The Problem of Being Rich

I’ve begun to understand in a new way, why Jesus said that it would be more difficult for a *“Rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” Unless a person has lived a life of poverty, one cannot comprehend the importance of supports in place that allow a person to better their situation. To understand one either has to live the experience or take time to know some people who are . . .  To walk beside a person scrambling to just survive. Otherwise, it is very easy to make assumptions about the poor. Too often I hear people blaming the poor for being poor, not understanding the conditions which got a person into the situation, let alone how very difficult it is, to find ones way out. This administration has been filled with people who have lived in the upper side of life. Luxury is a norm. Most people in leadership have never had to decide whether or not they can afford care for a sick child. Paying for drugs for cancer treatment has not been an obstacle, nor has any other medical need been too expensive.

This week President Trump told an audience at a Values Summit that “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.” My problem with that statement is that I’ve been seeing far more anti-Christian values coming out of Washington than Christian values in these last months. I can understand how good Christians can differ on issues around sexuality and abortion. But there are core values of Christianity which are not debatable. Basic is a love for the poor. A core value is caring for people when their circumstances are difficult. When people are down and out, a Christian reaches out to give support and encouragement. A Christian does not to pull the rug out from under people who most need help. They don’t mock an entire country that has been wiped out by a hurricane nor do they take health care away from the poor. A Christian practices generosity. They do not give tax breaks to the rich at the expense of the poor. Christian values include a concern for all of creation. **We remember how Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, it is as if, we have done it to him.

I can understand differences of opinion. I can not understand the callousness of taking away from people who struggle the most, the supports they need to survive on. President Trumps decision to deny insurance subsidies to the working poor comes across as vindictiveness. It is certainly not leadership. Fixing something that is broken is far different than tearing it apart and destroying what is working.

So, I pray for this president. I pray for the nation, that we live the true Christian values of love, goodness, mercy, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, peace, patience and self-control. For there is as scripture says, “No law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23

*It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

** Full passage – Matthew 25:31-46 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

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A Roller Coaster Called Health Care

When my youngest daughter was born prematurely in 1977, it was a very frightening time. Her early months were one roller coaster after another of wondering if she would survive. There was more than one Code Blue called on her. In the midst of that difficult time though, one of the gifts was to have health insurance which covered almost everything. Her three-month initial stint in the hospital, and several others that occurred in the year following, could have wiped us out financially. The $70,000 plus dollars of that time in medical inflation dollars today would be around *$570,000. But fortunately we had good coverage. Our out of pocket costs were hard to meet, but something we could manage.

We have been living a different kind of roller coaster in the Health Care debates of 2017. Just when one thinks the issue is a last settled, it is reincarnated in a new way to mess with the insurance market. I’m left mystified by the way the entire health care debate of 2017 has been held. I know way too many people, among the working poor, who would be negatively impacted if the Affordable Care Act were to end, without a solid replacement. Creating a health care bill without input from people who work in the field confuses me. Why would anyone create a bill without knowing the consequences of their actions? Especially, given the impact passage of that bill will have on millions of lives.

When the framers of the constitution met to determine what form of government we would have, I’m pretty sure they thought we would send our best people to Washington to represent us. They were expecting we would send the wise to do the work of the people. Knowing human nature well, they sent up a process where one house would be elected every two years and the other six. They felt that those who would be in office for six years would not feel pressured to act foolishly in the moment, but would use the wisdom they had acquired to judge and evaluate bills wisely. Our founders could never have envisioned the world of today, when news spreads in an instant and groups put pressure immediately, to vote a certain way. They would not have known how much influence donations to elected officials would have, or how that money would undermine working for the common good. They couldn’t have known that today’s Senators and Congressmen and women would be constantly running for office. Always fearful that they not upset a big donor.

These last months have seen us going through one cycle of votes after another trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a well-thought-out replacement. Meanwhile, I find myself growing anxious with every new bill that undoes the good for people who live on the edge. What I have hoped for from the beginning was for congress to fix the broken parts of the law, just as they did when Medicare became the law of the land. Instead we have had this long battle which has done none of us any good.

I keep asking God to work in the hearts of God’s people in Washington to make wise and good decisions about health care. I pray that they will let God lead them beyond their political party and into the truth God wants them to know. Imagine, how much good could be done if all of our leaders really did put God above their respective political party and paid more attention to the one who told us that “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 NRSV

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We All Drink from One Water

“We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky
Remember
We are one” Anwar Fazal

We take the earth and its cycles for granted, until something out of the ordinary occurs. The heavy hand of two Category four hurricanes in the space of three weeks was cause to stop and think about our changing climate . . .  our rising and warming oceans. Only a few years ago the idea of global warming was just a debatable question in academic circles. All too rapidly, our climate is changing. Signs of that change are most apparent in the arctic where the permafrost is thawing, glaciers rapidly shrinking and entire villages being consumed by the sea. Polar bears are losing their habitat.   Meanwhile, in Florida the city of Miami experiences flooding monthly when the moon pulls strongest on the tides.   Many scientists believe that we are quickly coming to a place of where the course will be set irreversibly.

The issue is one that goes beyond political and national boundaries. All of us are in this together. Anwar Fazal expresses this so well in his poem.

“We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky
Remember
We are one
The new born baby cries the same
The laughter of children is universal
Everyone’s blood is red
And our hearts beat the same song
Remember
We are one
We are all bothers and sisters
Only one family, only one earth
Together we live
And together we die
Remember – We are one
Remember – We are one
Peace be on you
Brothers and Sisters
Peace be on you.”
Anwar Fazal, From Prayers for a Thousand Years Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium By Elizabeth Roberts, Elias Amidon

The scripture tells us that we are caretakers of the earth. We have a responsibility to care for this world that God has entrusted to our keeping. We are reminded that “The earth is the Lords” and not ours to abuse or misuse. Our Christian faith teaches us that whatever we do to the least of the worlds citizens for good or ill, we also do to Christ. And for those of us who have received much, much is required.  If we fail in this, future generations won’t ask about our political loyalties but wonder how we could have so denied the evidence and the prophetic words from the worlds scientists.   They will wonder how we could have allowed an environmental catastrophe to happen. Our actions or inactions will have consequences which will outlast our lives. Future generations, including our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live out the repercussions of our decisions. What kind of world do we want our distant relatives to inhabit? What might God be asking of each of us to make that a reality? In our prayerful searching, may God guide our thoughts and direct our actions.

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Choosing to Look Past our Differences

Henri Nouwen said, “To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other. Often quite unconsciously we classify people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgements influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Ten years ago, the 35W bridge collapsed and fell into the Mississippi river during rush hour traffic on August 1, 2007. I rarely drove across the 35W Bridge into Minneapolis, but a wrong turn had sent me over the bridge a few days earlier. Thirteen people died. Many were critically injured. More than one hundred forty people were transported to hospitals by pickup truck, cars and ambulances. As I look back, what strikes me most were the number of people who immediately jumped into action. Before First Responders could get there, bystanders were diving into the river, rescuing people trapped in their cars. They were just ordinary folks who happened to be there and knew they needed to help. That evening, no one worried about the political, ethnic or religious background of the injured or the rescuers. There were no questions about immigration status. All of that was immaterial.

I often get discouraged about the enmity between people in today’s society over race, religious faith or immigration status. Ten years ago, in that life or death moment after the bridge collapse, all judgements were suspended. What mattered was searching for survivors, breaking windows of submerged vehicles and pulling people from the river. What mattered was getting children off a school bus about to erupt in flames or tip into the river, to safety. What mattered was stabilizing an injury and offering comfort. People checked in with family and with friends they rarely talked to. It was one of our finer moments as we collectively worked together in the midst of a tragic event – evidence that if we choose to, we can be that again.

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God Made Us Stewards of the Earth For a Purpose

God made us stewards of the earth for a purpose. These have been challenging times for those of us who are concerned about environmental issues . . . Whether it is President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord, or the removal of pages of data about Climate Change from national web sites. In the Biblical world we read about prophets who cried out begging people to change direction. Warning of the consequences of continuing on a destructive path, too often they were either ignored or persecuted. Today we need to ask if we are willing to listen to the prophets God is sending us about the danger the earth is in, or will we persecute them instead? Parts of Christianity has gotten twisted into a warped religious belief that recognizing and acknowledging climate change caused by people is somehow un-Christian. It’s hard for me to fathom the logic of that reasoning. This strange philosophy thinks that if there is a real problem, God will save us from environmental damage we do, because that is what God does. Most often though, God acts through us. In other moments, deep challenges have been times when people have come together looking for solutions. Scientists discovered cures for deadly diseases. Nations were born. Life saving procedures were discovered and perfected.

Yesterday, new data came out which indicates there will be significant losses to coastal cities in the United States by 2100 if our current trend continues. Already some Alaskan villages are slipping into the sea. Today’s children will grow old in that environment. Living in the upper Midwest, the global warm up will have both positive and negative impacts on daily living. Diseases that affect trees will be moving northward at a faster pace and some plants we are not accustomed to seeing will make their homes among us. People living in 2100 will not miss those minus 20 and 30 degrees of my generation. A changing pattern of rain fall may alter what can be grown. The impact of global warming will be more consequential along the coasts. Today’s flood zone will be tomorrows daily tide. Major cities will either have to relocate or build massive flood walls to protect themselves.

God must groan over us when we blindly assume it doesn’t matter what we do. God must weep over us when we mock the very scientists God has raised up. Climate science is not an opinion to be decided by our political bent, but a conclusion based on rigorous studies. God made us stewards of the earth for a purpose – not to destroy the earth but to care for it. God gave us minds so we would search for the truth. God sends us prophets so we will pay attention to their wisdom. God gave us an intellect to use. Our role as people of faith is to listen, to respond as we able to and set a direction that will be healing to our planet. For God wants us to pass on to our children and grandchildren a world that is healthy . . . a world where they can live to grow old in peace. To do that will require all of us working together for an healthier environment.

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The Power to Push Back the Darkness

On Sunday’s when I’m home sick, I like to check out the online worship service at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City (www.cor.org) where Adam Hamilton has been the lead pastor since the church began in 1990. One day I was struck by Adam Hamilton’s comment, “You are God’s strategic plan to push back the darkness.” I have to admit, that I have never thought of myself in those terms. Yet, hearing the words and being reminded that we are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, got me to thinking – Just what does a Christian do, to push back the darkness in our world?

The present political climate in the United States is cause for many of us to search for a way to push back the darkness. Our inner demons have been set loose. The past year of campaign rhetoric and all the divisions since has fueled attitudes of arrogance, racism, and fear. All of which lack the compassion of a Jesus. I find it hard to comprehend the attitude of people who claim the name of Christian and then proceed to do hate speech on social media. Christians are seeped in foundational stories which ground us. We remember Jesus telling us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, it is as if we are doing it for him. (Matthew 25:31-46) I’m troubled by Christian friends who have missed this compelling message of Jesus.

We live in a world of deep challenges, in a nation so divided that we find it hard to even talk to each other about the issues that divide us, but matter to all of us. Likewise, we live in a time of immense possibilities in need of people who will direct those possibilities for good. It comes to me that each of us, does have the power to push back the darkness. Each of us has the power of words, where we live and work, in our families and in our homes. We have the power to influence through our own attitudes and actions. Especially, we can use our words on behalf of people who are targets of bigotry, injustice and callousness.

We have been born into this time and this era for a purpose. We are followers of Jesus who need to act in love and be God’s strategic plan to push back the darkness, We do that by being agents of God’s love and grace. Our part may seem very small. It may seem insignificant, but daily we have the power to use the influence we have to build bridges of understanding. We can influence through our generosity. We can give support and encouragement to people who need to know the gift of friendship and the power of God’s loving care through us. Today we can make another person’s life better, because of who we are and what we do and say. We really can be people who push against the darkness.

Jesus said it another way, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)

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Surviving Political Polarization, Scandals and Fears – Remembering God is Still God

I learned a new word recently, “Awfulizing.” A person engaged in “Awfulizing” assumes the worst case scenario will come true in any situation. “Awfulizers,” can only see the potential hazard ahead and prepare themselves for a disaster. I think I’ve been doing a good bit of “Awfulizing” myself in recent weeks.

I have watched unfolding events in Washington with despair. Every time I’ve seen regulations cut that would protect consumers, the environment or the work place -I’ve set off on a case of “Awfulizing.” I’ve agonized over the House version of the health care bill. Each time, I have assumed the worst that can happen will happen. That was before the past weeks in Washington. Most media carried stories of the firing of the FBI Director and it’s far reaching impact. Now there is apparent evidence that President Trump encouraged the FBI Director to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn. While all of this is going on, the concerns and needs of ordinary people are put aside in the midst of the latest scandal.

I read an article recently where a person likened today’s period of “Isn’t this awful” thinking to the experience of England in the Blitz. During an eight-month period, from the fall of 1940 to late spring of 1941, England was bombed almost daily. While many people in England are bemoaning *Brexit the writer pointed out, that any fallout from Brexit could not compare to what people endured as they lived through the Blitz in London. The writer then added, nor does it compare to the height of World War II when almost every family in the United States had one or more family members deployed in the war effort.

In January of 1780, Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams, who would later become president, “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed . . . The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties . . . Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

What I’ve been forgetting in all of my “Awfulizing” is that, while I don’t like much of what is happening in Washington these days, God is still God. God still works through God’s people for good. God is a God of justice. When God works in the hearts, minds and souls’ of God’s people, truth rises to the surface. There is “Awfulizing” and there is action. God always calls us to move from looking at the problems in our world to working on positive solutions. The choice is really ours. Where does God need us today? Is it “Awfulizing” or is it to start working for solutions?

*Brexit -The decision in 2016 by popular vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The decision impacts everything from trade and students attending colleges outside of the UK, to international banking.

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