How Are We Doing?

I’ve had a couple of friends ask me how I’m doing. I’ve also had a couple of friends feel they have the right to tell me how I should be feeling (you can imagine how well that went). A few more tell me how wrong I am about my view of the election. I’ve had a couple of people block me and I’ve blocked a couple myself. The results of this election are the end result of a dark eighteen months for this country. Conservatives have let the worst of their ranks rise up and control the conversation. They’ve succumbed to real and imagined threats against their treasured way of life. Liberals have lost the ability to communicate with the people on the streets and have spent a lot of time and energy lecturing instead of listening. Had we been able to get out into the red states and hear how people felt, the results would have been different.

We’ve had a lot of protests against the results of the election. Some peaceful, some not. Conservatives are crying “sore loser” and claiming that they didn’t protest when Obama was elected. What short memories they have. Tea party, anyone? Liberals are pointing fingers and posting memes about how they think less of people who voted for the Cheeto in Chief*. I am tempted to agree with that, but I don’t think it will forward the dialogue. We need to listen to why they thought things were so bad that they voted for someone with such blatant disregard for our civil liberties.

On a personal level, I am ready to get to work. The last 8 years have allowed those of us on the left to become a bit lazy because the government was on our side. Now we need to wake up and let our grief fuel action. Not against people, but against harmful ideologies of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, isolationism, nationalism, and islamophobia. But we can’t do it by posting smug things on Facebook. We have to get out from behind the computer and volunteer. We have to contribute to causes and politicians that support the mission to help make America stronger by making America kinder. I am personally going to volunteer with the International Rescue Committee because I believe refugees are in danger under this administration and I want to stand with them.

Making peace and beings silent are not the same thing. What is coming out of the mouth hole of the Microwaved Circus Peanut* is fascism, pure and simple. He is trying to quash dissent, isolate the US from the rest of the world and rule without accountability. He’s already violating many ethical standards by having his children join him at meetings with world leaders, setting up political alliances that will benefit his businesses and ditching the press so there is no visibility to his action. He’s also only appointed white nationalists, anti-immigrant, anti-gay people to his top leadership positions. I will not be quiet and wait and see what kind of President this is. I already know. He’s made it perfectly clear. I will resist this with every fiber of my being.

The trick is going to be making peace and also speaking up. That’s not going to be easy, but that’s my goal. I’m going to fight against this Tiny-Handed Man Toddler* and try to love the people who support him. Yeah, I know. But it’s a good spiritual practice for me. This is what it means to be the church. We have told the world we believe we can live in a different way. Let’s try it and see what happens.

*before you call me out on calling names, I have a few things to say: 1) I respect the office, if not the person. And he’s not in office yet. 2) I’m still processing. Give me a minute. 3) I won’t give him any power by using his name.

Walk in the Way of Love

Geez, lectionary! I get it! I’m not saying the lectionary is centered around US politics per se, but it really seems the Holy Spirit was colluding with someone when they mapped out Year C. Today’s epistle reading was from the ever-challenging Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4:25-5:2New International Version (NIV)

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands,that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example,therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

This is one of those passages that’s easy to use as a weapon but really tough to own. Yeah, the Dumpster Fire has run a campaign entirely based on lies. But my job is to shine a light on that in a way that builds people up. That’s harder than I can imagine and I am not sure how to do that. I can be angry, but not sin. I need to get rid of bitterness and rage. I need to be kind and compassionate. I need to forgive. I need to walk in the way of love.

See, the Day is Coming

Boy, the lectionary was on point today, no? I have felt so disheartened since the election. Kind of numb and raw at the same time. I feel like I am all the stages of grief all at once, except maybe acceptance. Already the rhetoric of the campaign and the “winner” have brought out the worst of our society and there have been hundreds of attacks on people based on race, religion and ethnicity. I am skimming headlines but avoiding getting into the weeds on this stuff because I am trying to process my own emotions and not get whipped up into a frenzy every time I talk about this.

Today’s lectionary readings brought me back to where I need to be, even while I’m still dealing with the implications of all this.

Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Let me get this out of the way: No, I don’t believe this was written to or about America. This passage was a perfect reminder to me that God is all about creating new things in the middle of crappy situations. There are a few things I get from this:

  1. We’re supposed to rejoice in God’s act of creating, even though we’re not at the end result.
  2. God is all about economic equality. The fact that in God’s ideal, people are living in houses they built and eating food that they’ve grown says to me that the current state of polarized economic realities is not God’s ideal.
  3. It is possible for people who seem to be enemies to come together. That’s what we’re going to have to do in this country. But, as this scripture says, the only way for that to happen is for God to change the nature of the predators.

Malachi 4:1-2a
4:1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

4:2a But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

This one is self-explanatory, I think 😉

I have to cling hopefully to “see, the day is coming.” Because I can’t see right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know who God is. The world has changed. It’s less safe. But we were never promised a safe, comfortable world. Our character will be revealed in how we handle this and how we care for those who will now be oppressed under this administration. God’s doing a new thing and I want to be part of it. Let’s get to work.

 

Minimum Wage, Income Inequality and Modern Contempt for the Poor

Yesterday the Fortune 500 list for 2014 was released. Not surprisingly, Walmart topped the list as the company with the most revenue. Also not a shock, when the list is rearranged to reflect the best places to work, Walmart doesn’t even crack the top 100. They refuse to pay their employees a living wage or benefits. Local stores have held food drives for their own employees.

Most of the companies who refuse to pay a living wage claim that the reason they aren’t able to do so is that it would kill jobs and that it’s already too expensive to do business in the US because of all the taxes. However, most of these companies don’t pay any income tax and have billions (BILLIONS) of dollars in off-shore accounts because of tax loopholes. But they’re the job creators. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to call them. They get to hold our economy at ransom while their year-on-year profits increase exponentially. Many of their employees are on some sort of assistance because of their low wages, so these companies might actually see fewer taxes if they paid higher wages because their employees could afford basic needs.

The truth is that corporations don’t create jobs. Consumers create jobs. These companies are keeping their employees poor and preventing them from being consumers and therefore not jobs are created.

In addition to refusing to pay a living wage to their workers, these corporations add insult to injury by assisting in creating a negative image of the people who are working in these low-wage jobs. In addition, the right has created a handy little rhyme to describe the people who ask, “Do you want fries with that” and those who literally live under the Golden Arches: Takers and Makers. Cute, right? The people in low-wage jobs who are also in need of government assistance are the Takers, suckling the teat of big government, living the good life on our dime. We’re working hard at making a living while these parasites sit back, relax and chow down on government cheese. Meanwhile the poor Makers just want to create jobs. That’s all they want to do. But those darned Takers. They won’t stop taking!

This is just recycled Reaganomics. Trickle down does now work. You know why? Makers are greedy. They make 266 times their average worker. Sounds less like trickling and more like hoarding. Money is too strong a pull. Greed is at the heart of this economic inequality. In addition to overall inequality, we have the issue of women making less than men by about 20-30%, depending on where you are. This is a problem of inherent sexism in our systems and structures because the system assumes the presence of a male breadwinner, and for whatever reason, that’s only the case in a little less than half of households. Not only is this an economic issue in the present, it’s an economic issue in the future, as Social Security income is based on your pay during your working years. We’re dooming generations of women to poverty in their later years.

Conservative and Progressive politicians alike perpetuate this issue because wherever the money comes from, they’re all paid well to make sure that someone with a lot of money gets their way. Right now, John Roberts and the Supremes are in somebody’s pocket because they recently overturned the cap on campaign donations that only affected 68 donors. SIXTY-EIGHT. Money is speech and those 68 folks are drowning out the average citizens, making our elections essentially bough and paid for by the richest among us. And NONE of the politicians would ever DREAM of ending corporate welfare subsidies. That’s the biggest injustice here. See the picture below. It will piss you off.

My biggest concern is how this perspective has permeated the church. I see fellow Christians posting about the laziness of poor people on social media sites. They might donate to an international cause, or sponsor a child in Africa, but they blame the poor in our country for their station. Wealthy people want to help the poor in theory, but they don’t actually want to get any poor people on them. They’ll write a check, but they don’t actually want to know any of them. Disdain for the poor was one of the primary reasons God sent God’s own people into captivity. Look it up. We’re stepping into dangerous territory when we choose to look at the poor, for whom God had great compassion, with contempt.

Photo from Democratic Underground.

In March, Georgia voters passed a law that required people applying for food stamps to be tested for drugs. This week the USDA told them, ummm…that’s illegal, you can’t do that. Florida tried to do something similar in 2011 but their law required drug testing for people applying for welfare, not food stamps. The idea was that they’d weed out all those “takers” who might be on drugs away from the welfare system. Wanna know what happened? Apparently, the cost for this new drug testing requirement cost taxpayers more than it saved and did nothing to curb the number of people who applied for welfare. Only 108 of the 4,066 people who were tested came up positive. The state ended up with a net loss of $45,780.

PS – my favorite thing about Florida situation was that shortly after the law passed one of the state representatives who was its biggest champions was arrested for cocaine possession. Perhaps Florida should start drug testing their lawmakers?

Georgia’s law is trying to take food out of people’s mouths in case they’re on drugs. Who is on food stamps that this might affect? It seems that 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits. So Georgia is fine with taking food out of the mouths of children, the elderly and the disabled if the person applying for the benefit is on drugs. Which, most likely they are not because THEY CAN’T AFFORD THEM.

Both of these situations show a contempt for the poor that I find unbelievable. The pathological need for conservatives to criminalize poverty is horrifying. As Christians we should be appalled at this and be doing something about it.

In Case of Discrimination, Kick out the Gays

This conversation between Anderson Cooper and Arizona legislator Al Melvin is worth a watch. It’s 10 minutes long, so grab a cup of tea and a biscuit and settle in. Again – totally worth it.

The point is made over and over by Melvin that the issue is about a religious liberty bill and it’s not about discrimination at all. Discrimination is wrong. It’s bad. In fact, according to Melvin, no one in Arizona does it. That’s a relief. I was afraid I’d moved to Bigot Town. Never mind that federal and state law doesn’t include sexual orientation in its listing of protected classes and so it’s ALREADY legal in most places in AZ (except Phoenix and some other towns who have passed ordinances preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation) to deny services, hire or fire based on sexual orientation. But, since this law isn’t about discrimination, I guess it doesn’t apply.

I’m sure this was on Anderson’s list of questions but he just didn’t get to it. I’d love to ask Mr. Melvin if he thinks it’s ok for a Jewish or Muslim business owner to refuse service to someone based on their religious liberty. Back it up, Jack. There’s where we’d have a problem. Mr. Melvin claims this bill is about religious liberty but really it’s about him and people who share HIS religious beliefs to be able to legally discriminate against people who do not share their beliefs, specifically discriminate against one sector of the population who they assume disagrees with them. This isn’t about religious liberty but about being able to legally protect conservative Christians so they can try to gain back some of the power they think they’ve lost.

Another point that Cooper got Melvin to own is that there has not yet been an issue of religious liberty being infringed upon. This is preemptive legislation. You know, just to get a jump on all the gays that want to have lunch.

Finally, Mr. Melvin is running for governor of AZ. I’m thrilled that he made himself look so stupid on national television. I know that his refusal to say that firing someone just because they’re gay is discrimination will come back to bite him at the ballot box.

Strange Bedfellows – You’ll get that joke in a minute

Recently there have been a rash of state laws that are attempting to guarantee “religious liberty” to business owners who want legal protection when they want to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Apparently, making a cake for a gay wedding means you are automatically invited to be in the wedding party, obligated to buy an expensive gift, and be first in the receiving line. I’m curious if the makers of these wedding cakes give their customers some sort of questionnaire regarding their lifestyle in case they are living together before marriage or involved in a poly-amorous relationship so they know not to make cakes for them either. I’m assuming this questionnaire includes questions about whether any potential cake-eaters gossip, lie, are disobedient to their parents, or cheat on taxes. Those people don’t get cake either.

These 21st century Jim Crow laws have brought out a lot of protesters from all sides and I’ve actually found articles that make me agree with Fox News contributors and Andy Stanley, of all people. The end, dear readers, is very near.

Kirsten Powers, the aforementioned Fox News person, wrote:
“It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.”

Couldn’t agree more. With a Fox News contributor. I’m already freaked out about my next birthday and my job and what I’m going to be when I grow up, ministry-wise, but now, I’m agreeing with someone from Fox News. It’s a sign of the apocalypse.

Then we have Andy Stanley. He said: “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”

Seriously. An evangelical making sense? Again – the end. Near. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There are also people who are using platforms to say that their religious liberty is being threatened. There are lots of pastors, mostly evangelicals, who believe their religious liberty is being threatened. It’s totally not. No one is going to take away their churches, make them say things in sermons or make them marry gays. They can still do/say/preach whatever they want without being persecuted by the government. Evangelicals cry religious persecution when they’re asked to treat people of all faiths fairly and when they are no longer in power. White male evangelicals are the worst about this. It’s highly disrespectful to the Christians who are actually being persecuted around the world.

I’m not exactly sure what these state legislators in KS or AZ are thinking they’re going to accomplish by bringing back pre-Civil Rights era legislation and allowing businesses to target the gay community. They will hurt the economies they’re trying to protect. They will limit tourism, commerce and incomes. They are pandering to the far right of their bases and will ultimately lose the middle and somehow, in a mid-term election year, thing that’s a good idea. The mind boggles on so many levels. The KS law has been abandoned but the AZ law is still in play. There’s a protest on Monday that I’m going to try to make, and I hope that our dumbass governor keeps her law-signing pen sheathed.

Update: Our two Republican Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake have asked Gov. Brewer to veto this bill. As have Mitt Romney and a group of 3 of the state legislators who originally backed the bill. It’s a world gone mad.

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 4

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Values.

As a person who falls slightly to the left of center on the political spectrum, I’ve struggled for years to reconcile my view of the role of government vs. the role of the church. Politically, I believe that there needs to be cooperation between the private and public sectors. I do not believe government is the enemy nor do I believe that it has all the answers. It functions as a fairly efficient delivery system in some areas (Medicare) and not so much in others (DMV).

However, I have this pesky Bible thing over here on the side that speaks very clearly about the role of the church in taking care of the poor. We need to be doing WAY more in this regard and for a long time I’ve thought that in some way, the government taking over that role has been something of an economic equivalent of the “rocks cry out” thing, and the reason that it’s not going all that well is that the wrong people are doing it. I was right on one count. The wrong people are doing it, but it’s more that just church or government.

There is a third entity that I have not given enough weight to in years past but as I began to think more about traditional values and their perceived decline, it occurred to me that there is one major cause for the behaviors associated with the demise of these values and that is economic injustice. Please don’t think I’m saying that all poor people commit crimes and if we would just give them money they would stop. It’s not that simple.

It turns out that God cares a lot about how we operate our businesses. I did a search for businesses and employers and turns out there are some things we need to look at again. Here are a few examples:

Deuteronomy 25:13-16
“Don’t carry around with you two weights, one heavy and the other light, and don’t keep two measures at hand, one large and the other small. Use only one weight, a true and honest weight, and one measure, a true and honest measure, so that you will live a long time on the land that God, your God, is giving you. Dishonest weights and measures are an abomination to God, your God—all this corruption in business deals!”

Proverbs 11:1-3
11 God hates cheating in the marketplace;
he loves it when business is aboveboard.

2 The stuck-up fall flat on their faces,
but down-to-earth people stand firm.

3 The integrity of the honest keeps them on track;
the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin.

Proverbs 16:10-12
10 A good leader motivates,
doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.

11 God cares about honesty in the workplace;
your business is his business.

12 Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds;
sound leadership has a moral foundation

Ezekial 28
You had everything going for you.
You were in Eden, God’s garden.
You were dressed in splendor,
your robe studded with jewels:
Carnelian, peridot, and moonstone,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald,
all in settings of engraved gold.

In much buying and selling
you turned violent, you sinned!

By sin after sin after sin,
by your corrupt ways of doing business,
you defiled your holy places of worship.
So I set a fire around and within you.
It burned you up. I reduced you to ashes.
All anyone sees now
when they look for you is ashes,
a pitiful mound of ashes.

Hosea 12:6-8
What are you waiting for? Return to your God!
Commit yourself in love, in justice!
Wait for your God,
and don’t give up on him—ever!

7-8 The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud.
They love to rip people off!
Ephraim boasted, “Look, I’m rich!
I’ve made it big!
And look how well I’ve covered my tracks:
not a hint of fraud, not a sign of sin!”

Acts 16:18-22
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

In the last 5 or so years we’ve talked a lot about whether or not we should regulate businesses, particularly banks. I won’t bore you with a whole history of the banking system but I will tell you that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 was the biggest blow to the regulation of the banks and led to the financial crisis in 2008. It repealed much of the Glass-Steagall act from 1933 that kept us from having any major recession for almost 50 years. During the same time as banks were being deregulated, the Moral and other conservative evangelical groups were beginning to align themselves closely with the Republican party, mostly over the issue of abortion. The Republican party is also the party of deregulation. Small government, or little to no government involvement in business, is the goal of conservative politician and coincidentally, they are the ones who have benefited financially. 

Large banks and businesses have become deified as “job creators” and if you want to regulate them or make them answer to any government agency, you are considered unamerican. The truth is, we have tangled up capitalism with democracy and Christianity and the Church has bought into this lie that businesses don’t have to be accountable.

The thing is, these businesses aren’t creating jobs. Oh, things are getting better, for sure. But the same businesses who are asking to be called “job creators” are doing what they can to cut jobs while making record profits and paying no income taxes.

Large corporations are making more money than ever before but are doing whatever it takes to avoid paying taxes and taking care of their employees. According to Bloomberg:

“The largest U.S.-based companies expanded their untaxed offshore stockpiles by $183 billion in the past year, increasing such holdings by 14.4 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg .

Microsoft Corp. , Apple Inc and Google Inc each added to their non-U.S. holdings by more than 34 percent as they reaped the benefits of past maneuvers to earn and park profits in low- tax countries. Combined, those three companies alone plan to keep $134.5 billion outside the U.S. government’s reach, more than double the $59.3 billion they held two years earlier.

The build-up of offshore profits — totaling $1.46 trillion for the 83 companies examined — is increasing because of incentives in the U.S. tax code for booking profits offshore and leaving them there. The stockpiles complicate attempts to overhaul the tax system as lawmakers look for ways to bring the money home and discourage profit shifting.”

In 1980, CEOs typically  made 42x the income of their average worker. In 2011 it was 380x. As illustrated in the above graphs, lower wage jobs have grown the most over the last two years, the majority of which pay minimum wage or barely higher. Minimum wage has not been raised in years and has not kept up with inflation. People who work full-time at minimum wage live well below the poverty line and must still get government assistance to put food on the table.

Here’s some info on the minimum wage:
$10.74 – How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25.
$15,080 – The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.
0 – The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week.
3 – The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the last 30 years.
19 – The number of states (including the District of Columbia) which have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.
10 – The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.
67 – The percentage of Americans that support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.
64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100 – What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman?
76 – The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.
$2.13 – The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers, or parking attendants.

We’re told that this is all about “the market”. We pay CEOs crazy amounts of money because “that’s what the market will bear”. And that’s supposed to be the right answer. It’s fine. You know…the market.

I love this new pope so much that I might convert. Recently he said:

Condemning the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism and the “idolatry of money,” Pope Francis argues in a newly circulated apostolic exhortation that “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

The pope has taken a side, not just in his manifesto but in interviews, warning: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”

He is encouraging resistance to “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” that creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

Yeah. What he said.

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 3

So what am I talking about when I say that I agree that we need to return to “traditional values”? As I said, I don’t think that the values held by those who espouse what they call “traditional values” are bad, I just see things differently.

1. God is much more concerned about who I am than what I do.

My big issue with what are defined as “traditional values” is that they only deal in superficial, external behavior choices and don’t deal with real inner identity and transformation. This is a value that covers our individual responsibility. As Christians we are to pursue God with all our hearts and allow the rest of life to take care of itself. Not that we should abdicate all responsibilities but that we should be much more aware that all of life is a formation process and allow God to do God’s work in us. When we are listening and responsive to God’s activity in our lives we become more Christlike versions of ourselves and we behave differently in the world.

Tim Kimmel’s book Grace Based Parenting uses the example of endoskeletal and exoskeletal creatures to describe the internalizing of values and the subsequent influence of behavior. As humans, we are endoskeletal creatures, meaning that our skeleton is inside our bodies. If we break a bone, we have it set and it heals and we move on. Exoskeletal creatures, such as a lobster, doesn’t have that luxury. If its shell is broken, it dies. It doesn’t have the internal structure to withstand external pressures. When we are internally transformed, our character is shaped and we can more easily withstand pressures to do things that are counter to our values.

Paul says in the New Testament that while on the outside we may be wasting away (some more than others) inwardly we are being renewed – actualy the Greek word is renovare, where we get our word for “renovate”. We are being re-made, improved, updated, made new. We should not be capable of having an encounter with the living Christ and not be changed for the better.

2. God is much more concerned with compassion than with convention.

The best example of this internal motivation I see is in John 13 when Jesus makes the decision to wash the disciples’ feet.

John 13: 1-5

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Because of his constant connection to God, Jesus had a strong sense of his identity and mission. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he was able to take a towel and perform the lowest household task. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he said to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” Because he knew that we have come from God and are going back to God, he said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to me.”

3. God’s values are counter to our culture, not integrated with our culture.

The pope sort of stole my thunder on this one today, and I’ll address this in a day or so, but my point with this one is all about how American culture has deified business and capitalism and has come to equate financial success with God’s blessing. I love how Christians call the success of something they agree with God’s blessing but the success of something they don’t agree with the devil doing his work. Here’s an example:

Christian Person: Our church is debt free/we have record offerings/our business is thriving/we made _________ dollars, therefore God is blessing us.

Me: What about the Mormon Church? They have assets totaling over $30 billion. Is that God’s blessing, too?

CP: Ummmm….uhhhh….well…….uhhhhh….the devil…..ummmm……Satan……Billy Graham says they’re not a cult anymore…..ummmm

What I’m getting at here is that financial windfalls for individuals and businesses may or may not be from God, but what God is interested in is what we do with them. When we get more, do we give more, or do we hoard more? Again, I speak not against the common sense of saving. But I speak of really listening to what God wants you to do with your money, both as an individual and as a business.

What does it  mean to be a business and to follow God’s values? Does it mean that you have to be a Christian business or that your business has to have a Christian CEO? Do you have to not be open on Sundays?

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 2

In my last post I talked a bit about the history of American culture in the last 50 years and some of the changes that we’ve gone through because of major political and historical events.

I’m going to say right here that my dad is one of those guys who wants to go back to how things used to be. I love my dad more than anything and would never disrespect him. We see things differently on this issue, but I wasn’t there during the 1950’s so I don’t know his perspective. When he talks about things being better then, I ususally say, “Yeah, you were a white guy during Jim Crow. How hard could it have been?” My dad is in no way a racist and sees that element of our history as the shameful plight that it was. What he means is the friendliness, honesty, perceived integrity, no need to lock doors, lifestyle where he grew up.

Why did it not last?

If things were so great in 1955 and people were so happy and crime-free, then why did things change? Why didn’t we hang on to that utopian ideal and why don’t we all still live in an episode of the Andy Griffith Show?

1. Morality of the time was about external appearance, and did not stem from an internal transformation.

I went to Christian schools my entire life. The first time I set foot on a public school campus was when I started teaching at one when I was in my 30s. I can beat you at Bible Trivia but it didn’t make me a better person. Within a few years of my high school graduation a good portion of my class had completely turned their back on the faith we were taught in school. They kept up the appearance when they had to, but it wasn’t part of them. They behaved with integrity because they were supposed to, not because it was who they were.

2. “Separate but equal is inherently unequal.”

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down the rare unanimous decision known as “Brown vs. The Board of Education.” This decision overturned the 1896 decision “Plessy vs. Ferguson” which made legal the segregation of schools. Now with school segregation overturned based on the 14th Amendment, the tide of desegregation that eventually led to the Civil Rights movement begun.

The utopia of 1950s America didn’t last because it wasn’t fair, and therefore couldn’t possibly be real. The patina of an idealistic society had underneath it the scourge of social and economic injustice. The tension was bound to boil over and it did. Selma, Stonewall, etc. It all came crashing down because it was built on a false foundation.

Take a look at this series of graphs, some of which have information that go back to 1960. Over the last 20-40 years things have not gotten markedly better for people of color.

3. God’s values have been tangled up with American values

Americans have long been confused about the role of religion. The Founders intended for the government and religion to be separate but they couldn’t possibly envision how complicated that could get. I’m glad that American doesn’t have a state church. I’m glad my taxes don’t support the maintenance of someone’s house of worship. But I believe very strongly that America is about freedom for people of all faiths and one faith shouldn’t have greater public display or advantage than any other. Frankly, I think the Founders would’ve been more specific about some stuff if they’d known just how many religions there are.

When we got it in our head that God had somehow blessed America above all other countries, we began to believe that everything we did, our form of government, our economic system, our massive businesses, were blessed and preferred by God. Therefore, anything that was “American” became “Christian”.  If we prosper, we’re blessed by God, and if we stop prospering we’re no longer blessed by God. This prosperity gospel has permeated the Church in America so that when bad things happen to people or to our country, we cry “Unfair!” since we’ve supposedly done everything right. But have we really?

Another question I have is:

Were things really all that much better?

Depends on who you were/are.

In 1955, homicide rates were 4.1 per 100,000. They peaked at 10.2 in 1980 and as of 2007, they were 5.9. Compare that to the rate being 5.4 for white men an 39.7 for black men.

Between 1990 and 2009 the rate of forcible rape went from 80.5 per 100,00 to 100,000 52.3. While horrifying, it’s still an improvement.

I’m not going to go too deeply into statistics here. We all have the Google machine. I browsed through a bunch of stats and it looks like the most dangerous time in the US in the last 50 years was 1980-1984. Glad I made it through grades 3 – 7. Whew.

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 1

Today marks a couple of big 50th anniversary deaths, one that impacts American culture at large and one that impacts the Christian subculture. And nerds. For Christians (and nerds) we remember the death of C.S. Lewis. In America, that is overshadowed by the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and never more this year because it is the 50th anniversary.

50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. JFK was the first president to be President On Television, so the fact that this young, vibrant, attractive, and popular president was gunned down as he rode through the streets of Dallas with his wife and other officials had a big impact on the country. Similar to the death of FDR, his death came at a tenuous time in our history and, as FDR had been one of the earliest presidents to be seen on film, JFK was beamed into America’s living rooms on a daily basis.

I wasn’t alive then. I was -8.5 years old. My parents’, however, had just gotten married 13 days before and since they waited to take a honeymoon, they were at work in their home town of Enid, Oklahoma. The interesting thing about their jobs in those times was that my mom worked as an operator at the phone comany and my dad worked at the town newspaper. You can imagine how their work days were suddenly, massively impacted by the events that day. My mom said her board lit up instantly. You know that thing in older movies where they run in to the newspaper office and yell, “Stop the presses!” That totally happened.

The death of JFK kicked off a decade of turmoil in American culture and just a few years later, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., were also assassinated, further plunging American into a time of cultural unrest and moral uncertainty. If you weren’t alive then, you should watch Mad Men. From what I understand, it’s a pretty good picture of life in that decade. And even if it isn’t, you should watch Mad Men because it’s freaking brilliant. But I digres.

Many of the folks who were alive at that time mark it as a time when we began to see a decline in what they refer to as “traditional values” or “morality” or any combination of those words. There is a dramatic uptick in crime, drug use, violence, protests and definite change in the sexual moirees of the time. When the folks who bemoan those changes talk about the decline of “traditional morals” they are usually talking about the change in the behaviors of individuals. They are talking about people having sex outside of marriage, the LGBTQ community being more open about their identities, crime, violence, drug use, and even sometimes they are upset about greater racial equality. You have to take the good with the bad. The lessening of repression is good. The increase of behavior that devalues the life and properties of other people is bad.

I have a different definition of traditional values. I do agree that crime, violence and drugs are bad. I do think there is a proper context for sexual relationships, but it’s probably not as narrow a definiton as some. But all of my feelings about these things go deeper than just “because it’s not nice.” I’m going to explore in a few posts here what I think the values are that some folks are talking about here, the values I think are more important and what I think the church should be doing to bring us back to the “good old days.”