Monday, April 29, 2013

The EEE’s of Congress, Why Congress Works So Badly

What’s wrong with the way congress works:

It is Elitist in its mechanization.  The wealthy, the well connected, the highly visible and powerful have by far the most effective influence upon decisions made in congress—not the majority of the American voters.  Money elects congress, and so money will most often be the deciding factor as to how a representative will vote.  A Representative would rather offend six, seven, or nine out of ten poor non-contributing voters (to campaign coffers) than one out of ten well-paying voters.  Money is power and power is channeled back toward sustaining, making, and gaining more and more money for re-election and so-forth.  And so, the congressional process is elitist in its mechanization.

It is Ego-driven in its process.  Power-moves, big personalities attempting to checkmate big egos and Power-plays, big time players attempting to outdo big shots.  Huge egos unwilling to flinch less they appear weak, driven by pride, energized by arrogance, motivated by the self-satisfaction of being able to say, “I win. You lose!”  It is a non-stop game of one-upmanship.  It gets passionate and personal, for it is ego driven.

It is Enemy-oriented in its negotiations.  Republicans and Democrats, supposedly two parties representing one nation.  Rather, one would think that they are each a sole party of its own distinct nation worlds apart from each other, the Red nation and the Blue nation, with one sole desire: dominate and annihilate the opposing nation and its color.  That is, respect and consideration for the other side’s position, compromise, and/or a middle of the road approach, is anathema, seen as a flat-out betrayal to one’s color.  One does not openly negotiate with one’s enemy.

It is Extremist in its posturing.  Only those who voice one mindset, promoting one narrow bias and focus, with an all or nothing stance, the extreme left or extreme right, seem to get center stage on the political platform.  There apparently can be no middle ground.  Balance and equanimity are disdained.  There is certainly no desire for the application of insight and wisdom to seek healthy, practical, and equitable solutions to the many complex and confounding issues of our day.  Such an approach is just too simple and too hard.  Better we stick with the extremes.

It is Expedient in its action.  That is, congressional action is based on what is simply advantageous for the moment, motivated by self-interest, rather than on what is right and just and good for the long run.  They act only when they have to, and even then only just enough to get by, only so as to escape any dire political consequence for not acting at all.

We Americans take pride in our democratic system.  I wonder how long it will take for us to realize that our present system is getting worse over time.  It needs a healthy dose of tweaking and modification to keep it working well or even better.  But do we have the courage and the political will to demand that we take the necessary steps to make it better.  So far, whenever someone comes along and says, look we can have a more effective, equitable and workable system if we make these certain changes… it gets shot down by the powers that be.  I have no doubt that, in the long run, if we don’t make certain constructive and necessary changes to our system, future generations of Americans will longingly look back at our day and say, “Ah yes, those were the good-ole-days!”

Monday, April 22, 2013

About the April 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing

We have only two questions: who and why?

We now know who (perhaps only partially).  Now we want to know why.  Why?!

These two brothers whose origins reach back to Chechnya, what did they hope to accomplish?

It is more than a question of “what makes them tick.”  Motive explains so much.  Knowing why provides the fulcrum on which perspective is built, helping us make sense of nonsense.  Nonsense = something that has no meaning, absurd, without reason or significance.  We need to understand, and understanding comes from grasping one’s purpose and intent.  So we have to ask: why did these two brothers choose to deliberately and literally rip apart individuals, killing an innocent child, mutilating unsuspecting bystanders?

Again it leads us to the overarching question of subjective belief, ideology, world-view, faith and conviction and experience.  After all, those who knew these two brothers say that these brothers pretty much lived and acted as if they were one of us, fellow Americans.  Little did we know.  Apparently they did not buy into the American Way, that is, the American world-view of equality, the pursuit of happiness (materialism) and justice and liberty for all.  Why didn’t they?  Why did they resist assimilation?  Why did they refuse to accept all that is good about US?  That’s also what we’re now wondering; now that we actually do know the perpetrators.

Before they identified the perpetrators, I was thinking to myself: “These terrorists, whoever they may be, are so arrogant and pompous and full of themselves.  They believe that their cause, whatever it is, justifies the cold-blooded murder of anyone, even children.  They believe that life is cheap; so cheap that a life can be used and expended as a political statement.  They are coldly calculating, hateful, and spiteful; despising all but those they call their own.  They have a holier-than-thou, us-versus-them mentality, and they are vicious in their self-centered, self-serving, and self-propagating outlook on life.  In short, they are self-righteous hypocrites.”

Yes, that’s what I was thinking.  Here’s what else I was thinking:

“All terrorists, of whatever cause or persuasion, claim to espouse great and mighty causes, but will use the lowest and meanest tactics to promote them.  For example, they may claim to be high and mighty in their desire for justice but will use any evil means to sustain their own idea of it.  They’ll claim that their end-goal is the greatest and highest to be achieved, and yet will use the lowest and dirtiest pathway to pursue it.  In short, they are Hypocrites!  They are contemptuous small, tiresome, loathsome little souls, with shriveled hearts and darkened spirits.  They represent what is the worst in human nature and character.”

These were my thoughts, before I knew who the perpetrators were.

And, as I thought these things, I prayed, “Lord, forgive me for my harsh and judging spirit, condemning these poor and darkened souls as I do.  Have mercy upon them, for they are most to be pitied when they face your judgment, should they never repent of their evil and foul ways.”

Then a more troubling consideration came to mind.

What if, just what if my depiction of terrorists is the same depiction terrorists have of Americans?  What if they see us Americans as also being arrogant and pompous and full of ourselves, coldly calculating, having a holier-than-thou, us-versus-them mentality, with a self-centered, self-serving, and self-propagating outlook on life.  Would there be some justification of their having such a view of us?

Are we also guilty, as a nation, of claiming to espouse great and mighty causes, but willing to use the lowest and meanest tactics to promote them?  Might we not also be guilty of claiming to be high and mighty in our desire for justice but willing to use any evil means to sustain our own idea of it.  Is it possible that we too have claimed that our end-goal is the greatest and highest to be achieved, and yet have used the lowest and dirtiest pathway to pursue it?  I’m just asking.

In short, is it possible that they also have some justifiable reason to see us as self-righteous Hypocrites!  After all, if they too see us as “contemptuous small, tiresome, loathsome little souls, with shriveled hearts and darkened spirits,” it would explain a lot.  Wouldn’t it?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Our Money Says “In God We Trust.” Why?

I’m not asking about its history, how it came about.  I’m asking about its meaning.  What is the significance of our monetary motto, “In God We Trust”?

Here’s one take on it: Money is powerful.  Still, money isn’t everything.  It guarantees nothing.  It certainly does not guarantee happiness.  It is fleeting, fickle, and feckless.  It is a false god.  And it is wise to remember this.

Though it is tempting to believe so, money is not our savior.  When money is tight and we’re choked in debt, it is tempting to believe that all our problems will be solved with just a little more money (assuming we have a steady job and income).  Indeed, many families, of whatever income level, believe that a 10% to 20% increase of their present earnings will solve all their financial problems.  This is illusory.  Why?

First of all, money is managed and sustained by human systems and institutions.  That is, humans are in charge of money, the making of it, the flow of it, the sustaining of it.  Thus, our belief and trust in money is only as good as the goodness and trustworthiness of human nature.  Question: Exactly how good and trustworthy are we humans?

A matter of misplaced trust:

1. We seem to assume and/or believe that our leaders, professionals, business investors and the like, are always on top of things, highly capable, and always know what they’re doing, making the best decisions—for company, business, investor, bank, and for society as a whole.  However, when we give it a second’s thought, we know that this can’t be true.  Yet we function as if it is, especially when we adopt policies that strip away checks and balances and gut financial regulatory oversight.

2. By the same token, as we strip away financial regulation in order to give the market free reign, we also seem to be saying that these very human leaders and professionals, investors and bankers, especially those at the top of the financial food chain, are predominately altruistic at heart, innocent of any temptation to greed, consistently honest, selfless and considerate of others.  We’re not actually that naïve, are we?

3. We also seem to think that democracy is not threatened when vast amounts of money is accumulated in the hands of fewer and fewer citizens—be they individual citizens or corporate entities.  Money is power.  We know this.  Yet, again, we function as if great power vested in the hands of a few is not only non-threatening but quite a good thing for the citizenry.  History has proven otherwise.

4. Furthermore, we now seem to categorically be blaming the poor for being poor.  We assume that it’s their fault.  We are not to blame the system that put them there.  We are not to look for swindlers and robber barons at the top to share any blame.  Nor are we to blame the unfair and unjust practices, the abuse of power and control, of the money brokers in the highest offices of Wall Street, for example.  We seem to think that the poor deserve to be poor for losing their jobs in the first place, for losing their investments, and for losing the capacity to work by not keeping up with modern day workplace needs.  Yes, the poor are always the best scapegoats for bad economic policies.

5. Finally we seem to assume and believe that the purest form of capitalism with an absolute free market is incontrovertibly the best and only way to prosper a nation.  Our true god seems to be Greed, with the motto “Greed is good.”  History proves that humans require proper checks and balances to prevent excesses and the abuse of power and wealth.  Yet, when it comes to conservative capitalistic thinking, we would have none of it.  But who actually wins in a game where there are no rules but one: “Winner takes all”?

So why do we have the motto, “In God We Trust,” on our money?

Perhaps it is to remind us that Money is a false god.

Perhaps it is to warn us that we are on a dangerous path when we begin to believe that the accumulation of money is the only true measure of success, and that those who accumulate the most money the quickest, actually deserve to have-it-all, just because they know how to manipulate money to make money—at the expense of other people’s hard earned money.

To say “In God we trust” asserts that the principles, values and truths of God should have a greater influence in our social and economic policies than an elite minority of wealthy powerful money brokers. So, given the way we actually function, perhaps our monetary motto should more honestly say: “Money is our God.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Defining or Re-defining Marriage

What is marriage?

It’s a question we thought we’d never have to ask less than a generation ago.  But, now, here we are, discussing, debating, asserting, and pontificating on the meaning and definition of marriage.

Part of the problem is our tendency toward “reductionism” = explaining something in its most basic and simplest terms, resulting in a distorted understanding of its true and perhaps more complicated nature.  This tendency perhaps comes from our modern-day requirement to reduce everything to a catchy sound bite, twitter feed, or text comment, as if one, two, or a few words can say all that needs to be said on a matter.

For example, here is a sound-bite definition of marriage: “Marriage is a sacred institution, established by God.”  And, as a Christian, a definition I happen to agree with.  However, it’s not complete.  Marriage is also a social institution, a social contract, if you will.  And by that I mean that it involves the state (government), economics, the law, and therefore politics as well.

Our government is not a Theocracy.  A Theocracy is a form of government in which God’s law is supreme and God has direct rule over the people.  According to the New Testament, this kind of direct rule by God, where God’s law reigns supreme, will not happen until Christ’s second coming, at which time He will then usher in the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  This is why, in my humble opinion, Christians ought to drop their anti-gay marriage agenda.

Conservative right-wing Evangelical Christians are sending the wrong message and are exerting time, energy, and resources toward the wrong ends.  It’s as if they are trying to force God’s Kingdom Rule upon humanity, or at least upon U.S. Citizens, here and now, regardless of heart, soul, and spirit transformation.  Such efforts neither help in the spreading of the Gospel nor in the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  In fact, if anything, it does the opposite by hardening people’s hearts against Christ’s message of hope, love, and salvation in Him.  Whatever happened to the traditional Biblical principle that we are in the world but not of the world, as intimated by Jesus Himself (see John 17)?

How is it that Evangelical Christians have become the Pharisees of the 21st century?  When the average person on the street thinks of a Christian they do not think, “Someone who is peaceful, kind, generous, loving, forgiving, and merciful.”  Rather, they think, “A Christian is an angry, self-righteous, mean-spirited bigot who wants to force everyone to conform to their idea of right and wrong.”  Today’s Christians seem to be more concerned with outward conformity to their idea of right and wrong than with a message of hope, love and salvation, justice, mercy, and grace for their fellow human beings, which was the same problem that the Pharisees had when Jesus walked on earth.

Back to the definition of marriage: Marriage is both a divine AND human institution—yes it is more complex than a reductionist sound-bite definition might care to admit.  Let God worry about the divine part.  As for the human side of it, the social contract aspect, we Christians need to remember that it is not our job to become judge, jury, and executioner over all whom we believe (rightly or wrongly) are in moral error: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” [John 3:17]  Let us quit condemning gays to an eternal hell (or a hell on earth for that matter), and begin to love them into heaven, regardless of their marital desires or status.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Implications of a Resurrected Jesus

Ever wonder about death?  What’s on the other side?  Is there life after death?

Of course you have.  Who hasn’t?

Ever wonder about good and evil, and just deserts, guilt and innocence, a Final Judgment?

Would you pass a Final Judgment with flying colors—or should I say, with the color of purity, all white and squeaky clean?  That is, do you have a perfect record, spotless and without blemish?

Of course you don’t?  Who does?

There’s only ONE person in human history that has ever claimed any right or authority to proclaim, teach, or give insight on such things, and that is Jesus—a raised from the dead Jesus, the only ONE with a perfect record—no fault, no guilt, no sin, no wrongdoing—perfect in every way.

Think about it.  If Jesus had not risen from the dead, why did Christianity grow so fast and have such an impact, an impact not only upon the Roman Empire of its early days, but upon World Empires even down to our present day?  Think of the impact of Christianity upon the former Soviet Union.  Think of its impact upon present day China.

He is Risen!?

No, it is not good enough to say that the Apostles and Disciples stole his body and lied about his resurrection, or to say that Jesus literally did not die on the cross to begin with.

His followers bore witness.  They died claiming that they had indeed seen, touched, spoke with and ate with a real, literally and physically resurrected Jesus.

There is really no better way to explain the power and impact of faith-in-Christ down through the ages, but for his resurrection: He is not dead, he is living.  He is no mere historical memory; he is a living presence in the hearts of billions.  His name has power.  His truth changes minds.  And His spirit transforms lives.

Of course, today there are many Churches and numerous Denominations and umpteen factions upon factions of Christian congregations, each practicing their own particular form of Christianity.  Christians don’t all agree; not very surprising considering human nature.  But there still remains this one unifying factor: the belief that Jesus is not dead—He is Risen!  And, by virtue of his resurrection, He is proven to be both Lord and Savior of humanity.  Christianity is that basic and that simple.

Okay, you may not like his followers.
    For that matter, many fellow believers do not like each other.

True, you may not like the church.
    Admittedly there are many strange and weird congregations calling themselves the church of Jesus.

Indeed, you may disdain the behavior, practices, and attitude of self-righteous Christians who think they’re God’s favored.
    You may appreciate the fact that Jesus had plenty to say about self-righteous holier-than-thou types, and it wasn’t good.

The one thing you shouldn’t do is ignore Jesus Himself.
    After all, Jesus Himself expects to be taken seriously.  And, if you truly respect Him, you will.

However, if you do take Jesus seriously, I mean really and truly seriously: That Jesus meant what He said and taught; that Jesus did what He did, on purpose.  And you then try to understand, from Jesus point of view, why He chose to die at the hands of the Roman government (when He supposedly had the power to avoid such a death).  And then you consider His promise that He would rise from the dead and would return again.

Well, then what?  What are the real implications of Jesus words and actions?

I dare you to confront Jesus on His own terms.  I guarantee that you won’t be the same, once you do.