The state of the economy

It’s that time of the year when we start to hear speeches that feed us predictable lines about the state of our nation. “The state of our nation is strong!” – said pretty much every president in my life time. Based on what though? I don’t know what they base that statement on besides the idea that this is what presidents are supposed to say to make us feel good about ourselves and our nation. Besides, no president wants to actually tell the truth about the portions of the country that aren’t in great shape – what would that do to re-election efforts or future judgements of history?

I don’t bother to listen to the State of the Union address. I haven’t since the mid-90’s when I figured out that all it really is is a prime time speech with a laundry list of legislative goodies the president wants to pass (as opposed to talking about what the actual state of the Union is), and the presentation of some tear jerking stories that act as a prop to tug at people’s hearts so that their elected representatives will feel more inclined to vote for this or that pet legislative agenda. (Thanks Pres. Reagan for starting this.)

I think a regular assessment of how we are doing is important. I just don’t appreciate a campaign speech to do it. I never have.

I hear that we have a strong economy. But I have questions. If our economy is so grand, why is there an increase in homelessness and a prediction that elderly homelessness will double by 2025 and triple from the current level by 2030? Hmm.

If our economy is so strong, then why are we not spending more money to lift people out of poverty, or at least get them to a place that they aren’t worried about survival each day with housing, or food?

If our economy is so strong, then why is the suicide rate so high?

If our economy is so strong, then why aren’t we doing something to alleviate the imprisonment of debt on students? Or at least on future students?

Why does an economy exist at all? This is the best question I can think of. Is it only for selfish purposes? That seems to counter what an economy actually is though and how it is measured.

Does an economy exist for the benefit of the society that it functions in? How is that happening in our society? Not just for those who are benefiting the most, but for everyone?

The new Finnish Prime Minister said something recently that seems fitting to this conversation. She said, “The strength of a society is measured not by the wealth of its most affluent members, but by how well its most vulnerable citizens are able to cope. The question we need to ask is whether everyone has the chance to lead a life of dignity.” (San Marin, Finnish Prime Minister)

I think Ms. Martin is right on target. I also think this way of thinking is more in line with what Jesus taught than any American politician I have heard.

What is the state of our economy? I can’t speak about the economy overall. I don’t have the research to back it up. I only have my observations and what I read from a variety of sources. Is the economy strong? Sure, for some. But I suspect that they would be doing fine regardless. Is the economy strong for all? I doubt it. Our economic system isn’t designed to benefit all.

And before you comment on economic theories, let me say this – I’m really not all that interested in a debate on the theories of what economic systems are “supposed” to do. Those who are experiencing homelessness don’t have that luxury.

But I do have to ask this – How is it that the wealthiest nation in history has a large number of people who are experiencing homelessness? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history is able to afford plenty of military weapons, but can’t afford to make sure it’s own people are housed, or fed, or have adequate health care? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history can’t afford to do things that would keep people out of poverty?

What is all that wealth for anyway? Is it an end unto itself? If so, then what’s the point anyway?

I wonder what Jesus would say about the wealthiest nation in history. I wonder if Jesus would have something to say about how that wealth should be used for the citizens of such a nation – especially the most vulnerable. I wonder.

There’s a couple of places in Scripture that quotes Jesus as saying: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24, NRSV)

I wonder if the same could be said of the economy. Can you serve God and the economy?

The State of our Political and Religious Discourse

The state of America’s political and religious discourse is not healthy by any measure. The disfunction of how we communicate with each other isn’t the problem though – it’s a symptom of much deeper unresolved issues.

We are living in a moment when conversation shuts down or is transferred to attack with the utterance of a variety of one word statements – namely the issues, or really, any issue. Say “guns” or “abortion” or “Trump” for that matter and conversation stops. It doesn’t even turn to debate. Rather, defenses go up immediately. We shift to attack mode. All or nothing victory is at stake. Relationships, even long valued relationships, are collateral for what we think is more important – being right.

When I see Facebook posts that take cheap shots at political opponents, I have to wonder – how is this helping the nation? How is it helping to bring people of diverse beliefs together? It’s not. It’s segregating us and forcing us to take sides and pick up our weapon of choice to demolish the other side.

That’s what happens when the virus of being right infects a large segment of the population.

In recent weeks I’ve started considering something I have done rarely – unfriend people on facebook. I’m not talking about people I disagree with and engage in conversation and dialogue on a variety of subjects. I have a great deal of respect for people who are intellectually healthy enough to have a conversation with someone they disagree with. I think that kind of conversation is badly needed. Not so we can convince each other of our own rightness, but rather to better understand how we each come to the conclusions we come to. It allows us to ask better questions, consider better options, and re-evaluate beliefs. That’s what growth is about.

Instead, I’m talking about people who have no interest in conversation or dialogue – they are only interested in being right. They can’t handle conflict or even differing opinions. It’s all or nothing for these folks. And I’m just not sure I have the energy or the desire to keep such a relationship going.

I don’t comment of posts from these folks – there is no point. It’s like attempting to talk with someone who does propaganda for a tyrant. They have bought in hook, line, and sinker.

Our dialogue is in intensive care – or should be. I’m not sure it’s actually getting the care it needs really. We’re not even getting hospice care at this point. Or pain killers of any type. If I had to describe the state of our political and religious discourse, it would be like using a rusty jagged spoon to tear out a rotting tooth, without novocain.

And I’m not sure how many people really want this to change either. Yes, there are many who post these cute, shallow, social media statements about getting along. How quaint. But posting such things isn’t going to change anything. It only happens when we each commit to actual change. Commit to not only posting better quality things, but also commit to better quality conversations, and better quality relationships with one another. That requires a commitment of time, of investing in one another. That requires being with people, face to face. It requires letting go of the ideological propaganda we embrace and bath in and consume. It requires congruency – your words and your actions match up.

For Christians this can start by doing some self-examination and asking yourself some basic questions – How am I doing in following Jesus and what he taught? Am I in alignment with the teachings of Jesus through my actions, or am I just mouthing the words and fooling myself into believing that I am following Jesus? Do I pray for my enemies? Or do I pray for their downfall? How do I show love to those I hate or hate me? How am I living out the teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25? What needs to change in order for me to be in alignment with following Jesus? Am I willing to let go of things that aren’t in alignment with Jesus? If not, why not? In what do I really believe that Jesus doesn’t know what he was talking about? Why?

As for our political and religious discourse, are you waiting for someone else to start? Why? We are called to step up and be the initiators. We are called to set the example. We are called to improve the state of our discourse. So let’s get started.

The Means and the Ends

There is a belief system that can be summarized as the ends justify the means. This is the belief that the ends are the only thing that matters. How you get there doesn’t matter. The Houston Astros World Series winning team from a couple of years ago could be accused of espousing this belief – they were caught cheating. But hey, I thought only winning mattered, not how you get there, right?

A good deal of our political culture seems to embrace this idea. But that’s not new really. That’s been the norm in politics regardless of location, nation, politicians, or time period. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, more just a recognition of the unfortunate realities of politics.

I could go on, but I really don’t feel like dwelling on such negativity as is it were somehow normal, respectable, or Christ-like.

See, God doesn’t buy into the idea of the ends justify the means. Not even close. Jesus is the end. Jesus is the summation of what life is about. Jesus is the goal. So certainly, the ends matter.

But here’s the thing – Jesus is also the means. His whole earthly life was about calling people to follow him and his way of being – in other words, to follow Jesus is the means. How we get to where we are going matters to God. A great deal. If it didn’t, then there would have been no need for Jesus’ earthly ministry, no need to disciples, miracles, call stories, healings, exorcisms, welcoming strangers, feeding people, etc. Those aren’t means in and of themselves. They are the means. The means to what? The means to the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.

God values both the ends and the means. And calls on us to do likewise. That’s what discipleship is all about.

Why I believe what I believe about homelessness

No, I don’t have any shocking or compelling stories about my own personal experience with homelessness. I’m actually quite grateful for that. I do have plenty of stories of people I know who have experienced homelessness or are experiencing it now though. I know names of people. Some of them are in my phone directory. I know stories. I have heard the challenges and the disappointments.

Yesterday I posted a blog post on different approaches to homelessness. It generated a considerable amount of discussion and sharing of stories. I think that’s great.

Today I want to share my why I believe what I believe about how to approach homelessness. There are a few reasons.

First – Theological. As a Lutheran pastor, I have the challenge and privilege to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. And what exactly is that Gospel? It can be described in a variety of ways, but as it pertains to this conversation, I would say that the Gospel is the Good News that we don’t believe in karma. We don’t get our worth based on what we do or what we produce. Rather, we believe in unearned grace. We believe that God freely gives grace to each one of us without strings attached. That doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we want. It means that God gives freely first and gives us the freedom and ability to respond to that free gift. We are called on to respond in a way that shows our gratitude for what God has done for us. In relation to homelessness, this means that I prefer to give first, without strings attached. I’m not interested in making people earn something. That contradicts what I preach and proclaim.

Second – More Theology. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives a nice list of the characteristics of love.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NRSV)

This isn’t just a description of what love is. It is a description of the characteristics of God, since we believe that God is love. In this, we hear that love is patient and kind. It does not insist on its own way. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And it doesn’t end. Sounds like a great description for how we should handle homelessness. If I know anything about homelessness it is this – patience is extremely important. Kindness is sometimes all you have to give. Insisting that someone do something your way doesn’t always work and can in fact make matters worse. When I work with those experiencing homelessness, there are times when I have to bear a lot of the pain and suffering and rejection that people experience. Hope is essential in this work. Endurance is just as important.

Three – Even more Theology. As a pastor, I teach about the Imago Dei – the Image of God. We believe that every person is endowed with the Imago Dei. That is how we are able to fulfill the two great commandments. We love our neighbor because they bear the image of God and in so loving them, we are also loving God and what God has created.

Having the image of God and seeing the image of God in others is really important. It allows us to have a different approach to dealing with homelessness. My job isn’t to fix people – I can’t. It is instead to carry out a ministry of presence. What presence? The image of God. To remind people that they also have the image of God within them. That forces me to see the other person with dignity. It forces me to see their humanity. It forces me to see them more fully. It’s what allows me to be hospitable and to see the value each person already possesses.

Four – Yes, even more Theology. A question I wrestle with when I work with those experiencing homelessness is this – if our situations were reversed, how would I want to be treated in this moment? What result would I hope for?

In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

My usual answer to these questions, when I am actually paying attention to the questions is something like this – I would hope to be treated with respect, dignity, and kindness. I wouldn’t expect the other person to have all the answers, but to make a best effort to try to help. I would hope that they would at least listen and hear me and my pain and to let me know that I am not alone and that someone cares whether I live or die.

I don’t have the answers to how to end homelessness. Or poverty. Or abuse. Or addictions. Or broken relationships. But I do have a message of hope. I do have a ministry of presence. I do see the Imago Dei – or at least try to anyway. I know that when Jesus encounters us, lives are transformed in incredible ways. I have see that. Often, it’s not on my timeframe or what I expect. But thank God for that. It’s more often than not so much better.

Different approaches to homelessness

In December of 2019, Robert Marbut was appointed to be the new homeless czar for the country.

If you do a Google search about this, you’ll find numerous articles about this appointment and about the numerous criticisms against Mr. Marbut for his approach to homelessness.

Here’s one sample:

“Marbut does not adhere to the “housing first” philosophy embraced by most U.S. cities, which aim to place people experiencing homelessness into stable, supportive housing before working to address any medical, financial, or substance abuse issues. This method is not only proven to help people stay housed, as it’s easier to tackle other issues once someone has a safe, stable place to sleep, but it also saves cities money by avoiding costly public expenditures for emergency care.

Instead, Marbut has recommended that cities stop giving out foodcriminalize sidewalk sleeping, and force homeless residents who want services to move into city-operated facilities in large temporary structures that advocates have equated to jails.”

When you search for more articles on Mr. Marbut you find a multitude of homeless advocates being critical of Mr. Marbut and his approach to homelessness, with one critic saying that Mr. Marbut’s approach is a “real life horror.”

Mr. Marbut has one approach to homelessness. It’s not the approach I would take, nor has it been the approach that our congregation is taking in tackling homelessness. Frankly, it’s demeaning and dehumanizing. And it doesn’t work. Part of Mr. Marbut’s system is about making people earn everything to the point that at the shelter he ran in New Orleans:

“…access to the 1,000 beds must be earned. People entering the shelter must sleep on mats in an outdoor courtyard and can only move inside after participating in services like job training, education, and substance abuse counseling. Breaking rules like missing curfew can mean getting demoted back to the courtyard.”

Thankfully there are many different ways to dealing with homelessness. Housing First is a system that has worked well in many cases. In the housing first model, people are given housing and in doing so, it opens people to less anxiety. It allows them to spend their time and attention trying to resolve the numerous other issues they face on a daily basis. It keeps people healthier and out the emergency departments. In the long run, it is much cheaper to house people, rather than to keep them out of housing.

While I don’t have the ability to house people, I do have another approach – a ministry of presence. Our congregation doesn’t have the resources to house people. But we show up where people who are experiencing homelessness are. We get to know them, listen to their story. We do laundry with them. We eat with them. We worship with them. We make sure they get showers. We offer what supplies we have. We give away many sleeping bags. We talk. We listen. We worship together. We try to connect people with resources and services – at least for those who want them. They aren’t they or them at all. They are us and we are them.

We don’t make people earn dinner. We don’t make them earn clean clothes. We don’t make them earn showers. We believe that people should be treated with dignity and value. We believe that people have names and stories and lives. We believe that people should be empowered to make decisions for their lives. We believe we can’t fix people – we’re broken too, just in different ways. We believe we are called to be with these people and see the image of God in each person we encounter. And we blessed by them too.

And the crazy thing about all of this is that this works. In several instances, we’ve been able to help people get off the streets and out of living in their vehicles and start living in apartments and houses. We don’t have a ton of resources. But we have something else – we have faith. And we share that faith with people. We have a ministry of presence – being present with those who need someone to recognize that they exist and are human beings.

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, we’ll keep doing our ministry of presence. We’ll keep living out our faith. And I’m willing to bet, we’ll keep seeing results – that people’s lives are transformed, that people are becoming part of a community that cares for one another, that people are relearning to trust others, that people actually care whether someone is alive or dead, that people deserve dignity, that everyone has a story, and that all are welcome at God’s table – even when that table is a truck stop diner where communion is shared.

Peace

What is peace?

Is peace the absence of conflict? Sure. But is that all it is? No. Is that even the best type of peace? I don’t think so. That’s defining peace based on conflict or violence. That’s assuming that conflict and violence are the norm from which we define other things. The world may define peace in that way, but I don’t think that’s how God defines peace.

I think God’s version of peace is different. I think God’s peace starts as the foundation. In a sense, conflict or violence can be defined as the absence of peace. There’s a difference in this. Peace isn’t dependent on conflict or violence for its definition. In this way, peace is the assumed norm and conflict and violence are the abnormal things.

So what does this peace look like? I think it looks like community. I think it looks like people who trust one another, are vulnerable with one another, are loving towards one another. Does this mean there isn’t ever conflict. Hardly. There are still people involved. And when people are involved, conflict will happen. But then again, not all conflict is bad. When conflict turns to violence, that’s not so good.

Jesus talks about peace. He offers peace to people he visits. He declares peace to many people. He sends the disciples out in peace and tells them to share peace with those they meet. He leaves peace with people when he goes.

Peace is hard work. It’s not easy. Conflict and violence are easy. They require no imagination, no vulnerability, no intelligence. They only require a reaction. Conflict and violence are mostly oriented towards a consideration of what is best for the self. Peace on the other hand is usually oriented towards what is best for all involved. That’s because what is good for all is also good for me as well. Maybe not in the short term, but in the longer term that is usually the case. Sometimes we must give up the short term gain in order to obtain the bigger, and more important, long term gain.

Peace is not a destination. The world sees peace as a mythical destination. But the problem with that is that we never arrive, or get close to it. There’s always something that prevents us from arriving. Always. When peace is a destination, then it is associated with the ends justify the means ways of thinking, which is not peace filled.

Instead peace is a ways of being. It is the means and the end. Peace is the pattern of life. It is how we live, or rather are called to live. Jesus exemplified this, as we already talked about. Throughout Scripture, he is always offering peace and leaving peace with people. He lived peace with all around him. Peace wasn’t passive for him. It wasn’t weak. It was intentional. And transformative.

And that’s how we are to live. In transformative peace to share with all around us. Peace is like the pebble dropped in the water. It ripples to all those around and transforms lives. And the world. That’s what peace is.

Two Pax

There are two Pax that have dominated thought in the West, although both haven’t been equally tried.

Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome, has been a common feature for most of civilization. This was the peace that brought about prosperity, legal reforms, technology advances, etc. It comes with a price – empire theology. The Pax Romana came about because Rome killed anyone who would stand in its way. For Rome, peace comes by the elimination of ones enemies. Of course the Pax Romana came with other costs too – exploitation of conquered lands and peoples. Oppression and enslavement. Diverting resources and wealth back to Rome and the emperor. That’s all because the Pax Romana wasn’t really for everyone. No, it was designed to primarily benefit one person – the emperor. It was during the Pax Romana that uprisings took place, crucifixion was commonly used, and occupation was at a height. So much for being peaceful.

Pax Christus, or the Peace of Christ, has not been utilized. It has been talked about though. The Peace of Christ comes with a cost too – giving up all the things that empire theology values and embracing the values of Christ. And what are those values – they are expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. They are expressed in Matthew 25. They come down to two basic ideas that are interwoven with each other – love God and love your neighbor. And your neighbor is everyone, including your enemies. We show that we love God by loving all around us and by caring for the poor and outcast.

Pax Romana has been tried many times. It always ends up failing, it’s just a matter of when. Pax Christus hasn’t ever been tried. Maybe we are afraid to try it because it might work.

Violence and responses

At the end of last year there was a stabbing at a Hanukah party at a Rabbi’s home in New York. Those in attendance fought the stabber. Yet there were injuries – some extremely serious. Five ended up being stabbed.

There was also shooting in a church in Texas. The shooter killed two. The church had a volunteer security detail that pulled a gun out and killed the shooter.

We’ve also had a US drone strike on an Iranian general, killing him, along with protests/public mourning/funeral for him in Iran that caused a stampede that killed over 50 people who were gathered there. The official word from our government is that the strike came in response to an Iranian backed militia attack that killed an American contractor. The Iranians vow to strike back. Our President has vowed that any strike back would be met with a bigger strike back.

Violence.

And violent responses.

Violence isn’t new. The Bible records the first act of violence in Genesis 4:8 – “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”

And then Cain tried to cover it up before God. But God saw through it.

In Acts, we read about Saul (later becoming Paul) persecuting Christians, even overseeing their death. Acts 8:1 states – “And Saul was there, giving approval to [Stephen’s] death.” Saul was persecuting the Christians for religious reasons.

Revelation offers a plethora of fictional stories that convey great carnage and destruction.

In the Old Testament, the Scriptures make the claim that God orders Joshua to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing. A good portion of the book of Joshua is full of carnage done in the name of God.

There are plenty of other examples. A stabbing during a religious celebration, a multiple-person killing during a worship service, and a nation striking the leadership of another nation and that nation threatening a retaliation – all three of these stories could easily fit into the Biblical narrative. Just change the names of the people, the weapons used, and the nations, and you could easily find these stories in Scripture.

And the question remains, what have we learned? Have we learned anything in the multi-thousands of years about violence? I don’t think so. We’re still doing the same thing and responding the same way.

Yet, there is another way. It’s just not often utilized. This requires moral imagination though. It requires us to go beyond the human preference of duality – only having two options in the face of violence. We falsely believe that the only way to respond to violence is to either use violence in response or to roll over passively and become victims and be abused. Given those options, responsive violence only seems to make sense. But that’s not the only response available. And as we have seen for thousands of generations, responsive violence doesn’t solve the problem. It just creates more destruction, causes more deaths, and sows further mistrust between people.

There are other options. It’s just that we don’t like to consider them. Martin Luther King, Jr used an alternative response that was not violent and certainly not passive. And it worked. Ghandi did too. Jesus, for that matter certainly did.

And, surprisingly, I saw this option portrayed in the last Star Wars movie too. When Rey was posed with the choice of killing the Sith Lord or letting her friends be destroyed, she rejected both options. She defended herself, but did not attack Palpatine. He attacked her and she defended herself without striking him. In the end, Palpatine brought about his own destruction, thus ending the Sith. If she had killed him, she would have been consumed by evil and become evil. That’s the problem with using violence to combat violence – you become violent as a result.

Star Wars is just a movie of course. But the idea presented is real.

I wonder what it would look like to respond to violence in an active way that does not cause violence to the perpetrator. I invite you to be creative. I invite you to imagine what a Christ-like response to violence might look like in your context. I invite you to explore active non-violence. I invite you to open your faith and moral imagination. The muscles of imagination need to be worked out so that they will be ready when trouble comes. And instead of responding in kind to violence, you will be ready to respond in love. Love isn’t passive and weak. It’s active and uncomfortable and dangerous. It’s vulnerable and willing to risk life in order to expand life. It’s daring. It’s unpredictable. Violence on the other hand is very predictable. It’s lazy. It’s weak. It isn’t life giving.

Love. That’s the response to violence. It’s a response that is hardly ever tried. So what. Guess what, it isn’t going to be popular. Do it anyway. Start loving anyway. Love your enemies – even if they try to kill you. Love your enemies – even if they try to harm you. Love your enemies. Love may get you killed. But here’s the thing – violence will definitely get you killed. Either way, we’re all going to die at some point. What are you willing to die for – Love or violence? Death doesn’t get the final say, and neither does violence. If God is love and God is eternal, then Love will last. God makes promises to us. To love us, to forgive us, to show us mercy and grace. To raise us from the dead. To be with us. That doesn’t change.

Moral poverty

There’s a concept that exists that relates economic standing with time. The theory goes that each economic “level” has a different concept of time and piece of time that they worry about more than the others. Time is divided into three parts – past, present, and future. Likewise, economic levels are broken into three categories as well – wealthy, middle class, and poverty.

This theory is of course a generalization and there are of course exceptions. not everyone fits nice and neatly into any of these categories. But just because it doesn’t work 100% of the time doesn’t mean we throw the theory out. We take what we can from it and learn and go forward.

According to the theory, those that are wealthy are most concerned and anxious about the past. Their present and future are secure financially. They have limited concern about these phases of time. Instead, the part of time they have no control over is the past. It happened. So the concern and anxiety surrounding the past is related to how the past is presented – family histories and origins of wealth. Presentation becomes something important for those with wealth – whether that has to do with presenting the past, or food, or other material things.

The middle class are most concerned and anxious about the future. Their present is financially secure. They have little concern of where they will sleep or what they will eat in the immediate time. They can’t control the past and don’t have the time or energy to do so. Their concern is for the future which is uncertain. The middle class spend a great deal of time worried about retirement, debt, loans, and anything else that extends into the future.

Lastly, those experiencing poverty (also referred to as the poor) are concerned and anxious about the present. Their present is not financially secure. They are concerned with where they will sleep and what they will eat right now, today, maybe even tomorrow. That’s as far as it goes though. Survival is the name of the game. If you are concerned and worried about surviving then the future and the past are out of sight and mind. There is no future if you don’t survive today. Planning is worthless when all you can do is do what you can to survive. Looking to the past only reminds you of the pain and suffering that has brought you to where you are right now.

Which leads me to the title of the post – moral poverty. I wonder if morality falls into the same theory. Not in terms of economic levels, but rather in relation to time.

Could we have moral wealth, moral middle class, and moral poverty with their respective perspectives of time? I don’t know. I’m playing with an idea.

Would those who are morally wealthy be most concerned with the past and all that the past contains – the sins of the past that caused one to get where they are? What if those sins are exposed? Would the morally wealthy then be seen as a fraud? Or would they be seen as being forgiven and transformed?

What about a moral middle class? Would their concerns be with the future – an uncertain future? Would these people worry about decisions that are being made in the present and their impact on the future? Would they be looking at present policies? Would they be considering how moral decisions are? Would they be concerned with what present decisions will impact future decisions morally?

How about moral poverty? Would these folks only have eyes on the present, with no consideration of future impact or looking to the past to see how we got to where we are? Would morally impoverished decisions only care about short term, immediate gains and benefits? Would they be about getting the most out of something now, regardless of the cost for the future? Would morally impoverished decisions even have a concept of a past or future?

I don’t think these are new ideas – maybe just a new label for them. I think they have been present for all of human history. It’s really just a matter of which one happens to be the prominent driving force at any given time in a culture and society in time.

Christmas Eve

It’s been an interesting week and a half. I’ve had many conversations with many different people on many different subjects. I’ve experienced a range of emotions during that time. I received pastoral care when I needed it. (Yes, pastors need pastoral care too).

And now, here we are – Christmas Eve. Things are (mostly) set. I still have several loose ends to tie up and finish. And in a few short hours, it will all be done. It will have either gone great, or terrible – or somewhere in the middle of that range. I have not idea.

But Christmas comes regardless. And surprisingly, I am at peace. In spite of a difficult week, I am at peace. Part of that I think comes from encountering Jesus several times in the midst of the difficulty. I got to experience grace. I got to hear words of encouragement. I got hear words of confirmation. I got to hear words of forgiveness. I got to hear words I needed to hear – and many not actually directed at me. But I got to hear them anyway.

Lots of things are going on. Part of the peace I have encountered is because of predictability. Many of the crappy things we experience are utterly predictable. Not shocking anymore. That doesn’t mean I have thrown my hands up in the air like I just don’t care. Rather, it means I know what to expect. And I can just move forward anyway.

Advent has been very good. I did an Advent daily prayer challenge that included reading a chapter of the Gospel of Luke each day. This has been therapeutic for me. It set me in the right frame of mind. It forced me to pray for people I’d rather not pray for. And that changed me.

And isn’t that what Christmas is really about anyway. It’s not about the presents and family and church and consumerism and decoration and food, etc. Sure, those are all a part of Christmas as we experience them these days. But more importantly, Christmas is about Jesus taking on flesh and encountering us where we are and inviting us to respond to what he is up to in this screwed up world. Thanks for the invite Jesus. I accept. Let’s go forward, inviting others to join in. Sure, many will reject the invitation. So what, it’s not my problem. They will just miss out. But to those crazies who join in, hang on. It’s about to get real. Real peace, real truth, real love, real forgiveness, real grace, real mercy, real welcome, real Jesus.