Tag Archives: economic system

Advancing to the Rear!!

Make America Great  Again!!  Let’s go back to the Good old Days!!! These are currently  the “marching orders”  that Trump is trying to give to the Republican Party as the slogans for this Presidential election.  The acceptance of these slogans by the working class in great numbers is a portrait of the extreme ignorance of the history of their country that these people have . O.K. folks.  LET’S SEE WHAT  YOU WISH TO RETURN TO!   Let’s go back to 1870s to early 1920s.  That’s period is  known as the  “Gilded Age”  and indeed it was ‘gilded”‘ if you had the gold and were a member of the Upper Class. I  don’t see many of those people at Trump’s rallies. I  see a lot of working people struggling to make a  living, in debt up to the hilt,  not trusting the well educated and too  ill-educated themselves to separate Trump’s lies from the truth.  The  perfect audience for a demagogue.

There are things we need to remember about the “Good Old Days.” I’ll close with some pictures of life during the years between 1870s and 1920s:

  • Are you prepared to give up Social Security and Medicare? Going back will mean that most of you will  either have to be taken care of by your families or you will end your days in a “county poor farm.”
  • Don’t get sick as antibiotics have not yet been discovered.
  • The scourge of a crippling or fatal polio epidemic is always present, especially in the summers. There will not be a polio vaccine until the 1960s. Flu shots are unknown also.  Only measles can be inoculated against.
  • Most of you will work from dawn to dark around dangerous machinery as the Industrial Age really kicks in.  There is no 40 hour work week; it will be 70-80 hours. No days off; no paid vacation.
  • If you are injured on the job, you will be fired.  There is no workers’ compensation. You will be given what you are owed in wages up to the point of injury and sent home. Disability, a part of Social Security, is not law yet.
  • There is no OSHA so working conditions are bad—See Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for an example of the working conditions in the meat packing industry during this time.
  • When you go to town, the best roads will only be gravel. After heavy rains most country roads will be quagmires and you will have to go on horseback. You’ll have to use them as most of you will still live in rural areas—only 10% in cities and the rest of the population on farms.
  • Many of you, if you are lucky, will get an 8th grade education, a smaller number will go to high school and a very small number of the elite will go to college.
  • You will be chopping wood for your heating stoves in the winter. There are no air conditioners, so it will be miserable to try to sleep on hot summer nights after those 12-14 plus hour days you will be working.
  • Take a vacation? Are you kidding? Have to be home as farmers (which most of you are) must be there to feed the livestock, milk the 15-20 cows, and turn the separator to separate the cream from milk—all by hand—remember, no electricity. No days off for farmers.
  • Need to go to the bathroom at night—use a “slop jar” in your room to be emptied in the morning. During the day, it is a trip to the “outhouse.”  When it’s hot, you will have to fend off the flies and wasps, as well as the smell. When it is cold, you will have to contend with a frozen “behind.”  Neither is pleasant.
  • For much of your time during these years, draft horses will be the chief source of power for your farm implements such as mowers, grain binders, cultivators, plows & drills. Horses usually work in twos—teams were often composed of a mare and a gelding—so your first task in the morning is to put on their harnesses (as well as feed and otherwise keep them ready to do their work).
  • If you were of age to go to school in the Fall to Spring, and your parents could spare you on the farm, you went to a Grade 1-8 country school. There were no school buses—you walked. Very seldom did you get a ride. Quite often your teacher would be a young woman just out of high school who had taken “Normal Training” in high school so she could teach. When she got married she would not be able to teach in most school districts. Those who allowed teachers to be married would cancel the contract with the first sign of pregnancy. The teachers who are married have no access to birth control except the “rhythm method’ or abstinence.

Are you still wanting to “Advance to the Rear” and go back to the “good old days”?

Throw-away People

 

On the northwest side of Wichita, just as you are leaving the city is a site known by the natives as “Mount Wichita”.     It has several “peaks” and on one side of the highway it is covered with grass, with pipes sticking out in various places to vent the gas.   On the other side it is a “work in progress” as daily it continues to grow higher and wider as trash trucks make their way to the top of it and discard our “throw-aways.”.

We are a “throw-away culture” in America.    Our landfills expand almost exponentially and our factories put out items that are meant to wear out in a few years so we will buy new ones.    A sign of this is the offer of an extended warranty when we buy such things as dish washers and clothes washers.   If the items were made as we know how to make them they would not need such warranties.

If our present equipment does not wear out soon enough, then advertisers are always there, on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, on TV and the internet,  to convince us that we must have the newest and the latest gizmo—whether it be a new iPhone or a kitchen gadget.  We feed this highly productive machine with the lives of people who are paid low or sub-minimum wages, part time, and with no benefits.   They are essential to the production, either here or abroad, but they reap none of the benefits.   When they wear out they have no healthcare available and so we discard them just like the products and services they help produce.     

In increasing numbers these “throw-away people ” can be seen on the streets of our cities, under the bridges of our metropolitan areas.   They are carrying everything they own on their backs.  Their eyes are dulled by alcohol or drugs or just by loss of hope and the resulting despair.   They trudge from one place to another in our cities because they have no real place to go—-to call home.     Thus we let them hide from us on the streets and under bridges, because really seeing them makes us feel guilty—-we throw away more food in a day than they may have had to eat in a week.  We try to feed them and care for them, but we don’t address the real reason they are there.  Increasingly we let our government and our economy discard them by not addressing the problems in our government and economic system that keep them on the rubbish pile of our civilization.  Problems such as much higher minimum wages, health care, education, etc.    These people are “throw-aways“.   We say that they are just trying to “use the system“, but in reality they are victims of a system that keeps them in poverty in so many different ways.   Until we do something and address the ways that they are kept in poverty by our government and our economic system working in concert against them, they will remain “throw-aways.”

Pope Francis said it well in these words:   “I can say, we can all say, that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has canceled the person from the center and set money in its place; an economic system that excludes, always excludes:   excludes children, the elderly, young people, the unemployed…and that creates the throw-away culture we live in.   We are becoming accustomed to seeing people discarded.”

In Kansas we also have a state legislature and governor who work together with businesses to make sure these people stay where they are—-that they remain “throw-aways”.    God forgive us!  Christians have forgotten that it was to the “throw-aways” of his culture that Jesus ministered  to on a daily basis. 

Crown Him or Crucify Him?

 

Text:   Luke 19:  28-40

            Today is Palm Sunday in our Christian year.   It is the day that we recount again the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It is relatively uncommon to find details from the life of Jesus in all four gospels, but the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one of those stories found in all four gospels.   All share the central details of the crowd’s greetings of Jesus with “Hosanna’s”   and of Jesus riding into the city on the back of a donkey.

            Many sermons have been delivered about that donkey and about Jesus’ humility, etc. etc.   However this is not an act of humility but an act of anointing that goes back to the Old Testament and ties in Jesus to the line of King David, from which the Messiah was to come.     It is a scene much like that described in I Kings 1, where the prophet Nathan, following King David’s instructions, is to “take Solomon to the Gihon spring below the city near the Mount of Olives, place him on David’s own donkey, anoint him together with Zadok the priest, blow the trumpet and say “Long Live King Solomon”.   Then they were to follow Solomon up to the city and seat him on David’s throne. 

 Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looks very much like the coronation ceremony for Solomon—-the son of David and successor to the throne of Israel.        

            That symbolism was not lost  on those who greeted Jesus, or on the religious leaders, or on the Romans!!!.    His entry was a  statement of Jesus’ divine right to rule forever—-of his messiahship—foretold by the prophet Isaiah. 

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a revolutionary act!!  

            We seldom think of Jesus as a “revolutionary” but that was what he was.   His mission that he announced at his home synagogue in Nazareth was revolutionary.  It foresaw that he would challenge the social, economic and religious domination systems of the day that punished the poor and enriched the rich and powerful.   Jesus cast his lot with the ones who were the outcasts of his society and he didn’t just say “let’s help them survive” but his life was dedicated to changing the domination system (economic, political, and social, ) that held them down.    In his home synagogue he read the passage from Isaiah that says:   “the spirit of the Lord is  upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”    And he told his hearers “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst.” 

            Revolutionary!   Jesus was challenging the political, economic and religious domination system of his day.    It’s the poor that are important not the rich and powerful.   It is the oppressed that I am sent to, not the comfortable.    It was to the outcasts of society that God sent His Son.   Revolutionary!!

Today I’d like for us to look at  those who  participated in Jesus’ entry into JerusalemThey werethe crowds, the disciples, the Jewish religious authorities, the Romans—-all participated in some way in this scene of triumphal entry—-just as all would participate, either actively or passively, in the crucifixion of Jesus at the end of that week.   Let’s look at each one of the groups:

 The Crowds:   They shouted “Hosanna!  Hosanna!   The Greek form of the Hebrew “Hoshianna” found in Psalm 118:25 WHERE IT IS TRANSLATED “Save us we beseech you!”      How many of this same crowd later shouted at the palace of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate—-“Crucify him!   Crucify him!   His blood be upon our heads!!   We don’t know!

            This was not a mob but were good people and genuinely eager for the messiah to come and save them.  They were people who attended the synagogue, God-fearing people, who tried hard to keep the Jewish Law.   They were looking for a messiah to deliver them from the conquering Romans—-and when Jesus didn’t do that they would turn against him.

The Religious Authorities:  Luke tells us that they had been plotting for some time to get rid of Jesus   The Gospel of John tells us what brought them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus    So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do?   This man is performing many signs.   If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both  our holy place and our nation.”

They saw Jesus as a radical revolutionary and they were afraid.   They were afraid they would lose their power, their wealth, and even their lives because they were puppets of Rome and if they allowed Jesus to prevail with the people then they would be held responsible by the Roman authorities.   JESUS WAS A RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO HAD TO BE ELIMINATED.  

            These were not evil people.   They were the respected, well-educated leaders who led highly moral lives and/or served in the temple as priests.   The Pharisees were good and decent law-abiding and their dedication to God was widely respected and admired.   But they were seized with fear that this revolutionary named Jesus of Nazareth would bring the fury of Rome down on their heads and they would lose not only their power, wealth, and prestige, but their lives.     

The Disciples:      The same disciples that arranged for the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem are the ones who deserted Jesus at his arrest, even those closest to Jesus—the Twelve.   Their fear for their own lives led them to desert Jesus and go into hiding.     After Jesus’ betrayal, the self-appointed leader of the Twelve, Simon Peter, three times denied that he even knew Jesus out of fear for his own life. Only the women disciples and John stood by him to the end!   They were at the foot of the cross as he was crucified.  We can criticize them, but who among us might not have done the same?  

              While they had their weaknesses, the Twelve had traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, given up their jobs and livelihoods to follow him, seen him at the moment of Transfiguration, staunchly followed  him to Jerusalem although they certainly feared for their own lives and Jesus’ life there.   They were good and decent Galileans—they adored Jesus, loved him, and had left jobs and family behind to follow him.

The Romans:  Rome had brought the Pax Romanus —the Roman Peace” —-to the known world of the time.   It was a RULE OF LAW that is still copied to a great extent by the government of our own nation.   While they might be harsh, they sought to be fair—as we will see by the examination of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator.   The Roman Peace was enforced by the sword.   If a revolutionary threatened the peace the Romans saw it as treason—-punishable by crucifixion.

Although Roman government did not interfere much with religious matters, their ears were very much attuned to any kind of treason or government overthrow being planned.   There had been many rebellions in Palestine by Jews called Zealots and they were dealt with swiftly and harshly—many crucifixions took place in order to keep the government stable in Palestine.   The Romans were the ones who placed the sign—“The King of the Jews” over Jesus’ head on the cross—showing what they would do to anyone who would proclaim himself king!!!

You know—the sad thing about all of this is that if you were to talk to any of these people described above you would find them to be outwardly decent people who were doing what they thought was the best thing to do!  In sum—it was not the rabble and the evil people that crowned Jesus one moment and crucified him later in the week.  It was the rank and file people—it was good, decent, synagogue-attending people who demanded his death!  It was Roman soldiers carrying out order about a threat to their empire.   It was good, law-abiding people.    That is the tragedy!

The Question for us is—-What do we do with Jesus today?   Do we crown him or crucify him.?    That is the question we must ask ourselves this Palm Sunday as we enter Holy Week!!

            If Jesus came to America today with his revolutionary ideas about government, religion, and the economic and the social dominations systems that we have now that are very similar to the ones described above in first century Palestine—-that give the power to the rich and use that power to keep the poor down and further enrich themselves–would we in the church welcome him or would we be among the ones in the crowd crying “Crucify him”??    Because Jesus would be on the side of the poor and the outcasts of our society.   He would advocate for those who are homeless.   He would criticize those who pass laws that keep the poor down and advocate for laws and practices that lift up those in poverty.    He would heal those who can’t afford health care and severely chastise those who keep health care from the needy.    He would advocate some form of healthcare for all.   He would be considered a “bolt” thrown into the machinery of progress   I feel that Jesus would not be recognized,  and if he was, would not be allowed in our churches.

Let’s look at the same groups today:

   The Government:    Is our government crowning Jesus or crucifying him?    We have a government made up of good, God-fearing people—-ask any of them and they will  generally tell you that.   Especially at election time!    Do they promote Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God and what that stands for?   Or do they crucify him by legislating against all that he stood for?    We say on our coins “In God we trust”–-do we??   Or do we trust in our military and police power to enforce what we feel is right, which has very little to do with what Jesus taught?  When our government seeks to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and needy, the mentally ill, the homeless, the hungry—-are we following the teachings of Jesus?   When we deny a large group of people medical care in the state of Kansas are we following the teachings of the Great Healer?      Are we crucifying Jesus on a cross of our own greed and our desire for power to increase our wealth at the expense of others?

The Religious Authorities:     This is a complex area, for we have many “religious authorities” in today’s America.   Who really speaks for Jesus Christ and his teachings.   And that is perhaps the problem:  No one seems willing to forcefully speak for Jesus and what he stands for today.   The religious authorities are either too timid, or they are too closely allied to the government and economic system that keeps them comfortable.    Like the priests and scribes and Pharisees of old, they are afraid to rock the boat.   Most religious leaders and the churches they lead have in the most part been mute about the issues of the day such as compassion for the poor and economic justice and fairness for all.    Where was the voice of the church in the health care debate and the extension of Medicaid to those working poor  in Kansas who are desperately in need of health-care?    We heard from medical doctors and from hospital officials that advocated for that extension of health care.   The church has remained silent about withholding health care from thousands of Kansans.    Why? 

            Religious leaders  are either so fearful of offending someone that they proclaim a watered-down Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as related to his life and teachings; or, they promote one issue to the exclusion of of all others and dwell on that (e.g. abortion)—-leaving out the love and compassion that Jesus showed on a broad range of issues..  

            Too many churches and their leaders are following present-day “priests and scribes” who have crowned their own comfort, their success, as their Lord and have through their passivity, fear and selfishness crucified Jesus.  

The Disciples:   That would be us!   The Church.   Are we crowning Jesus as Lord of our lives or are we crucifying him out of fear of speaking out or sleeping on the job like the disciples in Gethesemane?   What kind of stands have we as a church taken on issues that Jesus came to address in his ministry as he stated them  at the synagogue at Nazareth in the words of Isaiah?

            Is the church doing these things?   Are we taking up the cause of those who are oppressed.   Are we preaching good news to the poor?    Are we working in behalf of those who are ill to bring them comfort?  Are we boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus is Lord?    Are we challenging the political and economic and, yes, the religious dominations systems whose purpose is to make the poor poorer and the rich richer?    If we are not— we are  passively aiding in Jesus’ crucifixion today and trying to preserve ourselves like the original twelve disciples.

The Crowds:    Ah yes!!   The Crowds!    The “rank and file”.   The people who inhabit our states and towns and cities of this so-called Christian country!   The ordinary people who fill our streets—-good and decent people.!  

            Are they crowning Jesus as Lord of their lives or are they crucifying him?   I am of the opinion that Jesus, while being welcomed  by the people of this country  in the hope that he will be there to save them if they need it, are crucifying him on a cross of indifference!  

            Take a drive down the streets of any town or city on Sunday morning, visit any church, and the message becomes clear what decision they have made.    True, they do not actively shout crucify him as the crowd did in Jesus time—but by their indifference to Jesus and his teachings they are doing the same thing—-they are ridding the country of this dangerous radical that might interfere in their lives and make them uncomfortable.   By their indifference they are shutting him up permanently so his words and call to action don’t bother them anymore.  

THE DECISION IS OURS—IT IS NOT POSSIBLE NOT TO DECIDE.  By our actions we will either crown Jesus Lord of our Lives or we will crucify him.   Which will it be?  Do we really want to be members of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed or is it too risky—to dangerous—too costly?  

DO WE CROWN JESUS WITH OUR LOVE AND DISCIPLESHIP OR DO WE CROWN HIM WITH A CROWN OF THORNS AND CRUCIFY HIM?    Amen

The Scandal of Poverty

 

In May of 2012 UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially living below the poverty level.   Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship had worse numbers.

Sasha Abramsky, in his excellent book on poverty, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives, emphasizes in his Introduction that poverty is not the  problem—-we have the means, technology, and ways to deal with it.   He says that in the United States poverty is a “scandal“. not a “problem“.   It is a moral scandal that a rich country like the U.S. produces the statistics reported above by UNICEF.

As Abramsky says:  “As long as people think “poverty” is the problem, they’re missing the whole point.   Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem….The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.”   Some refer to poverty  as being like the “canary in a mine“.    Such widespread poverty in such a rich country is a warning of severe problems with our democracy in not providing for the “common welfare” that is demanded by the Preamble to the Constitution.   It is a warning that something is terribly wrong with our political and economic system’s developments in the past few years that allows this to happen.

Pope Francis recently framed the moral scandal of poverty in the U.S. when he said:   “We have created new idols.   The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”  

Robert Reich, former Secretary  of Labor under President Clinton adds:   “The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion.   It’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.”

I know in these posts I  have pointed to poverty and homelessness many times and you may be tired of hearing about it —-So what are we as Christians going to do about it?  What can we do?     I make these recommendations:

First:   Read Sasha Abramsky’s book, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives.       This is a well researched look at Poverty and updates the work by Michael Harrington, The Other America,   that inspired the 1960’s War on Poverty.   Sadly, the situation is worse 50 years later than it was when Harrington wrote.  
In the first half of his book Abramsky’s details the statistics as well as the human face of poverty today.   In the second half, he gives well thought out solutions that are doable—-if the moral and political will is there.

We have been brainwashed by our politicians to blame poverty on the poor.   We have been told that people are poor because they are lazy, lack ambition, are drug users, alcoholics, etc.   Feature Governor Brownback, who during the last campaign said  that “People don’t have to be poor, they need to get a job?” That is Brownback’s cure for poverty—get a job!

While this may be true in a few cases, how about elderly poor?   How about those who are unable to work because of physical problems that limit them?   How about those who are mentally challenged?    How about children?    Many people are caught in a trap from which the laws and the economic system do not allow escape.

We as Christians and as a church must view the human face of poverty in all its aspects.    We need to establish a relationship with the poor of our country—-get to know them and the problems they face every day and how hard so many of them try to escape from poverty and seem to be thwarted at every turn.   One example-—the young woman who is laid off from her job, loses her apartment, is not able to find another job because of poor education and skill.   She has children—-and to improve her chances for a job she needs to go to a community college.   She not only can’t afford the tuition but also can’t afford child care?   And yet we let our legislators in Congress jeer at President Obama’s call for free tuition for those who maintain a C average in Community Colleges and free childcare while they are attending.  As Republican leader, John Boehner said—that bill will be “dead on arrival”.

Second:   As a church,  develop a sense among our members as to the causes and the extent of poverty in your community.    As a church and as individuals, take action to change the  climate that blames poverty on the individuals rather than on the fact that features of our present political and economic system do not help those in poverty, but make their problems worse.

Third:    As individuals and as a church find ways to challenge the present political system that, at present, operates on the principle that  those with money fund the political process and elect those who will favor their own selfish interest.     A democratic system will seek the common good—-those we now elect are manipulated by the money needed for advertising to be elected and in return will pass laws that benefit those who support them with the needed cash.   If you don’t have money you don’t have any political influence.   Those with enough money can manipulate the voters to vote the way they want them to with enough half-truths told enough times on costly TV ads.  Who speaks for the poor in the halls of the Kansas legislature and the U.S. Congressional leadership?   Very few!

When poverty flourishes as a direct result of actions taken  or not taken by political and economic leaders, then search for the reasons that is so.   How do the present laws and economic system keep people in poverty from helping themselves?  Hang around some poor people and they will quickly and accurately fill you in on this question.  We tell people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and then cut off the straps or take their boots away from them!

The above three recommendations should get the churches and Christians started to thinking about the scandal of poverty.  Christians and Christian Churches have a responsibility for maintaining the moral backbone of our people in this country.   If Christians and the churches do not stand together as a voice for the Way of Jesus today that gives priority to the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the homeless, the hungry of our society,  then who will be that voice?  Together, churches can make a vast impact on the scandal of poverty today.   It will not be easy—the causes of poverty are many and varied.   But the churches can work to end the needless scandal of poverty in the U.S. if they have the will and  love for God and for neighbor that is at the core of the Christian faith!

 

The Kansas “Herd”—the GOP, not Buffaloes

 

 

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “rugged individualists“, but in reality we are often like a “herd” that blindly follows the leader.   The problem of course with blindly following a leader  is that if the leader happens to be a “lemming” we will all be led over the cliff.

One of the lessons  I learned as a Park Ranger about directing traffic at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was that if you got a car to go in the right direction all of those behind that lead car would follow.   Sadly, the same thing was true if  the car went in the wrong direction!     The cars behind followed the car as it went in the wrong direction!

German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche had a name for that—“the herd mentality“.  He framed his philosophy of the ubermensch (the superman) on that premise—a strong leader could lead the masses in any direction that he desired and they would blindly follow—as the lead cow leads the herd.   That premise led to a further  premise that “might makes right” and that those who have the power decide what is right or wrong.    Adolph Hitler adopted this philosophy and proved it to be true, to the woe of the German nation that he led into World War II and disaster for their nation.

In Congress, the majority of the Republican Party exhibit a “herd mentality” as they blindly follow their leaders.  They do not consider the legislation they pass or defeat on any basis other than maintaining their power by re-election as they let the Tea Party and those who contribute to their campaign funds  tell them what to do.    Truth, morality, the common good, all suffer from this “herd” mentality when our law makers do not think for themselves.

This is what troubles me about politicians and their followers today, and specifically about Kansans who at present are being led into fiscal disaster by a leader and legislature that are convinced they are right, regardless of the facts,  and are using their power to decide what is right and good for everyone whether it is good or not for the common welfare.   And we just went through an election that proved Nietzsche correct, as Kansans blindly  re-elected them to another term, even though complaining that they had lied to them and that their situation financially and economically (except for the privileged businesses who received the tax breaks) was worse than when these politicians began their previous term.   Many Republican voters have confessed they voted Republican because that is the way they always have voted and regret that they elected these folk now.   But they are all in the same boat now—“lemmings ” following their leaders over the financial cliff for the benefit of an elimination of income taxes for around 100,000 “small businesses”, and are paying the price in reduced education funds, reduced programs for the most vulnerable of our state—the homeless, the children, the elderly.   Even Kansas roads are going to be full of potholes as the governor shifts funds to pay for an “experiment” in economics that has proven to be as unproductive and disastrious as most economists initially predicted it would be.

Recently I saw a poster on Face Book that speaks to this:    “Be careful when you blindly follow the masses.   Sometimes the “M” is silent!  

Why people can’t hear what the church is saying….

 

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear a word you are saying!!!     Perhaps this should be inscribed in the chancel area of every church in the nation.    This is probably the main problem that mainline churches have and it is the reason they are decreasing in number and size—their  actions and their words are, too often, not matching.

I recently ran across a poem called “The Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.   It reads:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

 The work of Christmas begins:

               To find the lost.  

               To heal the broken.

               To feed the hungry.

               To release the prisoner.

               To rebuild the nation.

               To bring peace among people.

               To make music in the heart.”

We Christians love the Advent Season and the Christmas Season.    They are times of Joy and Love, and Peace and Hope for most of us—-and rightly so—-the coming of the Christ Child (God with us—Immanuel)  was a time of “Joy to the World” as the hymn we sing says it.     But it is not Jesus’ coming that is so important, it was what Jesus did after he got here and the message of the Kingdom of God—-a different and better way to live—-that is important.   

I’m afraid that message of what life can be like if God is at the center of it. as om the Kingdom of God,  and the messenger’s life of sacrifice and service to God that models life in the Kingdom,   have been lost among the Christmas wrappings.   The work that Jesus set his followers to do was what Thurman wrote about.  It is the ministry Jesus described in his sermon at his home synagogue:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

I am going to use only one of the items on Thurman’s list  to illustrate my point, because it is a problem that is near to my heart, and I feel it is near to God’s heart….Feed the Hungry.  

Recently the Kansas Food Bank that serves more than 215,000 Kansans annually, combined with the Hunger in America national organization to issue a report on Hunger in America.   They used rigorous academic research standards for their report which was reviewed by a technical advisory team that included researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the Urban Institute.    The study was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation the data was gathered by over 6000 trained data collectors.   This is not “a bunch of crying, do-good liberals” reporting.   This is hard data gathered and put together by trained researchers.   The results are frightening!  I will share a few of them with you.   The full report may be seen by going to Google and entering  Hunger Statistics, Kansas Food Bank Warehouse.

1 in 7 people in Kansas—an estimated 215,300 people, turned to the Kansas Food Bank meal service programs for help in feeding themselves in 2014.   Of these 215, 300 persons  68, 900 were children and 19,900 were senior citizens 11% were adult students..   Among all clients, 14% were black, 37% were Latino, and 42 % white.

The above reported that 82% were buying inexpensive , unhealthy food because they couldn’t afford the healthier.  They also reported the tough choices and trade-offs they had to make to try and keep food on the table this past year:

71% reported choosing between paying for food and utilities.   35% had to do this on a monthly basis.

73 percent report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation to work.   35 percent made that choice every month.

66 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine and medical care.  30 percent of thse households had to choose every month.

60 % reported choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.  28% reported having to do that every month.

Ways they tried to cope with food shortages included,  52% who ate food past the expiration date.  37% pawned or sold personal property in order to buy food.  33% reported watering down food or drinks.

Why does this happen in a wealthy country?   The report gave the following reasons:   Low Wages; underemployment; and unemployment.  Of the 60% who were employed last year, they were only able to work part time and at minimum wages.   For families with both husband and wife working part-time at minimum wage of 7.25 per hr. it has been shown that even if both parents work, they cannot make enough to live on and pay rent, utilities and food expenses.   Therefore the choices that they have to make that are  listed above.

So far the churches have been mostly silent in dealing with the causes of poverty.   They are involved,  at least some of them, in treating the symptoms and helping those caught in this vicious cycle survive—-but not in dealing with the causes of the problem itself.

Can you imagine the impact if churches as a group were to demand that their legislators at state and national levels take action to raise the minimum wage to one that a family could live on?    What if churches boycotted those business who paid their employees just the present minimum wages of $7.25 an hour?   What if we said—-we’re not going to buy your hamburgers, McDonalds, until you pay your employees a living wage and provide benefits for them.   We don’t care if you raise the price of a Big Mac in order to do so!

Behind unemployment is often the lack of an education.   It has been proven since the days of John F. Kennedy’s Head Start Program that Early Childhood Education to get poorer children ready for public schooling improves their chances of success in school and acquiring the education they need in today’s labor market place.    Yet in Kansas,  our Governor and Legislature is currently taking the Tobacco Funds earmarked for Early Childhood Education and putting them in the General Funds  as well as taking funds from Education,Kindergarten through College, in order to continue allowing  over 100,000 small businesses in Kansas to not pay income taxes at all.

What would happen if churches were to demand that this not happen?  What if we demanded that everyone pay their fair share of taxes—including businesses?    Most of the legislators and the governor are presenting themselves  as Christians.   Governor  Brownback and your legislative toadies—your actions speak so loudly we can’t hear a word of what you are saying about being Christians!!

There are many other ways of attacking the problem of poverty.   The problem is not lacking ways but lacking will to do so.

In my opinion, if churches are not actively involved in doing something to change  at least one of the above 7 things—actively involved—-then their action, or lack of action, is speaking so loudly to the world that the world can’t hear a word of what they say to each other on Sunday a.m. at the worship service.   If they are not working to correct the above problems at their root, then they have no right to proclaim the Kingdom of God that Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim.   Jesus gave few commandments, but one that he did give was the Great Commandment  to “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself!

Why Do Churches Exist?

 

Why do church congregations exist?   What is their purpose?  What mission do they have?   Why do we need churches, anyway?  What vision do they need to share with the world around them?   These are questions that many Chrisitian congregations should be answering.   And they need to find those answers quickly, because, at present, most mainline congregations are only religious social clubs.   Congregations must be more than social clubs if they are to be relevant in today’s world.

I recently led a leadership group in  a local congregation in an evaluation of where they were as a church on the life cycle of institutions.    They decided, correctly I believe, that they were in what George Bullard called the maturity phase, as he defined  in his book,  Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation:    “Maturity is that period when Relationships, Programs and Management are dominant.   Vision is no longer dominant.   Management is controlling the direction of the congregation.   A congregation that is past it’s prime characterizes Maturity.   It is more passive than active.   It is still successful in many areas.   For the most part it has a positive spirit…..It is no longer focused.   It is no longer clear about its vision.  The success culture of the congregation keeps it moving forward .  It is blind to the fact that it no longer has an empowering vision that is fueling it forward. “

That lack of vision and mission became evident when I asked the leadership what the purpose or vision of their church was.   No one had an answer.   They are still struggling with why they exist as a church congregation!    While I suggested how to go about creating a vision for their church they have not  followed through with my suggestion and the congregation they lead  still has no clear vision of God’s purpose and mission God desires  for their congregation.  .   I gave them several examples to think about to get them started:   “To Be a Nurturing Church in a Hungry World”;  “To Live the Great Commandment in the Community Around Us”;   and the vision of the Saddleback Church as stated in Rick Warren’s “The Purposeful Church.” (With a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, God will Grow Our Church).A vision shared by the entire church should define the mission of the church.  The raison d’etre for their existence.   Without a vision of their mission a  congregation is just another social club.     I suggested that the leadership group  needed to form a small task force to do develop this vision of mission  with much prayer,  Bible Study, and discernment so as to arrive at a  vision and mission that all in their church congregation  could “buy into”.  As of yet, almost a year later,  none of this has happened and things go along the same way they have for some time—-downhill.

In my opinion, this is the reason for many of the mainline churches being on a downward spiral and increasingly  shrinking both in numbers and in their influence on their society.  That society is becoming  increasingly immoral or amoral, violent, greedy, not  compassionate with the needs  of the most vulnerable in our society,  polarized in politics, distrustful of government and each other.    These church congregations have forgotten that the one they are named after—Jesus the Christ—-gave them a mission which is to continue the mission Jesus began of sharing the good news of God’s adoption of humandkind as God’s children—as a part of what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God” .  That is the rule of God in people’s lives that  reflects the love and passion of God for all the world—-all the world.   Jesus saw good news in God sending him into the world to show what life lived in the Kingdom could be.  He didn’t just tell us about it, he lived it.  And life in the Kingdom of god is-pretty much the opposite of what the life of most people is now in the U.S.    We have a mission as a church to bring about the new way of living  that Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God that was breaking into the world in Jesus’ time and is still here with us.   The Kingdom of God exists now—not later—-not after we die—Now—in this world!

It is not our mission as the church to sit on the sidelines, bemoaning the thin moral air in our society and the lack of morality, the violence,  the greed, the distrust, the polarity in politics, the lack of compassion for the vulnerable.  It is the mission of the church to step up to the plate and deliver a faith that gives stability,; to work with love and compassion to overcome the victimization of the most vulnerable;  to offer a way of peace to replace the violence that infects our society and world like a terminal disease;  to offer caring for others needs to replace the greed upon which our economy is now based;  to insist on compromise over polarization in our political arena.   The mission of the church is not to get along with the world as it is.   Not to be part of the present establishment governmentally,  politically or religiously; , but to point toward a better way—-the Way of Jesus that he demonstrated for us in the Gospels.  

We should never settle for the status quo—-the mission of the church is to transform lives, to change lives,  and in transforming  lives transform the society in which  we live our lives as church iby showing how that can be done using our lives as an example.

Let me illustrate with this story:

Edwina Gately is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania.   In their newsletter  she wrote about the following incident:

“I once worked in a downtown overnight shelter.   It was a big, basement shelter, and every night when the homeless came in, I would stand at the door handing out blankets.   Once this guy came up to me and said, “Edwina, could I have one without lice?”   “What?” I said.   “Could I have one that doesn’t have any lice on it?”   And I said, “Oh, er…okay,” and starting holding up the blankets to see if I could find one without lice.   “Here.  I’ve got one here.   This one’s got no lice.   There’s nothing moving on this one.”

And suddenly I thought to myself, “What am I doing?  Here I am picking out blankets without lice and urine for certain folks.   This is all wrong.”

So I went to the supervisor and said to him, “This is not right.   We should launder these blankets every day instead of every week.   We can’t do this to these folks.   They deserve better than this.”   The supervisor looked at me and smiled.   He shook his head and said,  “Edwina, let me tell you something.   When you have been here as long as I have, you get used to it.”

NOOO!  ..something in me screamed.  WE MUST NEVER GET USED TO IT.  WE MUST NEVER ACCEPT THE WAY THINGS ARE BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD, “Well, it’s always been like this.”    The world was not meant to be like this!!   We were not meant to live in poverty.   We were not meant to be hungry.   We were not meant to be homeless.   We were not meant to have to sleep in lice-infested blankets.   When we accept the system with “This is the Way it is” we become a part of that system.   We are part of the oppression, the injustice, the diminishment.”

The Church is meant to take action for change in many areas of our society that need to be improved.    Blessed are the Christians who never get used to it and continue to work for change!