The Definition of Strength

It has always seemed to me that the common definition of strength is not what it really is.

Many Americans this morning are celebrating that force is being used in the war-torn Middle East. The missiles fired on Syria were supposedly dropped because the administration, specifically, the president, were horrified by images of people who had been hit with a deadly gas.

Then, the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) was dropped in Afghanistan, killing a some members of ISIS.

Many Americans are rejoicing. They are saying that the moves made by the administration show “strength.” People are saying, “we are back in the game again.”

The game? What …game? Is it really a game that we seem to be on the brink of a deadly war?

Diplomacy, I guess, is a punk technique. In the presence of ISIS, the only way to handle this is to “bomb the —- out of them.” The way of the Empire is to engage in war, to force change by killing innocent people and destroying other countries.

People have been absolutely incensed with former President Obama for not engaging in war. It made him and the United States look weak, they say.

But this new president – this is the Popeye against the Brutus called terrorism. He really believes he can destroy ISIS with bombs.

Meanwhile, he is hurting his own people by proposing budget cuts that affect programs that help the poor, the elderly, and children.

It doesn’t matter, though. He does not see the irony of him and his administration being outraged about Syrians treated badly by their government while his own government is treating his own people badly, under the sanction of the law.

All that matters is that he is showing “strength” in a conflict which seemingly has no end. Americans will run to participate in a war against an idea, and in a war which has such deep roots that not even the strongest nuclear weapon would be effective.

Is it arrogance or hubris that makes a nation “strong?” That seems to be the message. In a world in which so many people profess to believe in Christianity, which touts the formation and preservation of community, the basic Christian message seems to be disposable.

Refraining from force is perceived as being weak. The strong do all they can to maintain power, a mindset which inevitably causes the less fortunate (or “weak”) to be trampled upon. The deployment of force is held more dear than is the exercise of compassion and restraint.

So, this American president is standing on a platform, beating his chest, bragging about his strength. He is Popeye; his “spinach” is the belief that using force means or defines that very strength.

Meanwhile, the huddled masses, here and around the world, will be trounced upon, and nobody seems to care.

So much for strength.

A candid observation …

Romney, Again?

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, 2008 US presidential candidate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good grief.

The 2012 presidential election was over six months ago and Republicans (and others)  are STILL talking about why they lost. The media are still doing stories on it. Whatever for?

Maybe I am suffering from a lapse of memory, but I don’t ever remember this kind of “after-the-election” coverage. Yes, when the United Supreme Court voted that George W. Bush had won, the conversation was pretty much over. Oh, it lasted a while, but not six months afterward.

When Clinton won, I don’t remember the expansive coverage on why the Republicans lost. What in the world is different this time?

Is it because the Republicans are in shock because they lost to the man whom they had determined would be a “one term president?” Is it because they cannot believe that the non-white, male vote wasn’t enough to vote them in?  What am I missing? Why are we STILL talking about this?

There are issues to be dealt with. There’s the vast amount of destruction that has happened because of Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes  that wreaked havoc in Moore, Oklahoma and afterward. These natural disasters have not only caused great damage that will require lots of taxpayer dollars to bring relief, but there is they have also struck the hearts and spirits of those who were affected. There will be lots of emotional trauma because of these disasters, and this country, much as it may not want to, will have to address the subject of mental illness and what this country needs to do about it.

There is the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Benghazi has come and gone,and there is still much discussion about what happened there and why, but the overall turmoil in the Middle East is not getting better; it’s getting worse. As we sit in the midst of a sequester which is affecting all areas of the national budget, including the defense budget, it seems that someone ought to be dealing with what implications the sequester is having in all areas of our lives.

There is health care. Yes, we have the Affordable Care Act, and lots more people who didn’t have access to health care will now have it, but the poorest of the poor will still be unable to get it, if the reports are true. That being the case, even though the Affordable Care Act has passed, will our health care costs still soar because too many people will still be forced to get care in emergency rooms?

There is the horrible situation caused by excessive student loan debt. While everyone is talking about the national debt, very little real attention is being given to the plight college students, past, present and to come, are facing with their paralyzing debt. Our Congress isn’t really talking about it; the media isn’t really covering it. And yet, this staggering debt threatens the livelihood of young people who have bought into the idea that a good education means a good life. Not necessarily.

We’ve not yet really settled the issue of gun control. The memory of what happened in Connecticut and Arizona and other places is still fresh; in spite of heart-felt pleas by family members of victims, Congress is still at an impasse. So, we wait for the next gun-caused catastrophe and begin the clamor all over again?

There are the ongoing problems of sexism and sexual assault on women that has gone on in our own military. There are the issues of gun control and immigration reform.  The phone records of Americans have been compromised in the name of …what?

In other words, there are just lots of things that are current issues that we as a nation need to be focusing on, not an election which came and passed in November. The incumbent won. It’s over.

So, why are we still trying to “figure it out?” Why are we still seeing interviews of Mitt Romney? Why is it still an issue that he lost?  It’s a waste of time…

A candid observation

Entitlements be Damned

With the fiscal cliff debacle hanging over us, I find myself cringing every time I hear the word “entitlements.”

The argument, or part of the argument, as concerns how we get out of our financial crisis, is that the entitlements, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security – are just too expensive and are not sustainable. The Republicans are willing to budge on their desire not to raise taxes for the “wealthy,” IF there are substantial cuts in entitlement spending.

Those entitlements, however, are what help “the least of these.”  I keep wondering what legislators are thinking. How are the poor, the elderly, and those who have worked all their lives and now need Social Security …supposed to live? Because one is poor, is he or she not worthy of being treated with dignity? And because one has grown old, is he or she not “entitled” to expect some financial assistance from the country in which they lived during the days of their youth, working to contribute to its economy?

If spending for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is cut, what happens to this broad swath of people who simply need help? Everybody needs help – even the wealthy. The difference between the poor, lower middle class, and for much of the middle middle class and the wealthy is that the wealthy have more resources to pull from when they need help.  The poor have so little access to what they need for quality of life and, frankly, the wealthy are not concerned about them as regards their reality.  If and when a poor person needs help, he or she is often forced to get money from predatory lenders, who charge them exorbitant interest rates. The poor really do not have a chance. They get ensconced in a downward spiral that goes faster and faster…And the wealthy are not concerned.  The wealthy look for ways to make more profits – even if it is from or on the backs of the poor – and too often turn a deaf ear toward the cries of those who are suffering.

I read a story about a woman who had worked all her life, in a job where there were no benefits, including health insurance. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/gop-obamacare-medicaid_n_2347933.html) She began to feel poorly, but would not go to a doctor because she could not afford it.  She began to look up home remedies, and tried some of what she read, but eventually, not even the home remedies helped. She collapsed on her job and was taken to an emergency room, where it was discovered that the had high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.  The doctor asked her why she had waited so long to get help.

The insensitivity to the plight of the poor and the working poor is phenomenal.

Following this episode, she was able to get Medicaid, and was able to get the medicine she needs to keep her alive, but recently, her Medicaid allotment was reduced because of a state policy that said persons receiving it can only make a certain amount of money; this woman made over that amount, and so her benefits were slashed. Now, she is in the dangerous place of not being able to afford her medicine; the money she makes is just enough for her to pay her rent and utilities.  The article said she is feeling bad again; the fluid is accumulating in her chest again, and her blood pressure is no doubt going up.

Hers is not the only story like this. The elderly, many of them, are not doing much better. It is heartbreaking to think about the elderly who worked all their lives and who now are malnourished because they cannot afford to pay their rent AND buy food. There is something terribly wrong with the way people think – or don’t think – about those who suffer.

And yet, the Conservative hard-liners insist that the aid these people receive are “entitlements” and should be slashed. The very word “entitlement” brings up negative feelings. Anytime anyone says that someone thinks he or she is “entitled” to something, there is a negative undertone that accompanies it. Slash spending, the Conservatives rail, on these dratted entitlements. Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of Americans think they are “entitled” to help from the government. The attitude is one of distrust  and disdain; the implication is there that the poor and working poor are where they are because of some deficit in their characters.

Ironically, there is a lot of money in poor people; maybe that’s why the wealthy are not so concerned about them. The poor need and want to work, and have been willing, in the past and in the present, to work under horrible conditions for paltry pay. The poor are then penalized for being poor; they pay higher – the highest – interest rates on purchases they make. The wealthy take advantage of them and others who are not so steeped in how America’s financial system works. How else do we explain the antics of mortgage companies, who made millions, maybe billions, off people who were lured into getting mortgages they could not afford?

The attitude seems to be “let them eat cake” while the wealthy go blithely on their way, looking for more and more ways to make more and more money. Meanwhile, many of those same people want the spending on defense to be left alone or perhaps be increased. The stated reason is that we, the United States, need that money to defend ourselves, but the wars we have been engaged in since President Bush got us into them had nothing to do with defending ourselves. The massive spending, causing much of our current indebtedness, was done not to defend America, but to get America in a place where it could dip into and be a part of the huge profits that are available in the oil in the Middle East. By all means, spend money to make more money. It is not good business to spend money on that which loses money – and poor people make the government lose money, they would posit.

The wealthy think they are “entitled” to make more money. That’s what business is, and long ago, President Calvin Coolidge said that the “business of America…is business.”  They poor  and  the elderly are not “entitled” to quality of life, not entitled to help from the country they helped prosper.

That is a really sad commentary on America and its “values.”

A candid observation …

The Problem with Fathers

I just read something by Fr. Richard Rohr about the sad fact that way too many people are not reconciled with their fathers.

Part of the reason many people find it hard to relate to God as “father,” he said, is because so many people have bad to non-existent relationships with their fathers.  Wrote Rohr: “Many people have had bad experiences with their fathers, and until that’s redeemed and freed, until they experience reconciliation with their fathers, or healing from the wounds of that father relationship, it is very hard, if not impossible, for such people to experience the loving, reconciling fatherhood of God.” (Richard Rohr,The Good News According to Luke, p. 61)

Rohr’s observation made me think about the problem with fathers. Although we in America hear a lot about African-American children not having fathers at home, being raised by single mothers, as I read and observe, it seems that many children, no matter their race or ethnicity, find themselves looking for a real father, a loving, consistent and powerful presence in their lives. It seems that well-to-do children have fathers who are away a lot for “business,” leaving them, effectively, to be raised by a single mother or worse, some caretaker or hired help. It seems that for many, a father in the home has meant seeing mothers being physically and emotionally abused, or the children themselves being physically, emotionally …and too often, sexually abused.  So often, we hear that “daddy was an alcoholic,” and because of that, life was hard and painful. Too often, the story is that “daddy” made promises he did not keep, causing little children to grow up into insecure adults, always wanting good things to happen to them but inherently doubting any promise of “good” for them to become reality. There has been no reconciliation with “daddy.” In many cases, there is a deep desire to pretend that the father didn’t exist. To expect better of a father who has treated, mistreated or ignored his children during their formative years is often too hard for the child, now grown up.

And God is presented, by and large, as a father.

If Rohr is correct, then it means that because so many people are not reconciled with their own fathers, they are not and worse, cannot, be reconciled to God, and to the “good news” that God offers.

I am stretching here, but perhaps the lack of good relationships with fathers is part of the reason America is filled with Christians who are not reconciled with God, and are therefore not reconciled with each other? Could racism and sexism and homophobia exist as entities if we were a nation reconciled with God? Could there be such a history of racial and gender discrimination, of great economic disparity, making an ever-widening chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” if we were a nation reconciled with God?  Wouldn’t a nation filled with people who are reconciled with God …look different, have different policies, be more characterized by great compassion and forgiveness than is America?

Is the part of the world which says it is Christian, likewise, reconciled with God? I do not know much about what is really going on in the Middle East, but something feels wrong. Yes, Israel has a right to exist, but doesn’t Palestine have that right, too? Are the Palestinian people (not Hamas or any political group, but the people) being treated like human beings who belong to and are precious to God?  People who are reconciled with God, I would presume, see with God’s eyes and see with God’s heart; the child takes on the personality of the father, right? Is the fact that so many of us cannot take on the personality of God mean that our lack of reconciliation with our own fathers is really running our lives and the way we live our lives?

Fr. Rohr quotes the prophet Malachi, who wrote that when children are not reconciled with their fathers, “the land is struck with a curse.” (Mal. 3:24) He says, “When the eldering system breaks down, the male is no longer able to trust or entrust himself to anybody and the female is no longer able to trust the male or entrust herself to the male. At that point, people have a distorted and restricted view of the nature of themselves, one another, and God…This is a sibling society, needing but rejecting all mentoring.” (p. 62)

Is there a “father problem” in America, and in the world? Are there far too many people with bleeding spirits because they did not have a good relationship with their fathers, and are therefore not reconciled with God? If that’s the case, does it matter?

I think so.

A candid observation…

 

The Weird Peace of Faith

I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, in which I describe how “crazy faith” can and does propel people to do amazing things.  Faith doesn’t make sense, it is not logical, but it brings stability to unstable situations and gives sight where the circumstances at hand would beg blindness.

Then, this morning, I heard Rev. Lance Watson describe “courageous faith,” a faith that made the Biblical character Joshua tell the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could face their enemies. Whoever heard of such? And yet, courageous (crazy) faith makes people staunchly believe in something greater than themselves, and in standing on that belief, beat incredible odds.

Faith, it seems, gives people courage, the “courage to be,” as Paul Tillich describes. The very last line of his book, The Courage to Be, reads: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

The anxiety of doubt comes when we are in the midst of the most scary, the most traumatic situations of our lives. We wonder where God is, if God hears, if God cares …I imagine the slaves in America wondered about the presence and goodness  of God as they endured that horrible institution; I imagine, as well, that Jews, suffering under the brutality and insanity of Adolph Hitler during the Holocaust, wondered the same thing…”Would God allow such evil?”

And yet, it seems, God does allow evil, and the courage to be means that one is able to hold onto his or her belief in God “in spite of” one’s situation.

As a pastor, I have seen many a person struggle with the whole notion of the goodness of God, the presence of God, and the purposes of God. Why would God allow an innocent child to die of brain cancer, or a beloved mother to die an early and brutal death? Years ago, I watched a young mother struggle with her idea of God as she mourned, in excruciating pain, the death of her teen son who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the recent unrest in the Middle East, I can imagine mothers and fathers both in Gaza and in Israel wondering why God would allow such evil – the evil of war caused by people who will not listen to each other – to exist and to flourish.

God does allow evil.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is something weird about faith, because even in the midst of going through and suffering through abject evil, those who have faith experience a “weird” peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”  After a while, the person filled with faith has an ability to surrender doubt into the unknown. He or she is not aware of where the anxiety of doubt is going; one only knows that yesterday, he or she was upset and worried, and today, the worry, the anxiety, is gone.

And that is in spite of the fact that God allows evil to be.

We might feel better if God put a hand in front of all evil and all discomfort that confronts us, but God doing that would not necessarily increase our faith. Faith actually comes in the enduring and survival of, evil in our lives. Evil comes at us like a giant Tsunami, sometimes stunning us in its ferocity and intensity, and if we can find ourselves standing when the giant wave of evil passes back into the sea, we find that our faith in God increases. Somewhere in the midst of the fury of the evil that sometimes boxes our spirits, if we get to that place of weird peace, we are able to ride the evil and not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

Evil is strong and distasteful, but God is greater than any evil. That does not mean that God prevents evil; we have already established that God allows evil, and we may never understand why …but in the end, God really is greater than evil.

Maybe that’s why faith is so perplexing. Anyone who has experienced a weird peace in the midst of adversity knows exactly what I am talking about …

A candid observation …