Acorn Assault

3 10 2014

We are being bombed by acorns. They come tearing down through the leaves, ricochet off the gutters, the wind chimes, clang off the gas grill. They hit the deck and bounce six feet in the air. They leave little craters in the yard.

When the wind blows, it’s like they’re being poured out of a bucket. I’ve never seen anything like it.

FanCee, who has some tiny issues with closeness and being touched too much, is parked under my chair, nudging my leg so I’ll scratch her ears and rub her back. She’d climb into my lap if she could.

She’s got her head under the glass table, and she looks at me like, “Shouldn’t we have helmets?”

Even Prince, who has a personality like Baby Huey, did a double take on the last barrage. It’s supposed to rain later, and the wind is gusting in anticipation, shaking acorns from the trees. Now he’s over here too, under the table, on high alert. Acorns clattering and bouncing like popcorn.

I am reminded of the parts of the world where real bullets and real bombs are falling. I think about them as the acorn assault continues here.

I think about Gaza, the people of Iraq and Syria. I think about our cities, like Chicago, Camden and Newark where I have known innocent victims, DC where bullets rip through the night whenever the storm winds rage in someone’s life.

I think how easy it would be to stop this and how impossible it turns out to be.

In a few days, the acorns will be stripped from the branches, the siege will be over here.

I think about the disparity of all this as I gather my note pad, my coffee, the dogs right behind me, eager to reach the safety of the kitchen.

Kingdom Ethics 101

24 09 2014

Kingdom Ethics 101.

Kingdom Ethics 101

24 09 2014

The parallels between last Sunday’s parable (Matthew 20:1-16) of the generous vinmerlot.190eyard owner and today’s economic realities are just too startling to ignore.   I’m still mulling them over.

The vineyard owner (an honest to goodness job creator) is not hampered by profit margins.  He seems to understand his primary obligation, (beyond providing for his own needs) is to provide jobs for his community.  Why else does he keep going back to the market square to hire those who haven’t found work?  Even hiring people an hour before quitting time.

Quite startling behavior, especially when you consider the “job-less recovery” we’re living through today.  If there is such a thing.  It’s awfully hard to be jobless and in recovery.  They’re sort of mutually exclusive categories for most of us.

But then the parable gets weirder.  The vineyard owner pays them all a living wage regardless of whether they worked 1 hour or 12.  Not what they deserved…what they needed to live.

Jesus says this is what the kingdom is like.  Exactly what our world is not like.   That in itself isn’t too terribly shocking.   This isn’t the kingdom.

What I don’t understand is why Jesus vision of the kingdom is rejected, even by Jesus followers.  No, this world isn’t the kingdom, but this world doesn’t have to be this bad either.  We can live by Kingdom values now, and reap Kingdom benefits now.  That’s what Jesus teaches over and over.  That’s what discipleship is all about.

No, we would rather knock the corners off Jesus vision, and shave down the edges so it fits our world view and supports the status quo.  Anything, it seems, to avoid expanding our world view to make it more in line with Jesus vision.

For instance:

I find it morally repugnant and ethically indefensible that vastly profitable corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s and the like, pay their employees so pitifully that they need to be subsidized by the US tax payer through programs like food stamps.

This subsidy goes directly into the profit lines of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s.  Talk about rewarding bad behavior.  The worse these companies behave, the bigger their taxpayer subsidy.

Now, I don’t envy profitable companies their success.  What I find despicable is that their success comes at the expense of their exploited employees.  Success brings responsibility.  In terms of the Kingdom Jesus describes, that responsibility is not toward profits, it’s toward people.

Profits may suffer to benefit people, people may never suffer to benefit profits.   That’s just  Kingdom Ethics 101.  Classroom-Renderings

If we were to apply the Jesus vision to our world today, some pretty basic things would happen.   For starters:

1.  We would raise the minimum wage.  $15 an hour is today’s denarius.

2.  Set a realistic poverty level and a minimum standard of living.  Affirm, like the vineyard owner, that everyone who works is entitled to provide for themselves and their families from their labor.  Corporations (vineyard owners) that fail to meet this standard, so that their employees must seek public assistance, should have their profits taxed, not subsidized, to make up the difference.

These steps come right out of Jesus parable.

Now, I know that there are people who won’t agree with these conclusions.  Let me be the first to say I know they’re not necessarily morally repugnant or ethically challenged.

I just don’t understand their position.  And it’s not like I haven’t tried.  I’ve read, I’ve watched interviews.  It still makes no sense to me.  I don’t recognize the world they are portraying.  Where people spurn meaningful work in order to sit around and do nothing.  Prefer a handout over the pride of earning a living.

It’s like they’re talking about a parallel universe.  So, I want to interrupt them with some good news.

“I see your problem, you fell for the head fake and you’ve landed in someone’s crappy fantasy world.  Not to worry.  Reality is not as bad as you think.  People aren’t as bad as you think.  And these issues aren’t as complicated as you make them out to be.  We can do this!”

I’ve found that the only reason people choose to sit on the sidelines is when they realize the playing field is permanently tilted against them and they can only lose.

I will be the first to admit I am not a financial wizard.  Most times I can’t balance my checkbook. Nor am I a public policy wonk.  That’s my son.

I’m a writer.  I’m a naive dreamer.   I’m a preacher who muses and expounds upon about the life of faith and does his best to be faithful himself.  Guilty as charged.  I’ll cop to all of it.

Tell me then, how do you understand what this parable and Jesus vision of the Kingdom says to us today?   Let’s have a meaningful dialogue and start making things better for people who need our help.

New Problems. Old Answers.

10 09 2014

New Problems. Old Answers..

New Problems. Old Answers.

10 09 2014

Tonight, President Obama will talk about how to stop ISIS.  Or ISIL.  We can’t even agree what to call this thing.
2014-08-14 20.02.57
Who’d have thought?

The 21st Century has emerged as a souped up version of the 1st.  Beheadings and crucifixions share headlines with iPhones and iWatches.

How did we get here?  What do we do about such savage brutality?

The answer has a certain time worn quality too.

Attack it.

21st century power and technology versus the primitive savagery of the 1st.  Bring it on.

Airstrikes.  Unmanned drones.  Shock and awe.

In the 21st Century, the heavens are the source of tactical advantage, not the source of divine wisdom the 1st century thought them to be.

How far we have come.  How far we still have to go.

Using violence to destroy evil is how evil perpetuates itself.

The heart of the Christian message is God’s transformative response to evil.  How have we missed this?   How have we continued to thumb our nose at it, and gone our own waterboarding way into the future?

Evil is overwhelmed and degraded when the Good remains the Good in the face of Evil.

Jesus breathless judgement on the cross is barely whispered, you could hardly hear it as evil savagery raged around him…”Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Silly and unrealistic and more than a little naive, I know.  Still….

The Good is not the Good when it aspires to be a more powerful version of Evil on Evil’s terms.   That’s what the victory at Easter is about, isn’t it?

Our most powerful weapon against evil, savagery and brutality, is to be the best of who we are.   We can start by living up to what it says we are on the Statue of Liberty.  No evil brutality can compete with that.

We have developed fearsome weapons.  Our weapons though, can also create a safe place for everyone who chooses freedom and wants to live in peace, respecting the rights of all.  Not just the elite, or the chosen few.  Everyone.  What evil can withstand that?

At home, we can open our arms and hearts to the children streaming across our southern borders fleeing the violence at home.

We can begin to acknowledge the responsibility privilege conveys, not the sense of entitlement we imagine.

We can affirm the grace that carries us all and extend that grace like water to every thirsting brother and sister who has been left in the desert of neglect and disdain.

This is the arsenal that fights evil.  This is how evil is degraded and transformed.

Absent this, our 21st century power and capability is just more sophisticated savagery that Evil will happily adopt as its own.

The Praying Mantis

20 08 2014

The Praying Mantis.

The Praying Mantis

20 08 2014

As I started on my journal today, I felt something like a images-1prayer slip into place.  I was on the deck, watching the hummingbird perched on the feeder pole.  Guarding his feeder.

Yesterday, a praying mantis climbed down the feeder line to the hummingbird feeder.  Zen like.  Inscrutable.  The hummingbird didn’t care for this.  So it buzzed the mantis, and the mantis circled the line and the two went around for awhile, and the hummingbird flew off, wings whirring like the blades of a tiny fan.

I figured this was a hummingbird feeder and not a praying mantis feeder, so I went over and tried to blow the mantis out like it was the hundredth candle on a birthday cake.  It hung on flattened like in a hurricane, reporting live for the praying mantis Weather Channel.  Then it would mindfully continue its trek back up the line.

The praying mantis is one of the absurd scraps of my childhood.  We believed that there was a fine for killing a praying mantis.  $50.  An impossible sum when you got a quarter for an allowance.

I have no doubt forgotten many useful and important things from my childhood growing up in NJ.  This, I can’t shake.

Later, I learned about the female eating the male after mating.  Makes a $50 fine seem pretty plausible.  If you put those two things side by side, which would you think was the urban legend?

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to flick it off.  Too much baggage to sort out about praying mantises.  Best not to get involved, or leave any fingerprints.

I continued to harass it with my breath, the dogs barking helpfully while I blew, until it finally disappeared over the rain gutter to the roof.

What a prayer metaphor.  One part legend, another part an even harsher reality, maintaining mindfulness while dueling with the world’s hummingbirds and the furious breath of someone who has the wrong idea about all of it.


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