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Archive for April, 2011

“Here is a man who was the world’s first revolutionist..a man whose whole being was one flame of hatred for wealth, and all that wealth stands for-for the pride of wealth, and the luxury of wealth, and the tyranny of wealth; who was himself a beggar and a tramp, a man of the people, an associate of saloon-keepers and women of the town; who again and again, in the most explicit language, denounced wealth and the holding of wealth” (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)

Do you feel discouraged that so many of the professed Christian leaders in the country stand on the side of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and oppressed? This is exactly the frustration which can be seen in the page of Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle. Towards the end of the book, the main character is talking to a minister who explains to him how the words of Jesus are very relevant to economic issues today and that far from being a simple promoter of the status quo and the rich and powerful, he was a person who stood up for the poor and oppressed and stood against those who were gaining and storing the wealth at the expense of the rest of society.

The minister goes on to explain how the words of Jesus have been used by the rich and powerful to keep up and justify their oppression, but that this is simply a perversion of the true words of Jesus. He goes on to state how this has happened, “This man (Jesus) they have made into the high priest of property and smug respectability, a divine sanction of all the horrors and abominations of modern commercial civilization! Jeweled images are made of him, sensual priests burn incense to him, and modern pirates of industry bring their dollars, wrung from the toil of helpless women and children, and build temples to him, and sit in cushioned seats and listen to his teachings expounded by doctors of dusty divinity.”

The minister concludes with these words, “Here is an historical figure whom all men reverence and love, whom some regard as divine; and who was one of us- who lived our life, and taught our doctrine. And now shall we leave him in the hands of his enemies (the rich and powerful)-shall we allow them to stifle and stultify his example? We have his words, which no one can deny.”

For all those Christians who have found the current Capitalistic system which puts the wealth in the hands of the few and leaves many impoverished as incompatible with the message and life of Jesus-take heart. There has been a long history of those in the Christian faith who have chosen to really speak out and promote the true message of justice for the poor and oppressed that Jesus promoted. There is a history of people who have refused to accept a status quo Christianity which simply allows injustice to flourish in the veil of religion.

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If I could think of the thing that could be the worst for Christianity in the United States (or really the name of Christianity around the world) it would be to have a “Christian” candidate run in 2012 against Obama. Let me clarify what I mean. There is no problem with the leader of the country being a Christian; most presidents including our current are part of the Christian faith. However, there is a big difference from having a private faith (which will obviously influence your political decisions) than being the representative of the “Christian” community.

This will be an issue in the upcoming Republican primaries. Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, are very clear that they want a strong “Christian” candidate for the White House-someone like a Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, or Sarah Palin. While I am not questioning any of these candidates faith, I am openly defiant in letting them to take the name of the “Christian” candidate, especially when many of the policies they are fighting for seem to be the opposite of just or compassionate. It was once stated that Christianity makes a great noun, but a very poor adjective. I couldn’t agree more. An upcoming election which pits the “Christian” candidate against the “Secular” candidate would do great damage to the name of Christ, not to mention greatly divide the church in the U.S. which is already highly divided by politics (and therefore, by race as well).

I have already seen polls where many Republicans won’t vote for someone like Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. However, as a Christian, I think Mitt Romney would be much better for the name of Christianity than someone who wears their religion on their sleeve, not to be a light to the world but in order to garnish political support. Though as a progressive, someone like Romney concerns me because of the fact that he would be a much bigger challenge for Obama. For the sake of Christianity in society, I would much rather see him against Obama than the deemed “Christian” candidates.

Whether we like to admit or not, the policies of George W. Bush hurt the name of Christianity around the world. Though I do not think Bush came out as strongly as the “Christian” candidate as some of these others are doing, he was still perceived that way by the rest of the world. When he went on to wage an illegal war, permit torture, and hurt the poor at the expense of the wealthy, many around the world and the country associated his policies with the ideas of Christianity and the Bible. As a Christian, that makes me sad, I don’t want Bush, Obama, Huckabee, Palin, Clinton, or Pelosi being the face of Christianity. My prayer this election is that the cause of justice would win out and the person who really stands up for the poor and vulnerable as opposed to the rich and powerful will win out. However, even more, I pray that the beautiful message of salvation, justice, and grace that Jesus came to give will not be so deeply tarnished by politics where being the “Christian” candidate might just get you elected, even if it at the expense of the Kingdom of God.

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This past Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated the Passover. We know the story of how Jesus was initially welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches only to be crucified a few days later. The crowds were expecting Jesus to be a Simon Bolivar, George Washington, or Che Guevara. They wanted a revolutionary; they weren’t necessary looking for a Savior.

Jesus wept that Israel refused to accept the truth and life he was offering. Their hearts were so hardened that even when the light of the world was amongst them, they simply refused to see him. Jesus also wept over what he knew was going to happen to Israel if they decided to continue on in their militarism and revolutionary plans against Rome- they would be utterly destroyed.

As it states in Luke 19,

“But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.”

Jesus offered them another way, a peaceful way, one where people refuse to pick up the sword, choose to love their enemies, and follow the Kingdom of God instead of working for the greatness of a nation; however, overall Israel rejected this message. They preferred to fight for their freedom, instead of accepting the author of freedom standing before them.

During this holy week, let us not forget this. Jesus is here offering us the way to life and peace. We can choose to accept or reject it. However, when we reject the way of peace, compassion, and life, we shouldn’t be surprised if our lives are soon in disarray. Jesus came to offer us that life that we might live and live more abundantly. Jesus also speaks a strong word about the militarism that is still a large part of our world, especially our society in the U.S.

Are we refusing to see the way to peace in society? Are we so concerned about building up our military and “securing” ourselves that we have forgotten about the poor and vulnerable in society? Are we so concerned about power that we have forgotten justice? As Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem, perhaps we should be lamenting over our own society. If we refuse to go in the way of peace, we may find our own destruction. It may not be from an outside empire, but it could be an inward collapse of our values and decency.

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You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment-the absolute basics!- you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how sill you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? (Matthew-The Message)

In his day, Jesus directed 90% of his anger towards the religious leader, the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were great with their religious laws and traditions; they were moral absolutists. They made sure they did everything exactly right. However, in the course of this, they missed out on the whole point of faith and religion overall. They were following the laws, while at the same time oppressing the poor, forgetting the elderly, ignoring the homeless, and creating rigid racist and religious walls. It seems as if some things don’t change.

For many in 21st Century America, religion is no longer the goal. We use other words like relationship with God, spirituality, and faith. However, while the wording may have changed, I really wonder if we have truly changed much from the days of the Pharisees and Sadducees. It seems that we still put our religious fervor over really seeking justice in society. That kind of religion is one that Jesus could not put up with, and one that he actually despised. We can write our creeds, statements of faiths, and join our different religious camps. We can label the sins of others, point out the errors in other teachings, pray every day, fast once a week, and go to worship twice a week. However, if we are not people of compassion and justice it means absolutely nothing. It is possible to perfect our religious duties, but forget the story of the Savior.

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“This was in truth not living; it was scarcely even existing, and they felt that it was too little for the price they paid. They were willing to work all the time; and when people did their best, ought they not to be able to keep alive?”

I had always talked about the book “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair in my U.S. History classes. It was one of the most influential books ever written in U.S. Society and a very important part of the labor and social history of the United States. However, I never actually started reading it until recently.

It is essentially a story of an immigrant family who comes to the U.S. (specifically, Chicago) for a better life, only to find a type of hellish existence that awaits them in the factory life of the Industrial Revolution. It is a book that shows the true dark evil that Capitalism can convert to if there are no checks, reforms, and regulations. It simply becomes a survival of the fittest and slave work.

The Jungle is a book that somewhat disgusts and depresses you, but at the same time, really shakes you up. It is one of those books that shows you the depths of depravity men will reach to in search of wealth and greed on one hand and simple survival on the other. It is a book that clearly and so forcefully dispels the myth of the “Great U.S. Society” before government regulation and social programs.

We have had made so many strides in society since the days of “The Jungle”; however, of late, it seems as if we are regressing from much of that progress. Perhaps, we have been so far removed from the days of The Jungle that we have forgotten how pure Capitalism can be just as dangerous as Communism. Perhaps we have forgotten the days before there was some type of social safety net, workers rights, or government regulations. The Jungle is not just a book about the early 20th Century; it is a book that is deeply relevant to the early 21st Century. Let’s learn from history and not find ourselves doomed to repeat it.

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 G.O.P Leader Paul Ryan once stated, “”The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” Ayn Rand was the famous atheistic writer who stated that self-interest was the ultimate moral. Not only should government assistance to the poor be discouraged, so should charity and philanthropy. According to her philosophy, the rich deserve every cent they earn. As she stated,

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism”, essentially that self-interest should motivate our lives, not compassion or a dedication to the common good. Ryan with his dangerous philosophy has laid out a GOP Plan which essentially richens the already rich, cuts Medicare for the elderly, and cripples the poor even more. It is certainly in line with the philosophy and thinking of Ayn Rand. Unfortunately, much of the Evangelical vote supports policies like these. In some twisted way, they assume it lines up with the teachings of Jesus, when they are actually being led by the teachings of the atheistic Rand, who instead of believing it was better to give than to receive, believed that self-interest is the ultimate goal.

I am not saying that all of Rand’s philosophies and books are without any purpose or value; however, it is very scary when a whole political party is being based on the teachings of a lady who taught the exact opposite of the supposed “Christian” values they are upholding. Ironically, at the end of her life, Rand herself used Medicare to pay for her own surgery. It seems that in the end, even the likes of Ayn Rand needed some governmental assistance to survive, the very assistance that her followers are trying to cut.

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What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. ..You can’t worship two gods at once. Love one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both (Matthew-The Message)

Our Capitalistic system is based on the idea of competition, always striving for more, and people never being satisfied with what they have. This is how the system thrives and grows. Greed and selfishness are the noble values of the system; contentment and self-sacrifice are the enemies of the system. The reality is that this is the system we live in; it is probably not going to change dramatically anytime soon, so how do we live lives of spiritual health and contentment in an economic and social system that seems to be driving us away from these values?

First of all, we need to quit buying into the lie that having more fortunes will make us happier. Studies have shown there is a big change in happiness between those who have their basic needs met and those who are greatly struggling to make ends meet. However, once the basic needs are met, the difference in happiness between the secure and “super-wealthy” is essentially non-existent. In fact, large wealth often brings less happiness as it leads to more worry and stress about keeping the money. If this is the fact, why are we fighting for a system that makes sure the rich have even more while failing to provide basic needs for people? This certainly isn’t a system that leads to more overall happiness and peace in society.

Secondly, we need to realize that our goods are not our own. Ultimately, God is the one that provides for us and gives us our money. We have a responsibility to use the wealth and resources that are given to us to make a bigger difference in the world. The whole conservative argument that the rich should have very low taxes because it is “their money” is absurd. Our money is usually more a result of our place of birth, parents, educational opportunities, physical attractiveness, and the intelligence that we are born with than laziness vs. hard work. We don’t deserve the money that is given to us, that is a loan from God which he expects to use to bless the world.

Unfortunately, many Christians have fully bought into the lie of our Capitalistic system. For example, how many times have you turned on the TV and heard a sermon about the dangers of wealth and loving money? Now, how many times have you turned on the TV and heard the mantra that God wants you to be rich? Where have we gone so wrong? God wants to meet our basic needs; however, he does not want us to keep the excesses of our wealth. Keeping that money corrupts and destroys us. In the end, God wants us to worry less about getting more, and more about trusting in him and using what we do have for the greater good and to spread his Kingdom.

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