Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dems Gave It All Away!

As much as I dislike the GOP, I fault the Dems for much of the current mess. Dems, of which too many were wannabe GOP, too many were willing to compromise, and too many just weren't paying attention to the local situation: school boards, library boards, town councils, state legislatures and governorships. Dems pretty well gave the whole damn store away, hoping that things would work out, failing to understand that the GOP was utterly predatory.

Friday, October 12, 2018

"Greatest Nation" Status????

The Netherlands, rich in history, largely progressive and pragmatic, is certainly one of the "greatest nations" of the world.

I realized that the first time I was here in 1984.

And along with other subsequent travels, it's clear to me that our world is rich with "greatness" ... beauty and culture, music and politics, science and industry.

If cheese and bread, sausage and beer were the ultimate values, then maybe Germany might be the greatest. But so would be the Netherlands ... had some bread here the other day that will likely be served in heaven, along with Dutch Butter.

Or maybe skating? Then, again, maybe herring and tulips! Go Orange!

And then there's public transit and rail travel.

I keep trying to figure out why "greatest nation" status is so important to so many Americans. Strikes me as both ignorance and its cousin, insecurity. Constant yelping about "greatest" seems, at best, to indicate immaturity of character.

Sure, America is huge, size wise and population wise ... we have a huge economy with our military-octopus wrapped around the world. We consume like mad, gobbling up everything we can.

The United States is about 237 times bigger than Netherlands. The population of Netherlands is 17 million people (307 million more people live in United States).

America has a fascinating history, too ... but hardly worthy of "greatest nation" status.

Our cultural contributions are mostly pop in nature, which is just fine. But it hardly merits "greatest of all" status. Our scientific endeavors are enormous, but certainly not without predecessors in other nations.

What does "greatest" really mean?

I have no idea!

But this I know: the Netherlands is a great nation!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An Evangelical Went into the Wilderness

An evangelical went into the wilderness to pray and fast, to seek the face of God, for forty days.

And when the evangelical was hungry, the Devil came and said, “Make some bread for yourself, to assuage your hunger.”

And the evangelical said, “Of course, that’s something I can do. I work hard, I’m smart, I love God. But I’ll make just enough for myself; wouldn’t want to share my bread with anyone else.” 

“Of course not,” said the Devil.

So the evangelical made bread, satisfied the hunger and praised the god.

The next day, the Devil decided that another temptation might be in order, so the Devil took the evangelical to the pinnacle of a very large megachurch, and said, “Toss yourself off, because you know what the Bible says, “God will send angels to save you.”

Not knowing quite what do to, the evangelical thought about it, and decided to go into the megachurch and tell a conversion story, how she used to be a bad person, do drugs, mistreat little children, and loved money. And, then, after giving her life to god, she became a good person, done with drugs … and by god’s love, she now loves money in a new way, and when it comes to little children, especially immigrant children, she still mistreats them, only because of their parents; their parents made bad decisions, and you know what the Bible says, she wisely offered, that children are punished for the bad decisions their parents make.

Well, the megachurch crowed went crazy, especially on the part of loving money in a new way, and mistreating little children whose parents made bad decisions.

And the megachurch crowd anointed her with ordination and money.

The Devil said, “Well done m’dear.”

Well, a few more days passed, and the Devil wondered about some kind of final deal, a way to really hook the evangelical, so that she’d belong to the Evil One forever.

The Devil considered any number of things … and then hit upon the Great Idea, and the next day, after consulting with various demons and demiurges, the Devil went to the evangelical and said, “Look, I know that you hate abortion. Am I right?”

“Of course you’re right,” said the evangelical. “I hate abortion. I hate those who provide it. I hate the women who choose it. I hate the Supreme Court for affirming it as a right for women. By the way,” she said, “I hate equal rights for women. It hasn’t done us a bit of good except get us into trouble with our husbands. Our men need us to knuckle under and behave. We can’t be trusted. And I hate gays, too, and their agenda to take over our lives.”

“Well, here’s the deal,” said the Devil. “If you want judges to undo Roe v. Wade, judges to take away women’s freedom, and judges who will stop the gay agenda, here’s what you need to do.”

By this time, the evangelical was all ears, with a bright shining face, jumping for joy, praising god, singing praise songs. “What do I have to do?” she cried. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it!”

And the Devil said … 

“Wait, wait,” cried the evangelical. Let me get a few of my friends.”

And she did, and soon gathered around her, a smiling, eager, crowd … “We’re ready,” she said. “What must we do to have it our way?”

“Just bow down to me,” said the Devil, “and worship me …”

And before he finished the last word, she and the crowd flung themselves prostrate on the ground before the Devil, praising god and lifting their voices in endless choruses … they could feel the power flowing into them, their hatred growing stronger by the minute … the world was their’s, they’d have their way … ridding the world of all evil, making everyone bow down to their god. “Oh happy day,” they sang, while cleaning their weapons … and then the rallies began … here and there, cheering and shouting, singing and praying … flags waving and t-shirt slogans … power … oh, how the power came into them.

And the Devil was happy!

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Thousand-Year War

William R. Polk, Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War Between the Muslim World and the Global North. (Yale University Press, 632 pp., $37.50, 2018). ~ Reviewed by the Rev. Dr. Franklin Woo.

After the 9-11-01 attacks on the twin buildings of the World Trade Center which finally collapsed, President George W. Bush declared “War on Terror,” but not against Muslims as such. Initially his war was against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as any country which harbors their terrorist network. Bush’s target was Osama Bin Laden. In 2003 Bush ordered air strikes on Iraq against Saddam Hussein who allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction, as well as encouraging the young to be suicide bombers against Americans and others in the Global North. American leaders were able to identify the enemy against U.S. “freedom and democracy,” so Bush claimed. On May 2011 President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. In 2014 the Islamic State (ISIS) appeared on the scene. In his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump pledged, “We will continue to fight until ISIS is defeated.”

Contrary to the tendency of American leaders to identify individuals who are the culprits in attacking the U.S., William Polk in his Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year Between the Muslim World and the Global North is a historical study of how the Muslim world sees the millennial war between itself and the modern West. By “Global North” he means countries such as “China, Russia, Europe, Britain, and America—and Muslim societies from Central Asia to West Africa.” For this short review, I will focus only on “America,” part of Polk’s Global North.

In 1953, American CIA with British intelligence overthrew the nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh who took over Iran’s oil industry from British control. They replaced
Mossadegh with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who ruled with repression, corruption, and extravagance for a quarter of a century. A coup in 1979 by anti-western clerics was led by Ayattollah Khomeini, whose youth captured the U.S. Embassy and held its personnel as hostages for 444 days. The Iranian Revolution established the nation as an Islamic Republic.

In 1971, Reza Pahlavi created a tent city in the Persepolis desert to house the 60 monarchs and
heads of state of the world invited, including UK’s Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne and
Spiro Agnew of the U.S. Maxim’s of Paris was the caterer for the occasion, which celebrated
2,500 years of Persian Empire. The estimated cost was $250 million, which Khomeini regarded
as a wasteful “Devil’s festival.” (Not mentioned by Polk, this event can be viewed on You-tube.)

Polk devotes a chapter on Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Muslim fundamentalist who was a “philosopher
of the Iranian revolution.” He was executed by President Nasser in 1966. While a student in the
U.S. in 1950 Qutb saw America as “a cesspool of wasteful consumption, exaggerated sex, and
gross materialism.” ISIS may rise and fall, and the clash between Sunnism and Shiism may
persist, but Muslim fundamentalists (inspired by Qutb) will continue into the indefinite future.
Trump’s recent policy of ending the Iran deal which was jointly agreed by the U.S., UK, France,
Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union, along with Trump’s stringent sanctions
against Iran and threat of any country with commercial ties with it, plus his ban on immigration
from Muslim countries—all of these only exacerbate the “Thousand-Year War.”

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Imperfect People Can Still be Great

Look, no one's perfect.

But right now, it seems to me, our nation is governed not by imperfect people, who might at times rise to heights of greatness, but men (yes, some women, too) who are given to all the lesser instincts of humanity, and, frankly, incapable of greatness.

Sadly, such men hold the sway in two branches of our government, and are trying mightily to secure the third branch as well.

Given our Constitution, it works only when the people who govern seek its counsel, yet when all three branches of government are held by the venal and the immature, the Constitution can be disregarded, and there's no one around to provide the checks and balances essential to democracy.

We're in a real pickle right now, and its potential for harm is enormous, and growing daily.

Elections this November are critical to turning around the ship of state.

And, please remember, we're not looking for perfect people, but people at least capable of greatness when such is needed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Three Russians and a Bulgarian ...

Remember, the three Russians and the Bulgarian visiting us? No joke!

It was a good time ... the Bulgarian is home by now, and the three Russians are at their hotel and then in for a bit more travel before heading home.

If you can't travel, have some guests from other countries - there's always so much to learn.

We rode the train with them, and they were surprised to hear that it wasn't free for students and seniors.

Moscow's subway system is huge and works well, they said. And it's free for students and seniors.

Well, that's socialism for ya'.

And I thought:

Is that so evil?

Is that so wrong?

As a nation, we could do so much more for one another ... to boost life-quality ... to ensure a stable society ... to lift people out of the terrors of poverty ... give a little more health to each other ... better schools, transportation, housing ... we could do that, and more, if we wanted, and still there'd be plenty leftover for the top dogs.

The rich, of course, hate the idea, and keep telling us that we can't have free-riders and welfare queens robbing us.

They preach the message of scarcity, that somewhere someone undeserving will get something that doesn't belong to them, by taking it from us, who, of course, deserve it.

So we look at one another with a competitive eye, suspicious thoughts, and outright condemnation sometimes. After all, there isn't enough to go around, so we gotta fight for it, and there have to be losers, then, and that's okay, because the rich tell us so.

But the rich have it wrong, and I can only hope that in time, this nation will get it right.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

We're a Pack of Fools

I know enough history
to know how history works ...
truth is told, sooner or later.
And of the US of A, these days,
history won't be kind to us.

We're a pack of fools who voted for an idiot.
Well, I didn't, and maybe you didn't either.
Maybe you stayed home.
Or maybe you voted Third Party.
Maybe you didn't want a "woman" in the WH.
Maybe you're anti-abortion.
Maybe you believed his lies.

Who the heck knows.
But somehow or the other, a moron is now in the WH.

And how he got there will be noted in history
as one of America's worst moments,
a dark click in time,

like McCarthy, when American went nuts.

Or when you had the flu
and crapped your pants.

That's how history works.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Pipe Dream

Pipe dream:

That men like Sessions and McConnell,
from the South,
could one day see the opportunity before them,

to address their own countrymen [sic] and call them upward
to defend and abide by the Constitution of the United States,

to "form a more perfect Union,"
to build bridges of understanding and
heal the wounds of division, and

then go to their graves
having bourn the burdens of greatness,
even in the latter days of their lives.

It's never to late to be great,
in the grasp of the issues,
and to hold before the Land an
exalted vision of the Common Good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Greatest Threat

Never, since the days of the Civil War, have we faced an internal threat the magnitude of which we presently have on our hands.

The monster in the White House would more than happily take away our freedoms, our democracy, our educational means, our social supports, our right to think and choose and make decisions.

Sadly, there are three groups, two of which use the third, to feather their own interests. Because of those interests, the first two groups despise democracy; the third is gripped by fearful ignorance, rendering the third group easily manipulated by the first two.

The rich know he'll give them what they want: all the money, and the rich in turn will give him power.

The evangelicals know he'll give them a SCOTUS to reverse Roe v. Wade and support anti-gay laws, and they in turn will support him.

The dispirited and the defeated white working class has been lead to believe he'll give them what they want: White Supremacy, and they in turn, as needed, will take up arms for him.

For reasons known but to God, the GOP, at large, has sold its soul to the monster in the White House, aiding and abetting the greatest threat to America since the Civil War.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

If Kavanaugh Is Confirmed

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, and I'm sure it'll happen, and then, sometime in the not too distant future, Roe v. Wade will be overturned, then the great Southern hope will come true - that states' rights will prevail over national purpose and unity.

Of course, some states will allow for the rights of women to make their own medical choices regarding pregnancy. Others, of course, chomping even now at the bit, will pass draconian laws against all such rights and freedoms.

This is what the South has always wanted, in order to protect and promote its own racist "peculiar institution," and it's now the evangelical way, as well, to protect and promote their own religious "peculiar institution."

The antebellum Southern Gentlemen in his time, and today's evangelicals, are all too similar in their lack of interest in the welfare of the nation or the common good above personal interest. Both, in their respective times, perceive their own interests to be of such a godly and virtuous proportion as to merit supremacy over all other considerations of national good and personal freedom.

As in other times, so today, American continues to face the largest questions of the Union - what's needed to keep us intact as a nation, with high ideals of welcome and freedom of thought, expression and endeavor, versus a smaller version of nationhood, driven by factionalism and small ideas pertinent to local customs or religious camps.

Moving ahead, in fits and starts, sometimes falling backward into fear and bigotry, we'll continue to march on. I have no doubt that the "south" will again lose the war, but at great cost to all. It's a storm we'll weather, but like any great storm, there will be damage, requiring of us a mighty effort to build for a new day.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Money, Franco and Trump

April 26, 1937, a church bell in Guernica tolled an air-raid warning - a single German plane dropped a load of bombs, and flew away.

When it became apparent that Guernica had no anti-aircraft defense, the raid began with 23 bombers and several dozen other aircraft flying from nearby Nationalist fields, leaving some 200 dead and the town a charred ruin.

Guernice was Basque, and the Basques were a part of the Republic which treated the Basques with fairness, allowing them considerable freedom, and allowing the Catholic Church there to preach in Basque.

Later, when Franco and the Nationalists conquered Basque territory, under threat of death, no more Basque language sermons, and priests who disobeyed were summarily shot.

But the larger question concerning me right now, as I read and write, is this: from whence came the fuel for those planes?

As it turns out, from Texaco, and in spite of American neutrality laws, Texaco, and ultimately other American oil companies "sold" oil to Franco, along with Firestone tires and trucks from Detroit.

The head of Texaco, a creep and bully by the name of Torkild Rieber, was "banker" for Franco, extending essentially unlimited credit, and providing a huge lobbying effort to insure US neutrality (which Rieber and his gang routinely and easily subverted.

Of course, here in the States, the Roman Catholic Church sided with the Nationalists, in spite of the brutality of the Nationalists against the Basques.

The Republic wasn't without "sin," frequently killing priests and burning churches, as well as confiscating the property of the rich and redistributing the land, something feared above all else by the aristocracies of the world, including those of the United States.

The Church, and the rich, quickly realized that if they wanted to protect their landed and powerful privileges, they needed to side with Franco with his monarchial and clerical sympathies

And so the war raged on until Franco, a friend of Hitler and Mussolini, was victorious. His German and Italian planes and his American trucks fueled with Texas oil.

Once again, so very sad to note that great wealth in the United States was sympathetic to, if not outrightly supportive of, these dictators.

Today, many of our wealthy families, and the corporate owners of American business, support Trump. Given our history, and given the sickness and fear pervading the soul of the wealthy, along with their religious counterparts in the evangelical churches, it's not surprising, in the least. They gravitate toward those politicians who can front for them, and manipulate the government in their favor, protecting their interests against any and all forms of justice.

Rieber bankrolled Franco, and the rich here in the States continue to bankroll dictators around the world and the one currently in our White House.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tribute to Senator John McCain

When someone like John McCain takes leave of us, it gives us all a chance to consider what makes a human being worthy of our regard.

I suppose, in some sense, everyone deserves recognition for just making it through another day, and coming out on the other side most intact.

Some seem to take a darker route, like Whitey Bulger, or the like. I recall doing a funeral many years ago for a small-town, small-time, crook. Everyone said, in their own, "Glad the SOB is gone." And then chuckled looking me, "What are ya' gonna say Pastor?"

But McCain is of the highest order.

As many of my friends have said, "I didn't always agree with his politics," but never once questioned his integrity or his desire for the welfare of this nation.

He stood in the breech at some critical points; I will never forget the moment in a rally when a women claimed that Obama was a Muslim and so on. And McCain cut her off; he had no allowance for such idiocy, and spoke kindly and eloquently of his opponent's good character.

McCain knew how to cross the aisle ... the divide between red and blue was not that great for him. There were no ditches dug that couldn't be crossed; no walls so high they couldn't be climbed, or usually, a door found that the wall builders knowingly and wisely included.

His job is done, but not finished.

In the end, he declined further medical heroics and claimed his fate, as all of us must.

RIP John McCain ... your record speaks for itself ... you were a man tested by life, and you came out on the other side intact, with high commitment and clear, level-headed, patriotism.

You served your nation well!

Monday, May 28, 2018

America, 2018: The Whole Truth

There is much to celebrate in America. Yes, that I know, and for all the good and all the great, I give thanks.

Some would call attention only to the good and to the great, but that's not enough for emotional or political health. We have to face the stark realities of a mixed story, filled with sorrow, blood, violence and death.

We have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to free ourselves from the current divide pulling us apart, and giving rise to instincts and behavior originating, not in the heart of a human being, but in what's left of our reptilian brain.

We are:

A land of genocide and slavery.
   A land of lynchings and Jim Crow.
      A land of Trails of Tears.
         A land of internments and prisons.
            A land fraught with fear of the other,
A land of Sacco and Vanzetti, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and Joe McCarthy.
   A land of manic religion and self-righteousness, full of Jesus-talk and devoid of his Spirit.
      A land of military might and industrial power.
         A land ripping to shreds the earth, fouling air and water, and grabbing the money.
            A land where politicians are bought and sold with ease by the NRA.
A land where a president (in name only) has a child's mind and a vindictive personality disorder, and 36 percent of the population think he's terrific.

Until America can face these realties, the divide will continue to grow, and the cancer eating away at our soul will intensify, because a land cannot long survive on half-truths and lies; a nation that cannot tell the truth about itself will not stand the test of time.

The Lord of History is kind and patient, but not endlessly so. The annals of time are replete with failed histories, great and storied nations that ran aground and sunk on the rocks of falsehood and dissimulation.

It hurts to tell the truth, but it's a hurt unto humility and healing and hope.

Monday, May 21, 2018

FDR, the New Deal, and the GOP

It was FDR and the New Deal that made America Great, that took us through the Depression, wrote labor laws, won the war and gave us the middle class.

All along the way, FDR understood the plight of working America and the hatred held in the heart of the Ruling Class for the worker.

Now, with a Supreme Court in its pocket and a Congress more than happy to kick the American Worker in the teeth, the GOP is dismantling what made America Great. We are on our way to making America Ugly Again. Hoover just rose from the grave and said to the Supreme Court and to the GOP: "Well done, good and faithful servants."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ugly Capitalism

Capitalism pits everyone against everyone else, in the quest for wellbeing, happiness, safety and a variety of other and similar private interests; ultimately inducing a blindness to the larger community and its needs, the needs of the poor (who are then labeled as "losers"), all the while diminishing critical elements of human nature: viz., altruism, sacrifice, and mercy. 

There is, of course, no "economic system" pure and blameless; where there is money, property, and capital, of any kind, there will be a race to grab as much as one can. In the very nature of any such race, some will, for a million different reasons, mostly the luck of the draw, end up with more, and it's the more that allows them to further game the system and tilt the board to again further their private interests, until we end up with the ugly 1% who dominate the game completely.

Yet, some systems mitigate the worst instincts of our reptilian brain, and I'd offer that democratic socialism is one such system, combining the strength of a healthy competition, the race to get somewhere, and the discipline of paying attention to the larger community and its needs, the common good, which may well require one to put a damper on private interests for the sake of the long-term wellbeing of the environment and society. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

There Is Another America

There is another America.*
One gracious and kind.
Wise and giving.

With leaders who care.
And schools that excel.
And churches filled with hope.

Churches and mosques and temples.
Gatherings of those who care and love.
Who believe in God, or the gods, or the universe.

A land of vision and sorrow.
Sorrow for the buffalo.
And Indigenous Peoples.

Sorrow for slavery.
And sorrow for our greed.
And sorrow for our hideous ambitions.

And vision, too.
The undying vision of liberty, welcome and inclusion.
The vision of peace and wellbeing.

With strong government to keep in check:
The worst of our financial impulses.
To promote the sharing of wealth.

Women and men of integrity.
To walk the halls of congress.
And sit upon the bench.

To enact the common good.
To defend it's reach and breadth.
To build up and make good.

For all its people.
And all its creatures.
All the trees and all the birds.

Yes, there is another America.
It's my America.
And yours, too.

Let freedom ring.
Let truth be told.
Let our beloved Statue of Liberty be proud.

Of the America we are.
The America we must be.
The America of which we sing:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

*Inspired by Kay Boyle's 1953 essay in "The Nation," "Farewell to Europe" ... from her book, "Words that Must be Said Somehow" ...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Who Needs to Own a Gun?

Who needs to own a gun?
Who needs a gun case?
Let's talk hunters.

How about popup gun rentals?
When hunting season opens.

Like fireworks stands.
For the Fourth.

Like car rental agencies.

A hunter can rent a gun for the season.
Selecting from a wide range of bang-bangs.
Along with ammo.
And insurance.

And have the gun at home for the season.
When hunting season ends.
The gun is returned.
End of the deal.

As for practice.
Gun ranges ... with guns to use.
For a fee, of course.
Shoot away to sharpen the eye.
Rent the same weapon to get a feel for it.

And when hunting season opens, rent the same weapon.
From the popup?

Who needs to own a gun?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

On Moral Revolutions

Appiah, Kwame Anthony, in his fine book, "The Honor Code," writes of moral revolutions that changed the world ... when people, who once accepted and defended certain practices, came to understand how shameful these practices were, and though some always remain loyal, the practices were outlawed and ultimately removed from society.

The practices he examines are 1) Dueling in England, 2) the binding of women's feet in China, 3) the Atlantic slave trade, and 4) various "wars" against women.

I think our "love of guns" fits these parameters, and I'm quire sure that at some distant date, Americans will come to see just how shameful gun ownership is because it's NOT simply a matter of owning a gun, but a whole world of myth and religion and power and pride and money behind it.

It is the LOVE of guns that dishonors us, and it's the ceaseless defense of it, with lies that distort the reality of what the prevalence of guns are doing to our society, and silly, adolescent, stories about self-defense and "saving our families," and "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

There will be a time when Americans hang their heads in shame that we embraced such foolishness.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Never Blame the Gun

Blame the shooter.
Blame his parents.
Blame the bullies.
Blame the school:
Teachers, principal.
And the janitors.

Blame the godless liberals.
Blame Obama, and Hillary, too.
Blame the full moon.
Blame demons and werewolves.
Ors and goblins.

Blame the absence of prayer in our schools.
Blame the absence of Bible reading.

Blame movies.
Blame video games.
Blame God.

But, for heaven's sake.
Never, ever, blame the gun.

And the mindless NRA.
And all the gun-loving toadies.
Who believe in Gun Almighty.

Blame everyone, blame anyone.
Blame, Blame, Blame.
Blah, Blah, Blah.

But, never, ever.
Blame the gun.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why I Support Abortion Rights!

Why I support abortion rights:
Because life is hard, if not for all, then for many.

Life confronts us with hard choices.
Choices none of us want to make.
But choices we have to make.
Sort of like marriage:
For better or for worse.

All of us have made hard choices.
We live with the consequences.
We revisit the choice from time-to-time:
Was there another way?
A way less painful?

Sure, we've all made dumb choices.
Sinful choices, choices of self, myself, my comfort.
What else is new?

And we've made the best of all possible choices.
Even when there were no good choices to be had.

Bonhoeffer said, rarely is the choice between good and bad,
But good and good, and
Bad and bad.

I prefer to live in a real world.
A world of hard choices.
A world wherein I respect others and their pathway.
As I would hope they could respect mine.

Trusting that most people do the best they can.
And for some, the best is limited.
By circumstances, or who knows what.

If we lived in an ideal world (why is that kind of world always one imagined by those whose ideals are not mine?)
Hitler lived in an ideal world.
So did Stalin.
So do most evangelicals, which is why most evangelicals are just plain cruel. Ideals are good to have, but try to enforce them, and we end with cruelty.

I live in a world as it is.
I have hopes for something better.
And I know what can be done to improve life for millions.
But it costs money.
And why not?

But evangelicals hate to spend money.
They'd rather preach.
Hand out tracts.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with you."

I have hopes.
Let's spend some of our precious money.
Let's put on our thinking caps.
And go to work.

We can only make life a little easier.
And somewhere along the line, scrap the ideals.
If they're getting in the way of common sense and God's grace.

A world of grace.
And what grace fosters: common sense.
That's the world in which I choose to live.
The only world as far as I can see.

And it's the only world God sees as well.
Which is why the Incarnation.
Not for an alternative-fact world.
But this one.
To love and to hold.

That's why I support abortion rights!

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?