Greetings from The Land of Kindness

I’m writing from the kind of thing pastors do — retreating and learning. I’m at the Interim Ministry Network Interim Training , part 2, a 5-day training, in a retreat center in Parrish, Florida. I’m surrounded by clergy, and there are 15 or so of us in our group. Interim ministry is not what I’m talking about, specifically, though.

What strikes me here is that I’m spending 5 days, being productive, keeping busy, but I’m not stressed. The President doesn’t run this place, and I don’t have to pay attention to him if I don’t want to. I check in, I listen daily to my news podcasts, but it doesn’t take more of my brain space than that. My colleagues are aware of politics and the outside world. But it doesn’t get to us.

Ministers aren’t perfect. Many of the people here have horrible childhoods, some have, or had, mental health issues. Ministry can, of course, be stressful. Any of these people could explode, given that, but they don’t. I have no fear here, there are no sudden loud noises here. There is no PC Police here, but people are ok with that. People don’t verbally abuse each other because it wouldn’t occur to them to do so. People are tender, people are intense, people do important work with their lives… and we like each other.

So why I am telling you this? It’s simply a reminder that we don’t have to be the way our society is. We don’t have to treat each other harshly, or argue, or fight over small things. We don’t have to pick on the gay men or the lesbians, the women or men, the rich or the poor, the saved and unsaved, those who baptize as children and those who only baptize adults.

This is my experience when Christians get together, almost anywhere. Whether it’s a Youth Camp or a Family church retreat, or this kind of thing, people who are intent on being kind can be kind. A Christian church, in theory, should be intent on being kind to each other.

So here’s the thing: Christianity workswhen we try to be Christian. It doesn’t matter what kind of denomination you belong to, at least here. Peace and quiet, kindness and caring, equality and respect are all options, no matter what the world out there says. Neither internal chaos nor external chaos of people inevitably leads to chaos for everyone.

Until recently, this is how life was for most of us, most of the time. We had norms, if not rules. The expectation was that we wanted to get along. The expectation was that we wanted to get things done for each other. The expectation was that no one Group was unequal or more important than the other.

By this, I don’t mean politeness or piety. The people here are like anyone. Most of us drink alcohol. Some of us play cards, some of us might even gamble, I suppose, though I haven’t seen it here. I assume most of us have sex on occasion, but the expectation is that we don’t sleep with each other’s spouses. No one here grabs the butt of someone else.

Of course I could be wrong, but I think most communities away from here have the same values. When we do this, life doesn’t hurt as much. The fact that life in this era does hurt this much means that something is wrong, not that this is normal.

So here we are, in the land of kindness. You can join us, or not, but if you don’t want to be kind, don’t come here. You’re not welcome. You can live in the same land, in your location, or you can kill each other, slowly or quickly. We have choices. Our leaders have choices. Me? I like it here.

Resisting with Peace,

John

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Guest Blogger: Rob Horne

[Editor’s note: Every now and then, someone writes/says something on Facebook that strikes me as so amazing, I want to give it a wider audience than it originally would normally have. Time has proven me right. Cathi Chapin-Bishop and Joe Roberts had a conversation about energy. That post continues to be seen frequently. Todd Farnsworth talked about guns. That piece was one of the most popular posts last year. Rob’ piece, printed here, is such a piece. Rob Horne is a long-time friend from my Deering years, though I haven’t actually seen him in years. The piece is unedited, printed just as it was written.]

We’re all dreamers. We can all love and be loved. We’re all refugees. We’re sick, we’re broken, we hurt and we grow. We’re all human. Or we aren’t. That’s really what’s underneath our path forward as a wealthy and powerful nation. We are either Humanists or Nationalists. The history of all humanity proves the two can not co-exist. One strives to preserve life for the lucky, the entitled; and the other strives to provide for all. When we only care for our own kind, we fall short of our highest potential as humans. It’s undeniable where God and Love and Charity and Welcoming the Stranger and Feeding the Hungry fall in this human struggle. We either see humanity as one sacred body, or we don’t. It’s that simple, and a matter of which you will choose. This Administration strives for the preservation of our way of life. Our prosperity, our health, our privilege and our safety. And it can be hard to argue against those things for your very self and family. However, when we fail to strive for the ideal that every human deserves these things, we fall short. Most of us don’t know true hunger, or what it’s like to live in fear of harm, day after day, year after year. To live with the oppression of brutal dictatorships, void of human rights, free speech and expression, prejudice, rape, murder and ethnic and moral cleansing. As Americans, our problems, (for the most part,) exist in safer realms. We are scratching the surface of the culture of rape and sexual harassment in our society, how much worse must it be in places where every woman’s voice is silenced by law, every man the legal and enforced power of the innocents around them, every child unseen and un-protected. These exist in America, and the pain and tragedy is real and present for many of us, but we are ahead of the world in the struggle, and must continue in the direction of protecting all of God’s creation. We either lead this struggle, or we face moral emptiness and stagnation. It starts with the moral backsliding this Administration brings under the familiar guise of rousing the fringes of Fundamentalism and fear, re-enforcing the non-humanity of the “Other,” the “Shithole.” I will always believe that given a pure and clean choice, the vast majority of Americans will choose to help their neighbor, to help the Other. I know my Conservative friends and family are people more generous, more giving and more loving than I could ever be. Yet we are missing the mark. I encourage us all to rewrite our American history this mid term election, and in 2020. I don’t think this debate even lives in the arms of Democrats and Republicans. It exists in a United States. Providing for our selves and our families and owning the Stewardship of humanity that comes with great wealth and privilege. I was born white, (and poor,) but I am comfortable. I am safe, I am employed, I can provide for my children. But living in this bubble of relative wealth without awareness of the plight of Humanity will be an empty life. The only reason most of us in America were not born into Shithole countries, or into situations where we were faced with the worst survival options, is that our ancestors came here. They came HERE. They came for jobs, to provide for their families. As we wiped the indigenous population off the face of the country, (led by Populist, de-humanizing Presidents and Administrations,) for the sake of progress, prosperity and the preservation of the White race. Shall we return to these roots? Or do we continue to evolve as humans? Moral Evolution is one of our greatest assets as people. It separates us from the rest of creation. We are created in God’s image, (I believe anyways;) an image that is a call to hope and challenge. Challenge to always do better, to soften where we are hard, to warm where we are cold. My prayer and hope is that we embrace this opportunity as a country. Our days of prosperity will always be numbered. A legacy of caring for others as we care for ourselves and our loved ones endures, it is the greatest manifestation of being gifted with human life.

My New Year’s Resolutions

Years ago, when I named this blog, I knew that what I thought was of no more importance than what anyone else thought.

It still is, and these are simply my opinions. I like to say them so that I can hear them somewhere in the world. The fact that other people seem to find them agreeable does my heart and spirit good. In that vein, I want to throw some opinions out there for New Years, to see what sticks.

I want to decrease the amount of meds I take for diabetes because I hate taking them, remembering to take them, paying to take them, and owing Big Pharma anything. The way to do that is to exercise 4 or 5 times a week, and eat healthier. Exercising and eating “good-for-me” foods are two of my least favorite things and two things I have the least time for. So one of those things will happen. I’m hoping I choose exercise.

I want my Spirit to remain lifted and continue to rise, so I want to work on making music. I want to learn to play piano, so that the note sounds ring in my head for all my other instruments. I’ve made progress in the past, and I want to make it again.

I want to spend more time with my family-of-origin, most of who live in the Springfield area, and my father and sister in Florida. I really like them all and I haven’t acted like it recently. That should change.

I want to spend quality time with my friends in Rochester. I want to have Bridgeport and Boston folks over to dinner. I want to see if my friend Craig Hames is still alive in L.A. I want to spend more time with my friend Al. In short, I have loved spending time with friends in 2017 and I want to do more of it.

In wider-world news, I want to be caring this year.

I want to be just this year.

I want to prevent the oppression of others in everything I do. If the trend continues in D.C., it’ll keep me very busy.

I want to interfere with people being jerks on every level.

I particularly want to aid in straightening out the legal system for my Black friends so that they are treated as equals, like the Constitution and Jesus say they already are.

I want to spend more time in prayer, so that all of the things above don’t make me disillusioned, depressed and burned-out.

I want to be more involved in the political/democratic process so that America returns to its more decent self.

In some sort of order, I want to work on homelessness, hunger, and systemic justice in 2018. Big groups I’ll support: WHYHunger and the NAACP.

I want to help crazy people and churches get healthy.

I want to spend loving time with my children, who won’t be children — or near me –much longer. I the long run, I want to have what the Ginyards have with their children.

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart…

Resisting with Peace,

John

Money And Morality: Some Thoughts

I think I look at money from a different place than economists. I don’t look at it as a philosophical construct. I look at as a choice, made by people about people and for people. I’m not smart enough/clever enough to understand the tricks that rich people know … and I don’t want to be. For instance, there’s a thing called “selling short” which is a way of making money by betting against a stock. The idea that you get to make money by wishing ill of someone else seems like a problem to me.

Also, the Dow has little or no relevance to the poor as far as I can tell. It seems to me that there is little connection between the Dow and real life. Whether the Dow has hit 30,000 or is at 10,000 depends on nothing real. I own stock but I couldn’t tell you what it is of. I don’t have much of it and very few of the people I remember from my childhood do, either. Neither do most of my clients. As far as I can tell, the news sounds something like this: “The stock market rose today based on the cost of peanut better and the fear of lightning”. The next day, “the stock market tanked because of a low ice cream count in the Napa Valley”. Mercury being in retrograde seems as causal as anything else I hear. I suspect it’s all a scam, frankly.

Ok, all that said, our problems started when some guy In California in the 1970s or 80’s decided he didn’t have to pay taxes to support kids’ schools because he didn’t have kids. People thought he was being cute or “making a stand” because he would say, like our forefathers, “No taxation without representation!”. And so, Proposition 13 was born. Prop 13 answered the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with a resounding “no”. It was the beginning of the end of our society, but we didn’t know it. From then on, greed had its day, and human beings no longer mattered as much. In the 40 years or so since then, income inequality has gotten worse because society believes that “you can have everything!”. As long as it’s a thing, you can buy it, if you have the money. The problem is that there is no limit to what you can want, how much money you can make, and people willing to sell it to you — provided you don’t mind taking from others. We don’t any more.

I laugh/ want to throw up when politicians or conservatives say “don’t start a class war”. We’re already in one. We’ve been in one for 40 years or so. How can I tell? There are broken spirits and dead bodies everywhere — on both sides. There have been studies which suggest that after a certain amount of money — it used to be $70,000 per year– there is no corresponding increase in happiness. If wealth doesn’t keep you alive or make you happy, what is the purpose of chasing it? There is none. Doing something with all of your time and energy that doesn’t make you happier seems to me to be bad for the soul. I’m not sure that society believes in souls anymore, so the idea of scarring them isn’t even taken into the equation.

Back in the 1980’s, Studs Terkel wrote a book called, ” The Great Divide” in which he said that Americans are working harder and harder for less and less, destroying families because both parents are working . These were the real consequences of our economy combined with our values back then. These days, both parents often have two jobs. When “family values” voters vote, if they don’t take this into account, they are missing the point. Financial stress — choosing between ramen, macaroni-and-cheese from a box, the electric bill and gas for the car — is a killer of families. If I was a good capitalist, I’d be happy about that. My private practice will never run out of clients. The problem is that I’m not a good capitalist. I want to be a good Christian.

Anyway, before Ronald Reagan was an American Saint, he was a divider of people, into deserving “haves” and undeserving “have nots”. I disagree with both things. God thinks everyone is deserving, I think. Also, there was no connection between who Reagan thought was deserving and those who “had not”, even then. The fascinating thing to my friends during the Reagan years was how angry/suicidal people seemed to be. When those who thought they were “deserving” punished the supposedly “undeserving”, they did so by taking away student loans from people… while forgetting that they themselves needed student loans! I remember as clear as day my friend Todd Farnsworth discussing this about people going to Tufts University. If being poor makes you undeserving, and you make yourself poor by your choices, you make yourself underserving. Frederick Buechner says that “anger is delicious, until you realize what you are eating is you”. This is proof that he was right.

The other nifty thing Reagan did — bound and determined that the 1960s would never happen again, was to connect student loans to military service. If you wanted to go to college, the government would make it possible — if you joined the military. If you were rich, you didn’t need student loans. If you were poor, of course, you did. More on this later.

During the Reagan years, The Big Lie took hold. The Big Lie — the ruling BS under which our economy now lives — is Trickle Down Economics. The idea here is that if you give the rich enough money, they will invest it in job creation, and making people’s lives better. Trickle Down economics hasn’t worked in 40+ years. The reason for this is that the first part of the proposition does not guarantee the second part. I’m not sure if Trickle Down was always a lie, but it’s really a lie now, now that the social contract is broken.

In the old days, the concept of “Noblese Oblige” applied. The idea there is that the rich — in response to the blessing of being rich– were supposed to give back to the rest of society. Few, if any, believe this anymore. Young neo-cons, all full of themselves and “national pride” do not believe this. For all the talk about being a Christian Nation, they practice Civil Religion. Reagan is god, Trickle Down is the faith, and Self-enrichment is the only goal.

While I’m on the subject of Reagan, though, let me say that his busting of unions (specifically the Air Traffic Controllers Union) made me happy at the time. Unions are a strange beast in my experience. Unions can be greedy as well. (As I write this, I picture shooting me or themselves in the head, being so upset). It’s not my intent to bash unions. In the present world, places without unions leave their workers at the mercy of their employers, and often that is untenable That said, unions are the cause of a lot of problems as well. Unions have made it so that average people can’t afford the theater , or baseball or football. My experience in life is paradoxical with unions. Places without unions need them, places with unions don’t. I’m not sure what to do with that, except to say that any organization made of people can get greedy, or dishonest. Any organization made of people can be honest, supportive of others, and not greedy. When people choose the first option, they hurt us all.

This all worked for Reagan, but began to appear as too mean to sustain for George Bush the 1st, with his “compassionate conservatism”. Still, we did go to war in the gulf. Meanwhile, un-compassionate conservatism had taken hold in the business world. Living in Connecticut at the Connecticut, I witnessed the gutting of an entire economy by a few people. Hartford, known as the “Insurance Capital of The World” decided it was time to thin out. Here was the process: a company would hire a person to come in and “re-organize”. That person would fire the non-essential or less productive workers by the droves, as a “cost-cutting measure”. The company would then turn around and pay the man $40 million or so. Again, acknowledging my lack of economic knowledge, but still being able to add and subtract, wouldn’t it have been easier to pay all of those employees with that $40 million and let them keep their jobs? The result of all of this? Thousands of people had no money to put into the economy. One guy made more money than any person should. Those still working got more efficient by another half. People complained American workers weren’t working hard enough to compete.

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton was President and did the Rich People’s will, while trying to slow down what the Reaganites has wrought. I don’t know what others thought was happening, but Welfare-To-Work was morally right, sort of. People getting out of their houses or apartments and going to work allows them pride, dignity, an identity, and better health. Of course, though, it gave poor people forced choices while giving the rich more freedom. A welfare mother whose child was struggling with addiction was set up for failure because she couldn’t do the work, her wages weren’t enough to pay for childcare. Schools were less funded, DCF was overwhelmed. She went back to work at minimum wage and her family collapsed. This scenario was repeated ad nauseum.

Then there was NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, a brilliant idea by Mr. Clinton in the name of Free Trade. From a global standpoint, it probably raised salaries elsewhere, but on average, it lowered wages here in manufacturing. Because nobody I knew understood it, or why we needed it, it seemed to come out of nowhere, and it made it possible for folks here to reasonably say “Our jobs are leaving the country”.

I have to give Mr. Clinton credit though. When he left office, there was a surplus in the national budget. We could have done something with that, we could pay for some of the things we had stopped paying for — Fire, police. Food programs, and so on. Did we? No. Of course not. We cut back on taxes, rather than spend the money on things that connected us. The rich got their money back. Society as a whole got nothing.

An odd thing had happened though. More people had gotten rich, so more people believed The Lie, thinking that growth goes on forever. There were new scams to be had — the internet, banking, and housing. The idea there was that if you had money and invested it, you could make tons of money, doing nothing just like those rich people had been doing for all those years! You could be one of them! Never mind that beyond a certain point, you don’t need more more money. Never mind that greed doesn’t lead to security. Never mind that people weren’t doing any work — that was for losers who didn’t understand how to do it. Did the internet “bubble” burst? Yup. Why? Because it was based on a lie. Later, banking and housing did the same thing for the same reason.

Regarding housing and banking. People believed that it was legitimate to “flip” houses. Buy a house, put some small work into it, sell it for 10s of 1000s more than you bought it. He bank makes lots of money for doing little work, and the “flipper” does the same. The problem is that the $100, 000 house plus the, say, $1,000 put into the house doesn’t make the house worth $125,000.. There is no “there” there. It’s a lie to say it is.

Economists were convinced, though, that the economy was stable, gave money back to the rich and George Bush the 2nd came in. He would have given more tax breaks if he could, but he didn’t have time. On September 11, 2001, we found another way to spend money and make the rich richer. We had a war. Now, we suffered greatly on that September day, don’t get me wrong. But we had choices on how to respond and we chose poorly. For a little bit, we understood that, but George the 2nd wanted to make up for his father’s poorly received war against Saddam Hussein, so we did that instead of, say, finding who did it, and tracking them down in the country they were in, and bringing those people to justice. To pull this nifty trick off, people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (and perhaps Bush himself) told a lie that they knew was a lie! They said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, implied that Al Queda worked with him, and went off to fight him, instead of them. To make things worse, they sent a good man — Colin Powell– to tell the lie to the UN. When called on their lie by an actual inspector, Joe Wilson, they broke the rules and outed his wife as a spy, calling her and him “unpatriotic”. Now, the government lied and people were called unpatriotic if they didn’t agree. Another nail went into America’s coffin.

So, off we went to war, and Dick Cheney’s company made truckloads of money. Rumsfeld made truckloads of money and didn’t care that people died. Erik Prince , who owned a company of mercenaries, also made truckloads of money. Those who hadn’t jumped to being rich yet — especially those with darker-than-pink skin — fought, died, or came back mangled in spirit — for a lie. The rich got richer. The poor got dead. Fewer super-rich and more super-Poor ensued.

One other group got richer: liars. Fox News made more money stoking fear and conspiracy and “Americanism” than anyone could have imagined. The bigger the lie, the more money they made. Who outed Valerie Plame? Fox News. Who was America’s “Poppa”? Bill O’Reilly. What did America look like? Blonde women with no skin flaws and witty comebacks for all those truth-tellers elsewhere.

So, we fought a war based on lies –that most of us knew were lies! — against non-Al Queda people and spent ten years or so doing it. The simplest way to feed The Big Lie did what it was meant to do: it killed the poor and left the rich even richer. Now, however, there were fewer rich people. The housing market and the banking system that undergirded it crashed.

I — of no economic intelligence at all — knew there was something wrong when a company (East-West Mortgage) on the radio was offering “interest only” mortgages. In other words, you only paid the interest on your mortgage, never the principle. We call that renting where I’m from, but hey, you could still get a mortgage and have part of the American Dream, right?

America at this time is depressed — emotionally far more than economically, and that was really bad — because, as a country, we had wasted lives and livelihoods servicing The Big Lie… if we only worked harder, and were more productive, Trickle Down would work. It didn’t, because it was a lie, and we had become more immoral trying to believe it. We had been betrayed and we betrayed ourselves.

Now, with the economy in tatters, house prices dropping faster than a stone from a high-rise, the long-homeless began to get some compassion and food pantries started receiving donations, because, now everybody could be homeless and hungry. Economically, it was horrible. Societally, though, it might have been a good thing. With no money to chase, we started looking at each other. We began to have pride in all of us, and Obama was elected. Ta-Da! The pinnacle of society had come at the worst time economically.

Here’s where I fault Obama: I would have let the market crash. I would have let the banks fail. I would have let most of America feel the pain, so we could pay attention to each other. Instead, the rich won again. Obama bailed out the banks, to keep America open for business, essentially. Did the bank CEOs feel any pain from the scams they had pulled? No. In fact, some got bonuses for being cheats to most of America. The poor got poorer and the super-rich got super-richer. And the middle class? What middle class? The only thing left of the middle class was the image of the middle class.

Who fights for that image? The poor who hope to become that middle class. The problem is that all the money’s gone.

Which brings us to Trump and us today. If we start with these premises, we can understand all of our present situation

1) We no longer have to care about each other economically. We no longer have that social contract.

2) We are told we can have it all. If you don’t have it all, it’s your fault.

3) We are supposed to believe in Trickle Down Economics to make it so.

4) It’s supposed to be unpatriotic to doubt that.

5) The goal of life is to make money. Money = worth.

6) Lying is a legitimate way to make money.

7) The rich never should feel pain.

8) The Poor can feel pain, and probably should.

9) The reason that we have problems is because other people, not Americans, took our jobs and our money.

Mr. Trump either believes all of those things or wants us to believe them. The Republican Tax bill which was recently passed supports all of those premises. Sadly, the Republicans believe they have won, because they have proven their points. In fact, it will be the (at least temporary ) death of America as we dream it can be because their points aren’t just.

I personally believe that, because none of the above are moral premises, or are even true, the market will collapse. Lies cannot sustain reality. Injustice for the majority of people cannot stand, it just can’t. Frustration with doing more and getting less will become too much.

On the other hand, in case people are curious, there are some truths that America needs to come to terms with. They are:

1) People have inherent worth.

2) We are our brothers and sisters’ keeper.

3) Real safety in our neighborhoods come from knowing each other, and being able to raise and educate children. Parents at work can’t do that.

3 People’s worth has nothing to do with their money unless their money equates to work or making the world better. Even then, there is a limit to their worth.

4) Trickle Down Economics only works if the money that the rich make is put back into society. It’s better, and more efficient, to have the rich and poor get paid at the same time, rather than having a two-step process.

5) You can’t have it all, and you probably shouldn’t want it either.

6) There’s a difference between “need” and “want”. When everybody gets what they need, then people can have wants.

7) There are limits to growth. There are limits to time. There are limits to people’s energy. We have to make choices — hard ones, sometimes.

8) When your body tells you that you’re tired, and someone else says you can’t be or shouldn’t be, your body is right.

9) We make choices. We can build a society that values people or not, but we’re the ones that make those choices, and we’ll be the ones that suffer the consequences.

10) We should believe ourselves, not what we’re told to

11) Rich people have no more inherent worth than poor ones. It should not be criminal to be poor. It should be a place for compassion.

12) Ultimately, it boils down to this: People are worth more than things, including money. Money is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. People have choices. It’s our society.

Is It Too Much To Ask…

In one of my favorite movies ever, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Jimmy Stewart (George Bailey) says to Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter)

“Just a minute… just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

Today, it seems Mr. Potter is alive and well and living everywhere in society. Today, I met a woman who — though she’s disabled, she can’t get disability. Though she can’t work, she can’t get social security, though she was left a house, she now pays an exorbitant amount to rent it, and the list goes on.

Why? Because the state she lives in has a law that said she had to prove she was disabled for longer than she has. Because that same state has a law that distinguishes between physical and emotional disability, though there are supposed to be parity laws. Because the people who bought her house are, in my mind, greedy. Because she has no, or can’t afford, health insurance. Society has failed this woman, though her faith community is trying to help, they can’t do it forever. Is it too much to ask that she get what she needs? Apparently, yes.

It has been illegal to be poor since the Reagan years, when he stated “some people want to be homeless”. While that may actually be true for some individuals who are homeless, no one but the mentally ill want to stay in the freezing cold. Mental health coverage, despite some progress, is laughable. Lots of people can’t be seen if they have Medicaid, or if they have a high deductible, or high co-pays, and (by definition) their judgement is impaired. AND THIS IS BEFORE TRUMP.

Elsewhere, people can’t afford housing, people can’t afford a lawyer if their rights are removed, and if a person actually does make a bad choice, they’re in the system for life, where the government and society blames them for needing help, and justifies it with the sentence, “there’s only so much money to go around”. While that is possibly true, I tend to doubt it, and — of course. — we’ll never find out.

“And he’s telling us all about the deal he’d give us if he could , but he just can’t” — Bruce Springsteen, in the song “Used Cars”….

If you listen to the Russia Scandal, you hear numbers being bandied about in the billions regarding money laundering. The new Republican tax plan, which was supposed to help the middle class, will increase the debt by a trillion dollars. For years and years, we have been told that, if we want money for education, or fire departments, or police stations, we must fix the debt. Now, suddenly, we don’t? Can someone explain how this works?! For years, it was a running joke that we have wanted “the military to have bake sales while teachers and schools have what they need”. Over the last 40 years, the gap between them has only gotten worse. It’s not about resources, ( and I dare say, it’s never been about resources) it’s about priorities . While your average person will spend years paying for their cars, the rich want a tax break on their private jets. The list of indignities here is too large to list here (or, frankly, anywhere).

The final straw for me was Sen. Chuck Grassley saying, last week, that the new tax plan makes sense because it differentiates between “those who invest their money, vs, those who spend it on “women, booze, or movies”. Is it really too much to ask that people have housing, food, and clothes, medicines, health care and some fun every once in awhile? Is it too much to ask that most people work one job and make enough money to have a life? Really, is it?

Resisting with Peace,

John

God’s Math: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Sermon given at the ecumenical Thanksgiving Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Pine Meadow, CT 11/21/2017  “God’s Math”

It’s funny how things stick with us.  When I lived in Rochester, NY may years ago, my roommate was about 6’5” and not particularly heavy. He, however, always thought of himself as “fat”, because apparently he’d lost a lot of weight at some point. He would say, “once a fat boy, inside, always a fat boy”.

As someone who grew up as “the nerd” at my school, I have always felt that Christianity was the place for weird people. Not “bad”, mind you, but weird, as in “unique”, “sticking out”, “different”. If you think about it, we believe some pretty weird things. If we just look at our texts this evening, you’ll see what I mean.

Starting right off, we believe that one Being – God created everything we see. We can argue about the seven days thing or not, but the “fact” of our faith is that we believe that God created all of this. We believe that a God we can’t see made everything we can see. We believe that God made us.  We believe that there are consequences for a nation that doesn’t do either of those things – believe in God or follow God’s way as told in the commands and commandments. Then we believe that consequences are only to bring us back to our rightful place, not to utterly destroy us. Coming in December, we’ll be asked to believe in a virgin giving birth, and a star that kings followed. After that, we’ll be asked to believe that God came here, healed us, taught us how to be, was killed for it, and then rose again. How many of you have literally seen God? How many of you have seen an actual miracle – like healing people’s leprosy with just a word. And – at the very crux of our faith — how many of you have seen a resurrection from the dead? And yet, that’s what we believe– we and our ancestors for between 2,000 years for Christians and 4,000 years for Jews.  See what I mean?

And yet society tells us a different story. It tells us we should believe in what we see, and what we know, and what we can prove. Society tells us to believe in ourselves as the maker of all things, as the ruler of all things, as the owner of all that is around us, including each other if we have enough money or fame or power. And boy, does this society love money and fame. In fact, right now, the world teaches us that you can never have enough of them! Which brings us back to weird.

We live in this society, but we believe Christian things. We value different things. Sadly, this Thanksgiving, as the new Boston Declaration points out, we in this room, are probably weird (in the best kind of way) to other Christians living in this country. Real Christians are now weirder that weird. If you can remember math and picture a Bell Curve, you would see that Real Christians are two standard deviations off of the norm according to society, in this day and age.

But God’s math is different than ours. God’s version of the Bell Curve puts Christians in the center of what’s valuable. It sees the rich, the famous, and the powerful on the far outskirts of what should be the norm.  God could care less if you have money, or power, or fame. God is not impressed with your fur coat or how good you are at avoiding taxes in offshore accounts. God is not impressed by buildings or monuments with your name on them, or how many medals you have won. God is not impressed with all of the trappings of this life.

God is impressed by care. In God’s math, if you have two coats and you give one of them away, you are richer than you were before. In God’s Algebra, you and you and you are equal. What ever you do to one side of the equation, you do to the other.  If you give kindness to people, there is more kindness in the world, not less. If you give hope to another person, there’s more hope in the world than there was when you started.

Last year, around this time, my friend Rick and I went to see The Chapin Family Reunion as a benefit for WhyHunger , an organization that helps to feed people in sustainable ways, and The Harry Chapin Foundation which supports the arts on Long Island among other things. In short, the organizations support caring and awe in the world. It was one of the best nights of my life, not because of the flash of the performers, or the fame of the people on stage, or the volume of the music – 100 watts of POWER! It was a night of kindness. People in the parking lot were polite parkers, people in the audience brought cans of food, people on the stage sang about hope, love, joy, and treasuring people. They even sang a song about a man who had been put down by the media, and they let the man himself sing it, restoring a part of his soul in the process. When Rick and I left, we felt loved, because we had loved others. The kindness filled every fiber in our being and we remembered that we had power to change the world by healing it.  We were fed by feeding others. That is how God’s math works. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi,

When we give thanks to God by giving to others, we affect the world in ways unseen, but always felt. When we act in loving ways, we don’t get tired, we gain energy. When we are awed by the beauty of nature, and seek to protect it rather than own it, many more people can experience awe. When we see each and every person around us as worthy in God’s sight, we realize our worth to God as well, and the world changes some more. Think about the people you actually know in your life who are the kind of Christian I am describing. Are they famous? Are they powerful? Are they stingy? Do you care about their money? No. Are they important to their community? Yes. So very much.

And there are more logical “jumps” in God’s math. When everyone has enough to eat, there is the chance for peace in the world. When the lonely are remembered, there is less cynicism about the old or the younger generation and more faith. When we think of others, our belief in ourselves rises.  This is the way it has always been.  This Thanksgiving, as the world gets weirder and weirder and makes the world a less thankful place, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to get weirder to it. Share with each other and receive more than coupons. Feed others and sleep better at night, because the world is that much more peaceful.  Love people that other people despise and see them become people you want to be with. Spend time with the lonely this Thanksgiving and see a smile break out over a board game – remember those?

One final thing: If you do it without making a fuss or seeking fame, in God’s math, you’ll become known and loved among people here on earth (and the angels in heaven, if you believe in that kind of thing).

God set up the universe to run one way. Society sets it up another way. Any day now, we’ll stop trying to fight God’s way of love, mercy, and kindness. In the meantime, let’s just be weird. Amen.

Ban Assault Weapons 

I have wondered what to say about the violent murder of church folk in Texas, and the violent murder of people in Las Vegas, and the violent murder of whoever was before that, and before that, and before that, 

Today, as I heard the story of all of the Christians who are “keeping the faith”, it finally hit me. There are people who will lose their faith in God due to the tragedy. There have been, and will continue to be, people who wonder where God was in all of this death — whether it took place in a church or not. They shouldn’t have to. 

From my own perspective, free will and the belief that human beings are empowered by the Spirit to make a difference in their own lives, to stand up for themselves, are God’s work in this tragedy. 

That said, and the freedom that comes from it, what should we do? I could write a complicated article about domestic violence, trauma, mental health resources, the NRA, and weighing those against the 2nd Amendment. … 

Few things anger me more than politicians using vague theology to justify their support for a economic lobbying group (the NRA)… God shouldn’t be used to sell death, so…

Bullshit! Enough. Enough already! It’s not all that complicated! It’s just not. Evil exists, violence exists, weapons exist. The ingredients have been there since cavemen threw rocks at each other. We cannot stop all violence or killing, though we are called to try.

What we can do is limit the damage that the combination of human nature and weapons do. If people want to hunt, or defend themselves, or even have a revolution against the government (how I read the 2nd Amendment), let them do it. Let them do it one bullet at a time. The likelihood that we’ll need violent overthrow of the government should be incredibly small. Everything else only needs one bullet at a time. 

Assault weapons are weapons of war. If we don’t want to have wars on our streets, they shouldn’t be allowed. If people want to get violent against the government and traditional, let me remind them that the early patriots became free without assault weapons. Furthermore, guns that can impersonate assault weapons with an added piece shouldn’t be sold either. 

I’m a pacifist (though not a vegetarian), so I wouldn’t own any weapon. For those who want compromise, this is my compromise. I’m done arguing with killers and those who enable them. 

Resisting with Peace,

John