Tag Archives: Gemeral Welfare

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”?

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!

 

Angry America

We are an angry nation Everywhere we turn we see and hear hostility, hatred, fear and anger expressed from the front page news, to local news, to politics, and even the sports pages.   We are angry about a lot of things:  taxes, health care , immigration, abortion, birth control, voter registration, national debt, corporate greed, shrinking of the middle class, cost of living.    I am of the opinion that we need to seriously consider a revision of or salute to our flag.  We should replace the current version of  “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  The final words should perhaps read“an angry nation, denying God’s love to those who don’t agree with us, severely divided, with liberty to do what we want regardless of the common good, and retribution toward those who threaten us; and with justice for those who can afford the high price!”

Our front page news and TV news every day  tells about murders ,or shows angry scenes at the border towns as people shout hateful words and shake angry fists at young illegal immigrant children from Central America,   In Wichita,  it seems every news program begins with a “breaking news” report of some violence in the city—a shooting after a quarrel, a robbery, a beating.  It includes drunken drivers killing innocent people and the family members of the loved one who died reacting in anger and demanding punishment  and revenge for the killing of their loved one.

Even the sports pages contain a violent view of life:  For example,  football, a violent sport that is often reported in warlike terms with  sports analysts speaking of the potential damage that those trying to get on a team are likely to do to their opponents—“hard hitter”  a “vicious tackler”, etc.

In our political arena, after the primary elections, the candidates now statethe battle has just begun!”   And the character assassination mud is already in the air for the November general election.   Fear and hatred are the hot-buttons that are being pushed, and as Yogi Berra once said:   “it’s deja vu all over again!”    Hostility towards opponents, hostility toward immigrants, hostility towards anyone and any issue that the candidate doesn’t agree with is the way the political opponents work these days, it seems, and if you don’t agree with the person about the issues then you will be slandered, vilified, and be subject to character assassination.   There is little discussion of the issues—it’s all personal and hostile and  an attempt to appeal  to the fear and hostility of the voters in this angry nation.

In all of the above, it seems it is always the “other person’s” fault. It seems it is “us”, the pure and above reproach against “them” who deserve our contempt, hatred and retribution because somebody must be blamed for the bad things that happen. It is always someone else’s fault. A recent example of this is an article about an interview with Kansas Governor Brownback, in which he explains the reason for his poor showing in the primary election (Brownback got 60% of the vote and his opponent, an unknown and poorly financed got 40%) is all to be blamed on President Obama! Really??!!

What goes out the window in an increasingly hostile and fearful and angry nation is any desire to strive for the “common good” of all the  people.   It is always “ME” and never “WE” that wins out in the midst of the hostile and fearful times I have described above.   There is a better way.   The hatred and fear mongers among our politicians and political party activists need to go back to “the founding fathers.

The Founding Fathers that conservatives like to appeal to had a lot of disagreements—-often very vigorous disagreements.  But when they came together to write a Constitution that would govern our country they made sure to include in the Preamble these words:  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, promote domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

Those in our present Congress would do well to examine and try to explain how they are keeping the oath they took to uphold the Constitution!   With their hostile and partisan bickering the “common welfare”; i.e. “the common good” goes out the window.   Instead of seeking common ground on any of the issues above they continue to name-call, shake fists, assassinate character, etc.    It is “ME” instead of “WE”.   WHEN “ME” RULES INSTEAD OF “WE” THE COMMON GOOD IS NEVER ACHIEVED..

Those in our national and state legislatures and those who elect them might well take heed of the wisdom of the founding fathers and work for the common good of all the people of this country.

Only when “WE”  the People, and not ME the  individual, come together to solve our nation’s problems can we truthfully salute our flag, saying:   “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

 

Living the American Dream or Nightmare?

Living the “American Dream” is defined these days as to “be rich in material things.”  And our society is blessed with comforts and material things that are  the envy of the world.    However, the “American Dream” may also become the “American Nightmare”!!  These may be the “best of times” but they are also“the worst of times” for our American Culture.

  • Never has a culture experienced such comfort and riches or such massive poverty and lack of opportunity.
  • Never has technology given us so many household conveniences, or such terrible instruments of destruction.
  • Never have we been so able to communicate in so many different ways, and never felt so disconnected from others and so lonely.
  • Never have we been so free and never have our prisons been so full.
  • Never have we been so sophisticated about relationships, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.
  • Never have we had so much self-knowledge and the desperation to search  for “who we are.”

It  unfortunately has always been true that the church has mirrored the culture and it is true today,.  As a part of the church in this culture, we who are trying to be disciples of Jesus are struggling  to establish our identity as his disciples and as his church.   We are doing so  and searching for “who we are” as Christians and for what is of ultimate importance for us to build our lives upon and meet our needs.   As we search, all around us we are hearing the cultural  message “look out for  Number 1”,  the message to “buy, buy, buy” to fulfill the needs  of “number 1”.      Yet, if we heed those messages we find less satisfaction, less joy, and less happiness than we were told we would have.     People who have based their lives on “bottom-line living”—where the only thing that counts is the bottom-line tally—are finding themselves “bottoming out”.   Gradually their devotion to a “god of more” just doesn’t seem like enough!

The “Me Generation” that leads our culture  needs to discover that it is “not about me”!    As Max Lucado writes:  “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy.   Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness?   I want a spouse who makes  me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion.  I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me (but doesn’t cost me any taxes).  It is all about me.”  (Lucado, It’s Not About Me”)   Italics mine.

There are some basic questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • To what should we be committing our life?
  • What is worthwhile and lasting?
  • For what should we strive?
  • What is worth giving our life for?
  • How can the church change the culture rather than reflect it?
  • What is my role in this change as a Christian?

Culture can be compared to a symphony orchestra.    When all of the players play  their parts to perfection, beautiful music is produced under the watchful eye of the Great Conductor—God.  Each of us contributes our part to making that beautiful music and if you’ve ever been a part of a musical group you know what a pleasure that is.   But if the symphony orchestra decides that “it is all about me” then the result is not beautiful music but a monstrous noise!   Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook held by each separate musician?   Tubas blasting nonstop.  Percussionists pounding on their drums to get attention.    The cellist shoving the flutist off of the center stage chair.   The trumpeter standing on top of the conductor’s platform tooting his horn.   Sheet music disregarded.  Conductor ignored.    Would anyone want to be a part of this group?   Who would enjoy contributing to a monstrous noise that makes people wish to hold their ears?

And yet, we as Christians are tempted to buy into the American Dream that is turning nightmarish.   This dream of material success is based on the “Me Principle”.

Do we want to make beautiful music with our lives or just monstrous noise? Much of the American Nightmare is based on the “Me Principle.”    When we buy into materialism  as individuals and churches we help continue the nightmare.   When we elect politicians that refuse to compromise and work for the common good, we help continue the nightmare.   When we turn away from the problems of our society and turn inward for self-protection we help continue the nightmare.   Is that what you want to do?   Is that what I want to do?   

We as individuals and as churches need to ask ourselves this question:  “What kind of orchestra are we playing in—the one making beautiful music or the one making monstrous noise?

No “Losers” in God’s Kingdom

We live in a society of “winners” and “losers”.    For every winner there is a loser.  Our sports, our economic system , our educational system , our political system, even our religious system all involve competition at the center of their value systems and produces “winners” and “losers”.

In sports, the reknown coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, Vince Lombardi,  said it all with these words: “Winning isn’t a sometime thing, it is the only thing.”

In our economic system competition is at the center and the businesses that survive are the ones who win, the failures go out of business.

In our educational system, our students go through the entire system competing with each other for grades.   A particularly harsh form of that competition is grading on a curve where there are only a certain percent of the class who can make A’s, B’s, C’s , D’s, and F’s.    Entrance to college is based to a great extent on grades, and therefore the  options for our careers, and thus our standard of living, is a result of competition.

Our political system is based on “winning” or “losing”.    Those who “win” the elections get to help make and execute the laws needed to continue winning.   Those laws, as we see each day, are too often for the purpose of maintaing economic and political power for the winners, and not for the common good of all the people who are governed.   Millions of dollars are spent in order to “win” elections and all decisions while in office are made politically with an eye toward continuing to win and hold power.

Even our churches compete with each other.   Too often to be a “winning” church is to have a huge, beautiful building filled with everything to make the attendees comfortable.   That building must also be  full of people.   People flock to megachurches and we hold them as successful and “winners”  because of the richness of their buildings, their entertainment value, and their large membership —not on the basis of their proclamation of the Kingdom of God and their practice of discipleship to Jesus the Christ.  In my career I have attended many national and state conferences of churches.  Not once were the featured speakers from small churches in Western Kansas.   It was assumed that somehow the pastor’s of megachurches had more to share that was worthwhile than a simple pastor of a church of 70 souls pastoring a flock on the prairie.  We think of small churches as “losers” in comparison with the large churches who are winners.

In all of the above, the emphasis is on “winners” and “losers”.    Most people base their self-esteem on their success in being “winners” in the systems named above.  However, if we are a Christian nation, if we are followers of Jesus the Christ, if we are proclaiming the Kingdom of God that was and is the central part of Jesus’  message, we have a problem, because there are no “winners” or “losers” in the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was breaking into the world. There are only winners.  In fact, Jesus turned the entire concept of winning and losing  on its head and proclaimed that those who lose are winners. Listen to what Jesus says:   “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.   For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  TO LOSE IS TO WIN—THEREFORE THERE ARE NO LOSERS BUT WE ARE ALL WINNERS  IF WE ARE MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD!!    As Jesus described the Kingdom of God in his parables and in the Beatitudes and the Sermons on the Mount and Plains (seeMatt. 4-7 and Luke 6, 14-16)   he defined, as Marcus Borg puts it “what life would be like on earth if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. The Kingdom of God is about God’s justice in contrast to the systemic injustice of the kingdoms and domination systems of this world. Two of our society’s central values are individualism and competition. They permeate our lives and our culture.” (Borg, The Heart of Christianity)

Individualism stresses that we are individually responsible for our well being.   That often leaves God out of the equation.   It often leads to the feeling that we are “self-made” individuals because we won in the competitions above. It also leads to us “putting down as losers” those who don’t win as well as we do in the competitions listed above.   But we forget that we are  the product of many factors that remain  completely outside our control—-our genetic inheritance that affects our health and intelligence, the family into which we were born,  the geographic place we were born, good and bad breaks in our lives.   As Borg says, “To think we are primarily the product of our own individual effort is to ignore the web of relationships and circumstanes that shape our lives.””(Borg, ibid)

Competition will always be with us, we all realize.  And because of the many  uncontrollable factors some of us will do better in the competition than others are able to do.   However,  if we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, competition should not rule our lives.   It should not define us as individuals.   While everyone will not be equal in education, economic well-being, political power, etc., in God’s eyes everyone is equally a “child of God” and is loved equally. regardless of win, lose or draw in any competition.  We are all “winners” in God’s eyes if we are willing to lose our lives in following in the footsteps of discipleship to Jesus, the Christ.

And, when it is all said and done,  we are all winners only by God’s grace.   There are no losers in the Kingdom of God! 

Promoting the Common Welfare?

Those in our Congress who have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States should take a look at the Preamble which states:   “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

How can the politicis of obstruction, the politics of political advantage, the politics of fear, and the politics of greed and money  which are practiced by many of those who have taken the oath to support this Consitution  be explained?  How many of our Congressmen and Senators have abandoned their oath in favor of party advantage and political office by appealing to fear and greed of corporations  rather than the GENERAL WELFARE?

Think about this Americans, because your democracy is  becomeing  a theocracy and a plutocracy and the General Welfare is not being considered or achieved!!

The general welfare is only achieved by “loving your neighbor as yourself” and how many can honestly say they are doing that in the political arena today?