Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wasteful Federal Spending


Most folks around here have not seen much impact from the sequester, but one is simmering.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development, a department Senator Paul would like to abolish, has been forced to cut back on low income rental vouchers, popularly called Section 8.  They were introduced years ago as a way to create a public-private solution to the problem of adequate housing for very low income persons that would avoid more investment in big public housing projects.

The federal government funded vouchers to pay for rent in private housing, with the funds administered through local housing agencies.  Participating landlords had to meet  very basic maintenance standards, and agree to rent to anyone with a voucher.  The program has worked fairly well, especially here in Walla Walla.  Our local housing authority, of which I am a commissioner, manages over 800 units of Section 8 housing.

We are cutting back.  As tenants move out, no longer needing vouchers from us, they will not be replaced.  No one on the waiting list will get a voucher.  The units under management will continue to decline as the funds dry up, unless congress does something to reverse the trend. So what does it mean?

The very low income population of the working poor and disabled will not go away.  They have to live somewhere.  Some landlords will continue to rent to them by letting their properties deteriorate into slums, taking their neighborhoods down with them.  A few will find ways to couch surf with relatives and friends.  There will be a move toward legal and illegal single room occupancy flop houses.  The homeless population camping out in parks and under bridges will increase.  Serious illnesses will increase the burden on our hospitals.  Early deaths will weed out the weak.  There will be an increase in drug use as the desperate self medicate the pain away.  Petty crime will increase.  But by golly we will reduce wasteful federal spending and keep our taxes down.  Besides, if these people had any gumption they wouldn’t be in such a pickle in the first place.  Furthermore, its the job of churches and rescue missions to house the poor.  Or maybe we could bring back the work house.  It worked well before, and could again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Preaching Conundrum


Every year I struggle more with the Easter sermon than any other.  To whom am I preaching?  The ones who are there every Sunday?  The C & E Christians?  The visitors who are there because they want to please a beloved elder relative?  The ones who are just curious?  It get’s complicated.  I hardly ever use a prepared text, or even notes, on other Sundays.  But on Easter?  So, I’m posting here a draft of what I might have to say, in God’s name, on Easter Sunday.  If you have any comments to offer, go for it.


Holy Week is largely ignored by all but a few.  So our week long struggle with the many, and often contradictory, meanings of evil, betrayal, salvation, suffering, faith, sacrifice, renewal, and death has little meaning for most.  Most of us leap right into the joyful celebration of Easter, happy that in Christ, God has triumphed over evil and death, but with some difficulty understanding what that means. 

As for me, I tend to spend my time in holy week thinking about the nature of evil.  If the cross and resurrection are signs of God’s triumph over evil, what is evil and why did God have to triumph over it?

Which brings me to the question of evil itself.  What is it?  The short answer is that it is the power of deception and fear.  That’s all.  Just lies and fright.  If that’s all it is, how can it be so...evil?

When we deceive our selves and others, when others deceive us, we act in ways that are hurtful, oppressive, unjust and destructive of relationships.  Think about it.  Name something, anything, that you recognize as evil, whether tiny or great, that is not based on a deception, or many deceptions.  Why do we lie to ourselves, to others and fall prey to those who lie to us?  Fear.  It’s simple as that.  We are fearful of what might happen if the deceptions that overwhelm us are true after all.  We are fearful of what might happen if they are not.  Deception and fear, the source of all evil.  Some people say that the devil is the one behind it all.  I don’t give the devil that much credit.  We have mastered the skills of creating evil all on our own and don’t need his help. 

God did not have to triumph over it because it was never a contest in the first place.  God is not beset by evil; we are.  We humans are very much aware that, whatever evil is, it can easily triumph over us, individually and collectively.  We can be overwhelmed by evil others perpetrate, and we can be the source of evil we perpetrate on others.  Where is the evidence that the good is victorious, not in part but totally, once, for all, for ever?  We got ourselves into this quagmire; are we condemned to live and die in it, or is there some way out?  

Obviously we are not capable of making that happen, however, we Christians assert that God not only can do it, but has done it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a demonstration that, by the power of God, good triumphs over evil, truth triumphs over deception, courage triumphs over fear, and life triumphs over death.  

What we can have in our present life is a foretaste of a greater life experiencing that triumph.  It can be already ours, at least in part, even if the fullness of it is yet to come.  It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.  We are under no obligation to live into that foretaste, but God has encouraged us through all the prophets, and in Christ himself, to do so, because it will mean a life more filled with what is true, honorable, just, pure, and pleasing, not for ourselves only, but for all with whom we live, work and play.

Whatever else our lives are, they are for us a preparation of a greater life yet to come, not as a reward but as a gift.  Some will say ‘Prove it. What is this greater life? Show me someone who has experienced it.’  The current popularity of books about near death experiences is a measure of how urgent is the demand for evidence of what we most desire to be true.  I don’t care much one way or the other about them.  What I know is this, Jesus was dead and buried.  It was no near death experience.  He was dead.  Then he wasn’t.  It wasn’t a story told by wishful mourners, but a fact experienced first by one or two, then by dozens, and finally by hundreds.  What he said was true, where he is going, where he is now, is our place also, and he will take us there. 

God’s triumph over evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not for God’s sake, but for the sake of our weak faith, limited vision, ignorance and fear.

So I have a question for you.  How would you like to live a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  You can begin to experience a foretaste of it today by accepting God’s gift of new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 22, 2013

War as Economic Development


There was an article in the news a few days ago about the ongoing cost of war.  It cited the dollars paid out for veteran support, with some current expenditures fulfilling obligations dating back to the turn of the twentieth century.  I don’t recall the figures, they were in the billions.  What is that money paying for?  Damaged lives, lost lives, lives that need to be rebuilt, lives than never can.  Last night I watched part of a show on the development of automatic weapons.  The narrator, with pride in his voice akin to car dealer commercials, announced that in a single WWI battle 19,000 British soldiers were killed by the effective fire of newly invented machine guns.  Mere pocket change compared to what we can do today.  Woo Hoo for us.

It’s easy to measure the cost of war in dollars, and so much harder to measure it in the numbers of dead and injured, both combatant and noncombatant.  But to score war by body count as if it was a contest to see who can rack up the highest number is what?  What words fit?  We not only do it, we are proud of it.  We celebrate improvements in the art of human slaughter as worthy technological achievements around which we build entire economic systems dependent on weapons as lucrative profit centers and engines of job creation.  Congressional delegations in league with defense contractors elbow each other out of the way for funds to keep the weapons juggernaut well fed.  Mayors and governors salivate over the jobs they create.  So called conservatives are willing to cut spending on everything except defense, by which they mean equipment in the field and new weapons development.  Angry defenders of Eisenhower's famous military-industrial complex, wrapped in flags of patriotism, pummel the public with reminders that many of the wonderful gadgets of modern life have come from war and weapons, as if it somehow all works out for the good of humanity.

I suppose it’s not all that different from what human societies have always done, each in their own way, but the scale of it has grown to such massive proportions, and we seem to have entered an era of perpetual war, not as a necessity for defense, but as an intentional strategy for economic development.  We live the good life by the death of others, and we justify it in the name of making the world a safer place.  Our own dead we call heroes, and hope their families will take some pride in that.  The others are enemies, terrorists and other forms of the subhuman, except for the innocent civilians whom we label as collateral damage, and hope their families are not too upset by our occasional mistakes.

We are not alone.  What the major nations do on a gigantic scale is replicated all over the world by governments, war lords, rebels, and criminals with a viscousness that even we would have hard time matching. 

I wonder what public opinion would be if we annually rounded up a few tens of thousands of young men and women from throughout the world to be marched into the arena for slaughter.  Would it surpass the outrage of the holocaust?  I’m not so sure anymore.  We don’t do things like that, yet all around are signs of romanticizing weapons, war, and killing by otherwise upstanding citizens who claim they are just patriots, God fearing patriots at that.

If there is hope, it is that the public mood, at least in America, seems to be shifting.  Maybe reflections on the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War have something to do with that.  I hope so.  Daily Office readings these last few weeks have been from Jeremiah, and I wonder if he is speaking as loud to us in our own day as he was to the leaders of Jerusalem.  Pay attention national leaders, the way we have forged is not God’s way, it is a way that leads toward national death, not life.  Life, life in abundance, lies in another direction.