Theological Threads

Wow,  theological discussions are flying off the shelves. I am talking about the threads on my Facebook page. My son starts a few of these discussions but my granddaughter really gets the engine going. I don’t think Chris has the time or patience for argument any more, but Cynthia thrives on it. It is her dad’s fault, of course. He got her into debate. She’s a good debater and I think debaters seek their own kind.

I don’t mind debate until it becomes more about winning than learning. I can be offended by the tone of debate, too. Tone is usually run by ego unless one is performing and sometimes people like to do that.

MPR has a program I hear aired once in a while. (When I have time, I will to investigate it to get a link.)  It is a debate forum and always takes up a political issue. It is fascinating to hear the different points of view. Participants are extremely qualified and well informed about the issues. It makes one realize the there really are two sides or more to these issues and people can take an opposing position from an intelligent place. It also helps me to appreciate that a person with an opposing view may have some elements of rightness in what they say to which I should to listen. The nature and need for compromise becomes clearer and less ominous. Having said all of this, I question whether those who run our country would make good debaters. That is why they always make their statements in the context where people already agree with them.  Even debate during the election process is tainted by the need to win, not the argument, but the election. Anyone running for office who concedes a point to the opposition is doomed.

But I started this blog talking about theological discussion. Can one debate theology? I used to think so. But I have pretty much abandoned that idea. I do add my two cents into the threads that pop up on my Facebook, now and then, but after a few comments back and forth intent comes into play. I have nothing to offer people who want to win. I don’t care enough to continue the fight. The theology I hold, which is pretty loose, works in my life. It makes me happy and it supports my ability to love, which is all that really matters to me.

On Poverty

I was thinking about the poor this morning. I think we can agree that allowing poverty to go on without some kind of attention is wrong but we cannot seem to agree upon the who-what-where-when of helping the poor. First of all, I don’t think helping the poor is a command only for those who believe in God. One doesn’t have to be religious to share in this responsibility. I think that caring for the needy among us is a human imperative. I think the main reason we have so much poverty is that too many people think the problem is not theirs. Who is responsible for poverty isn’t important. The solution is everyone’s.

As for what to do about poverty, well, there are a gazillion ways, as many as there are people who are poor. Some people are poor because of their lack of education…so educators need to step up to the plate, and governments and churches who fund education need to step up to the plate, too. Education takes place in numerable ways besides in schools so there are others that can help educate: those who work with children in clubs, scouting, and sports, for example.

Some people are poor because the jobs they hold pay wages too small to provide a living for them and their families. So…employers need step up to the plate and provide a living wage. No excuses. And if you think you can renege on this, then maybe there needs to be a penalty imposed by the government…yes by the government…city, county, state, national – whatever! If you can’t fork up, you’d better be able to justify it. Are you keeping too much for the uppity-ups in your business? Do you need time to adjust? Maybe, but think about this: there are thousands of businesses who do pay a living wage and they can because it was a commitment they made before they went into business in the first place. They may have grown slower than your business and they might not have as high a percentage of profit as you do, but their employees are happy and they are not poor because of poor wages.

Some people are poor because of some bad things that have happened in their lives, an illness to a family member, a catastrophe that wiped out their home, a loss of a job. Well, whose problem is this? Everybody’s! So we pitch in and help through our neighborhoods, churches, organizations, employers, and governments. We help in the moment or we work together to be sure people are prepared to take care of mishaps when they occur. I am talking about affordable insurance or structures created so that there is a plan in place for when problems occur. In my mind, “citizen” is to a “country” is what a family member is to a family. We take care of our own.

Some people are poor because they were born into poverty and don’t know any other way to live. They are used to the life and may even have gotten used to getting some things without working for them. Let me tell you what I think is the solution to this situation. Those of us who are “in the know” need to get to know them. I believe that the most powerful component in fostering change in a person is through relationship. Alas, this is just not how we are willing to live. “Give me your tired, your poor,” Lady Liberty says. Well, that may have opened the doors for the tired and poor to come into our country, but God forbid we should invite them into our homes! Yet it is in relationships that those who can’t find the straps to their boots can experience real transformation. Too much work, too much time, too much commitment we say, and too much vulnerability. Well, then we should stop complaining about all the programs the government creates to help the poor…it is, after all, something, even if the least efficient and least productive way to help people.

Some people are poor because they are sick in mind, body or spirit and they will remain so as long as they are on this earth. I think these are the ones Jesus was referring to when he said, “The poor will always be among you.” Sometimes all we can do is make room for them…provide shelter and food. But we should do that and make sure they are treated with dignity…not just because of their humanity but  because of our own.

I realize there are many who would argue with what I have said. Truth be known, I am overwhelmed by the reality of poverty and suffering in the world. I really don’t know the answer. But sometimes it seems that arguing about whose problem poverty is and what to do about it, especially among our government officials, is the problem in itself. If they can talk about it long enough, they can reject or postpone any efforts. Do they enjoy the process of debate just a little too much? So it seems. Meanwhile, the poor stay poor and the rest of us get to go our merry way until we ourselves fall into the dark hole of poverty.

 

Kingdom of God

I am reading a book by Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus. A friend loaned me his copy a couple of weeks ago because, he said, “You need to read this.” I no sooner got home than I saw in my bookcase the very book and the notes penciled in the margins showed that I have read it. I guess my friend should have said, “You need to reread this because you didn’t get it the first time.”

Well, I guess I didn’t get it the first time. None of the words seem familiar to me. You would never guess by the comments I wrote that I was totally missing something. So goes growth. Those who talk about life as being like the peeling of an onion are right on.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Kingdom of God. I think that the most important thing that Jesus ever said was in the prayer that he passed along to his followers: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This morning, Bourgeault tackles this in a new way. She suggests that we are each on this earth, born into this earthly kingdom, to make manifest the heavenly kingdom within. It is the mission of all, no matter the countless variables of personality or life circumstances. It is actually the Spirit of God within that we manifest as we go. Jesus taught about and modeled this manifesting and as sacrament, she suggests, those who seek to follow him are empowered to do the same. He is both the archetype and the means.

The healing that most impresses me among the stories of Jesus is the one in which Jesus was approached by a crazy man who wandered naked among the graves of Garada. Mark, in his telling, creates a frightening scene: “…Nobody could keep him tied with chains anymore; many times his feet and his hands had been tied, but every time he broke the chains and smashed the irons on his feet. He was too strong for anyone to control him. Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones. Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5: 3-5) With our new understanding of illness today, it is difficult to imagine the hesitency Jesus might have had in reaching out to those who were blind or crippled or had skin diseases. But mental illness is another story. There are those among us so mentally deranged that it could be considered dangerous to approach them, just like this individual. I wonder as I read this story in the bible, whether Jesus experienced fear when approached by this man. But, whether or not he felt afraid, he did not back down from the call to heal. He stepped into the situation with as much love as he could muster. The rest of the story is well known. He drove out the evil spirits in the man and, to make sure the story would be remembered, he sent them into a herd of pigs. The man, people saw after the healing, “ …was sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.”

What does this say about the Kingdom of God? To me it answers the question of why is there so much evil in the world. I think that the only thing inhibiting the manifestation of the Kingdom is that we human beings pull back from fully manifesting the love that is God’s spirit within us. We pick and choose whom to love, we love when it is easy, comfortable, when we can do so while keeping our egos intact. We love those who love us. I believe that we aren’t anywhere near loving our enemies, as Jesus preached. The parable of the good Samaritan was told when someone asked, “Who is my neighbor?” But the question that comes to my mind today is “Who is my enemy?” “Who is this person or people that I am supposed to love?”

John Stewart had as guest on his show Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old Pakistani girl who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for publicly taking a stand, at the risk of her own life, for the education of women. She was asked what she would do if the Taliban, who have already threatened to kill her, came to attack her. She said, “First I would think to hit him with my shoe. But then I thought, ‘If I do that, then I am no different than the Taliban.’” She speaks with the same Spirit that empowered Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Peace Pilgrim. It is the Taliban that Malala is talking about here, her enemy, the people we in America deem enemies. She is suggesting that we not meet violence with violence. Those we consider enemies are the most important people in our work field. If we cannot love them then we should stop complaining about the evil in the world and stop whining at God for not doing something. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within…we are the answer.

Slow Recovery

This is what I am hearing about the economy:  the recovery is slow because people are hesitant to spend money out of fear that their jobs may not be secure. They don’t trust that the economic collapse won’t reoccur and want to be more ready the next time. This sounds to me like the years after the depression.

The way my family lived when I was a child was like this: People like my parents learned to live with less. They repaired what was a broken and used things up before buying a replacement. They lived within their means. They saved for things they wanted instead of going into debt. I don’t know how much of a down payment my parents had on their first home, which they bought after both of my brothers had left the nest and I was a sophomore in high school, but I remember the chart my mother created to keep track of the payments. They made double payments when they could to save interest until finally they owned the house.

This all sounds like a great idea to me. What a difference it would have made to a lot of citizens if they had lived this way before the recent economic collapse. It will make a difference now in the way our economy grows if the citizenry is stable and wise. I believe this: we are all part of the problem and we are all part of the solution. Unfortunately, history shows that, at least in this country, people forget and, sadly, industry depends on this forgetfulness.

Gratitude and Reverence

I received a little affirmation for my post yesterday. It is hard to see in it that I am an environmentalist. I really do care about the earth and I believe we humans are doing a terrible job of caring for it. We pollute its waters, tear down its trees, and screw around with the cycle of life by eliminating species. We, especially in the west, consume too much of the earth’s resources leaving little for the rest of the world.

Yesterday, I walked with my grandson to visit the farm down the road to buy some corn for supper. Charlie told me about his dream to one day buy a bus and reconstruct it to live in. I asked him if he plans to live off the grid. He said he does. Then he asked me what it means to live off the grid and I explained it to him. I said that I always wanted to do that until I got old. “It is best to learn to do it when you are young and strong.”

When we got to the farm, we bought some corn and lemonade from the farmer kids, supporting their summer business. Charlie had some questions about how the farmer’s wind turbine and solar panels work, so he gave us a tour. He showed us the gages that record the energy output and explained how he does an energy trade with the electric company. We stood under the turbine and watched the huge blades do their work. We were able to touch the solar panels and we could see the little filaments that catch the sun’s energy. We learned that they can use the sun that reflects on the snow in winter. “It makes up for the shorter days,” he said. He explained that he has to walk out onto this hill all year long to readjust the panels to face the sun as the seasons pass. I thought about how bitter cold it gets in the winter here in Minnesota. The farmer is young, I thought, but one day his children will do the chore.

Walking back to the little store his kids had set up, I asked him if other farmers were considering investing in alternative forms of energy. He said that he gets lots of inquiries. “It is a costly venture and it doesn’t always pay off, but I believe we have to protect the earth for future generations. Most people don’t care about that. They only care about profiting for themselves today.”

My reference in yesterday’s blog to the environment was tucked into a broader point about people minding their own business. There was an attack on people who criticize those who have large families while they themselves consume more than their fair share of the earth’s resources. I guess I am just as guilty of judgment as anyone.

What I think we human beings need to do is develop a sense of gratitude for God’s gifts and a reverence for life…all life. And we need to realize we are put on this earth to serve others and that means sharing the fruits of the earth. We need to make efforts to correct the harm and imbalance we have created as we do our politics and create our monetary systems,  as well as in our day to day encounters in neighborhoods and personal relationships. The question of overpopulation is not one I want to get into. My faith tells me that if we had real gratitude and reverence, the population would come into balance. Meanwhile, there are efforts to conserve and share resources, but these are far too small and infrequent. New technologically’s amazing potential for solving environmental problems is often trumped by those who seek profit only for themselves and only for today.

I think about the woman that Jesus encountered when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem who gave her last coin. He admonished those who gave only after their own needs and desires were met. Oh, we Christians have along long way to go.

Privilege

In her book, Proclaim Jubilee, author Maria Harris writes about the sin of omission. Referring to those who commit such sins, she says: “I suspect what we fail to do – our omissions – regularly arises from our awareness of our privilege, whether that is racial privilege, gender privilege, economic privilege. Educational privilege, or even – when it comes to our relation with our children – grown-up privilege.”

A number of years ago, while I was studying at St. Cloud State, I happened to attend a lecture by Paula Rothenberg, author of the book, White Privilege. Her talk was part of series offered to the citizens of the city as they dealt with an increase in the immigrant population. The author invited her audience members to share personal experiences of either privilege or disadvantage. One black man shared how his mother had to teach him that when stopped by a police officer, he was to put both his hands on the base of the window opening where they could be seen. All of the black men in the room, including the esteemed professor who had invited Rothenberg, nodded knowingly. These are things white mothers don’t bother teaching their sons.

A woman shared about how she and her family had been given a table in a restaurant ahead of a black family that had arrived before them. She told the hostess that there was another family that had arrived before them and should really get seated first. She was a white person who woke up in the experience of being treated preferentially, but most often white people are oblivious. We seldom look over our shoulders to see those who have been overlooked.

I think about the story Jesus told about the banquet at which those accustomed to privilege automatically took their places at the head of the table. Those of less importance took their place at the lowliest places, as they’d learned to do. It was the host that corrected the situation. He leveled the playing field, you might say. But in the story above, it was one of the privileged person that spoke up and stepped aside because they understood what was fair and right. The woman was a respecter of persons, no matter what their status by society.

Sometimes I feel helpless when I see injustice continue in a society that holds “Justice for all” as its supreme value. But the woman at this presentation inspired me. I can be conscious of those around me, those of different race, creed, age, or economic status and treat them as my equals. When I observe them being treated differently because of who they are, I can speak up. I can let them ahead of me if that is the just and right thing.

 

FOX NEWS – an evil, evil station – I’m mad now

Fox News. I don’t even watch you but you really got me mad. On Facebook, someone sent a link to a video of a Fox News team bashing Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. A female Foxy called him “an evil, evil man”. Really? Talk about calling black white and white black! The Foxy team connected young people’s sense of entitlement with Mr. Roger’s telling children they are special. Oh, how stupid can you get? Never tell you children they are special. Really?

Here is what Mr. Rogers did for my children:

  1. He taught their mother that children have feelings and she should not dismiss them.
  2. He taught their mother that children see things differently than adults. For example, children might think they could actually go down a drain and that might be why they scream when you try to put them in the bathtub.
  3. He taught their mother that children can do things that adults cannot do, like get into little places to get things when the adult cannot.
  4. He taught their mother now to talk to children in ways that children understand.
  5. Fred Roger’s taught their mother that CHILDREN ARE SPECIAL and that she should be grateful for them.

 

I am sure that the members of this Fox News team did not watch Mr. Rogers when they were children and their mothers didn’t either.

 

I don’t know how long it will take me to get rid of this resentment.