Monthly Archives: March 2014

How are the Children?

Kasserian ingera? ….How are the Children?    These words are the traditional greeting in some parts of central and southern Africa.   When you meet someone, you don’t say “HI!”  or “Hello, how are you?”   but you say..”How are the children?”   and the expected reply is “the children are well!”  

Behind this greeting is a great truth.   If the children are doing well then the community is doing well.   That is so true, because we know that the ones who suffer the most in times of war between nations, civil war, and even wars within families and between parents are the children!   This is as true in the U.S. as it is in Africa or Syria or Iraq, or you name the country.    We can measure the health of a country—-a state—–a city—-a family—-by the well-being of their children.  

If we were to adopt this greeting—-kasserian ingera?   (How are the children) today in the United States could we answer ‘The children are well?”    I think not.    How we are treating children in our country is a disgrace.   The child poverty rate in 2012 was 23 percent.   Almost one-fourth of our children, 16.4 million of them, were living at the poverty level in one of the richest countries in the world.    We should be ashamed.   

There is much research to show the consequences to children living in poverty.    Research shows that child poverty results in low academic achievement, school drop outs, health and behavior and emotional problems.   So what are we doing at the national level to alleviate the problem of child poverty!

  • We are cutting back on food stamps so that more and more children will be going to bed hungry or without adequate nutrition.    We are “balancing the budget” at the expense of our children, as they are the prime recipients of food stamps.
  • In Kansas, the Republican legislature is  fighting Obamacare that might give these children a chance for medicaid and adequate health treatment.   The Kansas legislators have refused, in spite of pleas from hospitals and doctors,  to extend Medicaid as the new health care law allows so  that it would cover 150,000 more people in Kansas, many of them children.   They have chosen politics over children’s welfare in Kansas.
  • Our Republican legislature has cut the funds for education drastically and are dragging their feet on adequate funding as required by the court decision recently.    They have, though, recently attached an amendment to a bill requiring teachers to teach children how to “shake hands.”
  • Funding for special programs such as a Boys Ranch in Wichita that has been very successful in turning around delinquent youth and helping them to beome  a contributing part of society has been cut.
  • Republican resistance to a rise in the minimum wage that would help parents make more to support their children is helping to insure that despite the best efforts of many parents to work two jobs, they will not be able to meet expenses for raising their children.

All of this has been done under the guise of “helping the poor to not be dependent on aid.”

But what can parents do when they both work one or two low-income jobs with no benefits and still cannot pay the rent and utilities and have enough left over for food?

How are the children?    Are the children well?    I think not.   The children are not doing well—-25% of them—-and our country and state and cities are in jeopardy.    

I recently saw a cartoon that showed a man sitting on a dock hold a life saving ring on a rope.   He was telling a drowning man in the water—-“But if I throw you this life saver you might become dependent on it!”     That is the Republican argument about helping the poor, and it stinks!

When is our society going to wake up and elect legislators who will tackle the problems that cause poverty?    When will we quit blaming people for being poor or jobless and focus on the way our system is structured that causes this to happen?    When will we quit sending jobs overseas to cheap labor and give our own labor force a chance to work?   When will we make sure that every child is covered by insurance, as Obamacare seeks to do?    When will we adequately fund our school programs so that they may help students succeed by giving remedial help to  those who are failing?     When will we attack the problem of homelessness and work towards identifying the causes and the remedy for it?

Only after we attack the underlying causes of poverty in our system will we be able to say both in Kansas and in our nation—-“The Children Are Well!”   Until that time,  our society is in jeopardy!

Follow the Herd…

People are like sheep.    Over a century ago this idea was expressed by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche—Adolph Hitler was an admirer of his philosophy.    Unfortunately Nietzsche was on to something that I fear was a very insightful view of human beings.  He wrote about the “Herden (the herd) which would always follow a “ubermensch” (superman) wherever they were led.    Nietzsche’s philosophy was that “might makes right” and “whoever has the power and leadership  determines what is right and wrong, good and bad.

I think that this low view of the human condition is still true today.     Let me give a few examples to illustrate why I think so.

  • The Affordable Care Act—an act, that while not perfect, extends health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people not able to afford medical care because they are too sick to be eligible, too poor to pay for it, not mentally capable to work and get it from employers, is rejected still by the majority of the American people based on the lies they are told by their leaders in the Republican Party.    It seems if you tell a lie often enough, loud enough, and broadcast it widely enough the “Herd” will believe it is true.  I have no other explanation for our behavior.  Christians have fallen into this trap along with the rest of the herd too often.   Otherwise, why has the compassion that Jesus showed and taught not caused them to speak up against these lies?     The Herd.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Kansas Politics.   We live in an agricultural state.   Farming is the basic industry of the state.   Why do we consistently vote for those legislators who are not supportive of our industry?    Those of us who read what our politicians are saying and watch what they are doing, stand in awe of the reality that the very people that are getting the shaft are the ones that are electing these politicians.   For example—-the cuts to education, the refusal to extend federally paid medicare to a large number of our citizens ,  are all caused by the abolition of the income tax for small business.  This abolition of income taxes for small businesses  was based on the Laffer theory—a theory that has been discarded by almost all economists as flawed. The theory says this will create jobs.   Will it?   It has not proven to do so and you can read the statistics.      No—-this tax cut for business  will create wealth for the few and lower the standard of living even more for the majority.   Yet if Kansans are told often enough, loud enough, and widely enough in the media that  abolishing income taxes for business means jobs and a better life for all we will, and have voted, for those who tell us that again and again.    Why?   We are following the herd.   Baa!   Baaa!
  • The Belief in the Conventional Wisdom.   The “Conventional Wisdom” isn’t usually very “wise.”     Just because a lot of people think something is true does not make it true.   Just because our leaders tell us its true doesn’t make it true.   Just because we hear it on CBS or Fox News or read it in the papers doesn’t make it true.   Just because I say it is true doesn’t make it true.   Truth is something that people must seek out for themselves based on their experiences and values.   Truth  comes  after discernment which is hard work and too many of us are just too lazy to take the time and so we let others lead us by the nose and tell us what to think and what is true.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Let’s look at ourselves as Christians in this present day.  What is the role that we play as Christians in relationship to these problems?  We have joined the herd.   We like to pride ourselves and say we are not “sheepish” or members of a herd.  I’m not so sure.   How many of us think that our purpose in life involves producing and consuming and competing?    That is what our society demands of us—-to be productive, to consume, and always want more and better, and to compete for everything.     Are we following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth  in rejecting this?  We too are following the “Herd”.    “Baa!   Baaa!

But Christians should be different.    We are followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who was killed by “the Herd”  at the instigation of the leaders of his day in politics, economics and especially religion who turned the “Herd” against him.    He was killed because he was a threat to the domination system of his day in the areas of religion, economics and politics.   Jesus  was a radical and his radical approach to life went against the leadership in the religious, economic and political areas and so the leadership killed him.   If Jesus appeared among us today and advocated the same radical way of life and religion that he taught—-Christians today would no doubt be in the midst of the “herd” that would shout “Crucify him!   Crucify him!

A Different Lenten Way

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent—the season when most Christian churches  begin a 40 day journey toward Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.   The Lenten Season has always been a time of preparation.   Originally it was probably  a time of learning and preparation for baptism on Easter Sunday.   It remains a time of preparation for all Christians to welcome the risen Christ with lives renewed and transformed during this period as they assume a discipline of self-examination, confession, and repentance.

The word “repentance” is often misunderstood in this context.   The conventional wisdom thinks of “repentance” as  “saying I’m sorry” and feeling guilty for what we have done or not done as Christians.   This is far from the biblical meaning of the term “repentance”.    So, what is the Biblical meaning of the word?

In the Old Testament the meaning of the word translated as “repentance” means literally “to turn, to return“.   It is the word used to describe the Hebrews return to Jerusalem and to the worship of their God from the Exile in Babylonia.   It has the meaning of “a journey of returning”.    To “repent”, in the Old Testament, meant to “embark on a journey of return to God.

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “repentance” has the meaning of “turning around and going in a different direction—-the most  literal translation is to  “go beyond the mind that we have.”   Thus when we repent we turn around and go in a new way.   It is interesting that being a disciple of Jesus in early times was referred to as “The Way“, and that repentance is to go in that new way—the “way” described by Jesus and his ministry when he said “I am the way the truth and the life.”

So let’s give up the “I’m sorry” view of repentance and instead see repentance as a turning or return to God that goes beyond the mind we have at present and sees things in a new way—in God’s way as taught us by Jesus the Christ.

The biblical meaning of repentance suggests that it is an act, not just a feeling of guilt or wrongdoing.   That goes back to the Hebrew people in the Old Testament performing rituals of repentance and sacrifices of animals.   They took these  actions to try and show God their repentance and to draw nearer to God.   But we read in the Old Testament prophets that all the rituals and sacrifices were not what God wanted to prove that God’s people had turned to God.   The prophet Micah stated what God really wanted in these verses:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myuself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?   HE HAS TOLD YOU, O MORTAL, WHAT IS GOOD; AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU BUT TO DO JUSTICE, AND TO LOVE KINDNESS. AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD!  Micah 6:6-8)

The prophet Isaiah is even more to the point:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?   Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly….Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help and he will say, “Here I am!”.   (Isaiah 58:6-9a)

It is still a common practice for people to sacrifice and  “give up something for Lent.”   Instead of “giving up” something may I suggest that the prophets tell us that what we need to do is to “do something.”  

During this Lenten Season, let us reflect in prayer and scripture and with each other on our relationship with God.   Let us consider our need to draw closer to God in a more personal and meaningful way.   Our God is a God of love, and if we are to draw nearer to God, then we need to repent, turn toward that God of love, and with love in our hearts for others do what Micah says God wishes as His Way—to justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Let’s not do 40 days of “giving up” something but this Lenten season let us commit to do 40 days of “random acts of love and kindness”.   As we turn toward God’s people with love, we turn toward God—for GOD IS LOVE!