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.