Monday, September 24, 2012

Wealth, Social Justice, and God

It’s well known among Christians who know their Bible that Jesus spoke about money more than any other topic.  He did not favor the wealthy.

It was Jesus who said that it will be harder for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  Why?

First of all, wealth and power go hand and hand.  And, generally speaking, the more wealth one has, the more one uses its power to maintain and/or gain even more control over its access, use, investment, and production.  It is no accident that over time wealth tends to accumulate into the hands of a smaller and smaller percentage of people within any given society at any given time in history—note how we Americans have gotten use to referring to the top one or two percent who have, and control, most of the money in our nation.

Politicians representing the wealthy will denigrate anyone who even appears to look like they are living off handouts from the government, yet many of our local, state, and federal tax laws and investment laws and employment laws, etc., actually favor big business, powerful industries, and their wealthy owners.

For example, how is it considered fair and equitable when a wealthy man like Mitt Romney pays no more than 15% on his income taxes while those who will never come close to making what Romney’s has made will have paid as much as 24% or more on their income taxes?  Who is getting a handout here?  Or how is it considered fair and equitable when a big corporation comes into a state with an agreement that they will have a state tax write-off for doing business in that state, as a so-called incentive to bring-in employment?  Why should the tax payer pay for big business handouts of this kind?

God expects His people to be supportive of social justice and the equitable distribution of means and opportunity for all people to prosper and do well—not for the few to live in excess at the expense of the many.

Note the prophet Isaiah’s reproach: “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.  The Lord of Hosts has sworn in my hearing: surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.  For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.”  [Isaiah 5:8-10]

Note the prophet Amos’ reproach: “Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way….” [Amos 2:6-7a]

Money, wealth, riches, is not evil or bad in and of itself.  Nevertheless, money, and its power, is dangerously seductive.  True, very few extremely-wealthy families believe that they are wealthy because they have directly mistreated or oppressed the less fortunate.  However, God warns us.  There is much more than meets the eye when it comes to why the wealthy have so much and the poor have so little.

Injustice is not just a matter of personal wrongdoing.  Injustice is, more often than not, systemic, institutional, and social.  Unjust tax laws, inhumane work conditions, unfair employment practices, inequitable banking and investment policies, a skewed and unfair distribution of, and/or access to, basic natural resources (like clean water and clean air or simple basic health care), these systemic imbalances, and much, much more help make the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer.

A Biblical principle and truth is that God expects His people to always be concerned for, care for, and give heed to the needs of the poor, the less fortunate, and the socially and economically oppressed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jesus Would Not Support Such Riotous Behavior, I Doubt Muhammad Would Either

More riots, destructive behavior and even murder, because of offense taken, in behalf of the Prophet Muhammad, is this really what the prophet himself wants?  Is this what God expects of His devotees?

Islam respects Jesus as a prophet of God as well.  Does this kind of hateful riotous behavior come anywhere near close to what Jesus taught, modeled, and proclaimed as a prophet of God?  No it does not.

Insult or not, offense taken or not, I don’t see that either Jesus or Muhammad himself would support such cold-blooded murder, the way that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was murdered, not to mention the other embassy staffers killed along with him.  Because of this, I am appreciative of the fact that some Muslims have been brave enough to say as much, to say that this is not commendable nor representative behavior of true Islam and its faithful adherents.

Ambassador Stevens and the other individuals killed along with him had nothing to do with the film that caused the offense.  Therefore, one can only conclude that such riotous behavior is a pretext for other concerns—social, economic, national, cultural, and political agenda—certainly not faithfulness and devotion to God and/or his prophet.

Jesus modeled love, compassion, mercy, and grace—even to those who would reject, abuse, and denounce him.  Jesus looked to redeem the lost and wayward, not to judge, condemn and kill them.  Jesus worked toward changing a man’s heart so as to save him from condemnation and death—not to gleefully gloat over His enemy’s (the God-offender’s) destruction for having done wrong.

It is a sign of greater strength and maturity to overlook an offense rather than to fly off the handle and do unjust harm and perpetrate general destruction to innocent bystanders because of an offense taken.  It is a sign of mature faith and true holy and righteous living, when one who is offended behaves in ways that lead to restorative transformation of the offender rather than inciting further hatred by adding offense to offense.  In that light, I hope to hear more Muslims speak out against murderous riotous behavior carried out in the name of God’s prophet, when offense is taken by adherents to Islam.

This is what Jesus’ life, actions, and teachings modeled when He faced God-offenders: an offering of restorative healing, an invitation to embrace transformation and renewal, an opportunity to make amends and enter into peace with God.

Following Jesus is more than an ideal.  It is a commitment to a higher level of living and being.  It is a call to be transformed and renewed into a new kind of person in Jesus.  It is the saving of one’s soul and the renewing of one’s mind, and a call to holy, righteous and just living with love and compassion toward all, with the hope that even those outside of the faith—no matter how offensive they may be in their faithlessness—would one day yield to God’s love.

It would be disappointing to think that obedient followers of Islam have a lesser call than that.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Intelligence isn’t Everything, Belief is…

Have you noticed that there are very intelligent people on both sides?

Very intelligent people believe in God.  Very intelligent people do not believe in God.  There are intelligent Republicans and there are intelligent Democrats (yes, it’s true).  No one side: left or right, conservative or liberal, faith or non-faith, has a corner on intelligence.  (I might add of course that there are enough idiots to go around for all sides to claim their fair share of them.)

In actuality, we use our intelligence to explain, justify, and defend our thinking and our beliefs, usually after we’ve made a commitment to said cause, party, or belief.  That is, intellectual reasoning, deduction or induction, is really not the primary motivating factor when we decide to commit ourselves to a particular cause or belief.  Please note the word, “commit.”

People commit themselves to a cause, because of personal experience, feelings, relationships, and/or inner personal dynamics that feed into their thinking and reaction to a cause or belief.  And so, people are passionate about their beliefs and positions mostly because of their personal commitment to it, they have become personal stakeholders.

For example, most people are either Democrat or Republican, not because they have first studiously and coolly analyzed the history of each respective political party and have carefully studied the party’s overall impact on the nation—analyzing its voting history, and its premises, programs, and policies—such study, if it ever happens, and the knowledge gained from it, usually comes after one has already committed him/herself to the party for reasons other than intellectual analysis.

The initial commitment is usually based on relationships, feelings, experiences, and the influence of others that one trusts and respects.  Meanwhile, one’s basic assumptions and presumptions go untested, remain unquestioned and avoid analysis.  Thus, intellectual defense, explanation, and justification (applied intelligence) follows commitment and rarely precedes it.

This is one reason why religious and political discussions become so heated and may ruin family dinner parties, or may even cause good friendships to breakup.  One’s personal commitment, and therefore one’s person—one’s personal view of reality, truth, meaning, and relationships—is threatened by opposing positions or contrary committed belief-systems.

This is also why political-ads full of negative mud-slinging, half-truths, and outright lies against the opposing side, actually do work.  In effect, we do NOT want real intellectual insight—truth, good reasoning, knowledge and understanding—what we want is reassurance.  We want our chosen party to reassure us that our assumed commitment to a certain set of beliefs and convictions will hold firm—regardless as to whether or not they stand the test of intellectual scrutiny.

Thus, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” is our real attitude.  Facts do NOT speak for themselves.  We interpret them according to our liking, our way of thinking, our presumptions and assumptions.  And when we come across facts that do not add up with our beliefs or assumptions, we dump them for half-truths and innuendos that do support what we want to hear, what we already believe.

We all believe in something.  We all assume.  We all commit.  But just how much real intellectual thinking goes into our beliefs, our assumptions, and our commitments?  If we’re smart, I mean, if we really want good solid reasoning, thinking, knowledge, and truth to influence how we vote and what we support, perhaps we need to ask ourselves: By being committed to this particular position, party, place, or cause, what is it that I am not willing to see or accept—what are my blind spots?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back to School Encouragement

Going back to school brings with it a mixed bag of feelings for both parents and children: excitement, dread, relief, fear, and hopeful anticipation.  This is true whether it’s back to grade school, high school, or college.

How can parents help their children re-enter school, smoothly, constructively?

Extremes are always bad.  So, first, be neither a hovering parent nor an abandoning one.

College age parents can be as bad as parents of kindergarteners and first graders.

So, don’t be a “helicopter parent,” hovering over your precious loved one as if s/he can’t breathe without your help.  Give them space.  Yes, even the little kindergartener may need some space, even while clinging to you with tears crying out “I don’t want to go!”

Certainly we are not talking about abandoning the child.  Yes, your “presence” is needed and wanted.  Yes, you need to “be there” for them.  But remember to maintain appropriate limits for yourself with a healthy attitude of “letting go.”  You’re there to release them not to cling to them or have them cling to you.  So, “being there” does not mean doing everything for them, or taking control when they should be taking charge for themselves.  “Being there,” means giving encouragement, guiding, advising, and reassuring, not taking-over.

You are the parent.  Your child should not have to reassure you.  Be a non-anxious presence.  As the adult, you are to provide calm and steady confidence, where your child may have little.  The child needs to look to you for reassurance that all will be well, not the other way around.

Place confidence in your child.  Do not scold or harangue the child for lack of confidence or for being nervous and fearful.  If your child lacks confidence, reassure him/her with your own confidence in him/her.  Also remind the child that s/he not only has your support, but that of the school’s staff, teachers and administrators, as well.  Help your child see the people in these roles as caring and supportive people whom they need not fear and need not view as “the enemy.”  They are there to help.  (And do verify ahead of time that this is exactly the attitude that the school has toward the children.)

Listen!  Listen to your child’s comments.  Observe!  Body language says a lot.  Ask and even probe a little, but do not force your child to confide in you.  Respect your child’s growing boundaries.  As much as you’d like to think so, your child is NOT an extension of yourself.  Your child is a separate and distinct human being who will someday grow to become a full adult in his/her own right.  Respect your children by really listening to them.  Let them tell you what their concerns are rather than you always telling them what you think that they ought to be worried about.  Good communication is always a two way street—even with (especially with) children.

And finally, be a lifetime learner yourself.  If you want your child to do well in school, you also need to become a model student.  Appreciate an open and inquisitive mind, and develop one yourself.  Allow your children to question, wonder, doubt, ask, and discover.  If your child asks you a question for which you do not have an answer, admit as much.  Then, join your child in search for an answer.  There is no shame in not knowing.  However, there IS much shame in being exposed as a Great Pretender, trying to hide your ignorance or worse, acting as if you know when you really don’t.

Learn to learn, along with your child.  In your own heart, remain as child in the realm of discovery and imagination.  Your child will be inspired by your own thrill of seeking and learning.  Show them that exploration and discovery offers a lifetime of excitement and can be richly fulfilling.