter.

Yes, it's tragic, for the victims, their families and friends ... their lives are forever changed, with terrible memories forever imbedded.

May there be healing for their bodies, and some healing for the soul ... I say "some," because this kind of emotional wound never entirely heals.

Will anything change in our rightwing congress? I doubt it - there's too much NRA money being handed out like Halloween candy, and these guys and gals are grabbing for it with both hands, and stuffing their faces with it.


All Hail the Gun Almighty.