Monday, April 25, 2011

Moral Issues in Budgeting?

It’s said that if you really want to know what someone considers important in their life, take a look at their checking account.  Follow the money.  Where does it go?  This is truer than most of us would like to admit.  Look at your own spending habits and see what it reveals about your priorities.  Is it consistent with your idea of moral living?  Are your morals reflected in your financial management?

Is it a moral issue to purchase a larger house rather than to pay for your children’s college education?  Is it a moral issue to spend your money on a fancy late model car rather than purchasing a solid health insurance plan for your growing family?  Is it a moral issue to purchase a state-of-the-art home security system for your dream-house rather than pay for your children’s music lessons or sports program?  Is it a moral issue to max out your credit card, accumulating thousands of dollars of unsecured debt, rather than fully paying it off each month?  Certainly, how we use money, spend, save, and/or invest money is a moral issue, isn’t it?

This is what many are saying about our national deficit.  It’s a moral issue.  Okay, so it is.  But then, so is the way we go about paying it down and paying it off.  This too is a moral issue.  Since we are talking about moral issues here, whose morals and which morals are we embracing?

Jesus had much to say about money and wealth and it wasn’t in favor of the wealthy.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” said Jesus in Matthew 19:24.  He also said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).  And we all know his Beatitude comment about the poor: “Blessed are you poor for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

What about money spent on our defense?  My guess is that many of the same people who say that bringing down our deficit is a moral issue most likely support a very strong and very expensive military budget.  But does not God Himself say, “Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit”:  “He keeps the feet of His godly ones… For not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9)?  And are we not warned against putting our trust in “princes”—i.e. the military strength of rulers (Psalms 146:3)?

Actually, economic justice is a core Biblical moral issue: “Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds!  …They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2).  Consider Isaiah’s words (5:8), “Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!”  I could go on quoting Biblical passages that warn against the wealthy oppressing the poor, not to mention Biblical injunctions against citizens mistreating the homeless and the wandering aliens in our midst.  It’s all there in the Bible, prophetic words that speak against the wealthy who take advantage of the powerless poor and needy.

How many Americans have lost house and home, not because of our social economic policies that support the health needs and low income needs of our citizens but have lost them to Wall Street and Big Banks, as a direct result of the Advantages that Big Business is given over-against the little guy?  So, if we are ready to accept on principle that cutting and slashing the national deficit is a moral issue, are we also ready to accept on principle our social/moral responsibility to see to the needs of the economically oppressed, the poor and needy in our midst, not to mention the outcast and disenfranchised?  God holds the wealthy responsible for how they treat the poor and needy not the other way around.  One cannot possibly read the Bible without concluding that this is a core moral issue for a society from God’s vantage point.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Eggs, the Easter Bunny and the Resurrection

Easter is not a Christian word, originally.  It comes from an old English word referring to an Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility associated with the renewal of life.  But as Christianity spread, people would often simply transfer meanings of old pagan names and/or rites into Christian Biblical meanings, sometimes encouraged by church leaders, sometimes not.

Take the Easter egg, for example.  Ancient pagan spring festivals associated the egg with new life.  Chickens hatching from what appeared to be a lifeless dead object made eggs a symbol of rebirth.  Thus, Christians adopted the egg as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ.  During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs, and other dairy products were forbidden during the Lenten season.  Because of this, people would decorate eggs at the end of Lent to celebrate, they could be eaten again.  It was an Easter celebration of new life and the Resurrection.

Rabbits have also been fitting symbols of fertility and new-life ritual traditions because of their ability to multiply so fast.  In short, many cultures around the world celebrate new-life and fertility rites during spring when life springs-forth anew, awakening from winter’s “death sleep,” using various symbols and objects to depict rebirth, renewal, and reawakening.

However, whether we speak of Easter eggs or the Easter bunny, and whether we send our kids on an Easter egg hunt and reward them with chocolate candy and jelly beans, for the Christian, the real celebration of Easter is more than mere symbolism for the arrival of spring and the blossoming of color in our flower gardens.  Jesus died and arose from the dead.  He is Risen!

No symbolism, no fairy tale, no trick photography, no special effects, no “let’s pretend and make believe.”  Those who bore testimony to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and LIVES after having been put to death, did so with the firm intention that their hearers understood that they were speaking of a real, matter of fact, down to earth, physical and spiritual truth statement—Jesus physically died, but now He is very much ALIVE again.  He is raised from the dead.  For Real!

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eye, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (The Apostle John in 1 John 1:1-2.)  “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one untimely born.  (Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.)   “After Jesus’ suffering [death], he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Dr. Luke in Acts 1:3.)

We can deal with the testimony of these witnesses in only one of three ways:  (1) they lie; therefore we should dismiss them with no further thought.  (2) They were bamboozled and confused and were simply fooled into thinking Jesus was raised from the dead; therefore we should ignore them.  Or, (3) they know of what they speak, having seen it with their own eyes and are therefore telling the absolute truth.

If the latter is true, we cannot afford to ignore or dismiss them, for a resurrection of this kind becomes the most important and most significant message to all of humanity.  If Jesus has truly risen from the grave, then Jesus is truly a person of great power and authority, one who has conquered death and has power over life and death.  If this is real, all of humanity will one day have to reckon with this truth.

In other words, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus has far more implications for this world than most of us would like to admit.  If Jesus is truly raised from the dead, then He is truly Lord and has authority to judge as well as the power to save.  Many believers and witnesses to the resurrection of Christ have died bearing testimony that Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead.  No unbeliever has ever or can ever prove that he has not.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ideals, Politics, and Community

Ideals!  We all have our ideals.  Our ideals are what carry us forward, what energizes us.  We wish, we hope, we dream according to our ideals, the ideal house, the ideal job, the ideal partner, lover, friend, spouse, or family.  We aim for the top and the top is that image we hold as the ideal gain that will be our best, our highest reward.

We also have our detractors, those who “rain on our parade.”  They are unbelievers, negative, and cynical, road blockers to our dreams.  Or, is it that they dream differently than we do?  Seeing things differently, they nurture a different set of values and are aiming for a different set of goals.  Even worse, perhaps we discover that they are not only nurturing a different set of dreams but that we are also in competition with them.  Us and them, competing for the same place at the same time, grabbing at the same material and resources available that is necessary to reach our dream.  What then?

Ideology!  I’ve noticed that this word is fast becoming a bad word.  In some sense it’s always been suspect.  A person who is too idealistic is questionable, perhaps “not all there,” pie in the sky and all that sort of thing.  We want practical “can do” people, realistic.  Let us stick to what is doable.

But even the Disney Corporation understands our need to dream and to dream big.  They’re constantly bombarding kids with that very message on the Disney channel.  Watch it and see.  Yes, we need to dream, to have our ideals and to aim high.  It’s a good way to get our creative blood flowing and moving upward and forward.  Our ideals ignite that All American, Can Do spirit; “Let’s roll.  Just do it.  Go for it!”

So, ideology need not necessarily be a bad word, in and of itself.  Let’s hope it doesn’t become just another political trigger-word to pounce on and denounce as a political foe.  Still, the point is well taken.  Idealists tend to be impractical, passionate, and therefore very difficult to work with.  They usually want “all or nothing.”  No compromise, no negotiating, no in-between or middle ground—perfection!  Talk about unbending and unyielding.

Still, somewhere there is a balance between one’s ideals and dreams, and the stuff of the real world.  Being an idealist is no bad thing.  But holding others hostage to one's precious ideals can be.  Being idealistic while attacking, denouncing, and condemning your neighbor for not sharing the same ideals as you have; now that’s a problem.  One’s ideal of perfection can be another’s perfect nightmare.

What’s the ideal temperature setting for a house in the middle of winter, 75 degrees, 68, or 60?  How much should one spend on a precious daughter’s wedding, 10, 20, 50, or 100 thousand dollars?  What’s the ideal vacation, a week’s cruise on an ocean liner or a week in a lakeside mountain cabin?  What’s the ideal computer, an Apple or PC?  Where’s the ideal place to live, East coast or West, or somewhere in between?  It depends, doesn’t it?  Who’s asking, who’s making the decision, what's the relationship?

No, it’s not ideology, in and of itself, that gets us into trouble in the world of politics.  It’s the way, the manner in which one holds to his/her precious ideals that causes a breakdown in community.  “My way or the highway” never works very well in a marriage.  Neither does it work very well in politics.  Are we a community of friends and neighbors, building a united nation?  Or are we a cluster of self-interested cell-groups, in and among enemy territory, conquering and being conquered, winning here and losing there, gearing up for capture and re-capture?  I fear that it is the latter.

Yes, we all have our ideas and our ideals.  Our mistake is thinking that only our ideals are pure and right while theirs are wrong and perhaps even evil.  My dreams may not be the same as their dreams but they deserve as much respect as mine, do they not?  They just dream differently.  So, since we only have so much to go around, limited resources, how are we going to distribute fairly and justly?  And if community goods and services come with a heavy price tag, how shall we adequately share the cost burden as a community?  Let’s go ahead and talk about ideals, values, and priorities.  But let’s do away with one-way talk: “I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m good, you’re bad; I’m better, you’re worse; I’m good for America, and you’re not!”  America is bigger than that.  And so must we all be.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dooms Day Prophecies and World Events

Just about every century we hear about it.  Doomsday predictions, the End of the Age is here!  Time is calculated, a year is proclaimed, the day is set and faithful followers of a dynamic prophetic leader sell all their earthly goods, run to the mountains and await the coming of a New Age.  But the next day, disappointed and puzzled, they slowly descend their mountaintop while their leader reworks his (usually a he) calendar, re-calculating events, epics, times, dates and prophetic passages and reschedules a new rendezvous with the End Times; if, that is, he and his followers did not already commit mass suicide in anticipation of the longed for New Age.

Nevertheless this is a valid concern.  Someday Jesus’ promise of an End Time and His warning to humanity that we should be alert, be ready, and understand the Signs of the End, will come true when we least expect it.  I wouldn’t be surprised that, by the time the End is finally and really at hand, the boy will have cried wolf once too many times and we will simply laugh.  And we’ll confidently assert that we’ve got everything under control, that we know what we’re doing, and that we can handle it; whatever “it” may be.  Do we?  Can we?  Do we really have everything under control?  Can we really “handle” it?

The disciples asked Jesus directly, “Tell us, what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  And, in response, Jesus said things like, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”  “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”  He adds that many false prophets will arise and mislead many and that the love of many will grow cold because of the increase of lawlessness.  “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  [Read the Gospel according to Matthew chapter 24.]

I’m not saying that THIS is the year, or that even next year is our final one, in spite of the notorious predictions about 2012.  I’m not even saying that the next ten, twenty, or fifty years will see the fulfillment of End Time prophecies.  But here’s my thinking: each and every generation needs to consider what it is doing to this earth and how it is living on this earth, as if it were the last generation living in the End Times.  According to the Bible, the End Times will result in the Final Judgment.  As it is, each generation lives and then, yes, dies anyway.  And after that, comes judgment—thankfully not humans judging humans (a horrid thought, considering how unjust we are to each other), but God judging humans—a blessed thought depending on which side of grace and mercy one believes he/she is on.

Human hubris, excessive self-confidence and arrogance, is our greatest problem.  We dismiss God as a fairy tale while we rape the earth, destroying the very source of our livelihood, and then turn around and blame God for all the ills and ailments that we ourselves have set into motion.  We build beach front houses in hurricane territory and wonder why so many “innocent” families lose their homes every hurricane season.  We build nuclear power plants over unstable earthquake faults and wonder why God didn’t stop the earth from shaking and destroying everything.  We build thriving communities at the foot of active volcanoes and blame God when the volcano viciously spits out its lava and swallows them up live.  Still we refuse to humble ourselves and follow the precepts, principles, and virtues of God as our Creator.

Whether Jesus’ prediction of the End Times is just around the corner or is yet another millennium away, what matters, is our present attitude, behavior, and belief.  We are responsible for our actions.  We cannot avoid the consequences of our own choices as nations, societies, and communities.  The wasteful use of earth’s natural resources, everything from fresh water pollution to over fishing and over cutting of the rain forest, to human-spread famine and disease due to our ongoing wars and squabbles, is a source of great human misery.  But we collectively live as if we’re answerable to no one but ourselves, as if there is no End Times, no Final Judgment, and no God.

The earth is beautiful.  But it is sick.  And we are its illness, the human race; yes, us!  God so loved the world that He gave in order to save.  Yes, we need a Savior.  One can’t look at the world and the mess that we humans are making of it and not realize that we’re in big trouble.  It’s not just the economy, not just the ecology, not just one earthquake, hurricane or tornado, not just this one war or that one over there, it’s not just an oil problem or a fresh water problem, a food problem or a land-use problem, an overpopulation problem or a drug and injustice problem; it’s all of it, everything put together.  We’re not doing well.  And we don’t have things under control.  We need the Kingdom of God with His Righteous King to rule over us.  We need the “Son of God,” who is Messiah/Christ (God’s Anointed One) to be our Lord and to save us.

Easter is just around the corner.  That is its message.  Death and resurrection, renewal and a promise of a new heavens and a new earth where there will be no more death and dying, no more tears and sorrow, no more pain and sickness.  Yes, I believe Jesus.  Someday the end will come.  Jesus promised.  And as that end gets nearer, the world will feel the weight of its illness more and more, more suffering, more heartache, and more agony, not less.

Now is the time to turn around, change one’s heart and attitude, and seek God’s salvation and renewal.  With God’s help by His grace and in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming, we can do better in the here and now and can also be prepared for the end, whenever it may come.

Maranatha!  May the Lord come quickly!