Tag Archives: government

Where is America Going?

“Give America Back” is the common slogan of most conservative Republicans running for President.    They never spell out what that it means to give America back, but I take it to mean  that we must go back to the past—but what past do they have in mind?   Having lived 80 years and having taught U.,S. History for 34 of them, I have reached the conclusion that the past was often not so great.    I, myself,  have no desire to return to life as it was in my past with no electricity, with no antibiotics,  no polio vaccines, no social security,  no medicare, etc.   What I would like to see—if we are going back to the past— is to go back to the principles on which our nation was founded .    Those principles are found in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution  and we have lost sight of them.

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, promoet 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.

By “going back” to these principles  America will really be moving forward into the future, for they are principles that communicate the hopes of the “founding fathers’ for the kind of nation they wanted to build.  We have a long way to go to return to those principles.   More and more I see our country and my state of Kansas not following these principles, and , in fact, going in the opposite direction..  For example:

Instead of “striving for a more perfect Union” we are politically divisive and uncompromising.   We are full of mistrust for each other and fear of  each other.  That leads to disunion rather than perfecting our union.   Being politically divisive and uncompromising as several of our G.O.P candidates have been and say they will continue to do led to our Civil War and it can do so again today.

We have only  established justice for those who can afford it.   We often confuse “justice” with “vengeance” in most cases—-getting even.    An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth justice.    We recoil at the idea of social justice which involves an equal opportunity for all, regardless of color, gender, ethnic characteristics or wealth. Those at the bottom of our society today are disregarded as not important and we say they need to work and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps—-but our laws have taken away the bootstrap, and often the boots themselves.    We now value people based on their “market value” in a capitalistic economy that favors the rich and is based on taking away from the poor.

Domestic Tranquility.   I’ll ask one question?    Has the law that everyone can open carry a gun in Kansas produced safety and domestic tranquility?   No it means that every night there is a shooting in Wichita, either accidental or planned.   It has resulted not in tranquility but in fear of your life lest you get caught in the crossfire of someone who does not know how to handle a gun.  When the Constitution said to “provide for the common defense”  do you think they actually meant that everyone should carry a gun to protect us from each other?    No—they were talking about the defense of a nation, not personal defense against our fellow Americans.

Finally, “promote the general welfare” is the last principle I’ll discuss.    We have lost two things that would do this:  (1)compassion for the poor and those at the bottom of the society who are struggling to survive; and (2) putting aside our selfish wishes for the good of the nation.    We see the lack of this principle  in a Congress that tries to repeal Obamacare instead of improve it so that all can have health insurance.  .   We see that in the state of Kansas state in favoring the rich at the expense of the middle class—raising taxes to pay for a tax cut for businesses.    Somehow it doesn’t see that anyone is interested in my general welfare when my Kansas income taxes and sales taxes both go up!   Political advantage gets in the way of promoting the general welfare—-providing what is good for all of our citizens, not just the rich and the powerful who finance the politicians who pass the laws.

 

Our founding fathers had a deep belief in a Supreme Being—the one that Jesus revealed to us

Some of  the things that Jesus emphasized as most important when he revealed the heart of God are found in his inaugural sermon given in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home town:   “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 rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst”.      As Jesus expanded on the meaning of this message, those in the synagogue tried to take him and throw him over a cliff.

Jesus  spent his time healing and recognizing the outcasts of society—the leper, the mentally ill,  the poor,  the rejected.He was interested in the general welfare of society—-a he showed us all are equal in the eyes of God and all deserve to be treated as God’s children.

America and my state of Kansas are doing the opposite!   We are not carrying out the teachings of Jesus even though the governor and legislature say they are Christians.   Neither are we fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers.  We who say we are following Jesus are disregarding everything in the message Jesus brought that are reflected in  principles of the  founding fathers of our nation.

I think if our founding fathers came back to life now they would be appalled and disappointed over the direction of the nation they founded.

I think that if Jesus came again tomorrow, he wouldn’t last a week until we crucified him, because he would stand for all the things that we feel are unimportant—-like feeding the hungry, giving all an equal opportunity.   He would stand for fixing the system that causes great poverty—not just throwing the poor an occasional crumb from our table. He would take a stand for mercy and forgiveness in the face of our hatred and desire for vengeance.   Yes—I’m sure we would crucify him within the week!

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Asking the Right Questions Today?

 

A recent article in the Alban Weekly caught my attention by its title.   “New Questions for a New Day?”    Although it was an article on new questions churches need  to ask rather than the ones they are asking, it caused me to think about questions that desperately need to be asked in our political jungle today.    We are allowing the media and political pundits to ask the wrong questions of our politicians!   Let me give you a few examples:

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning abortion?” should be replaced by the question:  “How will you vote on issues concerning quality of life for all human beings in our society?”   Will your votes  seek to protect only fetuses or will your vote be for protecting the one in five children in Kansas who are hungry and without access to enough adequate foods and considered food insecure.   Will you protect these children  from disease by your votes that extend badly needed medical care, or are you only interested in unborn fetuses?

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning gay marriage“? might be replaced with the question:  “what will you advocate through your votes that will protect the rights of all citizens of the U.S. regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation so that all citizens can enjoy the full range of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.?”

The question:  “Are you a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican?” might be replaced by the question:   “In what way will you vote for the common good of all citizens, regardless of party preference?”    I recently saw a poster on FB that showed a bird flying and said “politicians should be like birds–both the left wing and the right wing support the middle!”

The question:   “How can we better hold educators accountable?” should be replaced by the question, “ How are you going to be held accountable for the education of our children in Kansas? ”   How are you going to better support teachers in their difficult job?  Are you going to respect the job that teachers do, often for poor pay and little appreciation?   What are you going to suggest and vote for that will make sure that children we send to teachers are ready to learn by supporting early childhood education?   What are you going to do that insures that half of the children coming to the Wichita Public Schools are not coming to school hungry and therefore unable to learn?  or homeless and therefore insecure and having difficulties learning?    As I read recently—“When Congress passes “No Child Left Unfed, No child without Health Care, and No Child left homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind?  After that happens we can talk about accountability!

It’s time we get the message to the media and the political pundits that we wish to have politicians speak on these questions rather than the old tired ones that are now asked..   As Ghandi once said:   “Be the change!”  We can “be the change” by defining the real problems in our society and then demanding answers and solutions to those problems by asking the right questions.  We then need to use the power of the ballot to demand accountability from those who govern us.   The change can begin with your intelligent and knowledgable casting of a ballot that holds our elected officials  accountable.   “BE THE CHANGE”.

 

Live As Brothers or Perish as Fools

 

As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next Monday, I would like to share some words of his that we might ponder:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change.   Every society has its protectors of the status auo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.   But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face  the challenge of change.   The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world into a world-wide brotherhood.   Together we must learn to live like brothers or together we will perish as fools.”

The need for this has not changed since Dr. King departed this life but has grown even stronger as we live in a global society.   Are you listening U. S Congress and Senate?   Are you listening, Mr. President?   Are you listening Kansas state legislators?  Are you listening Gov. Brownback?   Or are you going to lead us to perish as fools?

Learn to live like brothers, or perish as fools!

Putting King’s words in a different way is this story, author unknown that was published in “Morning Story and Dilbert”.

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance in black and bitter cold.   Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story’s told.  Their dying fire in need of logs, the first woman held hers back for on the faces around the fire, she noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way saw one not of his church, and couldn’t bring himself to give the fire his stick of birch.

The third man sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch.  Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought of the wealth, he had in store.  And how to keep what he had earned from these lazy poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from his sight, for all he saw in his  stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain.   Giving only to those who gave as how he played the game.   The logs held tight in death’s still hands was proof of human sin.   They didn’t die from the cold without, they died from the cold within.

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.”

 

 

National sclerosis of the Heart?

Does our nation  have “sclerosis of the heart?  What in the world does that mean??   It means “hardness of the heart“.  The “heart” is  a metaphor used over a thousand times  in the Bible to describe  the self at its deepest level.  We read about “closed hearts“, and “open hearts“; about “proud hearts” and “humble hearts.”;  In the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament in Greek) the term is sklerosa cardia—“hard heart.”  In the Bible, our hearts may be open to God or closed to God; and if they are open to God they are also open to our neighbor.   If our hearts, on the other hand, are closed to God they will also be closed to our neighbors.   As early as Exodus in the Old Testament, we read about the Pharaoh of Egypt “hardening his heart.”  Throughout the history of the Hebrews in the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament the people are indicted by the judges and the prophets and by Jesus as having “hard hearts” and turning away from God.    And if we turn away from God, it will show in the same hardness of heart toward our neighbors.

This Christmas Season is a good time to examine the opening question—does our nation have “sclerosis of the heart”?   Are we as a people infected with this spiritual disease of “hardness of heart”?

Jesus told the lawyer testing him that all of the law and the prophets are bound up in the Shema as Matthew quotes it:  “You shall love the Lord Your God with with all your heart,   soul, mind and strength.  That is the greatest and first commandment; and the second is like it;  you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)    Jesus emphasizes that if, in the “hardness of your heart”, you have turned away from God, you will show  the same “hardness of heart” toward your neighbor.   In other words  you can’t love God and not love your neighbor.

I am concerned about the “hardness of heart” toward God and neighbor that I see in our country today!   I see it in some of the following instances, to name just a few.  I’m sure my readers can supply many more:

  • I see it in cutting food stamps to balance the budget.   Taking food from the mouths of children and elderly who receive the bulk of the food stamps.
  • I see it in the denial, in Kansas of the extension of Medicaid to over 150,000 needy people in Kansas and thus denying them health insurance.
  • I see it in the repeated attempts by politicians to repeal “Obamacare” as they call it, that is meant to provide health insurance to all, including those now denied it because of “pre-existing conditions” and who cannot afford it.
  • I see it in the Wichita Eagle when I see that over 11,000 people in Wichita alone have applied and met criteria for aid this Christmas season and giving to charities is down by 2/3 to 1/2 so far this season.
  • I see it in the celebrating of Black Friday more than the celebration of Thanksgiving—a turning toward ourselves rather than a turning toward God in thankfulness.
  • I see it in the character assassination that is a regular part of political campaigns.
  • I see it in the disregard of the common good for political advantage.
  • I see it in lack of concern for the homeless and the poor.

This is a serious illness that is infecting our nation.  We must truly ask ourselves as a society:   Do we have a nationwide epidemic of “hardness of heart”?   Have we turned from God and also our neighbor?    Think about it!!

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! 

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog in relation to our culture?   There is a vast difference between the two.   A watchdog is “the conscience of the culture” that challenges  us when we stray from the core values of our culture.    A lapdog  merely goes along with the decisions the culture makes and as long as it is taken care of, petted and remains  comfortable in the lap of the culture  will do nothing to change anything.

Everytime I read the newspaper or watch TV News I am reminded of our culture’s problems.   To name a few major problems:  healthcare for the poor, lack of jobs and livable wages for the working poor, lack of ethics and basic honesty in politics and business, devaluing of human life.  Let me state a few examples:

  • In Kansas, our stade leaders have apparently opted not to extend the Medicaid program that is part of Obamacare and would be paid for by the federal government to over 150,000 persons in this state.   This is a program that will not cost the state and is backed by hospitals and medical associations statewide  as providing healthcare to a large number of people who presently can’t afford it and of creating a large number of jobs to boost the economy of Kansas.   The main reason given is a political one—-it’s part of Obamacare that Republicans are pledge to defeat one way or another.    The same is true of the problem of not creating insurance centers to help the poor get insurance.      Our infant morality rate in Kansas is one of the highest in the country due to lack of care for expectant mothers who are poor.   Human beings—men, women, children, are dying in our state through lack of medical and psychiatric care. Hundreds of children go to bed hungry every night.   I’ve seen this with my own eyes and heard it on the streets of Hutchinson, Ks. from homeless and needy people.

Where is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to this problem and reminding our leaders that the way we are going is not the way of Jesus who commanded us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”?  I hear only silence from the church!   Watchdog or lapdog for the culture?

  • The working poor are those who can only find jobs that pay minimum wage or less and are part-time so employers don’t have to pay for health insurance.   These workiing poor include many families where both mother and father work but are still unable to pay the rent and provide adequate food and medical care for their families and themselves.

Who speaks up for the working poor to those in power who want to abolish the Affordable Health Care Act, not extend Medicaid in Kansas,  and block any rise to the minimum wage that might give them a decent living they work so long and hard to provide for their families?   Who?  The church?   Again, I hear only silence!!   Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog?  

  • When those running for office attack each other viciously and tell lies about their opponent and spend millions spreading those lies in the media in order to win elective office and then do nothing to improve the common good while in office—who holds them accountable?

  Who exposes these lies and viciousness and holds those responsible for  them accountable for what they say?    Who speaks up and condemns theses lies and indecencies and holds ttheir perpetrators  accountable?  The church?   Silence again!!    Watchdog or lapdog? 

Our culture is an increasingly unhealthy one to live in for a growing number of poor people and increasing for what used to be the middle class.   From the personal level to the national level we have lost our moral compass—our conscience, our sense of right and wrong, good and evil.   We have forgotten our neighbors are children of God and that life is of value.

It is time for Christians to step forward and be the conscience of our nation!   We have remained silent too long and by our silence have allowed these things to happen and in some cases have even promoted them.   When we fail to challenge decisions from the personal to the national level with a word from God as revealed by Jesus the Christ we become a part of the problem—-lapdogs!   As long as we are comfortable ourselves we won’t get involved.    The problem with this is that it violates completely the Great Commandment that Jesus gives in  Matthew that summarizes the law and the prophets and the mission for his followers:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself!  

Richard Rohr says it well in his introduction to the Enneagram:   “When religion is the conscience of society instead of its lapdog, culture is also healthy.”   (p. xvii Enneagram)