Friday, December 31, 2010
1. In an effort to be more respectful, if I disagree with a commenters point, I'll quote it, restate it and ask if I am understanding correctly (ie, Bubba, you said, "X" and that sounds like to me Z. Is that what you mean...?)
2. When it's been pointed out that I have misunderstood another's position, I will promptly apologize for the misunderstanding, offering an explanation if helpful (ie, "My bad. It SOUNDED like to me that was what you were saying, can you understand how I got that impression...?")
3. I will refrain from making the assumption that if a statement SEEMS to be saying something to me, that my assumption is not the sum total of all possibilities. I will stick more to direct quotes and talk about what the commenter directly said, rather than discussing my summary of what it SEEMED like to me.
4. I will try to treat those I disagree with as my literal brother or uncle or some beloved family member with whom I have disagreements. ("What if this commenter is actually my crazy ol' Uncle Fervent? I really ought to be nice to him, even if he is a little loopy...")
5. I will try to recognize that if someone criticizes a position of mine, they're not necessarily criticizing me. IT'S OKAY TO DISAGREE. And if they are indeed criticizing me, I will strive to ignore the ad hom attack and deal with the criticism of a position, if there is one being criticized.
Wouldn't the blogosphere be a better place if we all practiced these sorts of niceties?
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
I realize it is inconvenient, but [simplicity] as a lifestyle choice, especially for one so concerned for the poor, it makes absolutely no sense.
If it makes no sense to you, then I'd suggest you ought not embrace simplicity.
It makes perfect sense to me and many others. Why? The reasons are many. A few starters...
1. We have finite amount of potable water. The more demand for clean water, the more water prices increase, the less affordable water is to the poor. Possible conclusions?
a. Consume less water.
b. Use rainwater.
c. Build in ways that slow runoff (which leads to polluted waters and other problems)
d. Drive less (or not at all - driving contributes greatly to water pollution)
e. Advocate for less road building, more mass transit, bike lanes, sidewalks
f. Advocate AWAY from the personal auto solution and towards healthier solutions as policy matters.
g. Some of the same responses in section 2, below.
All of which I believe ultimately helps the poor.
2. We have a common world to share, it is not ours to exclusively pollute. Additionally, pollution tends to hurt the poor more (the poor are more likely to live in polluted settings, to suffer from asthma, cancers, etc) Possible conclusions?
a. Pollute less.
b. Drive less.
c. Live in smaller circles.
d. Shop locally (stuff shipped in from 1000 miles away comes with 1000 miles worth of pollution/toxins/costs).
e. Grow more of my own food.
f. Some of the same answers in section 1, above.
All of which I believe helps the poor.
3. Dependence upon foreign oil has many negative consequences, many of which directly and indirectly harm the poor. When we wage war in a foreign nation to defend "our" oil, it is often the poor who are killed as "collateral damage." When we wage wars of any type, it is often the poor of both nations sent as cannon fodder.
a. Many of the same already mentioned...
b. Drive less
c. Live in smaller circles
d. Consume less Stuff that is dependent upon foreign fuels for its production/transport
e. Shop locally
f. Advocate against policies that keep us tied to foreign oil and fossil fuels in general
etc. We have many global and local problems whose origins are found in our lifestyle choices. Simplifying our lifestyles could/would have many positive results for the world in general, and the poor specifically.
That is, it is incompatible with a real desire to help the poor as it limits one's ability to impact the greatest numbers.
Says you. I am wholly unconvinced that the answer to the problems of poverty is more charity (ie, Dan trying to make more money so he can give away as much money as possible to help the needy poor), which can be debillitating and less than helpful, at least at times.
As the saying goes (sort of):
Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and he eats for as long as he can fish.
Work to enable the man to have good health and clean water in which to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.
Teaching a man to fish does no good if his water is toxic sludge. If the man has cancer from air pollution, teaching him to fish does little good. If the man is in a wheelchair and unable to travel to the water, teaching him to fish does little good.
Charity has its place, to be sure. But more important to me is to work for systemic justice, part of which suggests to me simple living sorts of answers.
One could ask to Dan, what is more important? Living simply or helping the poor? One of these seems just talk.
You set up a false dichotomy. Who says we have to choose between living simply and helping the poor?
Only to the uninformed would simple living seem to be just talk. Our life choices have consequences for us and beyond us. Giving money to problems can be a good thing, but better still is working to end the problems and ending our part in contributing by our lifestyles to those problems.
Giving money to establish a job skill training program can be a very good thing and help some people.
Being an entrepreneur that creates good jobs and just working circumstances can be a very good thing and help some people.
AND, living in ways that don't contribute to pollution or people losing their way of life is ALSO a very good thing that helps, it seems to me, even more people.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
My beloved wife and I received a Christmas present early this year. Our children went to the recording studio Monday along with their bandmates and recorded five songs for a new more professional EP. We were like kids on Christmas morning, waiting for them to get home, CD in hand, to hear them singing.
You can hear those new songs on their Beady myspace page (my personal favorites are Abbey's Song and When I'm Twenty).
With this simple, lovely gift from my beautiful children, with the possibility of a white Christmas here and many places around the US, with the hopes of a peaceful, pleasant new year - one perhaps with less needless strife over petty matters and with more strong stands on points that need them (and the wisdom to know the difference) - I wish everyone a Merry, Merry Christmas, a Happy Holidays and a wondrous new year.
Friday, December 17, 2010
From Luke 1, where poor teen-girl Mary - a Jewish gal in a land occupied by Rome and subject to Roman laws - has learned she will be the mother of the Messiah, she sang...
My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For God has had regard for the humble state of God's bondslave...
AND GOD'S MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION
TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR GOD.
God has done mighty deeds with God's arm;
God has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
God has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
GOD HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
God has given help to Israel God's servant...
You can't really mistake the undercurrent of resentment against the wealthy and oppressive leaders in favor of an oppressed poor folk. For Mary, the poor Jewish folk having the situation set aright seems to be part and parcel of the coming Kingdom of God to follow the Messiah's coming. Fair enough?
Continuing, as Jesus began his ministry he said (in Luke 4)...
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, and
to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
Note: Many, if not most, biblical scholars (John Wesley, for instance) would say that this quote (Jesus is actually quoting from Isaiah here) at the end - "the year acceptable to the Lord" - is a reference to the Year of Jubilee, in which land was returned/redistributed back to original owners. The Jubilee year, established back in Leviticus, earlier in Jewish history, was, itself, an effort to keep wealth from accumulating too much in too few hands, or at least some would say so.
It was a way of trying to make sure that poverty did not continue from generation to generation, but rather, if hard times fell upon a family and if they were unable to set things aright, eventually they would receive their land back. A "do-over," if you will. Perhaps also, the point might be made that this was a way of reminding us that we don't "own" land, that we're merely temporary caretakers.
This Jubilee way of thinking - good news specifically to the poor - was very much part of what Jesus saw as his Kingdom of God teachings, it would seem.
Continuing, in Jesus' famous and seminal Sermon on the Mount as found in Luke 6...
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...
To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Dang! That's some tough teaching. Give to EVERYONE who asks of you? Don't demand that the thief return your stuff??!! Really?
Do to others as you would have them do to you...
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High
Flipping over to Matthew, when John the Baptist was in prison and wondering if Jesus was "the One" Jesus said...
"Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM."
As at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he again emphasizes that he is preaching the Good News specifically to the poor. This is evidence, in Jesus' and John's minds, that Jesus is of/from God.
And, in Matthew 19, Jesus said...
"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven..."
It is "HARD for a RICH man to enter God's kingdom"??!! This is a tough teaching for we who are rich.
From Jesus' so-called "Model Prayer..."
Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors...
For if you forgive others for their transgressions [literally, debts], your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
And from Matthew 6 (again, the Sermon on the Mount)...
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
...And why are you worried about clothing?
...Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'
For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Creator knows that you need all these things.
But seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
According to Jesus, the unbelievers (Gentiles) are worried about seeking after food, shelter, nice clothing, financial security. But Jesus is telling us, "Don't worry about that stuff, seek first God's kingdom..." Seeking wealth, Jesus says, is NOT part of the Kingdom of God which Jesus is ushering in and teaching us to live into here and now. Security is NOT from having many barns (or banks? or savings accounts? or investments??) to store up stuff for the possible crises of the future. Security comes in joining Jesus' gang, his followers, in the community and realm of God, THIS is where we find our security.
Looking past the Gospels, Paul says in Timothy...
A bishop must be irreproachable... gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own household well... not greedy for sordid gain...
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things...
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share
And James had this to say...
The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in his high standing, and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away...
For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes. So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction...
My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes... have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?
Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?
...If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
Because of ALL of this, I gather some fairly basic principles:
1. Wealth can be - and often is - a trap, a snare.
2. There was a certain prejudice against the rich and in favor of the poor in the words of NT writers - sometimes uncomfortably harsh words are used against the rich as if they're speaking of ALL rich, not merely misbehaving rich. As if the assumption is: If you're rich, you're quite likely oppressive, blinded, trapped, seduced, needing to be thrown down and sent away hungry!
3. We are NOT to be of the type who pursue wealth (See #2), the pursuit of wealth is not to be a goal of ours
4. We are to be content with what we have
5. We are to live simply, sharing freely what we have with those in need
6. It is clearly not impossible for wealthy folk to be in the church, but it is a consistent matter of concern and caution
7. There is a very direct, insistent and consistent tying of what we're doing specifically with and for the poor with being part of God's kingdom
8. Everything is God's and we're merely caretakers
This is what I gather from these (and other) teachings. Beyond that, this is what makes some amount of sense to me. You?
Monday, December 13, 2010
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson struck down the "individual mandate" requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014. The Justice Department is expected to challenge the judge's findings in a federal appeals court.
Hudson's opinion contradicts court rulings finding the mandate constitutionally permissible.
"An individual's personal decision to purchase -- or decline purchase -- (of) health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach" of the U.S. Constitution," Hudson wrote. "No specifically constitutional authority exists to mandate the purchase of health insurance."
A federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of the administration this month over the purchase requirement issue, mirroring conclusions reached by a judge in Michigan.
Virginia officials had argued that the Constitution's Commerce Clause does not give the government the authority to force Americans to purchase a commercial product -- like health insurance -- that they may not want or need. They equated such a requirement to a burdensome regulation of "inactivity."
Virginia is one of the few states in the country with a specific law saying residents cannot be forced to buy insurance.
"I am gratified we prevailed," said Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican elected in 2009. "This won't be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution."
Friday, December 10, 2010
In addressing some previous questions on simple living, the point was suggested...
...simple living as opposed to technological advancements, and the wealth creation that so often goes with it, does not improve lives for the most people.
To that point, I'd say that the commenter was making some presumptions that go too far.
The Amish (as an extreme example of people who seem to be opposed to technological advances) are not, in fact, utterly opposed to all technological advances. They are CAUTIOUS (in the extreme) of technological advances. They epitimoze (perhaps to absurd degree, perhaps not) the conservative value of Prudence.
They don't willy nilly accept technological CHANGES that come along and presume that because they have come along, they are an advancement. They keep such changes at arm's length and, when they are comfortable with the notion that it is indeed something that can be helpful WITHOUT having hidden costs to themselves or others, only then do they embrace the advancement.
Thus, they use (sparingly) gas motors for cutting wood (obviously a technological change over cutting by hand), telephone booths, accept rides from others, ride the bus, etc... That is, they DO embrace some technology, but only cautiously and only when they feel confident that it's going to be a net benefit (or at least that's my undestanding of the Amish and technology.
This is what I'm speaking of... Slowing down the pace of our acceptance of each new technological option that comes along and weigh its net value. Live deliberate lives, thoughtful lives, sustainable lives, keeping an eye out for the impacts beyond just the immediate.
The commenter made the statement about being opposed to technological advances and the wealth creation that so often goes along with it. I think what the simple life advocates would suggest is that we presume too much too quickly too often. DOES positive net wealth creation come along with many/most/all technological "advance?" I don't think we can assume that this is true, not at all.
IF I can create a brand new Widget (TM) for $1 and can create a demand for that Widget and sell it for $10, then I have "created wealth" and the world is a better place! Hallelujah! That is the simplistic way of looking at it. The more prudent, cautious way of looking at it is to ask questions...
1. What IS a Widget?
2. Does it add anything to my life?
3. If I have happily lived without a Widget thus far, what reasonable "demand" for that Widget is there?
4. What are the costs of that Widget? Not JUST the cost to produce it, but did creating the Widget produce pollution? Waste? Has that waste and pollution been cleaned up? Who paid to clean it up? Were there any other associated negatives (ie, did it not only produce pollution, but TOXIC pollution, which increased the risk of cancer or other illness - and who's going to pay for that?)
5. Is the Widget replacing some OTHER item(s)/technologies? What are the costs associated with those losses?
6. Is the Widget causing less tangible - but no less real - costs? Does it cut into family time? Does it cause us to exercise less? To worry more?
You get the idea, I hope.
Simple living is deliberate living, conscious and conscientious living. It is not chasing after every new Thing that comes along, but recognizing that our confidence, our happiness, our lives do not consist of Things and more Things, but in God, in our relationships, in our family, in our community. This is where our contentment lies and thus, why do I NEED more Things?
Sometimes, there may be a very good answer to the question of "should I get this new Thing?" For instance, someone might like a mandolin or a flute so they can learn to play it (free entertainment, worthwhile education) and play with my family and friends (strengthening the family and community units, creating a better world) and thus, it may well be worth the cost.
Having decided that, I could buy a mandolin for $100, used, or I could buy a very fancy cool mandolin for $10,000 - what choice do I make...? Was the "cheap" mandolin made in China by child laborers in unjust circumstances (and thus, came at a much greater cost than the $100)? Was the $10,000 mandolin made with a rare wood that came from an endangered forest (and thus, perhaps came at a greater cost than even the $10,000)?
Deliberate living. Prudent living.
Does that mean I am paralyzed into fearfully buying nothing unable to know all the possible repercussions? No, clearly not. I'm just suggesting something more reasonable and prudent than beginning with the presumption that all the stuff I can buy is going to make the world and my life better.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just."
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood...
Powerful (even dangerous) words, those, but well worth consideration.
As Christians and decent people the world over are concerned about living just lives, we owe it to ourselves to at least ask the questions: Is this way of life just? Is this disparity of wealth just? Does it lead to war? To environmental and societal destruction? Is there a corallary between the great wealth of one nation and the great poverty of another?
Having answered these questions, what "revolution of values," as Dr. King calls it, do we need? What changes in our values and lives ought to follow? Or do we do nothing and continue as the wealthy elite of the world with a clean conscience?
This final clarification for today: Just because King or I might believe we need a revolution of values, a restructuring of the social order, is not to say we are calling for Marxist communism. It is, rather (at least in my estimation), just what it is: A call for a revolution of values, a questioning of how and how much we consume, a consideration of the poor and marginalized recognizing our great wealth. Perhaps an old time revival, to put it in religious parlance. That is not, to be clear, a call for Marxism. At least not for me and mine.
Just trying to nip that misunderstanding in the bud.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
These are, I think, reasonable questions worthy of an answer. The problems I have in answering it are probably mostly my own limitations: Limitations of brain power, understanding, ability to communicate and simply time.
I have reached my positions on this general area of thought as a result of much reading, listening and observation. Reading especially from the Bible, from Wendell Berry and other "secular"(ish) authors/thinkers of his ilk (Edward Abbey, Gene Logsdon, Bill McKibben, etc), as well as anabaptist and other progressive Christian voices, as well as the voices of native peoples and the poor. How does one condense all of this wisdom down to a blog-sized bite?
Bit by bit, I guess. So, to that end, I will try to offer in the coming days some excerpts from others and my own thoughts to address the question: Why Simplicity?
I have tried this once before, but that attempt was a pretty simplistic one. This time, I will endeavor to spend a little more time and thought on it.
First off, I think we might ought to consider problems of scale. Big, Global, Multinational Corporate solutions to problems cause their own problems and these problems are hard to deal with. Sometimes, impossible, at least it seems. Here are some of Wendell Berry's thoughts on this...
The large agribusiness corporations that were mainly national in 1977 are now global, and are replacing the world’s agricultural diversity, which was useful primarily to farmers and local consumers, with bioengineered and patented monocultures that are merely profitable to corporations. The purpose of this now global economy, as Vandana Shiva has rightly said, is to replace “food democracy” with a worldwide “food dictatorship...”
I believe that this contest between industrialism and agrarianism now defines the most fundamental human difference, for it divides not just two nearly opposite concepts of agriculture and land use, but also two nearly opposite ways of understanding ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our world...
Industrialism prescribes an economy that is placeless and displacing. It does not distinguish one place from another. It applies its methods and technologies indiscriminately in the American East and the American West, in the United States and in India. It thus continues the economy of colonialism. The shift of colonial power from European monarchy to global corporation is perhaps the dominant theme of modern history. All along, it has been the same story of the gathering of an exploitive economic power into the hands of a few people who are alien to the places and the people they exploit. Such an economy is bound to destroy locally adapted agrarian economies everywhere it goes, simply because it is too ignorant not to do so...
The industrial “solution” for such systems is to increase the scale of work and trade. It brings Big Ideas, Big Money, and Big Technology into small rural communities, economies, and ecosystems—the brought-in industry and the experts being invariably alien to and contemptuous of the places to which they are brought in. There is never any question of propriety, of adapting the thought or the purpose or the technology to the place. The result is that problems correctable on a small scale are replaced by large-scale problems for which there are no large-scale corrections. Meanwhile, the large-scale enterprise has reduced or destroyed the possibility of small-scale corrections...
In any consideration of agrarianism, this issue of limitation is critical. Agrarian farmers see, accept, and live within their limits. They understand and agree to the proposition that there is “this much and no more...” This is the understanding that induces thrift, family coherence, neighborliness, local economies. Within accepted limits, these become necessities...
This is exactly opposite to the industrial idea that abundance comes from the violation of limits by personal mobility, extractive machinery, long-distance transport, and scientific or technological breakthroughs. If we use up the good possibilities in this place, we will import goods from some other place, or we will go to some other place. If nature releases her wealth too slowly, we will take it by force. If we make the world too toxic for honeybees, some compound brain, Monsanto perhaps, will invent tiny robots that will fly about pollinating flowers and making honey...
This is from an excellent article at Orion and is well worth reading in full. You can find it here.