Saturday, November 29, 2008


The above phrase is an angry mantra spoken by many a frustrated leader trying to confront real problems only to be waylaid by others who are dragging their feet. I have said it publically myself on many occassions. As I get older I save it for real emergencies--which I admit are relatively rare.
If I would list the public things I am most thankful for this year I would place the relative safety and security of living in an American suburb at the top of my list. The impoverished areas of American cities are becoming increasingly dangerous. If you are traveling in DC at night you better say your prayers and travel in a group before going out. Avoid Baltimore except Camden Yard. The terrorist attacks in India's financial district remind us of the dangers that lurk in most places around our globe.
The second thing I am thankful for is that there are only 52 more days of the Bush/Cheney regime. I find comparisons between Hoover, who handed over an economic catastrophe to FDR, and Bush, to be revealing. Both Hoover and Bush were so tied up in their ideological economic assumptions that they found themselves unable to act effectively when the house of cars starting to cascade down. They both seem to hold fast to the "Hoover doctrine" : "the economy is fundamentally sound and the market is always right." Bush and Hoover shared another disasterous distinction: they served when the inequality in wealth and income were at record levels. As Bill Moyers says in his new book :"Inequality is incompatible with democracy." Today the top 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 90%. This is a betrayal of our founding vision--the desire to leave the aristocratic lands of Europe and come to the democratic land of opportunity. Americans have until recently believed that wealth and power that is concentrated in a monied elite is an inherent evil. Thankfully we are starting to recover this founding conviction. A sign of how perverted the prevailing economic ideology of the GOP has become, Senator Obama's proposal to return us to the tax rates of the Clinton administration are labled "Socialism". Teddy Roosevelt--a man from one of the richest families in America, believed in progressive taxation (the stuff called socialism) and adamently opposed the huge concentration of wealth and power in a monied elite. Ironically we have experienced a record "transfer of wealth" in the last 8 years--from the middle to the very top 1%--actually the top 1/10th of 1% has been the greatest beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts.
Before last Wednesday's Thanksgiving Service at Temple Solel us clergy types were meeting to parcel out the assignments for the worship service. Since everyone arrived early the discussion turned to other topics. Rabbi Steve mentioned to our guest speaker, Dr.Crane, that he was enjoying a recent new translation of the Old Testament. Steve shared one well known changes from the prophet Jeremiah. The new translated had changed the old "Justice, justice my people" to "Equity, Equity." Crane agreed that equity (fairness in law and opprotunity for everyone) is the core of a society that is just. Most of a societies problems are the result of great disparity of wealth and the resulting privledge bestowed upon the wealthy.
It has not been lost on most Americans that the government has been quick to bail out the very wealthy captains of wall street and slow to respond to the devastation on main street. Few efforts have been made to stop people from losing their homes. I guess moral hazard only applies to people who bought homes in 2005 and 2006 with loans they couldn't afford and cannot sell in a down market. When Detroit comes looking for assistance to save the auto industry (and 4 million jobs) they are turned away. Yes, they didn't come with a working plan--but neither did wall street. Nor have the bankers started to loan the extra capital they were given. Detroits problems are not entirely self inflicted. They are victims of a health care funding crisis that has pushed most American manufacturing overseas. American medicine is number one in only one catagory: overall cost. We pay twice per capita of any other country and have poorer results to show for it in every catagory: most notabley life expectancy and infant mortality. Will ideology and the outdated term "socialism" once again get in the way of real reform?
The sad reality is that President Bush threw in the towel following the mid term elections in November 2006. Even before that our military leaders have complained that he is no longer as engaged as he was back in 2002-2005. Except for the "dead on arrival' attempt to privitaize social security, he has made no major policy initiatives since his first term. He has effectively blocked any effort Congress has made to initiate legislation. So Bush has not lead or followed, but stood in the way. I am thankful that Mr. Bush is helping with the government transistion..(something Hoover resisted to the bitter end). Bush does his ceremonial duties (like pardoning White House turkeys) while Mr. Obama assures the global markets that competence and non-ideological policy are on the way. Maybe Bush has learned to "get out of the way."
Jesus talked a great deal about money and fairness. His audience consisted mostly of poor people and minorities (including women and children). Jesus talked about the dangers of debt upon the poor. His model prayer, (The Lord's Prayer) asks God to "forgive us our debts" so we can forgive our debtors. I certainly welcome a serious Biblical discussion of economic issues of wealth and poverty and social justice. "Equity, equity" proclaims the prophet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith, education and marriage

There is one statistic that most Americans remember about marriage. 50 percent. Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. This statistic has produced a deep pessimism and fatalism among young people. "I don't want to get married because I don't want to go through all the pain of divorce." Add to this the wealth of research that has noted the severe conomic impact divorce has on children. Most of the Americans in poverty are children and most of them live in single (divorced) families. This is not a pretty picture.

However, as they say, "figures lie and liers can figure." If you go inside the divorce numbers you find one group of Americans for whom marriage is going qhite well. This group--now over a quarter of the population--has a divorce rate that has dropped by half in the past decade. People in this age group rarely have babies outside of marriage. They tend to marry in higher percentages and stay married. This group is defined by one thing: a college education.
The divorce rate after 10 years of marriage has plummed to 16% for college graduates. This is half the rate of a decade ago. Only 4 % of college educated women have children out of marriage.

On the other end of the scale, women who dropped out of high school have seen their divorce rates rise in the past to 46%. Those who completed high school has seen a slowly, but also steady rise, to 38%.
Why do college educated do better in marriage? Surely income is part of it. Marriages fight over money and college graduates tend to make more money and have more stable jobs. But perhaps the biggest thing is that people who attend college tend to get married later. Just putting off marriage to go to college is a plus in terms of maturity. The divorce rates for people of all education levels declines at the age of first marriage increases. Some have argued that finishing college is a testimony to self discipline--you have to do your homework and attend class. Getting through college gives you the skills and self confidence that you might not gain otherwise.
Kay Hymowitz of the Manhatten Institute says that graduates succeed not merely because they master the material in school, but they have learned to master themsevles. College graduates tend to have a life map that they follow. They are more selective of the person they choose to marry. They tend to put off children until they establish themselves and finish their education. When they do have children they in turn supervise and train them very carefully for success--instilling the kind of discipline, commitment to education, a wider understanding of the world and good relationships that lead to a solid marriage.

Another often cited fact is that evangelical Christians have much higher divorce rates and teenaged pregnancy rates then other Americans. this is true, but here again the numbers don't tell the whole story. Christians stress that marriage is about mutual sacrifice and "patience love" (I Corinthians 13). Studies show that evangelical Christinas who are college graudates when they get married tend to stay married longer then non-evangelical Christians. American Evangelicalare on the whole are less educated then the general population. They tend to get married early and have lower incomes. Not surpisingly they have a higher divorce rate, even though they are on average, highly committed to the instituion of marriage and to spiritual growth.

Faith and morality do matter. But education makes considerably more difference in the divorce rate than faith does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Post Election Healing

Two weeks ago I was asked by Doris Kobe, who leads a weekly "health and healing" group at CCPC, to design and lead a worship service on Election Day. The theme of the service : to pray for healing for our nation that is wounded by the long election and scared by the economic downturn. In preparation I did what Karl Barth famously instructed preachers to do: work with the best wisdom of the journalists in one hand and the Bible in the other. What follows is what I observed.
The most startling thing I noticed in the surveys of Obama and McCain voters is that in each group, about 25% of each candidates supporters believed that if the other side won the nations future was imperiled. That is a lot of fear and demonstrates a deeply divided electorate. I believe that both men are very capable (and far more competent then the current White House occupant) and would adequately serve our nation as President. I believe that whoever wins, our people will be more united then they have been during the current Presidency.
There were several positives. 1. I thought that this election cycle more issue oriented then the past two campaigns. Unavoidable problems like two wars and a fiscal meltdown tend to drown out trivial issues. It is to Mr. McCain's credit that he did not play the race card although his campaign managers, mostly holdovers from the slash and burn-do anything to win Rove/Bush team, consistently told him it was necessary to win. Mentioning Rev. Wright is playing the race card.
2. For the most part both candidates showed respect for each other and at the Presidential level the debate was more civil and decent. Maybe the campaigns of personal destruction are over.

There is an urgency that we come together. A large margin of victory will speed the process. We NEED TO HEAL, and heal quickly, BECAUSE THE PROBLEMS WE FACE LARGE AND IMMEDIATE. John Heilmann wrote a blog about the big opportunities and big risks of a possible Obama administration. "The circumstances Obama will face are infinitely more daunting then Clinton faced at the outset of his administration. The recession that fell Bush Sr was already in the rear view mirror. Although the mounting deficit compelled Clinton to abandon many of his planned initiates, the fiscal situation he inherited is nothing like the house of horrors awaiting Obama. Add to that a collapsing real estate market, the credit crunch, and rising unemployment, and Obama (or McCain!) will find himself staring down the barrel of a downturn so steep and ugly that it easily could consume his whole first term. Oh, and did i forget to mention that the country is at war--in not one but two countries?"

The crisis we face will not spare any part of the nation. Jobs are being lost. Homes are foreclosed. Saving are depleted for retirees and for those nearing retirement.
There are many other good things going on. Most significant is the energy and higher participation rates of young people. I remember trying to register college students at my Alma mater in 1976 when I was working for the Gerry Ford campaign in Spokane , Washington. Even with the President's daughter Susan Ford staffing our booth, my fellow classmates had no interest in voting . They were turned off by the Post - Watergate cynicism. By the mid 1980's Reagan brought some young people into the political process, but it was not until the Obama campaigns cutting edge recruitment of this age group that they became fully energized. I asked my son (he is 25) why people his age were not engaged 4 years ago. "Dad, for my age groups entire adolesence we have only had Clinton "competent but sleazy" and Bush "incompetent and intolerant" to look up to. Why should we vote? The rich run things, we don't have health insurance, college costs are rising twice the rate of inflation and government support for higher education has dramatically declined. Of course my cohort is disillusioned and apathetic!"
We will see by tonight if the wave of young people will make a difference in this election.They are important because our nation needs a counter balance to the near sighted and short term policies that have been enacted.

Now the bible part of the preparation. There is only one passage in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) where the writer paints a portrait of the Ideal King. That passage is Deuteronomy 17:14-20 "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me....choose one of your own community. He must not acquire many horses..and he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. when he has taken the throne, HE SHALL HAVE A COPY OF THE LAW WRITTEN FOORM HIM. THE LAW SHALL REMAIN WITH HIM AND HE SHALL READ IN IN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE SO THAT HE MAY LEARN TO FEAR THE LORD HIS GOD, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statues, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandments."
The history of the Old Testament had only a couple Kings who followed the ideal proclaimed in Deuteronomy 17. The classic designation of God's servant leadership here on earth is threefold :that of prophet, priest and king. The King is to be a steward of the land and the people: God warned the Kings to avoid war and to shun greed and to ensure justice and fairness for the people. The King also had a priestly function: to provide opportunities for the free worship of Israel and regular reading of the word of God's law.
The third office was expected to reside outside the king. The prophet was a special role, also chosen by God. The prophet was to speak the truth to the king and to keep the king honest and humble. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says it well:"Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. let not the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that i am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord."
The prophets role then is to declare boldly and plainly the gap between the nations ideals and their current practices. The prophet would remind the King to not be confident that God is an Alie for his agenda, but that the king needs to make sure we are on God's side.
The real hope I have for an Obama Presidency is that he is trying to get us past a 40 year culture war. This culture war has distracted us from addressing real problems. The culture war started in the 60's when America was the unquestioned top of the economic food chain. Liberation movements rose to deal with racial, sexual and gender discrimination. Civil Rights were won for Blacks and women started to gain some semblance of equality in the workplace and in the home. Then the Vietnam War opened huge holes in our social fabric. Those that came to oppose the war are still blamed 45 years later with losing it. A backlash against Civil Rights led the once reliable southern Democrats to join the Repbulican party. Relgious conservaitve reacted to the sexual promiscuity of the 1960's and in the 1980's got involved for the first time in politics. Uner President Bush the social conservative took over the GOP and drove that party far to the right.They maintained power because of the electoral system that give inordinate political clout to the less populated (mostly southern states). For example: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Alaska, Montana has 18 senators (16 currently GOP) who represent maybe 6 million citizens. California and New York have 4 senators representing 80 million citizens. At the height of the GOP's electoral clout in 2004 they had 58 senators who represented 42% of the population.
If you look at tonights Electoral map you might be able to make the argument that the Republican party is no longer a national party. It is becoming a region party that is mostly southern. After tonight they quite possibly will have no congressmen from the 6 New England state, only 4 of 29 seats in the New York state delegation and maybe only 3 of 10 in New Jersey. My question is this: will they change and become a naational party when they face the reality of their second straight crushing defeat? I think people learn more from defeat then victory.

I listened Sunday night to singer Bruce Springsteen talk to a Cleveland Obama rally. Bruce said he has spent the last 35 years as a songwriter (an incredible body of work) sining about America. His songs usually lament the gap between "our the values we aspire to and the current expression of those ideals." He is looking for change because the tolerance and equality and commitment to freedom and justice has reached a disturbingly low ebb. Bruce laments the loss of the American dream and the diminished hopes n the faces of the people who attend his concerts. Bruce is hopeful. I share his hope.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Confession of sin

Each Sunday following the opening hymns and the prayer of invocation, the liturgist invites all worshippers to confess their sin before Almighty God, "first in unison and then (privately) in silence." The time that folows the spoken union confession is perhaps the quietest and holiest moment of the week. I am almost ashamed of myself for breaking this holy time of personal acknowledgement of sin by declaring the forgiveness that a loving and merciful God bestows upon all those "who humbly confess their sin." Confession, they say, is good for the soul. I believe it is also essential for clearing the way for progress towards overcoming the consequences of sin.
I thought about this when I read a transcript of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony on Captiol Hill on Thursday. With the markets in turmoil and many fearing that a devasting world wide economic crisis is yet to come, Congress is doing what it does best: namely, point fingers of blame (but not at themsevles) after the consequences of greedy (read that sinful) behavior has created a mess.They try to close the barn after the horses have all escaped. In this way, Congressmen are like most Americans, when we hear a good sermon or listen to wise words of a prophetic voice, we think others need to heed the advice but believe that warning doesn't apply to us.

In most disasters, be they in interpersonal relationships or in large social contexts, there is plenty of blame to go around. The Apostle Paul said it well in Romans, "ALL sin and fall short of the glory of God." It is only when everyone acknowledges their sin and agrees to modify their behavior and change their wrong positions, that healing can follow. Without an admission of guilt and the acceptance of blame, you cannot begin to solve problems and start over.

Greenspan's reputation was enormous. Bob Woodward wrote a flattering biography titled "Maestro" celebrating his 18 years as Presdient of the Federal Reserve before stepping down in January 2006. During the stock bubble and the housing bubble, he was the voice people listened too when evidence of leaks in the soggy fiscal dykes and excesses were discovered. Greenspan was the "wizard" who pulled countless rabbits out of his hat. He calmed markets. He reassurred nervous regulators and main street bankers. He had the golden touch.
I admired Chairman Greenspan for not dodging this hard question by Henry Waxman, "You had the authority to prevent irresponsbile lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. Do you feel your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?"
"Yes, Mr Greenspan answered, " I've found a flaw. I don't know how signficant or permanent it is. but I have been very distressed by that fact."
No one likes to admit mistakes. Fewer yet admit that the bedrock ideas that have driven their actions are flawed. The ironic thing about Greespan, who lived through the great depression, was that he forgot the lessons of that historic depression. He went along with a culture that looked at debt and risk in ways that were far removed from his childhood. What bothered me about Greenspan was that he used his guru status to give the greenlight to credit default swaps and housing price surges that all serious economists were warning about. Now there is plenty of blame to go around. But someone has to challenge the "group think" that ovetakes a society. Someone with authority has to challenges the myths: that housing prices will always go up, that markets will always safely self correct, that Iraq has WMD. He didn't do it and since he was the "God" of our American system, greedy people in every line of financial profession began to act wrecklessly.

We are entering a period when we will be forced to question all the "group think" ideologices that we have been following so blindly. There will be people who are even more ideologically rigid then Greenspan who we refuse to participate in this evaluative process. We all have our own blindspots: only fools refuse to examine them.
Courageous people use crisis to examine their convictions. As Christian we have the great gift of knowing that God loves us in spite of our sinful behavior. In confidence we can put our convictions and actions up to the light of the gospel and find a new way to live and think. The mistake many Christians make is that they see sin as only an individual matter. They do not see how they contribute to corporate sin. Many followers of Christ have great personal piety and are highly ethical but come to applaud the "group think" of our greedy society.
When you see the air of your ways, take a cue from Alan Greenspan and confess your mistakes. When we do that, the road to healing and health cannot be far behind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Overcoming Pessimism

My reading group is working our way through Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded." Each chapter is rich with information from top figures in the fields of economics, the environment, and science. It seems like every day he is visiting another new place in the world and talking to another groundbreakering leader. I often feel like I have run out of ideas for sermons and this blog (notice how infrequently I write) because I am too tied down to Bowie. If we all traveled as extensively as Friedman we would all be more interesting.

Reading through his chapters on climate change can be pretty depressing. You know you are in for dire news when famed entomoligst Edward O. Wilson is quoted. On page 142 we find this Wilson gem, "Destorying a tropical rain forest and other species-rich ecosystemss for profit is like buring all the paintings in the Louvre to cook dinner." But with 1200 acres of tropical rainforest being destroyed every day, you might consider Wilson an optomist.

The real question is how to get humans to change their behavior? We know from experience people don't change because we tell them they should. People start to change when they convince themselves that they have no alternative. Since most of us don't notice the relentless and subtle changes that are occuring around us, it seems to take a crisis to get us to decide we have no alternative but to change. You know the old frog in the boiling pot analogy. If you take a frog and dump him in a pot of boiling water he will jump right out. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly heat the pot up the frog will just stay in place until he gets cooked.

Thankfully Americans are coming to the realization that we must change our habits. The cost of oil is high and most Americans (not all) believe the high price is here to stay. After watching the Olympics we know that China is for real and with 1.3 billion people aspiring to an American lifestyle you have to be a moron to think oil is not going to be even more scarce and thus more expensive. Once again, we change when we convince ourselves it is the only alternative.

I think we will start to make some long postponed changes. As Friedman says, "later, is over." As one man in our group said, "in 10 years the two parties will be arguing for who gets credit for the shift towards alternative power." Both McCain and Obama are pushing for alternative energy. Only one of the 4 individuals on the two tickets is a climate change denyer. that is a 50% reduction in only 4 years.

The related issue is what to do about the anger that somehow we must punish those people who got us into this economic mess. You can point all sorts of fingers and be partially right. Yes, the Clinton administration pushed for greater home ownership rates for minorities. Since home ownership accounts for most of accumlated family wealth, this was a noble public policy goal. This however started the movement toward reducing underwriting standards. It also opened the door to all sorts of fraud where miniority borrowers were placed in subprime loans when they qualified for conventional loans. And yes, Alan Greenspans cheap money policy encouraged all sort of borrowing and since no one was regulating the underwriting standards and brokers were issuing bad loans and selling them to Fannie Mae and other financial bundlers who then sold them to investors looking for higher fixed income yields, the whole system got out of control. Our bad loans then got sold to the rest of the world so our financial meltdown is taking everyone else down with us. The US stock market is down 21% this year but everyone else is worse.

So here is what I say to the people like Lou Dobbs who want to start punishing people. "let the Wall Street people sufer even if i lose every dollar in my retirement accounts." "we need to teach them a lessons." If it were only that simple. Instead we need to look into the mirror. One of our greatest challenges is that we live in a society that tends to fear jdgment. The "problem" is always somewhere else other then here. The "sin" is always with people other than us.

All of us Americans seem to possess a steadfast refusal to be held accountable for our lack of responsbile stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Seduced my borrowed money

I have not blogged in this space for five weeks. Two of them were vacation weeks--spent mostly celebrating graduations from college by my two daughters. The last weeks is just recovering from vacation.

Have you started to notice the new tone about money in America? Some sanity is starting to reappear. It is still faint but the momentum is building. The old moral structure around money (David Brooks term) from the Puritans and Benjamin Franklin is being reintroduced to public dialogue. Is the virtue of frugality making a comback?
First, let us look at what shredded the old American and Protestant virtues of hard work, frugality and savings. The first thing that happened was the widespread use of credit cards. I remember telling my 3 year old daughter (she is now almost 22) that the reason people were poor and homeless was because they didn't have enough money to pay for food and hosuing. She responded innocently, "Why don't they use their credit card!" Well, you could see by then the genie was out of the bag. Between 1989 and 2007, credit card debt quadrupled --$238 billion to $950 billion. Attitudes toward luxury and instant gratification replaced the older virtues of thrift and temperance.
Government joined the party. Before Reagan, all Presidents of every stripe denounced deficits and restrained spending. Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complexes appetite for spending. Truman set his defesne budget based on what could fit in the budget. Even Jimmy Carter never had deficits over $50.
Then the "supply Siders" took over the GOP. Remember the Laufer Curve? The "supply side argument that we just need to tax less and invest more and grow the pie larger" has been in vogue since Reagan came into office in 1980. The original vision made sense. We overtaxed capital and discouraged investment. The economy was sluggish and inflation was rampant. I would know--try to find work coming out of college in 1979 with 11% unemplyment. Reagan said it well: "a man should not be expected to pay more then half his income in taxes. At the time the top marginable rate was 70%.
Americans used to invest what they saved. Now the savings rate is less then 1% (a few months ago it was negative). Now we borrow to save and use leverage in all our purchases. The foreclosure rate is skyrocketing, not just because of subprime loans and sky high prices--the fact that we no longer put 20% down when we purchase homes is the real culprit. If you put 20% down and then the housing prices drop 15%--distressed buyers can still get out and break even. Now they just turn in the keys. They have no skin in the game. But the nothing down and leverage to the hilt approach to money has been growing for many years. The Federal government during Reagans years started the trend. To hide the skyhigh deficits , Congress did two things. In shoring up social security by increasing rates and raising the retirment ages--they also agreed to unify the budget picture. The social security receipts were added to the general tax revenue numbers (they used to be kept seperate) and also added to the spending numbers. Since the current social security receipts greatly exceed the current payout, this surplus in social security was used to mask the size of the Reagan supply side deficits. Thanks to Ross Perot---the ticking time bomb of social security expsenses when the boomers retire--was exposed and the Bush I and Clinton Presidencies spent all their political capital shoring up the fiscal foundations. Then the costly Iraq War and an idiot massive tax cut made the already dire situation disasterous. Bush II's fiscal recklessness is beyond shameful. Tom Delay is the worst enemy any of our grandchildren and great grandchildren can have. The next 20 years of Presidential political capital will ahve to be spent correcting Bush II's supply side lunacy.
A related moral tale is the states participation in gambling. the lottery is a severe tax on the poor and it feeds financial recklessness. 20% of Americans are frequent players, spending about $60 billion a year. The spendy is regressive. A household with less then $13,000 income spends, on average, $645 a year, roughly 9% of their income. I will not be supporting the initiative on the Maryland to bring more gambling into the state.
We need better usagy laws to protect people from the social habits of instant gratification. Payday lending needs to be reigned in. Banks are finally get needed regulation to curb some pernious practices that brutally punish borrowers.

Several years ago in my last pastorate the school board formed a comittee to come up with core values the schools needed to teach. They put a community board together and my freind, the Reformed church pastor , was a member of the Board. (I got stuck on the sexuality curriculum committee that was meeting at the same time.) My friend Tim suggested that one value we needed to teach and encourage was "thrift." He argued his case but the rest of the community members thought thrift was an outdate and "unamerican" concept. We have a long way to shift our values back to where we honor the values of frutality, thrift, temperance and hard work that amde this nation great. draft 6/12/08 by James

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Spirit of Truth

One of the characteristics the Holy Spirit gives us is the ability to understand the Truth. Jesus says in the beginning of John's gospel that he comes to bring "grace and Truth." Throughout John's gospel he speaks a truth that some (his followers) see while the world ignores it. As he talks about his impending death and offers the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, he says it will bring to them a Spirit of truth.
I won't get into the question: what is truth? I think that the truth Jesus is talking about is centered in a relationship to God that gives us the ability to hear what we need to hear so we can live as God intends us to live. Related to this is the issue: WHO WILL TELL US THE TRUTH?
I read Tom Friedmans column in the New York Times the other morning. Tom wrote the megabestseller "The World is Flat". This widely read book talks about the Internet age and the globalization of the worlds technology and economy. Tom is a big advocate for America to strengthen its educational system and to rebuild our national "soft capital." Friedman is a strong believer that the high price of oil produces autocratic regimes and that until Americans can dramatically reduce our need for oil we are giving the dictators the resources to bully their people and to support terrorists. Some oil company executives have challenged his premise, but they have a vested interest in keeping oil demand sky high.
IN today's article Friedman says that Americans want to engage in nation building. But they want to do it in America, not Iraq. Tom tells the same story my Mother told me when she returned from visiting China. When you go to Asia you leave behind a delapidated American infrastructure and arrive in gigantic, glistening airports. You ride on state of the art public trains. You plug into free Internet portals and see children playing in well appointed play zones. He says it well: "I had "flown from the Flinestones to the Jetsons."
Friendman says we need a President who can tell us the hard truth about who we are and what the world is now like. We are no long the strongest country in the world. We no longer have the resources to control the globe militarily. We cannot challenge Iran because we are bogged down in Iraq. Our public educational system is the weakest in the free world.We need a President who is tough and truthful enough to tell the truth to the American people.
Friedman says it this way:
We are not who we think we are.
We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes.
We still have the potential for greatness,
but only if we get back to work on our country.

I was thinking about a more personal truth telling each of us needs.
Who tells us the truth about the hard spiritual questions in our lives?
Sin leads us to deny the truth about ourselves. We are usually not near the people we think we are. Are we honest about our relationships? Do we really commit the time and attention to making them strong and durable? Are we honest about our habits? Are we spiritually healthy: do we live with integrity and do we take care of our soul?
Jesus said we should know the truth and that the truth will set us free.

We need someone to tell the truth to the American people about the mess we are in. We also need the Holy spirit to open our eyes to see the truth about ourselves. Then we need the courage and discipline to do some nation building and character building.