Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Before Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, scientists and experts said it couldn't be done because the human body wasn't capable of running that fast.  Today, high school kids run under four minutes and the world record is close to 3 minutes and 40 seconds.  Before Joan Benoit won the first Olympic women's marathon, those same experts and scientists opined a woman is incapable of enduring such a physical undertaking and a race that long would destroy her body, reproductive organs and might be fatal.  Women now regularly run such distances, and more, and keep getting faster.  At one time, it was said it was impossible to climb Mt. Everest.  Since it was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary, Everest now entertains hundreds who climb it annually.  Our history is full of examples of achievement thought impossible until one person has a vision and makes a breakthrough and then everyone who comes after them benefits and has the opportunity to move the needle even further.

     We are about to celebrate another Christmas.  We will honor the birth of Jesus.  The reason we remember Him is because He busted a barrier never achieved before and we are get to share in His triumph.  (it has also been called redemption)

     When God created us.  She did so knowing our potential...knowing what we were capable of reaching.  God created us as an act of love and anticipated a relationship which would be deep and intimate.  However, since an act of love is freely given and must be freely received and returned, God was continuously disappointed by the human capacity for sin...the choice to dehumanize ourselves or others.  She was amazed at how we would ignore revelation, inspiration, prophets and the all the various ways She tried to help us understand how simple it is to be close and enmeshed in this love, this grace, which is ours for the asking.  Instead, as Alfred North Whitehead observed, God weeps and is constantly let down by the choices we make. Imagine a parent who helps create a child and can't wait for the wonders of loving that child and receiving love in return.  (I can think of nothing more tragic or painful than to be cut off from my children and not have them return my love...something my actions caused me to fear and could easily have occurred over these last years)   God offered us the gift of creation only to confront weak humans and our fitful stops and starts.  The story of Hebrew scripture is a story of God revealing and humans listening sometimes, but also ignoring and refusing to live and love and open up all the possibilities of this relationship.

     What we had was a world in darkness...a world which can seem hopeless...a world where we wonder what life is for and know there is something better, but fail to achieve it.  Some say it can never be found.  Others offer, food, wealth, selfishness, ego...and a promise these will result in satisfaction.  Still others, like Nietzsche, say there is nothing, no reason to search and no there there.  Maybe this is all a myth.  Maybe it's fools gold for the sucker.  Maybe it's just about being afraid to die.  Like the 4-minute mile, a woman running 26 miles or someone climbing Everest, it cannot be done and shouldn't be attempted and we are doomed to the darkness of our frustration and fear.

     The good news of Christmas...the glad tidings...the joy to the world brought about by the birth and life of Jesus is that God finally has someone to run or climb or perform in a way no one has ever done before.  Jesus opened up new possibilities, new hope, which was never this deep in the past.  When asked about it, Jesus talked of God not as the other or distant or as lord, but rather as Abba.  (Dad, Pop, Mom whatever your most precious term of endearment is for your parents)  He shocked and scandalized by proclaiming the Good News that God is relatable, caring, loving and we can love Her back.  He announces there is new life.  Even better, He promises us a full life now, here, at this time.  (In 2013 what is the definition of a full life?)   He does something never done before.  He returns God's love in a way never achieved before.  He fulfills God's desire to be intimate with Her creation and, because of Jesus; we all get a chance to do it too.  We all get the same opportunity...the same grace...the same offer.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a Jewish child who grows up to redeem the world...make it full of hope...take away the darkness of despair and fear and because of His new relationship with God, we get to improve, advance and deepen our relationship.  Cool huh?

     Ok, so what are the practical results of this birth, this Christmas miracle?  Here is the good news...the promise.  If you can live a life similar to Jesus.  If you can try to love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek and choose to always act in ways which enhance you as a person and those you encounter, you will have a full life.  (I forgot, even if you screw up you can be forgiven and try some more)  It gets better.  How many of you reading this are afraid and worried and weighed down by so much in life?  The list of what troubles or scares us is endless.  (what are you worried or afraid of right now?)  How many of you have experienced peace and are living with joy and satisfaction?

     The reason to celebrate Christmas...the reason it is a festival of light...the reason to stop and take the time to honor this event is because the birth of Jesus, and His life, have given us a chance to live without fear and at peace.  In the upper room, Jesus greets his apostles, scared out of their minds with fear they are next to die, with the wish of peace and He tells them not to be afraid.  They are transformed as they are filled with the Spirit, and begin living without fear and at peace.

     What I have learned is the more I lead my life in turn with Jesus, the more I trust God, the more I can lead a life without fear and at peace.  I am not there yet.  (and it's so clear how far off track I had gotten, a clarity missed until I lost everything society values)  I still worry so much about family and my future, but I'm better and I now know what is possible.  I now know a mile can be run, a marathon finished, an impossible mountain climbed.  I have hope and the reason for it is the birth in a manger, with songs of Joy floating down from the heavens, that today in Bethlehem a savior has been born and He is called Emmanuel, God with us.

                                                                             MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!


Every so often, a series of news items come together and shine light on each other's point and perspective.  Recently, Pope Francis I issued Evangelii Gaudiam (the joy of evangelization), a pep talk for Roman Catholics.  In it he called on Catholics not to give in to the seduction of the market and criticized trickle-down economics as something to be wary of as naive in that it depends on the powerful sharing with others.  He warned about the tyranny of money and called for a church willing to commit to helping the least of our brothers and sisters.  As the Pope sent out his message, workers at hundreds of McDonald's franchises protested the low wages they are paid.  A leaked memo to some of them encouraged them to cut their meal portions into smaller pieces and eat slowly so as to feel more full and it walked them through the steps necessary to apply for food stamps.  On top of these, a new study out of the University of Ottawa reveals only Italy and the United Kingdom have less economic mobility than does the United States.  The myth of Horatio Alger, the fantasy anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to material success, is long dead.  In the United States, the income of your parents is directly correlated to how well you will do, and by age 30 most Americans have reached as high as they can on the economic ladder.

     The attacks on the Pope were swift and predictable.  Rush Limbaugh accused him of being a Marxist and said the Pope's comments were "sad".  Fox commentators took umbrage with the Pope inserting politics in church and other business pundits explained how ignorant the Pope is on economic matters.  Still others pointed out how wealthy Rome is and as such is in no position to cast stones at anyone else.  One critic suggested two verses of the gospel of Luke, where Jesus declines to get involved in an inheritance question, as proof the little Jewish carpenter from Nazareth would denounce the Volker Rule and celebrate collateralized debt obligations.  The squealing from rich regressive Catholics, the ones who always talk about obeying the Pope on abortion or birth control, was only surpassed by those who are fighting increases in the minimum wage.

     According to the gospel of Arthur Laffer, if you give the rich more money the benefits will trickle down to everyone else and lift all boats.  In 2013 the top 1% control more wealth and own more of the nation in any time since the Gilded Age.  Yet, the middle class is shrinking, poverty increases, the number of Americans threatened by lack of food grows and the tools to climb out of poverty, particularly access to higher education, are fading.  How is it that giving the rich more money is a good thing in regressive theology, but paying working Americans more for their labor is anathema?  How is it good to have rich Americans increasing their investment income, which doesn't result in more jobs, but giving working Americans more disposable income, which they will spend in the local economy for food and other essentials, a heresy?  In Europe, where minimum wages are higher, the result is a Big Mac costs about twenty-five cents more.  Whatever the number, who wouldn't be willing to pay some more for a burger if it meant the person serving it isn't going to have to cut up their food into smaller pieces and hope they have enough food stamps to get through the month?

     As the attacks from regressives rain down on the Pope, and on labor activists lobbying for a high minimum wage, no one notices how the economy is stagnating and our economic classes are calcifying into inflexible categories.  When progressives pushed for a G.I. Bill and F.H.A. housing, the result was an entire generation who went to college, improved their economic standing, bought a house and created the largest middle class in history.  Parent's hoped their children would be able to exceed them and increase their economic power.  The American dream was one of upward mobility.  At a time when the top tax rate was 90%, over 35% of the work force was unionized, the government was paying for people to go to school, and infrastructure projects like the interstate highway system were employing thousands, the gap between CEO's and workers was the smallest in the 20th century and the middle class was exploding.  Today, with the richest Americans paying an effective tax rate between 20%-24%, 10% of the workforce belongs to a union, our infrastructure is crumbling and we are told there is no money to fix it, most Americans can't afford to go to college or if they do incur monstrous debt, the gap between the rich and everyone else is reminiscent of the era of Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller and the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century.  How is this possible?

     G.K. Chesterton once observed, "'s not that Christianity was tried and found wanting.  It's that it has never been tried."  The Pope has called attention to something we all instinctively know.  Capitalism, by definition and design, produces great wealth for a few people.  It's why Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI both condemned free market capitalism and unregulated markets along with Francis.  The dedicated pursuit of all things economic...the oppression which results when all one's energies are devoted to having and acquiring...the illusion created by the myth of wealth equaling happiness or satisfaction...can only end with one result...a society where we ignore or avoid those in need and canonize those who are at the top for being brilliant and exceptional.

      Today we watch as the McDonalds and Wal Marts of the world drive down wages and benefits in a race to the bottom, which everyone will lose.  We sit back and listen to regressives attack any proposal to raise wages, and improve the economic standing of some Americans, as Marxist or socialist as if those words have any meaning in this new century.  They tell the Pope to shut up and raise their voices in hymns to a new golden calf as they object to a church which wants to follow the guidance and mandate of Matthew 25.  All of this at a time when people all over the globe, in socialist economies, have a far better chance of moving up through their economic system, living longer, healthier, with fewer infant deaths and are rated happier than Americans living in the richest nation on earth.

     The Pope and I disagree on any number of issues.  However, I never doubt for a moment his commitment to following and emulating the teaching and example of Jesus and call on all of us to have similar values.  I welcome the challenge and the role model and am grateful for his courage and vision.