Sunday, February 27, 2011

Labeling people doesn't seem very helpful

I'm not convinced that labeling people is helpful. If a person is a financial conservative does that mean he or she is always a financial conservative? I know folks who wouldn't spend a nickle on new clothes for themselves yet will give their family members hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So, are they a financial conservative or liberal? Perhaps it is best to think of conservative to liberal on a continuum depending upon the question, situation, etc. I suspect most of us would fall all over such a continuum.

For example, the news stories of this week have my responses all over that continuum. I support unions but not in situations where they abuse their collective power. I really appreciated this week's PBS interview with the Governor of Montana who entered into a respectful negotiation with the Montana State Employees Union and together they developed a fair budget that involved some give and take. I support small business owners but not when employees aren't paid a fair salary. My parents were small business owners. On frequent occasions I heard my parents say that one of the reasons for their furniture store was to support the employee's families. We need large corporations. I think some corporate executives make too much money. However, some corporate executives aren't paid sufficiently for the large oversight and vision they must have. I support greater restrictions for mountain top coal removal and the need for Federal involvement. I support coal mining because it is a source of energy and jobs. I also support investing in renewable sources of energy. I think our Universities need to be doing research but, also, remember that their primary purpose is teaching. I could go further, especially in religious matters, but you can see my thoughts.

I'm all over this continuum of conservative to liberal. So, don't hang a single label on me because of one issue and I'll try not to do that to you. I wish our leaders would respect each other sufficiently so that they could enter into honest conversations and decision-making. Labeling seems neither respectful nor accurate.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Budget Priorities and Jesus

I'm reading about the House of Representatives efforts to reduce the Federal debt. I agree that the country's spending has increased significantly. I'm also aware that President Clinton left President Bush a surplus. This debt has therefore developed in the past ten years. The attack of 9/11 has significantly diminished our sense of security. We have been engaged in two pre-emptive wars against terriorism which continue to be incredibly expensive not only in terms of the national budget but, also, in the lives of our military men, women and families. Some adjustments certainly need to be made. However, I'm deeply concerned with some of the details of this first effort to reduce the Federal debt. For one thing, the House of Representatives didn't even discuss reducing their salaries or benefit packages. This seems similar to those folks who demand that changes be made but not in my back yard. Furthermore, I can't support efforts that seek to reduce or even eliminate health care to our citizens or diminish support of public education. Many of these families are "the least among us" to use a Biblical phrase. Therefore, these matters are moral or ethical issue for me and not primarily a financial or budgeting concern. In today's news there is a story about the Executive of JP Morgan, Mr. Dimon, who has been given a package of $17 million for this year. Our Congressional leaders refused to increase taxes for persons such as Mr. Dimon. This seems neither fair nor just. I recall Jesus saying that " whom much is given, much is required...even demanded." (Luke 12:48, NRSV.) I keep wondering what Jesus must be thinking of the manner in which our leaders, as well as many of us, are making decisions about spending priorities. We may be a nation where many families are in churches on Sunday but some of our priorities don't look much like Jesus to me. I'm concerned about the days ahead.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Father Kelty has died

Friday was a sad day at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Father Matthew Kelty passed away. For many years he gave talks to the retreatants after the Compline service. I was often on retreat at the Abbey and privileged to hear many of his Compline talks. Those talks were not only something that gave me a lot to think about but, they were a work of art delivered in a relaxed and conversational style. He was one of the most gifted spiritual speakers that I've heard. He always gave me a lot to think and pray about. I think one of his favorite phrases was to look into the eyes of the retreatants and with a gentle smile and long pause say something like, "Go deeper." I'm grateful that I had the privilege of knowing him. You may want to check out his reading of Thomas Merton's famous prayer on YouTube. At the Abbey, the monks will take turns for 24 hours beginning Sunday late afternoon praying the Psalms beside his body after which he will be buried in his monk's robe, directly into the earth beside the Abbey church. I'll miss him.

At the Lay Cistercians meeting today, Saturday, we discussed the spiritual discipline of acesticism. Acesticism is the discipline of intentional sacrifices so that we might have more room in our lives for the presence of God. It was a sobering discussion with Father Kelty's death hovering around the monastery. Father Kelty owned nothing--not even his clothes. He lived the challenge I've hear him give to others, "Go deeper."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Non-violence triumphs again

I've been greatly interested in the revolution in Egypt. I find it extremely fascinating that it was accomplished primarily with non-violence. I'm glad the protesters didn't bring guns with them to Tahrir Square and the military chose not to shoot at the protesters. Non-violence wins again. I could only hope that this might be a lesson to the military-industrial complex and the NRA. After the assassination of President Sadat, Mubarak may have been something of a hero in all of the confusion that followed. He imposed state of emergency plans which may have been necessary at that time. However, the plans he put in place 30 years ago to keep the country stable after Sadat's death, he never revoked or changed. Because he was unwilling to change with the times, the people ousted him with this non-violent revolution. They wanted him gone, along with his ideas and plans. What was important 30 years ago is now no longer acceptable. He didn't realize that the crisis had passed and, therefore, he created his own crisis.

I fear that too many leaders, as well as us regular folks, are unwilling to have ideas and plans critiqued and altered as the times change. We hang on to what worked in the past, not realizing that the past no longer exists. I've some friends who talk about how the church and religious organizations and institutions operated 10, 20 and/or 30 years ago. They are saying that if it was good for them at that time, it must still be good. I think it is crucial for growth that we allow our ideas and plans to be critiqued and altered. Do you remember Kenny Rogers' song about knowing when to hold them and when to fold them? I wonder if Mubarak ever hear the song. If so, I bet that now he wishes he had understood it better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I attended a meeting recently where the discussion was on obedience. Most of my colleagues in that meeting were strong on obedience, particularly obedience to the church. I shared with them that obedience is not an easy spiritual discipline for me. Discernment must come before obedience because I need to know that I'm being obedient to the presence of Christ as I understand that. I'm not as trusting of a "system"--even a religious system as my colleagues seem to be. My grandparents were "churched" (1930's) for selling tobacco in their grocery store and my parents were asked (early 1950's) not to bring my mentally handicapped brother to Sunday School because the "church" didn't know what to do with him. I grew up with these 'stories' of church so I'm not so quick to give obedience to the 'church' or any religious system. I have learned that understanding the presence of Christ certainly means hearing what my "community" has said and is saying about a particular behavior, option and/or direction. It seems to me that discernment must involve listening and patience. Listening to those who are not in the "power structure" is absolutely crucial in my thoughts.

I guess obedience is a growing spiritual edge for me. First of all, I'm from Oklahoma--you know the "don't fence me in" attitude. Secondly, somewhere in my Seminary education process, someone said that I have a strong "rebellious child" part that acted out frequently. That's probably true. In the end, I'll probably obey, if I think it is the right thing, but just give me time and don't push. O yes, once I'm "on board," I tend to stay for the long haul.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fussin',whinin' and complaining

My parents owned a furniture store in Norman, Oklahoma. I grew up having to deal with furniture which was either in the store or on the delivery truck. After school I always had to go down to the store and work for the rest of the day. The store closed at 6 PM unless someone was in the store or coming into the store and then we waited. If I wasn't delivering something, I was either putting something together, sweeping the aisles, dusting, washing the front windows, washing the delivery truck or something. You can learn a lot delivering furniture. For example, I learned not to grab the side of a television where the knobs were placed because that would be the heavy side. I also learned to tie things into the bed of the truck and close the tailgate--you know, finish the job. One time my cousin Steve and I were delivering some roll-away beds and when we took off from a stop light those beds rolled out the back end of the truck and crashed onto Main Street. It was embarrassing to have traffic stopped while we ran around gathering up several roll-away beds and returning them to the truck bed. This time we made certain they were tied down and we had closed the tail gate. I usually delivered with my Dad especially if he needed an extra hand and the delivery could wait until I was out of school. I can remember several times delivering with my Dad when I would be fussing, whining and complaining about something. Dad would listen politely after which he always replied, "Richard, we could have had this in the house in the time you were complaining. Now, if your finished, we still have to carry this furniture into the house."