Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Apostle Paul and Big Government

At the heart of Paul's gospel is an idea that strikes a mortal blow against all human pretension and the human inclination to then divide the race between "those who deserve something" and "those who don't."
He read the Text with great care!

It's called grace ... the love of God reaching out to those who cannot reach beyond themselves, their sorrows and their plight.

"None are righteous," says Paul, and therein he demolishes any and ever wall erected by pride of place or power.

In God's eyes, humanity is a pauper of soul, and only by divine largess, both in its initiating and in its sustaining, it is always and forever grace that enables life.

Hence, no one can claim a higher ground, either in the initial awakening, or in whatever good fortune, spiritual or material, may emerge.

Only God's Big Government is big enough to undertake the rebuilding of God's earth - devastated by greed and its demented cousin, War!

The Biblical Message of Grace is the ultimate Liberal Agenda, a Progressive ideal, and when embraced, can only generate the healthiest of all emotions: humility before life, especially if life has been favorable, and kindness toward one another, especially those for whom life has been less than favorable.

No wonder the Medieval Church didn't want people reading the Bible, and no wonder Evangelical Preachers chop it up into tiny little bits and pieces, and then rework it all to become a "personal message of salvation" (which it isn't) or a "Harvard Business Model for Success" (not even close). These are the forces arrayed against Grace, those they tout their own righteousness and speak easily of Jesus, as if they were all his political advisors.

Nevertheless ...

It's God's Big Government, intervening in the affairs of humankind,  injecting massive amounts of spiritual wealth into the human system, that puts Humpty Dumpty together again. 

And to God be the glory ...

Friday, March 21, 2014

All information is slanted ...

All "information" has a slant … nothing is neutral … it's all on where we begin.

If one begins with "abortion is murder and thus must be outlawed," we find information that conforms to that opinion. If, on the other hand, we believe that a "woman's choice is an important element in her health care, and that abortion is a legitimate choice," then we find information that conforms to that.

We have to always dig deeper, more than likely into our personality, family patterns, personal history, and a variety of other factors, social and psychological, as to why we make the decisions we do.

If and when we share out of the deeps of our being, it always has the aroma of authenticity, because it comes from our deeps, and not from some political or ideological source (both liberals and conservatives can suffer from this syndrome). When we share from the deeps, we're honest in our humility and can admit that truth is our opinion of it, and we can hope and pray that we've made a good effort at it. But we cannot claim a higher authority.

We can seek, however, to be well-read, and to hold our opinions lightly. It's okay to have an opinion; that's what life is all about. I'll stand firm on my opinions, and do the best I can to see that my opinions see the light of day.

Hence, I'm pro-choice, have been pro-choice for decades, and I've given it a lot of thought. And in my own take of things, that makes me pro-life. Those who believe abortion is evil and must be outlawed have worked at it, too. So, there we are.

Let's be honest - we have our opinions, and while we'd like to think that our opinion is better than other opinions, none can make that claim - all we can do is muster what science and history we can find, think it through, and offer it up to the world as coherently as we can. Time will help clarify … though not even centuries can clear up some questions.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Study Group: Notes, Reflections and Questions - FDR's Character and Wilson's Religion - March 17, 2014

Study Group, March 17, 2014

I love history, and now in my retirement, have a chance to read more of it once again (I was a history major in college, and in seminary, focused on church history) …

I believe that in knowing more of our history, we can better understand today’s events (e.g. Crimea!) and what our politicians are saying, both conservative and liberal and those who are “damp” (a descriptor of Roosevelt in 1930-31 with regard to Prohibition - that is, he was neither dry nor wet, but wanted, at that time, to let the States decide it).

Conscious or not, everyone stands on the shoulders of history. Some stand more intelligently - William Buckley on the conservative side of things and Robert Kennedy on the liberal end of things. Both, now, are dead … but their descendants carry on. Though, for the life of me, I have a hard time finding contemporary conservative voices that make any sense - most, like Paul Ryan, who quotes Ayn Rand, seem to be mostly poseurs, pretenders and buffoons. As for liberal voices, Robert Reich seems to me to have a solid grasp on both his philosophy and what it means for America. Bernie Sanders, as well. Christian writer Jim Wallace seems to be in the “damp” category, though with heavy leanings toward the left. Diana Butler Bass, church historian, clearly leans left, as well. I would put them in the Reinhold Niebuhr camp.

Yet, in this respect, there is very little new under the sun when it comes to views of human nature, society and the solutions to our economic and social problems.

At a loss for how to prepare for our meeting, I’ve decided to share some of my recent reflections, knowing that it won’t take much to get a thoughtful and good-hearted discussion going.

Here’s one of my latest:

Monday, March 17, 2014

As the nation plunged deeper into the Great Depression, Roosevelt, governor of New York State, went into action, believing that government has a social responsibility to provide when the chips are down.

During all of this time, a Roosevelt-for-President movement was gaining momentum.

What surprises me is how many of highest business leaders of the land were lining up behind Roosevelt. He was anti-tarrif, "damp" on the question of Prohibition (leave it to the States) and pro-active for moving the economy.

I can only think that the best heads of business understood that a healthy nation needed a strong government working on behalf of all the people.

Roosevelt created in New York State what was ultimately to become FEMA (1933), raised income taxes (graduated) and put people to work, and if work couldn't be found, helped them out to weather the storm.

What's good for all the people is good for American Business - Roosevelt understood this, and so did the nation's top financiers.

Sadly, Hooverism seems to have won the day for what is now the GOP, driven by the Koch Bros and other private-interest groups, who have little concern for America, and can only focus on their own private coffers.

As with Hoover's policies in 1931-32, a private-coffer driven economy can only spiral downward … to some ears, it sounds good - "sink or swim; you're on your own," and for those swimming, they're mighty damn proud of their achievement, even as millions drown in the murky waters of poverty. I guess they should've learned how to swim.


Some, like Governor Ritchie of Maryland, suggested that it would be best to “let nature take its course. Others, like Roosevelt, believed that a pro-active government was needed to forestall disaster for millions. 

  1. How does this play itself out these days?
  2. Who are the spokespersons for these respective views?
  3. What appeals to you, and why?


One of my heroes …

Reading about #FDR's polio, summer of 1921 …

Because of his family's enormous wealth, every specialist, therapist and all the needed equipment was provided. Throughout it all, FDR maintained a vigorous determination to make it; many a visitor found themselves leaving encouraged and cheerful. His ability to make others feel right and good was uncanny. All of life up to this point was filled with extraordinary people who believed in him, encouraged him and provided opportunity. FDR grew up in a network of people who understood the absolute value of family, community and helping one another.

As I read about all the help that was given to him, he was learning how reliant he was upon the goodness and kindness of others - a value instilled in him from the day of his birth.

And this is exactly what he gave to the nation throughout his presidency - knowing that we're all in this together, that we can only help one another, and those with the ability to help need to help those who are unable to find a way through.

No one condemned FDR for his illness, no one blamed him for his condition - they only helped.

Such is the heart of FDR's greatness … he condemned not the poor of the land, he blamed no one for their weakness, but devoted himself to endless political experiments to help everyone find a better life.


Whatever we believe and however we act, it’s rooted in our biography, if note, as well, in our biology. 

  1. What are the key pieces of your life that have shaped your political views - i.e., how you look upon your world, and how you think government should interface with social issues?
  2. If your parents were alive today, or are still with us, what are their views, and how did that shape you?
  3. Were there key players in your education?
  4. Who are you heroes?


The place of “god” in our lives …

Reading a bit about Wilson's "peace treaty" after WW1, he came home, in his usual Presbyterian pomp, declaring, that the treaty had come about "by no means of our conceiving but by the hand of God who has led us into this way." ~ "FDR," p.174

If "love covers a multitude of sins," for the good, "blind dogmatic belief that it's God's doing rather than ours" covers over a multitude of sins that require the light of day instead. 

How disingenuous of Wilson - though, perhaps, he believed it. It's an affliction common among the dogmatic - "Why, it's not me, it's God!"

Wilson's firm conviction that his presidency was divinely ordained cut him off from all kinds of people who might have stood with him on the League of Nations, and it blinded him to the awful things decided in Paris, 1919. Wilson went it alone, convinced that God was all he needed, and he was all God needed, too.

I, myself, know of no greater evil than this kind of perverse dogmatic trust that "it's all God," and not me, or something like that.

Serial killers rely on this kind of delusion, and apparently many a religious leader soliciting money and leading congregations into foolish decisions.

Wilson made an ass of himself, I fear, while hiding in some delusional dogmatic Presbyterian notion of God's infallibility at work in Wilson's vision and life.

History, at its best makes clear, that all Wilson needed to say, and should have said, was this: "We have labored long and hard to find a workable peace for Europe. It's likely to have many flaws, for our vision and understanding is so limited. All of us prayed on so many occasions that God might have some hand in this. And we can only hope that we have crafted a document that means something, and perhaps, in God's mercy, we might have God's blessing, too."

In such a moment, humility would have covered a multitude of sins.


Questions …

  1. Where is Wilson’s “blind belief” at play these days?
  2. Can belief in God be helpful, problematic, or …
  3. What’s the status of “God-belief” in your life these days?

FDR's "Forgotten Man" Speech, 1932

The Forgotten Man, April 7, 1932

Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Radio Address, Albany, N. Y April 7, 1932
  1. ALTHOUGH I understand that I am talking under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee, I do not want to limit myself to politics. I do not want to feel that I am addressing an audience of Democrats or that I speak merely as a Democrat myself. The present condition of our national affairs is too serious to be viewed through partisan eyes for partisan purposes.
  2. Fifteen years ago my public duty called me to an active part in a great national emergency, the World War. Success then was due to a leadership whose vision carried beyond the timorous and futile gesture of sending a tiny army of 150,000 trained soldiers and the regular navy to the aid of our allies. The generalship of that moment conceived of a whole Nation mobilized for war, economic, industrial, social and military resources gathered into a vast unit capable of and actually in the process of throwing into the scales ten million men equipped with physical needs and sustained by the realization that behind them were the united efforts of 110,000,000 human beings. It was a great plan because it was built from bottom to top and not from top to bottom.
  3. In my calm judgment, the Nation faces today a more grave emergency than in 1917.
  4. It is said that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because he forgot his infantry--he staked too much upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present administration in Washington provides a close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army.
  5. These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  6. Obviously, these few minutes tonight permit no opportunity to lay down the ten or a dozen closely related objectives of a plan to meet our present emergency, but I can draw a few essentials, a beginning in fact, of a planned program.
  7. It is the habit of the unthinking to turn in times like this to the illusions of economic magic. People suggest that a huge expenditure of public funds by the Federal Government and by State and local governments will completely solve the unemployment problem. But it is clear that even if we could raise many billions of dollars and find definitely useful public works to spend these billions on, even all that money would not give employment to the seven million or ten million people who are out of work. Let us admit frankly that it would be only a stopgap. A real economic cure must go to the killing of the bacteria in the system rather than to the treatment of external symptoms.
  8. How much do the shallow thinkers realize, for example, that approximately one-half of our whole population, fifty or sixty million people, earn their living by farming or in small towns whose existence immediately depends on farms. They have today lost their purchasing power. Why? They are receiving for farm products less than the cost to them of growing these farm products. The result of this loss of purchasing power is that many other millions of people engaged in industry in the cities cannot sell industrial products to the farming half of the Nation. This brings home to every city worker that his own employment is directly tied up with the farmer's dollar. No Nation can long endure half bankrupt. Main Street, Broadway, the mills, the mines will close if half the buyers are broke.
  9. I cannot escape the conclusion that one of the essential parts of a national program of restoration must be to restore purchasing power to the farming half of the country. Without this the wheels of railroads and of factories will not turn.
  10. Closely associated with this first objective is the problem of keeping the home-owner and the farm-owner where he is, without being dispossessed through the foreclosure of his mortgage. His relationship to the great banks of Chicago and New York is pretty remote. The two billion dollar fund which President Hoover and the Congress have put at the disposal of the big banks, the railroads and the corporations of the Nation is not for him.
  11. His is a relationship to his little local bank or local loan company. It is a sad fact that even though the local lender in many cases does not want to evict the farmer or home-owner by foreclosure proceedings, he is forced to do so in order to keep his bank or company solvent. Here should be an objective of Government itself, to provide at least as much assistance to the little fellow as it is now giving to the large banks and corporations. That is another example of building from the bottom up.
  12. One other objective closely related to the problem of selling American products is to provide a tariff policy based upon economic common sense rather than upon politics, hot-air, and pull. This country during the past few years, culminating with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff in 1929, has compelled the world to build tariff fences so high that world trade is decreasing to the vanishing point. The value of goods internationally exchanged is today less than half of what it was three or four years ago.
  13. Every man and woman who gives any thought to the subject knows that if our factories run even 80 percent of capacity, they will turn out more products than we as a Nation can possibly use ourselves. The answer is that if they run on 80 percent of capacity, we must sell some goods abroad. How can we do that if the outside Nations cannot pay us in cash? And we know by sad experience that they cannot do that. The only way they can pay us is in their own goods or raw materials, but this foolish tariff of ours makes that impossible.
  14. What we must do is this: revise our tariff on the basis of a reciprocal exchange of goods, allowing other Nations to buy and to pay for our goods by sending us such of their goods as will not seriously throw any of our industries out of balance, and incidentally making impossible in this country the continuance of pure monopolies which cause us to pay excessive prices for many of the necessities of life.
  15. Such objectives as these three, restoring farmers' buying power, relief to the small banks and home-owners and a reconstructed tariff policy, are only a part of ten or a dozen vital factors. But they seem to be beyond the concern of a national administration which can think in terms only of the top of the social and economic structure. It has sought temporary relief from the top down rather than permanent relief from the bottom up. It has totally failed to plan ahead in a comprehensive way. It has waited until something has cracked and then at the last moment has sought to prevent total collapse.
  16. It is high time to get back to fundamentals. It is high time to admit with courage that we are in the midst of an emergency at least equal to that of war. Let us mobilize to meet it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reflections on Sin by Heidi Husted Armstrong - from Presbyterian Outlook

Reflections on sin

TO BE HONEST, SOMETIMES WHEN I hear the word “sin” I flinch. You’d think I’d get used to it after nearly 45 years of following Jesus. Some might suggest my response is evidence of … well, uh, my sinfulness, and they could be right. Still, when I say the word out loud, I often detect a faint inner eye-roll in hearers — or worse, they shut down, they totally disengage — and I wonder if the word is doing more harm than good.
This is not to suggest that what the word sin means is obsolete. Sometimes sin is described as “missing the mark,” resulting in a (dirty) laundry list of moral failings detailing how we mess up. Luther said sin is man bent in upon himself. We could spell it “sIn” — highlighting that big self­ish, egotistical “I” in the middle. When asked to write an essay about “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton’s response was the short­est and most to the point: “Dear Sirs: I am.” We all are.
But today I wonder if it might be helpful to think of sin as brokenness. People are broken. Hearts are bro­ken; hopes and dreams are shattered. And what’s more, we break things. We break promises, we break trust, we break faith. As Bob Dylan’s gravelly voice intoned, “Ain’t no use jivin’/ ain’t no use jokin’/ Everything is broken ….” Everything from individual selves to social structures and systems — even the church is broken. And in the con­ventional telling we know how it goes: “You break it, you buy it.” We own it. We’re stuck with the mess: poverty, wars, racism, disease. People get this.
What people do not often get, though, and what we have the privilege of sharing is the gospel that tells a dif­ferent story. The good news is that Jesus is the one who does the buying. Jesus redeems us at great cost, giving his life as a ransom for many. Jesus mediates divine for­giveness, promising to mend our broken lives and heal all creation.
As we approach Lent, that 40-day stretch designed for spiritual reflection, including repentance and confes­sion of s-s-s-sin, it helps prevent us from putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. Yes, let’s very deliberately confess our brokenness, let’s tell the truth about ourselves and the world, but in order that we might celebrate more deeply the restoration God prom­ises through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Savior of all.
Clearly confession is necessary in our bull-in-a-china-shop lives and world. James 5:16 even cranks it up a notch, urging us to ongoingly “confess our sins to one another.” “The Message” says, “Make it your com­mon practice.” But, again, note why: “That you may be healed.” Like exposing wounds to the fresh air of day, mutual confession can be healing.
I once confessed to a friend of mine how I felt attracted to a not-quite-available gentleman friend — and almost immediately the attrac­tion dissipated, as if speaking the truth broke the spell. Some years ago I met weekly with two other women to practice telling the truth about our lives to one another — and hoo boy did that ever help me think about what I was doing before I did it and saved me much pain. Once during the prayer of confession our worship leader invited the congregation to name our sins out loud. And with each word spoken – “anger, injustice, selfishness, consumerism, lack of caring, lust, gluttony, judgmentalism, unwillingness to forgive” — it was heal­ing to know we were not alone.
G. K. Chesterton once declared that sin is “the only empirically proven doctrine of the Christian faith.” True enough. May God grant that confession becomes our common practice, as well … that we may be healed.
Heidi H Armstrong NarrowHEIDI HUSTED ARMSTRONG serves as an interim pastor in the Pacific Northwest.