Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Conservative Myths – Dependency

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

The basic construct of democracy is that candidates campaign for votes. The candidate that gets the most votes wins the office.

Since this is a representative democracy, candidates try to give voters a sense of how they are going to behave if they get elected. This gives voters an opportunity to select those candidates that they feel would best represent them.

What has happened over the years is that this country has divided into two dominant parties. It would be convenient to say that conservatives are served by Republicans and liberals by Democrats, but that is a fairly recent development. The Republicans of Lincoln were the liberal party and the Democrats were the conservatives. The politics of race transformed the South into solid Democratic territory as the result of the white backlash to the civil war. The Democratic Party itself under FDR became significantly more liberal, but continued to hold its southern wing together by ignoring the plight of southern blacks. Kennedy and Johnson lead the legislative charge for civil rights in the 60’s. Racial politics caused another seismic shift during the 70’s when Nixon’s Southern Strategy embraced angry white men unhappy with Johnson’s civil rights activism. That strategy was expanded by Reagan who widened the Republican tent to include the evangelical vote that helped elect Carter.

The result is that we now have two parties that are pretty far apart ideologically. Both have their sets of beliefs. This particular post is going to look at some of the myths that are at the foundation of conservatism. There are likely some myths at the foundation of liberalism too. I’ll try to find some of those too.

Dependency
The myth is simple. Cash assistance for the poor prolongs their poverty. Reagan pledged to free the poor from the spider’s web of dependency by cutting their benefits. This allows those who believe in this myth to claim that eliminating benefits is really a compassionate act.

Fortunately there is no data to support this claim.

In fact, much to the contrary, cash assistance is common place in the rest of the world. 119 countries have at least one type of unconditional cash assistance. The US has none. In 52 additional countries the cash transfers require simple acts like enrolling your children in school. The only cash assistance available in this country is Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It has a huge bureaucracy whose sole role is to make sure that the aid is TEMPORARY.

MIT studied seven cash transfer programs in Central and South America and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work”.

The World Bank 2014 report came to a similar conclusion regarding their cash assistance programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In this country, a UC Berkeley study found that welfare payments did not increase single motherhood.

Though welfare as we know it was eliminated by Bill Clinton in 1996, the claim that welfare produced generations of dependents also failed the fact check. 40% of welfare recipients were off welfare within two years. Two thirds were off welfare within 5 years.

What about benefits?
More cash welfare improves the longevity, educational attainment, nutritional health, and adult income of poor children.

How about the results of cutting welfare?
Initially it appeared to encourage a lot of people to get jobs. But as soon as the Clinton boom faded, so did the jobs. Whatever gains the poor made during that period now appear to be the result of a strong economy and the expanded earned income tax credit.

Zombie Politics
This is one of those ideas that simply won’t die. This myth is buried so deep in the conservative mind that facts really don’t matter.

Paul Ryan proposed eliminating the last remaining vestiges of federal assistance and replacing it with block grants to the states who impose tough work requirements on the beneficiaries.

Summary
There is no data suggesting that cash payments to the needy are abused.

There is no data suggesting that reducing payments somehow provides a greater incentive to work than poverty itself.

There is plenty of data that suggest that those who suffer most from poverty are those who have the least ability to change their condition – children. There is also data that shows investing in poor children produces adults that are less dependent on the government because they are healthier, better educated, and more likely to be tax payers.

So why do we persist in an idea that is both cruel and foolish?

Because conservatives are more afraid of someone getting something that they don’t deserve than they are of injuring someone who is innocent. As a result, those who represent conservatives have found that if they blame the poor for their condition, they get more votes than the candidates who suggest that welfare could be an effective strategy to combat poverty.

Hopefully the next generation will not be so short sighted and hard hearted.

Perfect Snow

Saturday, February 1st, 2014
Satellite photo of the Great Lakes on January 28. 2014

Satellite photo of the Great Lakes on January 28. 2014

It snowed in SE Michigan again today.

That is nothing new, particularly for those of us living the Midwest.

As I was out shoveling (again), I starting thinking about politics. Some may point to this winter as confirming scientists’ predictions of the consequences of climate change. Some instead may blame a vengeful deity who is punishing us for sensualism or abortion or contraception or same sex marriage or some other choice from a long list of perceived shortcomings.

While I tend to agree with scientists, I also enjoy reading the Bible. The quote that comes to mind is from Matthew. The edit is mine.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain (or snow) on the just and on the unjust.

The question this brought to my mind is why would God ignore the evil and punish the good by sending the snow to pile up on everyone?

Then it came to me.

He loves us – all of us.

Snow isn’t a punishment. It is a blessing.

It is a blessing that a generous God shares with all His creation. It doesn’t matter whether you are righteous, profligate, straight, gay, chaste, or promiscuous. The snow is going to pile up on your drive way and in front of your door and on your side walks. It’s going to make it difficult to drive, and dangerous to walk. Rich or poor, sober or drunk, you are going to have to pay attention and do something about it.

When temps are below zero and the wind is howling, our focus narrows to what has to be done. We stop worrying about whether or not somebody else is getting away with something. It is a waste of time looking for someone to blame. We are all in this together. We clear the steps so that the postman can deliver the mail. We clear the sidewalk and maybe our neighbors sidewalk too because the kids have to be able to get to school. We help get cars out of the drifts because our car may be the next one needing a push. We don’t care who is driving or what they may have done to get themselves in that situation. It’s too cold. There’s too much snow. We just push.

We are all cold.

We are all buried.

We are all blessed.

Then there’s the rest of the Matthew quote.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

God loves us and expects us to be his perfect reflections. So He sends us beautiful white snow just to remind us how perfect we really are.

Is there a Hell?

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

I’m not the first person to ask this question, but I think it is part of a larger interesting discussion going on right now in modern Christianity.

Here’s what we know from the Bible, and in particular the New Testament.

God is infinite unconditional Love.

Man is spiritual, made in God’s image and likeness.

Life is eternal.

If we strive to follow Jesus teachings in our time on earth, we will have an opportunity to join him in a life after death where there is no more pain, sickness, or sorrow.

If we choose to follow some other path, there is still a life after death, but it is similar to the life lived by those who have publically turned their back on God and refuse to accept His love.  This life has been described as tormented, tortured, burning, etc.  The Bible uses the word Hell.

Hopefully we are all on the same page at least this far.

From a Biblical perspective I’m not sure that we can go much further, because anything beyond this point is speculation based on how you view what we can glean from the Bible.

Given that caveat, I’ll share my view of what makes sense to me.

I don’t believe that an all-knowing God who is the source of all love (not just loving) would create someone who ultimately would be consigned to an eternity of pain and torment from which there is no escape.

I also know that there are many who don’t see any contradiction between an eternity in Hell and a loving God.

I do.

My sense of the relationship between God and man is that God so loved us that He gave us the ability to choose whether or not we want to accept His love.  Those who pass from this life to the next having accepted God’s love, are capable of experiencing God’s full embrace – a life where love is all there is.  For those people, life will be about just learning to love more.  Since God is infinite, that is the work of eternity.

Those who have rejected God’s love may experience something very different.   They will know, as they have always known, that God’s love is there, but they won’t be able to accept it after death because they had rejected it in their lives.  They won’t be able to accept it because they created barriers in this life to keep God out and those barriers won’t magically vanish just because they no longer have a body.  It will take at least as much effort to take those barriers down as it took to put them up in the first place.

What they will feel instead is a huge empty void of nothingness which they themselves created.  They will now have to confront and overcome all of the obstacles that they put between themselves and God, all the while knowing that the pain they are experiencing is self-inflicted.   The journey for these people is also about learning to love more, but depending on their starting point, the effort could be quite hellish.

So then we get back to the fundamental question.  Is there a Hell?  I believe that we all create our own Hell and our own Heaven based on our willingness to accept and fully embrace God’s love.

He is Risen

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

A little less that two thousand years ago the Romans executed someone at the request of the local authorities. They didn’t see the person as much of a threat, but they were happy to oblige those Jews that helped keep the peace in this sleepy little backwater province of the Roman Empire. Pilate, knowing that the normal Roman practice of leaving the dead bodies to rot on the cross was objectionable to the Jews particularly on a religious holiday, allowed a man of substance to take the body. In keeping with Jewish custom, the body was buried in a new tomb in order to avoid the familial stigma associated with being executed as a criminal.

Then something incredible happened. After three days, the man that had been killed by the Romans, got back up. He somehow got out of the burial wrappings. He found the strength to roll the large stone away from the entrance to the solid rock tomb. He walked off under his own power.

I don’t think that there is any question that this person was dead. His heart had stopped beating. He had stopped breathing. It is likely that most of the blood had drained out of his body from his many wounds and a spear through the heart. Given all of that, it is also likely that if we had modern instruments, no brain waves would have been detected. Yet, he overcame those challenges without the aid of ER physicians, electric shocks to his heart, sutures, bandages, or transfusions.

He invited those who thought he was a ghost to examine his wounds to confirm that it was him. So clearly those wounds were still there including the most serious one on his side that pierced his heart. There was no mention of his walking funny like the Hollywood zombies. So he also seemed to recover from the beatings that he received. Yet he was able to move through the population without drawing attention to himself.

As far as his bodily functions, we know that he ate and drank, so we can probably assume that his digestive system also returned to some level of function. In fact he was able to walk a considerable distance during the time after his death.

How could this happen?

Were the laws of physics suspended?

I don’t know. You can pick the explanation that works for you.

Here’s what works for me.

On that day, the world changed. The most perfect man ever to walk the earth, born of a woman, learned through prayer how to overcome his own death. Not only that, but he promised that everyone who followed his teaching would be able to perform even greater works because the Christ that he embodied is reflected in all of us.  He was willing to go through all of this because it was the only way that he could prove that all that he said was true.  For that we owe him a debt of gratitude that we can only repay by following him.

I believe that we are just starting to scratch the surface of understanding the power of prayer. As we do, our sorrow will also turn to joy because the world for us will change just like it did for the apostles.

Happy Easter to all.

 

A Fearless Man

Friday, December 28th, 2007

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” John 8:51

I had the opportunity to use this passage earlier this week at a church service following the passing of someone I felt very close to. We were at different ends of the political spectrum, but it didn’t matter because we were very much in the same place when it came to our understanding of God, man, and a life well lived.

This particular bible passage bothered me when I first read it because many people I knew did keep Jesus sayings and yet still passed on.

What I understand this to mean now after some prayer and additional reading on the subject is that I was taking “see” way too literally.

Earlier in this chapter in John, Jesus was debating with scribes and Pharisees about Moses and the law. The Jews took issue with Jesus saying that he was sent from God. Jesus tried to share his message with them, but they were too limited in their thinking to be able to grasp the new truths he had to share. He was trying to tell them that man is not material, he is spiritual. The salvation in that truth is that there is a life after what the Jews then saw as a final death. Jesus proved that truth through His death and resurrection.

So those who “keep” this understanding of who they are, lose their fear of death. They no longer see death in the same way that they may have seen it in the past. Death is no longer an ending of anything. It is instead the passage from a material phase of existence to a spiritual one.

The person I admired shared this understanding of life and death. As a result, he lived a full and fearless life. He made a difference in his family, friends, associates, employees, church, community, and industry. He was also a wonderfully curious and inquisitive person, fascinated by technology and new ideas.

So though I’ve struggled with some sadness, it’s hard to mourn this person’s passing. That’s because I can only guess at the wonder he must be feeling now. He has finally satisfied his curiosity about what life after death is really about.

 

Unto Us a Child is Born

Friday, December 21st, 2007

The news continues to generate interesting juxtapositions of stories.

The latest one is the announced pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears, the publisher delaying the release of her mother’s book on Christian parenting, the release of a study showing that sex education does have a positive effect in delaying sexual activity, and a another report showing that teen pregnancies are up for the first time in 14 years.

You’ve probably seen the stories on the 16 year old Disney star’s pregnancy.

There probably isn’t much more to say about her mother’s book.

Here are the facts from the CDC studies.

The first indicates that sex education actually does work in reducing sexual activity of those 15 and younger, particularly among boys. What they also learned is that those boys who did receive sex education and did decide to become sexually active were three times more likely to use contraception. The study also made clear that the earlier that sex education is provided to kids, the more effective it is. The study did not distinguish between programs that emphasized abstinence versus contraception.

According to experts, the report regarding the first increase in teen pregnancy in 14 years indicates that current education and prevention programs have produced all of the reductions that they are going to produce. Bill Albert, deputy director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy said, “The early wins may have been won. Future efforts may well have to be more intense, focused, and creative if the nation is to make continued progress in reducing teen pregnancy and childbearing. Put another way, yesterday’s way of doing business will no longer suffice.”

I could head off at this point on a discussion speculating how we could be more effective in reducing teen pregnancy, but that would only throw a few more logs onto a culture war fire that doesn’t need my help.

I think it is more interesting to think about a young girl who found herself pregnant through no fault of her own a couple thousand years ago. How frightened she must have been, and at the same time what great courage she must have shown in the choice she made. I’m also always impressed with the faith and trust that her fiancé demonstrated when she told him what had happened to her. Can you even begin imagine the anticipation, terror, pride, and heartbreak they experienced in their lives?

I suspect that every teenager who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant also confronts a set of overwhelming choices. For those of us who are parents, you know that even the planned pregnancies have an element of terror because helping bring another life into the world is such a serious responsibility. Imagine how overwhelming it must feel for those who are still in many ways children, when forced to contemplate the life-changing implications of every option.

Fortunately, then as now, God remains the real parent and creator of everyone. He was there to guide Mary and Joseph. He guided our parents. He is there right now for Jamie Lynn Spears. It’s up to her whether or not she listens.

I know that there are some Christians who feel very strongly that they should be able to judge this process and in some ways limit the choices that women have. I don’t share that view, but not because I don’t consider life sacred. What I do consider sacred is the relationship between God and His creation. It is not my place to try to take His place or the place of the women who have to make these choices every day. The comfort I take in this is that no pregnant woman makes these choices lightly, so I’m sure that most every one in their own way reaches out to God as they decide what to do.

It IS my place to make sure that everyone has good information with which to make wise choices, and access to the resources they need to prevent pregnancy if they choose to sexually active. Reducing unwanted pregnancies is the most effective way to reduce the need for abortion.

It is also my place to listen for God’s voice in my life and celebrate the fact that two thousand years ago He selected a teenage girl to bring His message of love and salvation to a hungry world. What is sometimes missed in this story though, and something I’m even more grateful for, is that God didn’t command this teenage girl to obey His will. He respected her right to choose. So though we use Christmas to celebrate Jesus birth, this holiday is also just as much about Mary’s choice.

Merry Christmas.

Oops Honey I Changed the World

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Gen 1:3

This is the basis for the first of the two creation stories in Genesis. In Scientific terms, this was the big bang. There is a second chapter in Genesis that introduces a talking serpent, but has a much less optimistic ending with man becoming a mortal sinful being. This pretty much set the stage for discussions that fundamentalists and progressives have been having ever since.

Scientists working on expanding quantum theory to the operation of the universe have come up with a second chapter of their own.

It wasn’t too long ago that scientists created the concept of dark matter to explain why the universe kept expanding. Based on the matter that we could see, the expansion from the Big Bang should have slowed significantly by now. So these clever guys said that there must be something else out there left over from the Big Bang of creation that we just couldn’t see that kept things running away from each other.

In 1998, scientists actually observed a phenomena which supported the theory of dark matter.

The problem is that another pair of scientists have now concluded that the observation itself may have altered the nature of this matter and as a result altered it’s ability to force the universe to continue to expand. This alteration will ultimately result in the universe collapsing back on itself like the film of the Big Bang run in reverse in very slow motion.

The reason why this argument has interest from a spiritual point of view is that it suggests that those that think the deepest about physical reality are telling us that this reality is actually an expression of our thought. In other words, we through our thought create our reality rather than some absolute reality acting on us to control or influence our thoughts.

If that is true, then where can we turn for dependable truth?

At least for me, the being that made the universe seems like a logical choice.

It also seems logical to me that if He created all to be good, it was good then and should still be good now. So when I see what appears to be evidence of poverty, sickness, war, and hate; where did the good go? Did God somehow change reality, or perhaps has my thought and the thought of millions of generations of humans warped our perception of good into our own human version of reality?

My sense is that God doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are the ones who have an opportunity to change by figuring out how to be more like Him. As we learn how to be more like Him, our reality changes too. The lame walk, the dumb speak, the blind see, the poor have the gospel preached to them, wars cease, and all men treat each other as brothers.

Jesus proved that it doesn’t take much to change the world. Just an open mind and a willing heart.

Happy Thanksgiving

Rabboni

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.” John 20:16

Depending on how you count, there have been twenty or so really world changing moments. This has to rank as number one. This moment was more important than the first self-replicating cell, the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, the first spoken word, discovery of fire, the wheel, writing, farming, gunpowder, moveable type, the telescope, calculus, the steam engine, the airplane, the electric light bulb, the radio, the telephone, the atom bomb, the personal computer, or the Internet.

If you’re not familiar with the story in the Bible, here’s a quick summary.

Jesus was captured by the Jewish authorities and turned over to the Romans for sentencing. He was tortured and died during a gruesome form of public hanging. A Roman soldier standing guard punctured his heart with a spear just to make sure. He was buried in a donated tomb. Mary Magdalene and the rest of the apostles were grieving in hiding. They felt that it was all over. The Pharisees had won. The dream and their hopes for a new world died along with Jesus. They were confused, depressed, and frightened that they might be next.

Mary Magdalene however, was going to do her best to make sure that Jesus body wasn’t subjected to any additional desecration. After the Sabbath passed, she went to check on the tomb.

Her worst fears were justified. The tomb had been robbed. The stone blocking entry to the tomb was moved. The tomb was open and Jesus body was gone. She saw what she took to be two men in the tomb. She was certain that his enemies had stolen the body and these men were probably involved. She was heartbroken but also fearless. When asked by them why she was weeping, she didn’t think of the risk to herself, but simply said honestly that she was one of this man’s followers and was devastated that someone had stolen his body.

As she turned to leave, she bumped into another man and again assumed that he must be involved. She asked him directly if he knew where the body had been taken. If so, please tell her and she would retrieve it herself.

This man looked back at her tenderly. With infinite compassion and love, he called her by name, “Mary”.

At that moment, the world changed forever. Mary looked back at this man, recognized that it was Jesus, and said “Rabboni” or master.

In that moment she realized that everything that He had said about Himself was true. He had defeated death and demonstrated that life is both spiritual and eternal. She also realized that this demonstration was not only for His benefit but also for her. If this was true about Him, it was also true about Mary and every other person that ever did or will draw a breath.

The world forever changed in that moment because one woman realized that death had lost any power it seemed to have over life, truth, or love.

Mary Magdalene ran back to tell the apostles what had happened, but many of them refused to accept that the world had changed. They thought she was crazy and wanted to continue to live in the old world that they knew. But that’s the interesting thing about these events. Once they happen, things change forever.

More than 2000 years later, we are still learning what eternal life means for each of us, but what we do know is that the world will never be the same.

Happy Easter.

Gratitude

Monday, February 12th, 2007

My wife Terry teases me that the Evening News let me put up this blog because they got tired editing the letters that I wrote to the Editor.

Well tonight the tables were turned. Our lovely hosts who put up this blog server for our enjoyment, actually published a couple of excerpts from some of the blogs in the paper, including one of mine. Dave from the LunaPier Cook was another, as was Ashley of So Alive.

Dave was nice enough to post a link in his blog to my site, so I’m happy to return the favor because there are a lot more people interested in food than politics or religion. Maslow figured that out about fifty years ago.

I’m grateful to the paper for the publicity as well as the opportunity share my thoughts with those interested in reading them.

I’m grateful for Father Cunningham, my African American Jesuit religion teacher Junior year at Creighton Prep HS in Omaha, Nebraska. Other than the couple of older Jesuits who drank too much, Father Cunningham was the only person of color in the faculty and only one of a handful of African Americans at the whole school. There were no African Americans in my tidy middle class part of town. Father Cunningham was the first adult Black man I had ever had a substantive conversation with.

Father Cunningham had the longest fingers of any man I’ve ever met. They would reach out across the room and end a few inches from your nose. It was one of the most challenging classes I have ever been in. It was completely unpredictable. There were no rules other than the fact that he was in charge and he didn’t even pretend to care about fairness. It was almost daily hand-to-hand verbal combat. There were no easy answers to anything, and if one side of a particular argument appeared to be winning (often my side), he would arbitrarily intervene to skew the outcome to those that were losing. I spent most of that year in seething rage at how biased it all was. It probably took me ten years to realize that his willingness to aggressively confront our whole white suburban prep school sense of entitlement was done out of love rather than spite. By that time he has left the priesthood, married, had some children, and passed on.

I’m sad that I never had the opportunity to thank him in person for helping me learn how to think and have the courage of conviction. I’m also sad that he didn’t live long enough to see Barak Obama run for President. Instead I thank him every day by expressing my opinions.

I am also most grateful for my wife who gets to hear a lot of my opinions. We will be celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary this Saturday, but we’ve known each other since we first fell in love as seventeen year-olds. She was a smart cutie from a Toledo Catholic girl’s school. I was a skinny debater from an all-boys Prep School in Omaha. I’ll tell the whole story of our almost forty year romance some other time, but it is the stuff of novels. I’m just grateful that she is still as much in love with me after all these years as I am with her.

I am blessed way beyond my deserving, so much so that heartfelt gratitude seems hardly sufficient.

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:18

Faithful Servant

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matt 25:21

What do you think Gerald Ford, James Brown, and Saddam Hussein experienced after their passing?

It is certainly one of the mysteries of human existence.

But it is one that many people have thought and written about.

For those who read and believe the Bible, there is certainly some guidance. We Christians believe in a life after death where we have an opportunity learn more about our Creator.

Christians aren’t the only ones who believe that man is an eternal spirit. Most religions have some sense of existence past death. If nothing else it provides some purpose and direction to the life that we have here on earth.

One thought that I’ve been toying with, however, is that we experience exactly what we are expecting and that is where our next journey starts. So James Brown might find a God who looks a lot like Cynthia Robinson in her prime leading a tireless tight rhythm section that lives on the one and never misses a beat.

Gerald Ford on the other hand may find himself in front of someone who looks Coach Kipke mounting a huge comeback in the fourth quarter to beat OSU 42-38 in the 1934 game of his senior season. Or, based on his love of golf, it would be a perfect round similar to Caddyshack.

Saddam Hussein, however, is probably a darker picture. He was a Muslim, but clearly his actions didn’t align well with the tenets of his religion. His life was dominated by violence and ended in the same way. He might face the judgment of a fearful and demanding God. Or if his public displays were just for show, he might experience the despair of a seemingly uninhabited void. In his case it might take a while for him to figure out how to move beyond his thoughts of who he was and discover that God exists and loves him.

They all are on the next step of their journey of discovering more about themselves and their Creator. It is the common journey that unites all of us. For these three and everyone who has gone before us, bon voyage.