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Archive for October, 2011

I would guess that the majority of the people involved with the new Occupy Wall Street Movement voted for Obama 2008. They were hoping, like so many of us, that real change could be made in the country by electing different political leaders. The country now is waking up to the reality that the whole system is rigged, and that we need a massive structural change in how we do government-simply hoping for a change because of who is elected president or which party controls Congress is no longer sufficient.

We have a system that has become so corrupt that no matter what party is elected, the special interests and corporations soon find their way into the system and set up their own rules. While certainly individual politicians bare partial responsibility for this system, ultimately we should not be upset with them; they cannot work honestly or justly when the whole system is designed to weed them out if they do. No, the ultimate problem is not the Republican leaders of the Democratic leaders; the ultimate problem is that we have a democracy in name only. When you allow corporations and special interests to give unlimited money to advertising for candidates, you are essentially letting them buy votes. You cannot call that type of country a democracy; it is nothing but a mere oligarchy. Until this is changed, needed reforms will never happen in the U.S. Healthcare in the U.S. will never be just because drug companies and private insurance will make sure that costs stay at outrageously high levels. Wars will continue to be fought because war profiteers and arms industries will create a new conflict we “have” to become involved in. Wall Street will never be reformed, because the banks have so many lobbyists in the halls of Washington that it would make Jefferson turn over in his grave.

If we want real change, we now realize the system has to be changed. The constitution has to be amended. No corporate funds should go to any political campaign and corporate lobbyists should be banned from the halls of Washington; it is a mockery of our democratic republic. Once this happens, so many of the other issues people are fighting for would fall into place and a more just society would begin to form.

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In his famous book, Johnny Get Your Gun, Dalton Tumbo makes a very interesting point, “America fought a war for liberty in 1776. lots of guys died. And in the end does America have any more liberty than Canada or Australia who didn’t fight at all?..maybe a lot of guys with wives and kids died in 1776 when they didn’t need to die at all.”

As I am teaching U.S. History, it is amazing how ingrained the belief that the U.S. Revolution was completely justified and worth the bloodshed is in the minds of many students. The question I have as a U.S. citizen and teachers is what kind of message are we sending to our young people? What are we telling them about justifying war and violence? Are we continuing to choose war and conflict in the present because it is glorified in our history?

The reality is that during the Revolutionary War, a large majority of colonists were either Loyalists or did not want to take side in the conflict between the colonies and England. This is a fact that is often obscured in U.S. History. We want to make it sound like everyone was supporting the war effort; they were all just longing for freedom. The reality is that the revolution started by a small group of radicals in Massachusetts and eventually was spread to the other colonies, with many people resisting the revolution.

On one hand, I agree with the goal of the Patriots for self-government. They wanted to be free from the rule of Parliament and the Monarchy, and I truly believed they were justified in that desire. However, should we be teaching our students that this desire was worth the enormous bloodshed? In the end, where does the justification for violence end? There are lot of people that are being heavily oppressed by our own corrupted government and a financial system that favors the very few at the expense of the many. Are they justified to shed blood in the name of their freedom? Of course, all people in the U.S. government would say absolutely not. However, if we follow out the logic and justification of the Revolution, the answer would have to be yes.

We need to teach our young people that violence just creates more violence. Maybe one of the reasons our country has been bathed in so much violence is because from the very beginning we have taught that violence is justified. Perhaps for us to avoid more errors like the War in Iraq and a never ending War on Terror, we need to realize that violence is not a viable solution to create change. There is a greater way. Let’s teach our children the way of Jesus on the Sermon of the Mount. Let’s teach them the way of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. Real change can come without hate and violence; it can come through love, determination, and a desire for peace and justice among all men.

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In my U.S. History classes we have studying the U.S. Revolution. Usually, this is the time where the teacher talks about all the brave patriots and why the war was absolutely necessary and justified. However, the more I have studied and examined the event, the less I want to glorify and sanctify what happened. One of the biggest problems is that we forget who really won in the Revolution. Yes, of course the patriots or the colonists won the war. But who really benefited? Like almost every war, the real winners were the rich and powerful, and the poor and common person were used as a simple pawns in their quest for more. As the old adage states, “It is a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”

The same could be said of the American Revolution. The reality was that the majority of the colonists did not have life off that bad. They had to pay simply taxes on certain products, which unlike historical myth, was not heavily burdensome on the majority of the population. In fact, many paid higher taxes after the Revolution than they did beforehand. The benefits of the country were not going to reach the lower classes. In fact, after the Revolution, many could not even vote. Unless they were landowners, they were barred from voting.

The Revolution was also a loss for the African-Americans and the Native Americans. No matter how much propaganda is created saying how certain African-Americans and Native-Americans supported the patriot cause. The reality is that the majority fought with the British, because a British victory would have granted them more freedom. Slaves and Native Americans lost in the “War for Independence”, because the war meant that their independence, freedom, and land would be taken away.

The U.S. Revolution was like any war. Some people profited greatly, but for the great majority life was not any better off, and in many cases, life was much harder. There obviously was injustice from the British, and the British crown was abusive of their power. The problem that we have when we glorify the Revolution is that we teach our students a falsehood- that after the Revolution, all humans were thought of as equal and there would be liberty and justice for all, that the war was fought so that everyone could have “freedom”. This simply was not true. We also teach a horrible lesson about war. Most wars are not really fought for freedom or the human rights of a population. While those may be used as justifications for a war, most wars are fought over power and money. This was certainly the case in the American Revolution. To celebrate the revolution and to teach our students to do so is a very poor lesson; it teaches them an improper view of the world, peace, and war.

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Yesterday, it seemed that God wanted to send a message to me, and he decided to send it numerous times in the course of a few hours to get my attention. It started off when I was listening to a podcast from Mars Hill Church where Rob Bell is the pastor. I was listening to his sermon about his plans to leave the church and start a new venture creating television shows in Hollywood with the hope of presenting the message and way of Jesus in a completely different way with the hoping of reaching a broader audience with the message of the Kingdom of God. He was talking about how he was taking a risk. Perhaps, the whole venture would be a failure, and he would look pretty foolish. However, he talked about how he was willing to risk that, because it would be better than looking back at the end of his life and simply wondering: what if?

Well, this message was on my heart the rest of the night when the news that Steve Jobs died came up on my computer. As I was reading the article about his death, one quote that he had made a few years ago to a group of students at Stanford struck me, “”Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” We can’t live too safely, because in the end we are all going to die. We can choose to go to our graves with regrets that we never followed our dreams, or we can choose to live dangerously and make risk to follow our passions and dreams.

Later on in the night, my wife and I were reading the book Sex God together. This is a Christian book talking about the link between spirituality, sensuality, and the Kingdom of God. It is a great book. The author was talking about how love is always a risk. Whenever you choose to love, you are risking being rejected, hurt, and disappointed. However, in the end, choosing to love is worth it, no matter what hurt you may be risking. By this point, I think God had gotten my attention and had made the message pretty clear.

In the end, we have a choice. We can choose to live our lives in our nice, comfortable, and safe routine, never risking anything, never losing anything. We can choose to live that way, but in the end, we start to die a little bit inside, we lose our purpose in life. On the other hand, we can choose to take risks, abandon the safe, typical, and mundane, and run as fast we can into the Kingdom of God. I love how Paulo Coelho puts it, “A boat is safe in the harbor, but that is not what boats are meant for.”

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Williams Jennings Bryan, Woody Guthrie, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and Dorothy Day- These were populous leaders, activists, writers, and musicians who fought for the rights of the common people against the interests of the powerful and wealthy. Unfortunately, we have abandoned their spirit and ideas for a long time, but I have a sense that we are now seeing a revival of their passion.

Most of the leaders of these populous movements rose to power in times of great inequality and economic depression. Some fought against a corrupt monetary system that was great for the bankers and wealthy, but was horrible for the common worker. Others fought against the large companies and land owners who exploited their workers. Others fought for humane living conditions in the inner-cities of America. There were others who wanted to expose the dark side of Capitalism and what could happen when all government regulation was absent. These movements sparked huge changes in the United States. They led to more factory regulations, government sponsored job programs for the unemployed, restrictions on big banks and Wall Street, better housing conditions for those in the inner-city, and a more fair tax code where the wealthy had to pay their fair share.

After World War II, the United States grew rapidly. The economy grew at an extraordinary rate and the money was more evenly distributed in the society. Successful progressive ideals were implemented in the nation, such as the right to unionize, Medicare, Medicaid, expansions in public education, the G.I. Bill program, and high marginal tax rates. This trend continued on until the early 80’s, when Reagan and his economic policies set the path for inequality and income disparity to skyrocket again. However, so many of the populous and progressive moments that were active in the late 1800’s, 20’s, and 30’s were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, people thought this new direction was going to be good for the country. We assumed that we had already been granted our basic economic rights and that they could not be taken away, but we were wrong.

For the last 30 years, we have seen the disparity of income grow more and more. More of the social and economic protections have been stripped away, and so many jobs have been shipped overseas by the same multi-national corporations who are paying historically low tax rates. The top income tax rate has gone from 91% to 35%, so we went more and more in debt and had to cut more programs for everyone else in society. A few powerful people have bought out the halls of Congress, and because of an incompetent Supreme Court, this is not even illegal. For too long, the overall population, the bottom 98% of the country, has sat by idly while this has happened. However, as with anything, there comes a breaking point.

This past month as the Wall Street protests have grown, there is a sense that the populous and progressive spirit is being revived in the hearts of normal Americans. They are tired of their rights being taken from them. They are tired of the powerful and wealthy taking them as fools. They are tired of so much poverty in a country with so much wealth. Perhaps, the spirit of Steinbeck and Guthrie is back again. For the sake of our country and our world, we should all hope so.

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