Monday, August 29, 2011

Flying Leap

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who want to lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

After the torrential floods in Pakistan last year, the famished and thirsty refugees nearly overwhelmed the first aid helicopters to arrive. Hang enough hungry bodies on the landing gear or the basket for carrying litter patients, and you could probably pull it right out of the sky.

One of my favorite collections of music is by Canadian poet/sing/songwriter/social conscience Bruce Cockburn. On one of his songs from many years ago, he is taking the International Monetary Fund to task for lending money to nations as a stop-gap measure, not enough to turn things around without massive outside planning and management, but keeping them on the hook for the debt:

"IMF, dirty MF, takes everything it can get; always making sure that there's one thing left: keep them on the hook with insupportable debt..."

Mild. Cockburn's harshest words are in the song "And They Call it Democracy". I won't print 'em here. Go look 'em up. Take a listen. Cockburn says we don't give a "flying leap" about the people in misery. Except he dosen't call it a flying leap. Another word with four letters.

And think about how our country has partnered with the most bloodthirsty tyrants in the past to forward our "national interest" and "national security" and "economic growth" (aka cheap oil). These include Manuel Noeiga, the Shah of Iran, Pervez Musharraf and Saddam Hussein, among others.

This past weekend they were supposed to dedicate the memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm glad we were forced to wait. Maybe give us some time to think about what he stood for, what he was able to think, and what he had the guts and the divine call to say out loud: We don't really give a flying leap about the people in misery.

And we think we have democracy.....

And we think the church we see around us isn't part of the scam...

Only if WE keep it from being so. Only if WE drag it, kicking and screaming in another direction.

More on the Matthew passage in the next post.

There are some new developments in that cross Jesus calls us to take up as we follow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dog Tags: Summer of 42 Years

August 15. 1969.

Date of enlistment. Got up while it was dark, had a quick bite of breakfast, then drove to downtown Omaha, NE with Mom and Dad in their '62 Ford Galaxie 500 4-dr sedan.

Couple of hours later, after being poked and probed and prodded for the second time by military medics, I was the proud owner of these. Dog tags.

They say "NO REL PREF". No religious preference. Such was or were the times. I also have on the chain the little Lutheran cross given me by Rev. Carl Hellmann a few days prior. It would be a long day of waiting before a bus took us to Eppley Airfield in Omaha where would would board a flight for Dallas, Texas. We would land at Dallas Love Field, then board a second flight (Boeing 707, as I recall) that would fly us through a Texas thunderstorm before we finally landed in San Antonio.

I'd flown a whole bunch the summer before to Europe, all over Europe, and back. Had flown to San Francisco and back Christmas '68. No big deal. We arrived on Lackland AFB close to midnight, as I recall.

Then the yelling began. Were herded off to the "Hell's Kitchen" midnight chow hall for a meal, then herded to the barracks building in the 3708th BMTS Squardron, bay B8, Basic Training Flight. The yelling continued for the next six weeks.

All began 42 years ago today.

How time flies.

August Recession, maybe...

Been a tough couple of months. Lots of things in the way of getting work done. FAA obstacles. FAA shutdown because Congress is reflecting the blindness and polarization around us. Except in Washington, DC it's all imprisoned in the endless quest for campaign contributions and the prospects for the next election. It can't possibly be about doing the work at hand and actually going somewhere.

A friend wrote this morning that he thought things are the way they are because God wants them that way. I don't think I can agree. I wrote back:

An old Air Force buddy maintains that people don't change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat. He also says he believes in social Darwinism. It's kinda scary because it's a short hop from his view to Hitler's master race. The persistent cry of the prophets and Jesus himself was justice and compassion for the poor. Unfortunately, well-to-do folks can insulate themselves pretty well and let or force others take the heat. Our leaders today are using the wrong approach. One the one hand, they have disparaged the wealthy. It made me ill to hear the number of times President Obama invoked the phrase "corporate jet owners" in recent days.

At the same time, people are enraged by what they often perceive as a government-operated redistribution of wealth, meaning from have to have-not. At the same time, the haves control the power of regulation and politcial decision making at nearly all levels. So they will always act in selfish self-interest, meaning the system will be rigged so that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor--unless the hearts of the rich are formed to another kind of self-interest that says "I'm not doing well unless my neighbor is; none of us does well unless we all do".

Trickle down economics didn't work in the time of the prophet Amos. They don't work today. They never will. I'm nothing but dumbfounded that Bible toters today can't see this. Looking around can be discouraging. I'm certainly discouraged. But I don't believe the prophets said that the poor are being screwed over because God is in control and God wants it this way. They said the opposite. So the preachers and prophets and leaders of today have a responsibility, indeed, a divine calling, to point another way and call the people to repentance. What has been completely lacking in our national discourse is a sense of direction, a place to go. It's as though Moses expected to sway Pharaoh with name-calling and mud-slinging and then expected the people to follow him into the wilderness with no sense that their destination was the Promised Land, or that there even was a Promised Land.

I won't blame God for anything until my fingernails are gone and my fingertips bloody from clawing at the obstacles. As one of my inspirations, Canadian songwriter/poet Bruce Cockburn, sang years ago, "You've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." And Crosby/Stills/Nash sang during the Vietnam War, "The darkest hour is always just before the dawn".

Pretty dark. Maybe we're about 2:30-3:00 AM here. A little while to go yet. People have to start being honest, they have to get real. In order to close our budget gap, there needs to be universal sacrifice. It must be shared but it can't be shared equally. Those who have more ability will have to do more, not because we hate them but because they are the only ones who actually have the resources to do more. Things like the mortgage interest deduction on income taxes will probably have to go. Tax rates for the wealthiest will have to go up. Spending will have to go down.

Health care costs will have to go WAY down. The spears of war spending will have to be beaten into the pruning hooks of peace spending. Farm subsidies for things like corn that gives us obesity and diabetes and heart disease will have to go down or end. People will all have to take more responsibility for their own health and fitness, walk more, drive less, play more sports, watch less TV/video. Not because these things are evil, but because there is a better place to go, a much better way to live.

We will have to make more of what we need here, not bring it in from China on the cheap. Walmart will have to go back to its red-white-and blue roots. And so will we. We will have to pay a little more, but the result of doing so will pay us back many times over. And we'll have sto stop worshiping the god of war and start following the way of Jesus.

Until we have leaders who can speak courageously that this is not the coward's way but in fact the most courageous way and the way of Christ, we'll continue to wander in the wilderness and be beset by poisonous serpents. So we'll have to grow a whole new generation of spiritual leaders who have a clue about how the world works, who know how poplitics work, who can actually follow the money, and aren't afraid to call Caesar to account the way Jim Wallis has.

To have listened to the ridiculous efforts of Christian leaders over the past 20 years or so, you'd get the idea that God was obsessed with one thing and one thing only: sex. Maybe it says that the Christian leaders themselves were obsessed with sex--as many of their personal lives so agonizingly revealed. God is self-sacrificingly obsessed with the care and redemption of all that he has made. That involves justice for the poor, liberation from our exploitative, consumptive, war-directed lifetsyle. God's way is not an austere way, not a way of misery. It is a way of blessing and a way of abundance, a way of life that is the only way to be about what he created us for, LIFE itself.

It's life that is not full of stuff but full of meaning. Conservatives don't get this or they would be at the very forefront of conserving God's creation instead of steadfastly denying that we are selfishly, hoggishly killing it. Liberals don't get this because they seem to be too weak and inarticulate to stand for and fight for anything. One has the god of stuff. The other has the god of self. Maybe they both have both.

They could not have given us a broader opening. As followers of Christ, we are called to be something entirely different. We are called to be salt, to have a flavor, to actually taste like something beneficial and useful and necessary. We are not called to turn the whole world into salt and nothing but salt. Nothing grows in a salt desert.

And we are called to be light, the kind of light Jesus was and is. 2:30 AM. Maybe 3:00. The clock is not standing still.