31 October 2008

And Then There Is This...

There are times that I am embarrassed to be a follower of Christ. It is NOT that I am embarrassed of my LORD, but because of some of the people with whom I am on the journey.  And that's too bad, it saddens me. Before anyone picks up cudgels to bludgeon me, please read through to the end of the article to see what I have to say.

From the "As if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot enough" department comes this: a group of Christians gathering to pray for the economy in a public spectacle. Notice the focus-point for their time of prayer --a giant golden bull on Wall Street.

The response is not surprising. One blog was a bit sympathetic (and to the point), but most were less sympathetic and understanding.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and told them that "...not many of you were wise by human standards," but I don't think that this is the kind of thing that he had in mind, any more than acting stupid for gospel insures that God will descend deus ex machina to answer our prayers.

I believe in the prayer, but I guess I don't get the point of this time of prayer. Yes, I know that they weren't worshiping this gilded statue, but the metaphor of the wall street icon shows the irony of this situation. What are they asking God to do? Restore our culture so we can continue to consume and spend mindlessly? The problem with the Israelites of the original story was that their stomachs were their god. What does this gathering tell people? Somehow it seems to point to all the evil and greed that got us into this mess to begin with (see this article).

I endorse praying for the economy, especially since the people on the lower rungs of society get hit the hardest. I loved the comment to an article that I found on a blog that said that "as Christians we should be giving MORE in a recession rather than less."  It is a matter of compassion and a realization that our source for wealth and giving is not linked to the vagaries of markets and such. Yet in financial turn-arounds like now we turn inward and clutch our wealth tightly to our chests to prevent it from slipping out of our grasp.

What is our agenda for praying for the economy? That I don't become poor? Or, that God will have room to work out his perfect will for our country?

I found this article that I think has a couple of valid points. An important question is:

Is it right to pray for the economy?

I think it is appropriate to pray for the economy. After all, God said to Jeremiah,
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).
When the economy is strong, people are able to work and support their families, believers have greater opportunities for generosity, and many benefit from this common grace.
This fits in well with Paul's idea of living in peace with everyone and other sentiments in Romans 13, among other things.
We can pray for integrity and wisdom for government officials who are faced with the incredibly complex task of regulating investment securities and banks in a way that is transparent and serves all of the varied stakeholders. We can pray that those who are willing to work will be able to find gainful employment. We can pray that greed would be restrained at all levels, from the leaders on Wall Street to individual families tempted to live beyond their means. We can pray for ourselves that we will participate in the national economy that keeps in mind the time is short and the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

In addition, Matthew shares a bit of wisdom from Jesus in his gospel about the best way to pray?
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt 6:5-8).
I think this says that public spectacles may not necessarily be the best way to pray about an issue.

And then, what to pray about?
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life. Or single cubit to his height
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:25-34).
It seems that praying for the economy isn't about praying for our daily bread. It is about praying for Righteousness AND Justice. Righteousness is about our relationship with God; Justice is about our society's relationship with God.

And, this point:
"I guess as a Christian I can't help but think of the bigger picture beyond just my own nation. And sometimes I wonder if God orchestrates these things to show us things. Like if Ireland and America and other well to do countries don't change their ways with regards to consumption and waste would we not end up in a situation where the poor are suffering as a result, or that they will never have the opportunity to live like we do?"
Finally, a nice video by Max Lucado that's worth a look.

Time for a New National Anthem?

In light of recent events, maybe we need a new national anthem. I nominate this one.

25 October 2008

A Hedge or a Sword?

Hedgerows are a part of the history of humankind. They have been around since the Bronze Age, although many of the older hedgerows found today in Europe were first planted during Roman times.

They made life a living hell for soldiers of the Allied armies trying to break out of the Normandy beachhead in WW2. The hedgerows that they encountered, called bocage by the French, consisted of small, irregularly shaped fields, measuring only about 200 by 400 meters, enclosed by ancient, overgrown hedges that grow from earthen mounds flanked by drainage ditches.

These hedgerows surrounding the fields were four to ten feet thick, grew up to 15 feet high, limiting visibility to one field at a time, and were impenetrably dense — even for tanks. They formed a thousand square miles of tough patchwork terrain, connected by a network of dirt roads sunken far below field level.

The idea of a hedge is found in the writings of the Rabbis. They surrounded the law with a hedge, a body of interpretations, expansions, and applications of the Law that they came to regard as of divine origin. Look at this example from the Mishnah:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah (Pirke Aboth, 1:1).
Incidentally, the word translated fence is a mishnaic hebrew word (סיג) for wall, fence, or a thick hedge.

Since you could inadvertently break the Law, we find the principle of “putting a hedge around the Law,” not to protect it, but to provide a margin of safety. Whatever one thought right to do, the oral Torah provided a margin of error. Any commandment was an opportunity to show one’s obedience. For Jesus this kind of scrupulous observance would only lead to a neglect of the major points of the Law. It is inevitable that there was an over-concentration on the manageable, the visual and perceptible things of the law—to the neglect of the weightier matters:
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt. 23:23-24).
Speaking to the city of Jerusalem through the Prophet Isaiah, God likens the city of Jerusalem to the planting of a vineyard:
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,… (Isaiah 5:1-2)
The problem? quite simply:
...but it yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2b)
The wild grapes, according the metaphor, are the sins and unrighteous acts of the people:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5:7)
Because they refused to turn away from the sins and crimes, God made a promise:
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down. (Isaiah5:5)
Hedges are meant for protection, either on a literal or metaphorical level. But I notice that a sense of complacency often occurs among those living inside a building, vineyard, or city protected by a hedge. God uses the hedge as a metaphor for his protection, by breaking down the hedge he allows the enemy to pour in to execute judgment.

What struck me is that I, like many people, often pray for a hedge of protection for myself and others. I’m not so sure that is the best use of that metaphor. I would agree that there are times when we need protection, but that is a passive approach to living the Christian life. I think Paul has a better approach:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Sort of reminds me of Nehemiah’s instructions to carry a sword in on hand and trowel in the other (Nehemiah 4:16-18).

So, the question is, do live behind a hedge, or do we follow Christ, in full panoply, ready for the day?

08 October 2008

After Bailout, AIG Executives Head to Resort

This was in the Washington Post


After Bailout, AIG Executives Head to Resort

UPDATED: 11:31 a.m.
Less than a week after the federal government offered an $85 billion bailout to insurance giant AIG, the company held a week-long retreat for its executives at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., running up a tab of $440,000, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today at the the opening of a House committee hearing about the near-failure of the insurance giant.
Showing a photograph of the resort, Waxman said the executives spent $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 for the spa.
"Less than a week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation," Waxman said. "We will ask whether any of this makes sense. "
While AIG was at the bar begging and drooling for money, this is one of the things that AIG did to battle the crisis:
Those documents show that as the company's risky investments began to implode, the company altered its generous executive pay plan to pay out regardless of such losses.
This is like having overdraft protection on your checking account without worrying about having to repay it if you do overdraw.


What is also interesting are some of the comments posted by readers of the article in question. Basically most of what is said is that Congress should do something about it, pass laws, go after them, all that. I agree, Congress should do something about it.

But the question remains, why are we pouring money into symptoms instead of addressing the problem? The problem is a philosophy that says that "every course of action should have the potential to make money from it." It's okay to make money, but this philosophy shifts moral and ethical boundaries.

For example. some will say we should address the issue of global warming, but one of the primary consideration is how to make a profit from it? A friend of mine decided that he could make a lot of money by going green, marketing products and services. He set up a blog, went into business, but it didn't happen. What did happen is that all the reading and investigating that he did to understand this issue caused him to undergo a radical transformation, and he is now solidly green. He still wants to make money from the issue, but his philosophy drives his world view and his ethics and his mission, and he is a better person for it.

Another problem with yelling to congress to fix the problem is that we abdicate our own responsibility in the issue. Congress, like those in leadership at AIG, Bear Stearns and all the other companies have one issue that drives them --Power. Because of this, they manipulate people to achieve and retain that power, market fear and assess blame when things don't go well. The result is that we have our options severely limited and dictated to us, which as we have seen are not real options at all.

And if the "leadership" doesn't deliver or produce, what do we do? We throw them out and put another bunch of leaders in place, who turn out in the long run to be no different then the bunch we threw out earlier.

The focus is then on the problems that need to be solved. We want solutions and answers, people who can articulate the problems, but who will in the long run dominate the conversations.

They will be people who are defined by their self-interests, and power will eventually be lumped into the hands of a selected few who have too much vested interest in the outcome of the problem.

We buy into the illusion that after we find the guilty part and assess blame, we can then legislate or change policy or somehow mandate morality. It hasn't happened yet, why believe that it eventually will?

So things have to change. Acting morally is not the same as being moral. Individuals feel they have no power or voice in these issues. People will gather under the auspices of someone (usually with some vested interest in the issue), ostensibly giving them a voice, but are offered options that only fit into interests and goals of the person or persons in charge.

How to do this is another conversation for another post. I would suggest reading Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.

07 October 2008

BBC NEWS | Americas | Lehman Bros head took home $300m

BBC NEWS | Lehman Bros head took home $300m
(Posted using ShareThis)

This is the subhead of an article on the BBC News website.

"The head of failed US investment bank Lehman Brothers has told Congress that he took home about $300m in pay and bonuses over the past eight years."
There are other little gems in this article, such as:
"Mr Waxman also criticised Mr Fuld for requesting multi-million dollar bonuses for departing executives just days before last month's collapse."
"In other words," he added, "even as Mr Fuld was pleading with [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson for a federal rescue, Lehman continued to squander millions on executive compensation."

"To restore our economy to health, two steps are necessary," he said. "First, we must identify what went wrong. Then we must enact real reform of our financial markets."
I can think of a couple of things that might have caused "what went wrong".

And just to show where the American candidates stand on the issue, here is their response:
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has attacked John McCain's links to a 1980s financial scandal.
He also accused his Republican rival of being more focused on running a smear campaign than on fixing the US economy.
It comes after Mr McCain's running mate Sarah Palin accused Mr Obama over the weekend of associating with terrorists.
Along the same vein, check out this chart in the NYTimes. (HT to Nate)

I could wax eloquent on this, but why waste the bandwidth? I think one of America's greatest philosophers said it best: