Election year economic issue questions

I do not pretend to be an economist so the only part of economic theory that interests me is the part that allows me to know if I can pay my bills and live a reasonable (important adjective there) life.

In terms of that thought, I have the following questions:

  1. Is there a minimum living wage?

  2. Do employers have an obligation (moral and economic) to pay such a wage?

  3. What are the responsibilities of the worker?

  4. Is health care a necessity?

  5. Who should pay for health care?

  6. Should health insurance companies be private or public corporations? Should they be “for profit” or “non-profit” corporations?

It has been said that John Wesley opposed the rich and the powerful. I know that he wasn’t happy about the power structure of the church that seemed more interested in self-preservation than spreading the Gospel but I am not sure that he necessarily opposed the rich.

I do know that he was not opposed to anyone earning the maximum that they could. Often he said earn as much as you could. But I think that he would have also add, just don’t earn your money through the exploitation of others. He also encouraged everyone to save all that they could and, give all that they could.

John Wesley wanted to make sure that everyone understood that poverty was not a condition of sin. It is unfortunate that this lesson has still not been learned. Too many people today still feel that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and poverty a sin of God’s damnation. For such, charity is a non-engaging task, designed to sooth their own consciousness. But should we not consider that, as I think Wesley did, put our faith into action. (adapted from https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/how-will-you-get-there/)

Wesley also said,

Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” (from http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/151350.John_Wesley)

I do not wish to interject religion into a political debate (we have enough of that as it is) but if a politician is going to say that they are a Christian or if they believe in God or if they hold onto a humanist view of the world, don’t you think that their actions should reflect what they believe?

Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter

The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.  

There is a section in this month’s newsletter for you to sign up for the 2017 Evolution Weekend.

No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.

A New Vision Of The World

A Meditation for 24 April 2016, the 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1 – 16, and John 13: 31 – 35.

Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday.  Got a little bit behind in my work and struggling to catch up.

Let’s begin by expanding on the thoughts behind Peter’s refusal to eat certain foods. Peter was undoubtedly an observant Jew so he had grown up obeying those dietary laws, rules, and regulations.

But it was very likely that he and everyone else at that time what those laws, rules, and regulations were the way they were. There were foods that you could not eat with other foods and there were foods that you could not eat at all and that was they way it was. The reason or reasons for these laws, rules, and regulations was lost in the passage of time but were based on the early days of the Exodus when food storage and preservation were at a premium. The people who began the Exodus understood this but this understanding got lost over time.

How many of us hold onto attitudes and behaviors that we grew up without understanding why we do? How many times do our actions towards others reflect “old” thinking?

The problem for so many people today is that they remain locked in this “old” way of thinking, often times without realizing it. There are those who read the words of John the Seer in the Book of Revelation and see a fulfillment of the past, of the actions of a vengeful and hateful God. But the Seer’s words are a new vision of the world, a new beginning, an opportunity to begin anew and not a continuation of the old. The Seer’s Revelation was never, as President John Kennedy said in the concluding part of his speech to the nation on 22 October 1962, a victory of might but a vindication of what was right. The Book of Revelation is not a justification of the old ways but the knowledge of the new ways.

But how do we achieve the Kingdom the Seer foresaw? How do we establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth as Christ so many times proclaimed He had come to establish?

Do we create military armies that will destroy our armies? Do we create laws, rules, and regulations that echo our prejudices and hatred, which reap vengeance on those we hate and despise?

Or do we do as Jesus told those who heard Him that day two thousand years ago that we are to love each other as He loved us? Are we to act in such a way that when others see us, they will see Christ?

It is very hard to throw away the old ideas, the old ways. We heard that in Peter’s thoughts written in the Book of Acts. But Peter understood what he had to do.

The assurance and presence of God through Christ gives us the same comfort and strength that Peter received so that we can cast aside the old and claim the new, so that we can have a new vision of the world.

Where Were You On April 4, 1968?

I first posted this on April 4, 2007.  

Where were you on April 4, 1968? I was a senior in high school that year. And, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, it was a very interesting time.

That particular senior year started off the previous fall with our senior-dominated football team actually winning more games than it lost. It was not a championship team by any sort of the imagination but it was an improvement over the previous years.
It set the stage for the basketball season which we all knew would be a championship season. The previous year, we had come close but lost in the regional semifinals. The core of the team, all seniors, was back and we were certain that this was to be our year. The sports writers of the state had our team as the number one team in the state and everyone (students, parents, alumni, and interested supporters) was making plans for the trip to the state tournament.

But that was not to be the case. An injury to a key player changed the dynamics of the team and allowed a rather non-descript team from across the county to beat our team in the first round of the district playoffs. What had begun as a promising senior year slowly disappeared in the mists of defeat.

Typical of that year, our traditional river boat ride on graduation night was tempered by a torrential rain storm. What was supposed to be a night of celebration simply became a long and wet boat ride. And what should have been a joyous year of victory and accomplishment was washed away by a night of thunder and rain.

But all of that is meaningless when the events of April 4, 1968, are factored into the mix. You see, my high school was Nicholas Blackwell High School in Bartlett, Tennessee. And Bartlett, Tennessee is a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. Everything that we might have thought or planned changed that day with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I will admit that my mind was not on the struggles of the Memphis sanitation workers that brought Dr. King to Memphis. It is possible that the strike had no effect on my family since we lived out in the county rather than within the city proper. It would not be until later in life that I truly understood what brought Dr. King to Memphis. But I know that many of my classmates and their parents viewed Dr. King as an interloper and an outsider who had no business interfering in the affairs of Memphis.

The issues of race and poverty that brought Dr. King to Memphis were silent issues as far as the white citizens of Memphis and Shelby County were concerned. There would be no issue if no one would talk about it and if no one talked about it, then the problem would eventually go away. The white citizens of Memphis and Shelby County had no concern for the black citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. So why should others, such as Dr. King, show concern?

But through the lens of history, it is clear that these issues are like a malignant tumor that will grow and spread unless someone deals with them.

While I may not have been aware of the sanitation strike, I was aware how the subtle racism of the Mid-South affected my education. When I was a seventh grader in Montgomery, Alabama, I had to buy my textbooks from a book store. This was because the Montgomery school board was not going to fund textbooks if it meant that black school children were going to receive the same benefits as white students. But if you make everyone buy their own textbooks then everyone becomes equal; the only difference being that those who have the ability can buy new textbooks, the less fortunate must get by with used textbooks.

The Shelby County school board made sure that everyone, no matter whether they attended a black school or a white school, had textbooks. They just cut the funding for other things, such as chorus and band. If a band wanted new instruments or better uniforms, it was up to the parents’ association to get them. Thus school in high income areas had good instruments and fine uniforms; other schools weren’t so lucky. The effects of racism and years of neglect were probably harsher in the black schools but they impacted all the schools.

Life in Memphis the weeks following the King assassination were weeks of tension and fear. I had planned on earning some extra money keeping score in the Memphis Bowling Association Annual Tournament but the uncertainty about the situation caused each weekend’s events to be cancelled.

I am not sure if life in Memphis has changed for the better since that day in 1968. Oh, the white political machine that dominated Memphis and whose employment policies set the stage for the sanitation workers’ strike is long gone. But it has been replaced by a black political machine that is probably no better than the white political machine that it replaced. It still conducts politics as usual. Politicians line their pockets and the public pays the price.

Towns in Shelby County are still essentially divided by race and economic status. Only now the divisions are far more subtle than they were some forty years ago.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King spoke of seeing the Promised Land. He spoke of a future that would be free of racial and economic division. I did not hear those words when he spoke them because I was not listening. I was not listening because I was more focused on another task and I was not aware of what was transpiring.

Later that spring and summer, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the riots in the streets of Chicago would tear apart the last shreds of hope of which Dr. King spoke. Richard Nixon would be elected President of the United States on a platform of law and order (meaning a maintaining of the status quo) and victory in Viet Nam.

Since that time, it seems to me that we have drifted further and further away from the goals that were expressed during the early and mid 1960’s. We have wandered away from the goals of freedom and equality for everyone that this country was founded upon. In a country that was founded on religious freedom, the right of everyone to worship as they choose, we are increasingly becoming an intolerant and inflexible society. Instead of heading to the Promised Land, the land that Dr. King spoke of, we have turned our backs on that land and gone back into slavery in Egypt.

Though I may not have spoken out as I should have back then, I was beginning to be aware of inequalities in the world around me. And as I became aware I also heard Jesus Christ was calling to me. I heard His cries against oppression and injustice. I heard His cries against a religious community that worked in conjunction with an oppressive military-based dictatorship to enslave their people.

Today, April 4, 2007, I look around and I see religious leaders who call for war when Christ calls for peace. Today I look around and I see religious leaders who exclude people when Christ called for everyone to come to Him. Today I look around and I see the divide between rich and poor growing bigger every day instead of shrinking.

On the Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple and spoke out against those who would corrupt the work of God for their own benefit. What would Jesus do today with the megachurches and pastors with million dollar incomes?

I look around and wonder if we have forgotten what Jesus taught us? I look around and wonder if the words that Dr. King spoke are now just words for the pages of history and not the call for action that there were and continue to be.

I began by asking “where were you on April 4, 1968?” It is not important that you answer that question. It is more important to ask “where are you on April 4, 2007?” Are you with Christ, calling for action against those who would seek to increase oppression and injustice? Or are you with those who in a few days will stand in Pilate’s courtyard and do the bidding of the powers that be that seek to maintain the status quo and call for the crucifixion of Christ?

You may not have been aware of what transpired in Memphis some thirty-nine years ago but you are aware of what is transpiring today. Are you going to let it happen again?

The Answer Is Not What You Think

We awoke here in America this morning, March 22, 2016, to the report of another terrorist attack in Europe; this time in Brussels, Belgium. And I will grieve with so many others because of the injuries and loss of life, I also could not help but think about what it is that we, as a society and inhabitants of this planet, must do to limit such seemingly senseless acts of violence.

I realize that these acts may seem senseless to each one of us but in the minds of those who carry out the acts, there is a reason for them. Even the simply act of killing those whom you do not like is a rationale for killing. But we have to begin asking why or we will never have a day of peace.

Now, for some, the only response to violence and terrorism is to respond in kind. But to do so only invites more violence. Violence begets violence and the only way anyone wins in that scenario is to be the last one standing. And what have you won then?

Now, I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. But I do believe that there are non-violent solutions to the problems of terrorism in this world today.

Perhaps the response needs to be more biblical or spiritual. My response will be a Christian response. I suspect that there are many Muslims who can and will offer a similar Islamic response.

Note – do not tell me that what occur today was any where related to Islam. Those who perpetrate such actions and justify their actions as an extension of Islam are no better those who perpetrate violence in the name of Christ and proclaim it is an extension of Christianity. I do not believe that God, in all His wisdom and with all His power, would ever say that one group of individuals truly represent Him and have the power to attack others in His Name. And if you response is that your god is better than my god (deliberate use of lower case), then you do not understand your god or my god.

Many are quick to quote the passage from Exodus (Exodus 21: 23 – 25) as the basis for revenge but it was never intended to be used in that manner. In truth, the writers of the Old Testament saw this a limit to punishment rather than revenge. And then Jesus came along and said,

You’ve also heard the saying, ‘Take an eye for an eye, take a tooth for a tooth.’ But I’m telling you, never respond with evil. Instead, if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the other one too. And if anybody wants to drag you into court and take away your shirt, let him have your undershirt. If somebody make you go a mile for him, go two miles. Give to him who asks of you, and don’t turn your back on anyone who wants a loan.

Another thing you’ve always heard is, ‘Love your own group and hate the hostile outsider.’ But I’m telling you, love the outsiders and pray for those who try to do you in, so that you might be sons of your spiritual Father. For he lets his sun rise on both sinners and saints, and he sends rain on both good people and bad. Listen here, if you love only those who love you, what’s your advantage? Don’t even scalawags do that much? And if you speak to no one but your friends, how are you any different? Don’t the non-Christians do as much? Now you, you all must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature. – Matthew 5: 38 – 48 as written in The Cotton Patch Gospel by Clarence Jordan

There is a message to these words from Christ, words that are not offered up. You need to know that what Jesus was suggesting was neither violent resistance or passive acceptance of oppression. Rather, He was advocating a third alternative, an assertive but non-violent form of protest.

And the key to understanding this is to pay attention to the social customs of Israel at that time and what how those who heard those words would have understood them. Notice that Jesus specified that the person had been struck on the right cheek. How does one strike another on the right cheek? You can only be struck on the right cheek if the other person uses their left hand or with a backhand blow from the right hand.

But one did not use the left hand to strike people (for a number of reasons) so it meant that you had to be backhanded with the right hand as a superior would treat an inferior. Striking someone with one’s fist was only done among equals. But when you turn the other cheek, you force your oppressor to either you to treat you as an equal.

Each of the other ‘commandments’ reinforce this same idea. Roman law at that time allowed Roman soldiers to force citizens to carry their weapons for one mile but no more than a mile. By carrying the load the extra mile, the soldier who commanded you could get in trouble or he would have to wrestle his gear from the subject.

In a world where all many people had was their coat and an inner garment (a cloak), the coat was their blanket at night. The law allowed the seizure of the coat for non-payment of debt but when Jesus said give them your cloak as well, it was a statement saying, ‘see what the system is doing to you.’ And in being naked, you shamed the person who was watching. (Adapted from the “True Meaning of Turn The Other Cheek” by Marcus Borg)

So Jesus response to oppression was not passivity or oppression; it was to put the oppressor on the defensive. And how do we do that today? Certainly, it is not by building walls or increasing security to the point where freedom becomes a distant memory.

It begins by taking away the source or cause of repression. It begins by asking why there are those who seek peace outside their own homelands and asking why we are not making a more concerted effort to establish peace in those lands.

It begins by making sure that every person has a true and equal opportunity in this world. The monies that we spend on armaments and war could be better spent building homes and schools and finding ways to insure that the hungry are fed, the sick are cured.

And maybe if we begin to see each other as equals, the same in God’s eyes, even when we do not believe the same, then things will change.

Our first inclination today was most certainly to strike back, to seek revenge. But that is and never has been the answer. The answer is to do not what you think you should do but rather what you are supposed to do, love each other as you have been loved.