The Gospel of Jesus

The Prodigal Candidate

This past weekend Donald Trump addressed the African-American community first in Philadelphia then in Detroit. Listening to him speak was like watching someone conjure up one of Jesus’s most beloved parables, that of the prodigal son. It is a story of challenge and inspiration that yields deeper insight with each plumbing. Yet for all its popularity it remains one of the least understood or properly appreciated of Jesus’s parables. To begin with, as many scripture scholars have suggested, it is misnamed. It should more accurately be called “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.”

The misnomer of the common title has allowed generations of people to miss both the point and the challenge. The younger son is not the focus of the story. The father is. The younger son serves as a catalyst, his actions giving movement to the story. But Jesus does not present him as a model. In truth, when reading the parable we are probably all able to find ourselves at least partially reflected in both of the sons. In their own ways they are each self-centered. Greed and immaturity cause the younger son to demand an inheritance he is not yet entitled to; self-righteousness and jealousy flare in the older son who whines about never having been given his own party.

But the father. He is the one Jesus suggests we emulate. He is the character who is defined by love—a love that is displayed in forgiving his younger son and expressing tender compassion for his older son. So what? You may ask. The idea of forgiveness still comes through irrespective the name we give to the parable.

I suggest that the problem with the common title actually enhances the mistakes we make in our own lives, and should serve as warning when we examine the actions of others. As I noted, we probably all see ourselves occasionally reflected in the younger son. Who among us does not pursue self-centered goals and desires? Who among us, given the opportunity, would not use seed money from our parents to feed our debauchery? Those are mere human, adolescent foibles acted out in various scenarios simply indicating that we are not perfect. And when we come to our senses we ask pardon and promise to right ourselves.

If that were all, I might agree. But since most humans are not sociopaths or pathologically ill in multiple arenas of our psyches, we know when we have done wrong and we seek amends—or at least forgiveness. For many people that is what the prodigal son did.

No. He did not.

There is not one word in Luke’s telling of the parable that suggests the son expressed any sorrow or remorse for his actions. He returned to his father’s house the same self-centered little brat he was when he left. He returned because he wanted something. And it was not forgiveness. He had bankrupted himself through carousing and revelry. With no food and no money—and no one to give him anything—he returned to his father after carefully concocting a speech containing not a single suggestion of contrition. He was hungry. He was not sorry.

Oh, it’s true that the father did forgive him. But once we understand who the son really was—what he was really like—perhaps we will not so naïvely want to see ourselves in him. More importantly, we will be able to recognize when someone else is merely playing the game of the younger son. Enter the prodigal candidate.

Donald Trump went to Philadelphia and Detroit after having first traversed the continent denigrating, degrading, and demeaning the African-American community as a whole. Like the son in the parable there was no hint of contrition for anything that he said or did, no sorrow for fanning the flames of racial hatred and prejudice. Well, that should come as no surprise.

Last week Donald Trump went to Mexico after having launched his candidacy and spending the last year and a half belittling, berating and besmirching Mexican-Americans all around the country. He stood on a platform with the Mexican president and spoke not a word of contrition. He flat out lied.

Having spent months in a vituperate intemperance Donald Trump now comes before the Mexican-American and African-American communities playing the perfect prodigal son. Should we forgive him? Absolutely. After all, the father is our model in Jesus’s parable. At the same time, there is nothing in the story to suggest that the father was stupid. It is doubtful that he ever entrusted his son with another dime. So we should forgive Donald Trump—even if he is not remorseful—but we should not give him a vote and should never allow him to become president.
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Rushing the Pope

Every pope has to deal with throngs of people. They crowd St. Peter’s Square, the streets along papal routes, and push past each other for at least a view, if not an opportunity to touch. But Pope Francis has to fend off more than any of his predecessors, for he has been “rushed”, a.k.a. “Limbaughed”. Yup, the same. The talk show host who, in his own mind, is larger than life.

In my more sane moments, I believe that it is better to ignore people like Limbaugh. So much of what he says is spoken out of ignorance—in the true sense of the word. He lacks knowledge. Giving him more attention runs the risk of expanding his already immense ego. However, he has a large following, turning the old aphorism into a truism: He knows just enough to be dangerous. On top of which he seems to be a touch schizophrenic. First he liked Francis, now he despises him. All within seven months.

For the first few months Limbaugh waxed ineloquently about the pope, assuming he was a conservative who would make the liberals—both in and outside the church—squirm. When answering questions and consenting to interviews, the pope mused about equality and acceptance. Still, he did not fundamentally alter church teaching. He even promulgated a document mostly written by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Then came Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. This is an almost overwhelming document. It is not written in typical ecclesiastical language. Nor is it an academic treatise from an ivory tower. It is the result of a life lived among God’s people. It is very readable, personal, even tender in style. But it is also uncomfortable in its call to joy and in its challenge to the economic principles and individualism that have seduced many a believer and obscured the teachings of Jesus. Hence, the title.

This is all about the Gospel. It is not an economic document, but it recognizes that the Good News of Jesus Christ must be applied to every facet of life, even the economy. In fact, given the desire for wealth, the drive to maximize profit at the expense of human beings, The Joy of the Gospel is profoundly applicable to the economy. That’s what bothers people like Limbaugh.

Like many others who have criticized Pope Francis’ Exhortation, Limbaugh rants against the application of the Gospel to economics. As if the economy is somehow exempt from the Good News, from the call of Jesus. As if capitalism is a competing gospel. Sadly, for many an American I suspect it is.

Limbaugh probably doesn’t know that the term capitalism is of relatively recent coinage. It is anachronistic to suggest that it is the economic principle on which this nation has built. As an economic system, it can only claim our allegiance if it advances the principles of the Gospel. Unfettered capitalism certainly does not.

Jesus came to free us from sin. However, that terminology has become almost meaningless in today’s world, because while we easily condemn one another, we rarely look to the sin in ourselves. We do not bother to question what drives us on a daily basis.

Perhaps capitalism is not inherently evil. But no system that places profit over people, that dismisses the downtrodden or disperses inequality can simultaneously advance the Gospel. Dependence has been imbued with a negative connotation in the capitalistic world. Yet Jesus calls us to be dependent on God. It is not for nothing that he cautions us, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Popes are not always right. And there is room for dialogue and even disagreement. But one has to wonder why so many apostles of capitalism are so uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ apostolic letter. They seem more reactionary than dialogic in their dissent—squirming as the Gospel inches ever closer to their raison d’être.

I am reminded of a scene in John’s Gospel in which Jesus’ teaching makes many of his listeners uncomfortable, causing even some of his disciples to abandon him. He then turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you wish to leave also?” Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

As Rush Limbaugh and his kind turn their backs and leave, I think I’ll stay for awhile.
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Desperately Seeking Satan

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois is on a quest. That’s OK. Most Christians are. The difference is that, while most are seeking the kingdom of God, Paprocki is seeking the devil. Same-sex marriage has come to Illinois and on November 20, 2013 he held a Mass of exorcism in reparation for the state’s new marriage equality law.

He appears to draw his inspiration not from Jesus, but from the French poet Charles Baudelaire who once wrote: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” That’s clever and lends itself to the drama of Hollywood screenplays. But does it convince?

There is no question that evil exists and that it is the opposite of good. The problem seems to originate with the personification of evil as “Satan” or the devil. That is simply simplistic. The result of creation myths attempting to explain the existence of evil. However, casting evil as a person, while not fully exonerating us, lessens our culpability for making poor decisions. It also tends to remove the nuance of many of those decisions. Not everything is right or wrong.

Nor is opposing evil the same as pursuing good. It is a question of focus. If one over-emphasizes evil, good is diminished. Paprocki’s crusade against same-sex marriage is on point. In Christianity, as in most religious traditions, love is a good to be sought. As I have commented in the past, the most profound statement about God occurs in the First Letter of John when he writes: “God is love.”

In fact, the second time he writes those words, in chapter 4:16, he states: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Because Paprocki is opposed to homosexuality, his screed against same sex-marriage actually diminishes love and in the process diminishes God.

Reducing love to sexuality and/or sexual orientation makes it elusive, as even many heterosexual couples have discovered. Love is greater than sex. But when sex is an expression of love the presence of God is unveiled. And revealing the presence of God should not be shunned. After all, it cannot help but make the world better.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God, cannot be about condemnation. Jesus, himself, cautions Paprocki—and the rest of us—“do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” Jesus could not be any clearer than his statement: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

There is value in looking to poets for inspiration. Paprocki turns to Baudelaire. I am tempted to invoke Shakespeare. Perhaps Paprocki protests too much? History is also a good teacher. From that perspective the bishop from Illinois reminds me of the 1950’s senator from Wisconsin. Joseph McCarthy was looking for Communists under the mattresses of every American. How poetically comical that Paprocki is also looking in people’s bedrooms. This time, however, it is to find the devil under the sheets.
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We Have a Pope!

In Latin, “Habemus Papam”. These are the words the whole Catholic world has been waiting to hear. But hold on. This is not a futuristic blog. As of this hour, the conclave has not yet convened; the new pope has not been elected. And, no. I do not know who he will be. However, this much is clear. When the world hears those two Latin words proclaimed from the Vatican, the Catholic Church will either change, or die.

Much has been written (including by this author) about the regression of the church under the leadership of the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The issue, though, is not whether the church continues its backward movement. The real question is whether or not the institutional church still has vision; whether or not the new pope has the ability to see. Period.

There is a common misperception, particularly among Catholics, that the church never changes--that it has been the same for more than two thousand years, and that this is reflected in its teachings. This contributed to the difficulty many people had with accepting the Second Vatican Council. The truth, however, is that the church is like the rest of life, at least in this regard: Change is the only constant.

Even in the last 30 years, the church has been changing, albeit in a reversal of the classic two-step dance. The Catholic version has been two steps backward, one step forward. That dance has been inching the Catholic Church into irrelevance, and the proclamation of the Gospel has suffered. A sober judgement is that John Paul II and Benedict XVI failed in their efforts to lead. At least in sum. On individual issues, they succeeded, sometimes even advancing cogent arguments, most notably on issues of social justice.

They also attempted to distinguish the Christian Faith--specifically the Catholic Church--from other religions, contending against a relativistic attitude toward religion and arguing that all religions are not equal; that they are not merely different pathways to the same goal. That position is debatable, but both popes presented sustainable arguments for discussion.

Their failure occurred primarily in the internal structure of the Church and in their inability to recognize the overlap of that structure with the reality of the outside world. In an ongoing attempt to shore up papal power they entrenched themselves in authoritarianism. In the process they sought to stifle discussion and creative thought. The role of women serves as example.

At a Wednesday audience, John Paul II made the declaration that the question of women priests was decided. Therefore, further discussion was to end. That was a stroke of arrogance that made even this writer blush. No one, not even the Pope, has the authority to tell people what they can and cannot talk about and certainly not what they can or cannot think. That is a viewpoint more becoming of dictators and despots than of popes.

A second example is homosexuality and the turning of a blind eye to science. The overwhelming scientific evidence supports the idea that homosexuality is part of God’s creative process, not a moral choice. The Catholic Church possesses a rich and unequaled heritage in scriptural scholarship and biblical interpretation. Yet sadly, the area of sexuality (both hetero and homo) is an aberrant example of literalism. Particularly on the issue of gay rights, the church’s arguments are not supportable. Although many people are uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, that bias is rooted primarily in prejudice and ignorance. Not to mention resistance to the Holy Spirit.

The world as a whole is moving toward more democracy and greater transparency. The Catholic Church must embrace elements of both if it wants to continue being a voice for truth; if it wants to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a divided world. So...

Habemus Papam. Maybe. The words themselves will mean nothing if the new pope cannot see--an ability that should be a pre-requisite for electing anyone pope.

Habemus Papam. If. The new pope no longer ignores one half of the world’s population--women.

Habemus Papam. If. The new pope recognizes the hand of God in all elements of creation.

Habemus Papam. If. The new pope recognizes the presence of Jesus in every human being.

Habemus Papam. If. The new pope does not attempt to control everyone’s life--especially in the bedroom.

Habemus Papam? Maybe.
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The Phantom Menace: Women Religious and the Catholic Church

The Phantom Menace:
Women Religious and the Catholic Church


Now that I have your attention. No. This is not a blog about a Star Wars episode. It is far more serious. At the same time, not unlike the Star Wars saga, this entry touches upon the aspirations and values of people. Aspirations of equality and values of freedom. Hopefully, it is also a challenge--at least to the Catholic population of America.

Over time there have been many profound reflections on power: its place, use and misuse in history. Frequently it is the subtext of a biography about political leaders. Sometimes, power itself is the subject, occasioning a forthright and direct comment or observation. Or both.

Arguably, the most over-used, and often misquoted, statement about power comes from Lord Acton. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A second statement about power pre-dates Acton by nearly 2,000 years.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…” This reflection, admonition, command, (call it what you will), comes from Jesus. It appears in nearly the same words in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It would appear that the Vatican has deliberately chosen to ignore both of these cautions on power.

Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s watchdog on doctrine, issued a censure against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The document chastised the sisters for publicly disagreeing with the U.S. Bishops (read health care). More perplexingly, they were admonished for remaining silent on other issues. I’ll return to that in a moment.

Some may think that I exaggerate by casting this in the light of power. However, for much of the Church’s 2,000-year history, Rome (and bishops throughout the world) has turned a deaf ear to Jesus on the very issue of power. The translation I chose uses the word “tyrant”. That may not be as extreme as it first sounds.

The women who have come under censure are highly educated. In fact, as a group they are far more educated priests. They are also profoundly religious and holy servants of the Church. Now Rome comes along and decides that these women, who have dedicated their lives in service of the Gospel, are not competent to run their own affairs. In a phenomenal abuse of power, the Vatican has decided that Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle should now control the LCWR. This includes approving what women may or may not speak at LCWR meetings. Did I mention that the Archbishop is a man?

It is not a stretch to suggest that the U.S. Bishops have opposed the LCWR not because the sisters disagreed with them, but rather because the bishops are speaking themselves into irrelevance. And they are lost.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that the bishops are single-issue oriented when it comes to public policy. However, their obsession with electing politicians who claim to be anti-abortion, has left the bishops on the fringe of American life when these same politicians advance legislation that is alien to Gospel values. The sisters were clever enough not to fall into that trap. However, there is a deeper problem. Rome does not seem to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ admonition.

Authority and power are two very different entities. The bishops are concerned that power might slipping through their fingers. This recent censure suggests that the bishops are the only ones who can be right, and everyone else (which includes all women) should serve them and acquiesce to their ideas and interpretations.

By contrast, the sisters are concerned with serving (empowering) the people, especially the poor and marginalized. They are concerned with recognizing the movement of God’s Spirit among all the people. As such, the sisters are the ones who speak with moral authority.

Rome’s censure has caused me to recall a scene in the film “A Man for All Seasons”, about St. Thomas More, who served as Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII. When More was brought up on false charges, one of the accusations was that he opposed the king’s title and claim of supremacy over the church in England.

Cromwell accused More of denying the king’s title by remaining silent. More defended his silence by invoking an ancient adage. “The maxim is ‘qui tacit consentire’. The maxim of the law is silence gives consent.” If the sisters remain silent on positions taken by the bishops, then their silence should be construed as agreement, not opposition. That is not good enough for Rome. The sisters are not only being told what
not to say, they are now being told what to say.

One day the sisters will be vindicated. In ancient mythology Atlas was depicted as holding up the earth. In the real world the Vatican does not hold up the sun. Force and abuse of power cannot hold back the night. Look outside. Darkness is beginning to settle on the men who lord it over the Church.

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What's Wrong with the Catholic Bishops, Part II

What’s Wrong with the Catholic Bishops?
Part 2


In my last blog, I challenged a statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. I suggested that the document disguises a clear bias in favor of Republican political candidates. Nonetheless, the statement cleverly avoids transgressing IRS regulations that prohibit religious organizations from engaging in partisan politics. The rules are the result of granting tax exempt status to religious organizations. In the process, these same regulations should safeguard the free exercise of religion for everyone. That would seem to include not politically coercing congregations during worship services.

Sadly, some individual bishops, don’t seem to understand. Case in point, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois. On April 14, 2012, he preached a homily that was an extreme affront both to the Gospel and to the Constitution.

Jenky does not seem to appreciate the Constitution or the world of debate. Does he truly see himself as so self-important that he (as well as the Bishops’ conference) is always right about everything? That only bishops have the answers to all of life’s questions? He must have failed the course on logic in the seminary, for he appears ignorant of the basic principle of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. The building blocks of compromise and consensus. But his diseased logic is minor compared to the symptom.

He castigated politicians who disagree with the Bishops’ position on health care reform. He then proceeded to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. He certainly is entitled to approve or disapprove of any politician. He is even obligated to explain Catholic values (as he understands them), and how they apply to policies under consideration by various government agencies and elected officials. After all, freedom of religion does not equate with the elimination of religion. Politics and religion should not be adversaries in the lives of the citizenry.

However, Bishop Jenky is not entitled to abuse the role of preaching the Word of God by using it for partisan politics. He has no right to belittle and demean the President or any other individual politician. He betrays his own corruption by attempting to tell his congregation that they must oppose one candidate and vote for another.

Contraception is at the heart of Jenky’s tirade. Theologically, the Catholic Church is on dicey ground when it comes to this subject. Already, more than 80% of Catholics practice some form of artificial contraception in their sexual activity. Putting that aside, Jenky’s actions are not really about faith or theology.

It seems to me that he is simply drunk with the perception of his own power. His preaching makes a mockery of religion and a caricature of himself.

I do not wish the people of Peoria to suffer because of the vicious rhetoric of a misguided bishop. But perhaps the only way to rein in such hateful speech is for the IRS to investigate and ultimately strip the Diocese of its tax exempt status.

In the meantime, let’s hope that Jenky’s routine only plays in Peoria.

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What's Wrong with the Bishops, Part I

What’s Wrong with the Catholic Bishops?
Part 1


Two recent statements, one by a Bishops’ committee, the other by an individual bishop, raise serious questions about the competence and integrity of U.S. Catholic leadership. The first deals with religious freedom and the Constitution, the second with the upcoming election.

One of the beauties of the American experiment in democracy is the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. No freedom, however, can exist unbridled. There are limits. The question will always be whether the common good outweighs the actions of any specific religion. It is part of the price we pay for freedom, democracy and diversity. The alternative is the failed experiences of Christendom and other religiously controlled governments.

In the United States today, as in times past, there are those who would seek—contrary to the Constitution—to severely restrict religious liberty and ban all religious reference from public life. However, the April 12, 2012 statement issued by the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty is both alarmist and disingenuous. The government is not engaged in an anti-Catholic war.

In sum, the committee’s statement is less than defensible. In part, it is dishonest. The selective quote from Pope Benedict XVI implies that the Department of Health and Human Services requires religious organizations, such as hospitals, to participate in intrinsically evil practices. Such language is extreme and misleading. Whatever the Church’s teaching on contraception, it is not an intrinsically evil act.

A careful reading of the ad hoc committee’s statement exposes a thinly veiled intrusion into partisan politics. It is, in reality, an attempt to arouse fear in Catholic citizens and direct their vote toward Republican candidates. As such, the bishops come close to violating IRS regulations. They do not quite cross the line. However, perhaps because the bishops mask their true intent, they dance so close to the edge as to lose their balance. Collectively, the U.S. Bishops are writing and speaking their way into irrelevance.

The heart of the Gospel, and the message that drove the teachings and actions of Jesus, was and must be non-partisan. It also must be rooted in authentic and compelling theology. The committee’s statement is neither. Would that they engaged solid theological principles and applied them equally to both political parties!

That would be something worth reading and listening to!

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America's Lost Gospel

Christianity dominates the religious landscape of the United States. Still, given the great diversity of religious belief in this country, it has always been inaccurate to refer to America as a Christian nation. Today it is also patently false, for America is home to the Lost Gospel.

The Gospel I refer to is not some archeological unearthing of the story of Jesus, like the Gospel of Thomas. Nor is it some discovered fragment like the Gospel of Peter. There were gospels that did not survive with the four canonical ones due to questions of theological accuracy, orthodoxy and history. No, the lost Gospel I refer to is a matter for the modern world and goes to the very core of American Christianity, even Christianity itself, for it is what the four canonical Gospels are collectively all about. It
IS the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in America today it has been lost. In spite of the fact that many on the religious right claim to be Christians, the Gospel is no longer being lived in the United States and hence, authentic Christianity holds less and less sway. Indeed, America is not a Christian nation.

The evidence has been growing for some time, but has now reached its apex with the deceitful shenanigans of (primarily) Republican members of various state houses. The focus has centered in Wisconsin, but is spreading to one state after another. It has to do with the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain for wages, working conditions and benefits. These are core Gospel values.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued his now seminal encyclical "Rerum Novarum", outlining the rights of workers and cautioning against unrestricted capitalism. In doing so he gave rise to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, recognizing that at its heart, the Good News of Jesus Christ is a "social" Gospel. That 19th century encyclical was only the first in a long line of unbroken teachings from successive popes. These teachings bring the Gospel of Jesus to bear on the increasing demands of a world shattered by injustice, violence and greed. So the ensuing encyclicals address issues of social order, peace, migration and human dignity.

It is not incumbent upon non-Catholics to embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church on social justice. But it might be wise for everyone to heed the warnings against an unbridled capitalism that places the financial bottom line above the good of human beings.

I am reminded of how the Reagan Administration heralded the neutron bomb. This is a weapon designed to do maximum damage to human beings, while leaving buildings and infrastructure in place. Could there be a more despicable and inhumane weapon of mass destruction? What does it say of the soul of a nation to place more value on buildings than human life?

Comparing the budget of Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislators in Wisconsin to the neutron bomb is not a stretch. What does it say about their soul, that they are willing to sacrifice the welfare, the very livelihood, of the people of their state for political and financial gain? Or that they would sacrifice the exact principles that have enabled working class peoples to rise out of poverty? Theirs is a contemporary example of "neutron" thinking.

It is no accident that the first great social encyclical should focus on workers' rights, for it reflected the growing poverty and destitution of the urban poor. As a first critical look at unbridled capitalism, it was nothing short of inspired--sadly, an inspiration that has not taken root in the hearts and minds of most government or corporate leaders.

Collective bargaining does not represent capitulation to every demand of workers or their unions. The emphasis on bargaining enervates a process that allows give-and-take for the good of all. Governor Walker suggests that he does not want to restrict workers' rights to bargain for wages, only benefits. This is disingenuous in the extreme. Wages and benefits are inextricably interwoven together. The wages paid to workers are meaningless if the workers are not provided a working environment that secures safety and provides for their health. Wages do not matter if workers are not provided lunch and work breaks or sick leave. These are but a few examples of what workers have been able to secure through the collective bargaining process. Walker, casting himself more in the role of an authoritarian, medieval prince than a contemporary governor, would have workers return to the days of serfdom, when the prince set the rules of labor--a labor that was characterized by slavery rather than freedom.

Workers have the "right" to collectively bargain. It is not a gift or privilege extended by a paternalistic government. As a moral right it cannot be stripped away by law or edict. The working class should not be used as political pawns in a vain attempt to control the reigns of government and power. Most especially, workers should not be pushed back into 19th century poverty for the financial gain of corporations or the advancement of the super rich.

Writing as I am about the social Gospel of Jesus Christ, I suppose I should say something about Glenn Beck. I am fully aware that he has counseled his audience to leave any Christian Church that preaches a social gospel. Although my readers are unlikely to be among his fans, it is high time for someone to point out that not only is Glenn Beck in no position to offer such advice, he, himself, is not even a Christian. It will probably require a different blog to explain that. For now, it is clear that anyone who would advise people to walk out of a church that preaches the authentic social teaching of Jesus, is an offense to everyone, not least of which, Jesus.

In the meantime, we as a nation must demand that the rights of workers be protected from the kind arrogant assault launched by Governor Walker, lest this neutron thinking take hold and spread even further.
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Why Drinking Coffee is Good for the Soul

I confess. Although I drink coffee in the morning, and sometimes at night, I like a good cup of tea in the afternoon. I used to think it was good for my health and my diet. Then came the Tea Party. No, this is not the disconnect some might think. Hopefully it is a successful play on words that allows us to look at our current political environment in light of the Gospel. By the way, one does not need to believe in Jesus (or even God) to comprehend the principles involved. One just needs to be a person of good will.

There is much to bemoan in the current U.S. economy, as well as that in other parts of the globe. As a result, pundits from across the spectrum are analyzing this past Tuesday's election, spinning the outcome to support their own biased perspectives. That is not what I intend, although I would suggest that the U.S. election was more about economics and unemployment, than anything else. The Tea Party, of course, believes the election was about economics AND the "anything else"--particularly their desire, nay, their demand that they be allowed to pursue their individual passions and the rest of the country be damned. It is precisely here that the Tea Party runs smack against the values of the Gospel.

For months the American public has been subjected to Tea Party activists who have espoused a philosophy of government and economics that has gone largely unchallenged in principle. Those who have opposed the Tea Party have done so primarily by focusing on policy and arguing about the value of the stimulus bill, the financial and health care reforms, etc. While acknowledging the dismal employment statistics, they have suggested that things would be worse without some of the emergency legislation passed by Congress. But there are deeper issues at work in the country, issues that go to the heart of the Gospel, and this is where I believe the Tea Party must be challenged.

We frequently hear activists speak of smaller government, using phrases such as "keeping the government out of our pockets." A very careful analysis of the language and issues of the Tea Party unveils a thinly disguised self-centeredness that demonstrates no concern whatsoever for others. In reality, it is simply another incarnation of the "me" mentality, but from a different generation. They want to get everything out of life and keep it for themselves. The hubris of this approach was on display during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The same people who were decrying government spending and regulation of industry were demanding more and faster federal response, not to mention their demand for federal dollars and prosecution of the responsible parties. I guess that when your world revolves only around yourself, you don't need to be rational or consistent.

It has been a long time since politicians have spoken of the common good--or at least a long time since using that specific language. Even President Obama, with all the hope of a new future that he brought to national politics, does not use the term. I realize that there are multiple ways of interpreting the Scriptures. How else could anyone preach the absurdity of literalism! Still, at the heart of the Gospel is the concept of the common good, so it is baffling how the core of the Tea Party movement, those Christians who claim religious superiority over others, can dismiss with such apparent ease everything that Jesus stands for.

Take, for example, the miracle of the loaves and fish. A quick side note: this is the only miracle that occurs in all four Gospels, so it is uniquely significant. Whatever explanation one offers for this miracle, it is a demonstration of sharing with and caring for those in need. When Jesus told the disciples to give food to the multitude, they objected. In a phenomenally prescient expression of Tea Party politics, they protested against spending their own money to feed the others--those people who did not have the foresight to bring their own food! Sounds like a page out of Sarah Palin's, and by extension, the Tea Party's handbook. The problem is that their handbook is not the Gospel.

It has become practically a national sport to attack any idea that sounds "socialist" such as the redistribution of wealth. Of course, that is pure ignorance and exactly what the Tea Party preys upon. Pity the poor Christians who do not recognize the socialism in the words of Jesus, or the redistribution of wealth in the miracle of the loaves and fish. In this miracle, with just a few loaves and fish, Jesus demonstrated what happens when people do not think only of themselves or put themselves first. Not only did everyone eat their fill, but there was food left over.

For the record, Jesus did not preach that we should take as much as we can from this world and everyone else be damned. This kind of self-entered individualism inevitably leads to division and a sense of superiority or disdain. It also leads to a misguided independence. Sadly, though, like cholera it is highly contagious and possesses the ability to infect an entire nation. The Tea Party are among those people who believe that America is the best in everything and does not need anyone else. As much as I love my country, this is delusional. We certainly have much to offer the rest of the world, but then we also have much to learn from the rest of the world.

The Tea Party takes its name from the 1773 revolutionary protest in Boston when colonists threw English tea into the harbor. Instead of tossing it overboard, it seems that today's tea party has been drinking the stuff. The story of the loaves and fish does not tell us what Jesus gave the people to drink, but it's a good guess it was not tea!
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