Sunday, November 30, 2008

 

Poverty and Moderation

Once again it has become fashionable to disdain wealth. Poverty has suddenly become a very fashionable cause. Criticism of this nation's materialism (as though it were confined to the United States), comes about as often as cases of Charles Shaw leave Trader Joe's.

What to do? Well, I realize nobody asked, but since this subject is close to my heart, I wanted to air my thoughts. The subject of moderation has recently come to my attention for two reasons: First, the trampling to death of a poor Walmart employee last Friday awakened a fear of the insatiable appetite people have for more stuff; second, I have seen a web site dededicated to an "Advent Conspiracy." This website attempts to shift people's focus from giving presents to something else. I here quote the website:

"Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas."

The alternative they present is to give money for the digging of wells so that people in poverty have access to clean water. In case anyone wondered, I am pro clean water for the poor. Clean water is good. My critique comes at this point: are we simply replacing one distraction (giving gifts out of obligation) with another (giving clean water out of obligation)? After all, if Jesus' main goal in the incarnation was to eradicate poverty, he failed miserably. I will concede that I think it is more noble to give clean water to the poor than give an obligatory cheese log to Aunt Mabel, but do either of them equal the gospel?

Christ came to transform hearts. Where the care of the poor fits into that is a matter I ponder constantly. Many on the Christian Left have become vocal regarding what they see as the ignoring of the Scriptures as they speak of poverty. There is much truth in this critique. My argument would therefore be, what shall we do about it? Since the vast majority of the Biblical quotations regarding the evil of ignoring the poor are directed at Israel (since they did not follow the Torah by taking care of the widows and orphans in their midst), I think we can learn something from God's condemnations. God expects us to care for the poor among us, care for our families, and do whatever we can to lighten the burden on the needy and defenseless in our midst. What makes this so complicated in 2008 is that in a global economy, suddenly 6 billion people are "in our midst" rather than 600 or 6000. This makes the problem seem so large that it seems insurmountable.

I have two thoughts. The first one has to do with Walmart. Since wealthy Americans probably don't do much shopping at Walmart, I think we can assume that none of the people who trampled that poor man to death on Friday were particularly wealthy. I could be wrong, since I did not take income statements at the door of the store, but let's just call it a hunch. Furthermore, it is not outside the realm of logic to term these folks as middle class or poor, by American standards (a caveat: if you are an American, in almost every case you are wealthy compared to the rest of the world). Therefore, this disturbing level of materialism and greed was exhibited not on Wall Street, but on Main Street. Because, the problem of greed is just as bad (if not worse) on Main street as it is on Wall Street, but trumpeting that fact will never get anyone elected president. This materialism and greed that infects humanity is what Jesus Christ came to eradicate. This is where our initial focus should be, however noble it is to help the poor.

Second, if we cannot understand the place for celebration in the life of the Christian, we run the risk of being immoderate. Jesus not only hung out with the poor and outcast, but he also partied at such a level that he himself said that some accused him of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). What can we learn from that? How can the Second Person of the Trinity be so engaged in celebrating that he ignores the needs of the poor for one second? Maybe we can learn that the real source of our energies needs to be the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost. That will continue to be my advent conspiracy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

 

Ahh...Minnesota

Life in Minnesota is becoming more and more ordinary. We have been here 2 and a half years, and I think we are starting to feel more as though this is our home, and not just another stop on our way to an eventual home. Over the last two days, several things have come up that remind me why I love it here and why it is like no other place:

-We quite probably beat a single day record in sales at our store on Saturday, as Thanksgiving shoppers, undeterred (or maybe brought to us) by the economic crisis, proceeded to buy more turkeys, potatoes, Charles Shaw wine and other goodies than ever. This was aided by weather in the 30's, which allowed us to use our loading dock as an outdoor refrigerator for our cold produce.

-As I left work, I was greeted in the car by the strains of Garrison Keillor on the radio. As I listened to his musings on the tundra of Minnesota and the white blanket of snow that greeted him in St. Paul on Saturday morning, I did not need to imagine it...all I had to do was look out my window.

-The political atmosphere here remains electric as the senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman continues through the recount. Right now, Coleman holds a 180 vote lead (that's 180, not 1800 or 18000), and we are all bracing ourselves for the legal battles as these two shameless scavengers beat each other to a metaphorical bloody pulp over the right to "represent us".

-As we made our way to church this morning, we took our normal route. This route takes us over the Mississippi River by Fort Snelling (the mid-1800's military outpost which was a part of the formation of this city). As we approached the river, a brown figure darted across our eye line, and Stephanie and I both realized that it was a bald eagle. It's wing span was wide and majestic, and it was an amazing sight, since I had never yet seen one outside of a zoo.

-We drove through Downtown St. Paul tonight, and the winter shows signs of beginning. The ice rink is going up again in front of Landmark Center, and the lights arond the center are beginning to go up. I can't wait until the tree is lit in Rice Park...it is a sight.

As the winter approaches and the first great holiday of the cold season comes on Thursday, the warmth of our home is always more pronounced than ever. The endless rows of glowing windows that I drive by as the sun sets at 4:30 PM warm the heart each year. Summer in Minnesota truly is a thing of glory, not to be missed. And while I do not look forward to the sub zero days that lay before me, those days in the teens, 20's and 30's that get me into my scarf, coat and bomber hat still awake something unique within me. How can home be so comforting and warm without winter? And how can the cocoa taste as good were it not immediately proceeded by a dive into the snow bank?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

 

Reflections on an Historic Morning

As someone who was always taught about the depth of the struggle of the African American people, it is difficult to not be proud of where the country has come in the election of Barack Obama Tuesday. I have never supported his candidacy, but I always felt a certain amount of happiness that we could see the progress of race relations in this country in a tangible way. What is comforting to me is the congratulations Obama received from Senator McCain and President Bush. It is comforting to see a clean victory here. It would have been heartbreaking to see another 2000 scenario, especially with race also being in the mix with this election.

There are many already recounting the words of Martin Luther King in these days following such an historic election. That is appropriate, for on Tuesday, I voted against this man for the same reason so many voted for him, because of the content of his character. If anything, my sympathy for the African American plight was the only thing that would have compelled me to vote for Obama. But in the end, that is going against my own principles. I must vote for someone based on their stance on the issues and how they measure up with my stances. While John McCain was far away from my principles, Obama was farther, and I could not ignore that as I cast my vote Tuesday.

The other quote from King that was recalled was the "free at last" quote. Again, that is an appropriate thought on such a day. And yet, I cannot help but think of the vast sea of voices silenced through abortion, and I cannot celebrate. Obama has skillfully addressed this issue in such a way that pleases most people. I agree that almost everyone (if not everyone) wants to see fewer abortions. That at least leaves room for progress. But while abortion is allowed in the name of liberty in this nation, I will not be a patriot of this nation. I am very aware of the other economical inequities that Obama says he will set out to correct. That is another principle where I differ. But the abortion issue is totally different. Economic systems are simply tools which can be used or abused like any other human endeavor. But the lack of regard of innocent human life looms so large in my heart that I don't think I can utter "free at last" until unborn human life is finally given its proper respect. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Senator Obama and my friends who support him. But I also offer my prayers that he will look inside himself and have a change of heart and realize that he cannot claim to care for the least of these among us as long as this right continues.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

 

Election Day

For those of you who don't know, our son Jack is named after CS Lewis (who went by that name his entire life, though it was not his given name). My wife and I are constantly pierced by some of his words which seem so appropriate. As I see all of the hubbub and worry over this election, an entry like this one from the Screwtape Letters speaks volumes. (For those who don't know, the Screwtape Letters are a collection of letters from a demon to his nephew, and the letters involve how the younger demon should best go about ensnaring his subject, a man who has become a Christian during the years of World War 2.) Lewis writes:


"If your patient can be induced to become a conscientious objector he will automatically find himself one of a small, vocal, organised, unpopular society, and the effects of this, on one so new to Christianity, will almost certainly be good. But only almost certainly. Has he had serious doubts about the lawfulness serving in a just war before this present war of serving began? Is he a man of great physical courage—so great that he will have no half-conscious misgivings about the real motives of his pacifism? Can he, when nearest to honesty (no human is ever very near), feel fully convinced that he actuated wholly by the desire to obey the Enemy? If he is that sort of man, his pacifism will probably not do us much good, and the Enemy will probably protect him from the usual consequences of belonging to a sect. Your best plan, in that case, would be to attempt a sudden, confused, emotional crisis from which he might emerge as an uneasy convert to patriotism. Such things can often be managed. But if he is the man I take him to be, try Pacifism.

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the "cause", in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more "religious" (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here."

 

Voting Irregularities


Monday, November 03, 2008

 

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

On this day before election day, I decided to do a little counting. On our 2 mile walk to and from the bank, I counted the Obama and McCain signs.

Final score:

Obama:55

McCain: 4

The McCain voters should wish for a McCain express lane at the polls tomorrow in this leftist neighborhood :).

 

Walkin' Wes

It has begun:

video

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