Monday, March 19, 2018

The Disease Called Wealth - by Cindi Brady

From good friend and fine writer, Cindi Brady ...

You know me, rambles over breakfast. Coffee, waffles, and writing about social / political issues.  🤔
This is an old one.
It was 2005. boyfriend (now husband) Pat and I were renters in New Jersey, coveting a place near the shore.
We found a room in a beautiful 3-story Victorian, a half block from the ocean. The owner, Chris, was the 27-year-old son of an extremely wealthy local builder. It was his weekend home for the summer.
He didn't need our rent money, but as the home stood vacant five nights a week (and fully 7 nights when summer was over), there was no reason not to sit back and collect.
He lived a blissful life as the scion of extreme wealth. Still 3 years away from 30, he was the .1%. Wealth I'd never seen up close.
On the first night after Pat and I had moved in, Chris stumbled drunkenly into our room at 3 a.m. and urinated all over a box of Pat's still-unpacked clothes.
In the morning, he was appropriately abashed & contrite, but made no effort at amends. (No laundry or anything.)
Pat and I looked at the box of his urine-soaked clothes and made the obvious joke ("Wow, the world's most literal interpretation of "trickle down theory").
He was lazy, of course. When his dishes piled in the sink, he'd summon his parents' maid (named Carmen, I swear -- even though it sounds too cliched to be true. Are all maids to rich white families named Carmen or Consuela?)
Now, do you want to guess his politics? You have 3 guesses. (And if you need all 3, you're ADORABLE!)
Hard-core fiscal conservative, naturally. 
In America, anyone can make it if you work hard! If you're poor, you're lazy! Or less intelligent or you made bad decisions or have a multitude of moral / attitudinal deficiencies!
Pat and I once heard him yell to his girlfriend during an argument, defiant pride and righteousness pouring out in his voice "I worked hard for everything I have! "
And he believed it, too. Deep into his core, he absolutely believed it. They all do. 
It takes a very unusual person to recognize -- TRULY recognize -- the opportunities and advantages they've been afforded.
And if we tried to reason with him, and offered some simple truths like:
1.) "Who gave you first 'job'? Your father. You were the boss' son. Do you understand that other builders would have to labor for DECADES to get the contracts you got at age 21?"
2.) "Your father's company built this house and gave it to you. And now you pocket rental income , which is passive income. That's the thing about capital gains. WE are the ones working. Pat and me. WE are the ones working for everything you have. You sat back and collected the fruits of OUR labor.
3.) "In the 8 weeks of this summer, you've taken more time off from your job than Pat and I do in the past entire year, almost combined. I'm not really sure that 'I worked hard for everything I have had!' is a boast you can legitimately make....."
... he'd not have understood. Dismissed us a jealous, no doubt.
For the 1%, it is very convenient to believe that wealth is directly correlated to hard work and talent.
One night his parents were kind enough to invite us to a barbecue at their estate. I swear, it was like walking into The Great Gatsby. Outrageous wealth on display.
Chris' younger brother was holding court at one of the tables, expostulating on "what a great country America is -- anyone, rich or poor, can go the hospital if they break a leg....."
"Really??" I said. "Try breaking a leg, or getting cancer, as a poor person versus a wealthy. A world of difference, an entire universe! And PS: the care at the hospital isn't free. That poor guy will be so hounded for payment for the rest of his life, he'll start to wish he'd just let the leg stay broken!"
But how would he know that? How could he?
So he said: "Read Ayn Rand" and literally turned his back, signaling our conversation was over. He was done with me. Enough, peasant. 
So. That is my story of Chris and his family of 1%ers.
Now, I flip it over to the other side of the story. The working poor.
When the summer was over, we hired two movers to help us. They started at 5 a.m . (an hour Chris had never seen unless from the other side, after a night of carousing).
They were from Mexico and didn't speak English very well. Also, they were physically small -- wiry and barely taller than me, and I'm only 5'2".
Still, in spite of their size, they carried a queen bed, a massive dining room table, and so forth, up and down flights of stairs and into a waiting truck
Difficult to fathom what kind of mettle and inner strength was keeping them on their feet, step after step. 
They smiled, almost deferentially, the whole time. Just as kind-natured as could be.
We bought them lunch, burgers and soda, and they gobbled it on the porch. We begged them: "Please, come inside. It's so hot & humid out there! Please, come inside where it's cool and eat."
With those deferential smiles, they refused. They seemed to say, "Please, no, we couldn't."
It reminded me of the antebellum, plantation-era South. Like eating inside Chris' fancy house would have been over-stepping. It disconcerted to see that. 
A few years later, after candidate Obama had his interaction with the awful, cretinous "Joe the Plumber", I started to see bumper stickers that read: 
"Spread my work ethic, not my wealth."
On behalf of those two movers, I wanted to peel those bumper stickers off the cars and shove them up the, well, you know, the same same orifice on their bodies from whence most of their ideas came.  😏
See, a fair-sized percentage of citizens in this country would look at these movers in their poverty and call them lazy.
Or assume they spent all their money on, I dunno, booze or whatever the hateful stereotype is.
Or want them out of "our" country, just because.
It's as cruel as it is ignorant.
Last time I posted this, Pat reminded me of how our tenancy in Chris' home ended.
Chris sent us our share of the water bill. 
Impossible, we thought, this bill is far too high. After weeks of emails, he would not budge. "That's just how much you owe, and that's all there is to it," he's say.
Finally, Pat called the water company, who assured there was no way a private residence could run a bill that high. In fact, the water bill he gave us was for his family's collection of homes.
Further, without going too much into detail there was no way it was an innocent mistake.
Why a person who was born into more wealth than Pat and I could ever imagine would try to con us, I have no idea. 
Maybe he considered us, the dumb proletariat punching a clock and driving beat-up cars, so beneath him that stealing from us was no greater a sin than stepping on an ant.
We didn't matter. We're nothing. Ayn Rand told him so.
Truly, I think that explains a lot of how the very wealthy plutocrats can treat the working poor the way they do.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Big Questions for Our Times

Reading a Kay Boyle essay from The New Yorker, 1950, pondering how in the world a nation like Germany could succumb to such a vast evil as Nazism.

And reading Tom Wright's new book on Paul, which begins with a fascinating, if not frightening, chapter on Saul's "zeal" - it's long history and how some believed that violence is justified, indeed, God-approved against any and all who oppose God's plan, with a special vehemence against fellow Jews who were considered compromisers with the tenor of the times.

Zeal ... of the four gospel accounts of Jesus cleansing the Temple, John references zeal ...

So here's where Wright's book gets good, if you will ... the young Saul's zeal was for the Temple, whereas Jesus overturned its tables.

The young Saul a nationalist ... Jesus a reformer ... Saul despised anyone who deviated from the rule of law, whereas Jesus himself was a law-breaker, seeking not to be exclusive, but welcoming.

Zeal ... there's not much life without it ... without passion and vision and purpose ... but some forms of zeal turn narrow, nationalistic, and murderous ... other forms of zeal protest war and racism and anything that excludes anyone because of race, creed, or color.

Given the moment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s crossing of Pettus Bridge, the murderous zeal of those who stood at the foot of the bridge, mounted and armed, saying "This far and no further," and King and those with him full of zeal for freedom and equality.

How in the world did young Saul reject his studies under Gamaliel and then turn to a more violent view of faith?

Kay Boyle asks how in the world did a young German youth reject his heritage and education to sign on with the Nazis and become a killer?

Or, for that matter, those who stood at the foot of Pettus Bridge, many of them church members, singing gladly of Jesus, come to look upon people of color as objects to be hated?

And collectively, how did so many Germans reject culture and Christ and then turn to a vicious anti-Semitism, and to a vicious cleansing of German society?

All of it driven by zeal ... which may, perhaps be some kind of emotional element we all possess ... but without formation, until the right moment comes along, and, then, like Saul, or young Germans, we turn to the Dark Side, if you will ... or like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Karl Barth, or a Martin Luther King, Jr., we turn to the Light.

As the story unfolds, the young Saul (likely just a few years younger than Jesus) was given another chance, and in the midst of his darkness, a Light ... and in that moment, Saul's zeal was transformed into something life-giving and profoundly generous.

In times such as ours, dangerous times, I think, questions abound about young shooters, men with guns, and people, even evangelicals, who are just mean-spirited and hateful ...

And those who rise above the clamor and choose love and justice and welcome instead ... who go to bat for the voiceless, who raise a cry for mercy, who seek a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Big questions for our times ...

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Protestants Abroad by David Hollinger - a Book Review

David A. Holinger, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but
Changed America.
(Princeton University Press, 390 pp., 2017).

Review by Franklin J. Woo ... resident of Monte Vista Grove Homes, Pasadena ...

In 1997 Lian Xi (History, Hanover College) published The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907-1932. In interacting with thoughtful and ordinary Chinese, the Protestant missionaries became less dogmatic, more open, and more inclusive of cultures other than their own. They became better human beings: Frank Rawlinson discarded his Southern Baptist exclusivism tombecome editor of the Chinese Recorder which included Chinese input; Edward Hume became an engaged intellectual; and writer Pearl Buck became a post-Christian with social justice concerns such as anti-racism and adoption of children of mixed blood. She was the first “feminist” of her day leading to the Feminist movement (1970s) and the contemporary women’s marches of our time.

Using the Lian Xi model, David A. Hollinger (Historian Emeritus, UC Berkeley) did rigorous archival research and interviews with former missionaries and their progeny. Having no connection with the early missionaries, his book nevertheless is another first study of them by an academic historian. In his 80 pages of notes including Lian’s book, Hollinger is not limited only to China, but encompasses most missionaries in the rest of the world.

Hollinger names many former missionaries and their progeny all of which he categorizes as “Protestant Cosmopolitans.” These includes the three Johns (Davies, Service, Vincent) who sided with Mao and were accused by McCarthyism in the 1950s as having “lost” China; Edwin Reischauer (Japan); Ruth Harris (China); Pat Patterson (Japan); Margaret Flory (“Japan”); Richard Shaull (Brazil); and sons of Roberta and Dudley Woodberry (Afghanistan, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan) and many others.

Protestant Cosmopolitans were anti-racist and anti-western imperialism. During WWII some urged fair treatment of Japanese POWs as fellow humans and protested US incarceration of Japanese Americans. They were instrumental in establishing ecumenical councils in the U.S.A. and the world, not to mention the United Nations (1945) and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). They resonated with Re-Thinking Missions (1932) by William Ernest Hocking. As Lian so aptly puts it, “Even when they had lost their Call, they retained the momentum of mission,” which led to the of multiculturality in America, where “treasures long prepared--the wisdom, insight, gifts of grace of every culture, age and place--in Christ can now be seen and shared” (Brian Wren, 1971).

Protestant Cosmopolitans and Evangelical Conservatives are not monolithic; they overlapped in the porosity between them. “By the early 1970s, Hollinger claims, “the early evangelicals were emulating the liberals more visibly than ever before,” albeit without losing their basic Evangelical perspectives. Other than Hollinger and Lian, “value-free” academics tend to shy away from religion. Whenever they do write about missionaries, it’s invariably pejorative. Hollingerr urges Protestant Cosmopolitans to persist in showing the inclusivity of Christian faith, lest they lose by default to the religious right.

– Review by Franklin J. Woo

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Never to Find

I read because I'm searching.
Have always been searching.
Used books stores are the best.
But Amazon these days, as well.

And the library ...
A source of endless unusual books.
Small spaces here need no more books.
So, get 'em from the library.

To continue the search.
For what? you may ask.
I have no idea.
But I'll know when I find it.

Or will I?
Is it the search that counts?
Is it the never finding that's pure?
Would "finding it" only be an illusion?

We humans crave meaning.
Meaning that requires something larger than the self.
So, I read.
I search.

And if you're searching, too.
Keep it up.
There is pleasure in the reading.
And a certain pleasure in never finding.

Or, as a Reformed thinker might put it.
It's God we seek.
And in our seeking, we discover:
It's God seeking us.

And we're found of God.
Even in our not finding God.
Because God cannot be found.
God cannot be claimed.

And as a favor to us.
God remains elusive.
So much of our humanity and our humility.
Is the searching, never to find.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Using Our Imagination

Conservatives lack imagination.
All they can do is look backward.
Like Lot's wife.

And we know what happened to her.
Or to anyone fixated on the past.

Because God is forward looking.
To a new day.
A new way of faith, hope and love.

God, always inventing.
Coming to terms with.
Making fresh arrangements.

Putting it together, anew.
Never interested in making the Kingdom of God Great Again.
But in sustaining the greatness of love.

There is no "again" in God's vocabulary.
As if the past held some clue to the future.
There is only a profound grace.

The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Here and now.
And then and there.

Yes, it was in the past
But the past is gone.
As it should be.

Like a marker along the road.
Many more miles to go.

It's the Spirit who rends the heavens and comes down.
Who drives the Son of God into the wilderness.
To know hunger and thirst and sleepless nights.

To fashion a being who can carry the cross.
Who can embrace the world.
Who can give life for life.

Now, that's imagination.
That's creativity.
That's the anchor of tomorrow.

The anchor pulling us along the way.
Into another day.

And maybe Lot's wife can have another chance.
Let the rains melt salt and wash away the resolve.
To yearn for the past and its meager offerings.

Maybe Lot's wife can have another chance.
To find her imagination.
To journey ahead and along the way.

To a new land.
A new place.
A new being.

I think that's how God would have it.
For all of us and the animals.
And especially the children with their songs.

Can we not imagine something beyond yesterday's offerings?
Is there not more to be had in God's pantry?
Time to unlimber the imagination.

To my conservative friends, Don't be afraid.
There's more to life than MAGA.
The Kingdom of God pushing us ahead.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bless the Mourning of My Soul

Eternal God.
Grant mercy this day to me:

Lest I lose myself in sorrow.
For the ills of this world.
The travesty of religion.
The greed of this nation.
Its violence, guns, fears and hatred.

But take not the sorrow away.

For blessed are those who mourn.
Who mourn the sins of the world.
The suffering of so many.
At the hands of so few.
The few who wield the reigns of power.
The Pilots and the Caesars.
The High Priests and their Temple Police.
The juggernaut of a religious state.
And the state of religion, when love is lost.
And power embraced.

For all who mourn this day:
The blessing of your own mourning, O God.
The blessing of your own tears.
To wash our hearts and cleanse our minds.
And some broken bread to give us strength.
A cup of wine to refresh us.

For the long day's journey.
And restless nights.
When thoughts churn.
And heartache intrudes.
No sleep for the weary.
Weary from love.

Bless the mourning of my soul.

Hiding in the Church

"Hiding in the church" he said.
A reminder of how the biggest
Opioid in America
Is its religion.

Especially evangelicalism.

All talk and hymns and praise music.
Me and Jesus.
Jesus and Me.
Jesus forgives.
I'm saved.
When I die.
I go to heaven.
Or, with a little luck (Ha),
Jesus comes before I die.
And wipes out the bad guys.
With his guns blazing.
Muscles flexing.
What a Jesus, white and beautiful.
Beautiful and mighty.
My Jesus ... mine, mine, mine.
All mine.
And then I go to heaven.
*Fold hands now, sing piously, eyes closed, sway gently*
Let the world know how much you love Jesus.

And the opioid does its work.
Hiding in the church.
Woo hoo ...