God, the American Dream and the Select Few

It’s not enough that the rich have co-opted the American Dream. Now they are trying to co-opt God. Forget all that stuff about the poor inheriting the earth, it being easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, or that Christ tossed the usurers out of the temple–the rich are not worried.

Because they don’t believe it. They believe God is on their side. After all, He made them rich, didn’t he? And He lets the poor live in poverty, doesn’t he? Which obviously means He finds the poor undeserving. Old Rockefeller said “God gave me my money!” and it is more obvious than ever before that this is what the rich believe.

Until recently I had not realized how pervasive the idea of the deserving rich is in our society. I mean, I knew money bestowed power, but I had no idea it also created and supported such a belief system. For the very rich, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top one percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005, while the earnings of men in their thirties, based on a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, have remained flat over the past four decades. Improvement in family incomes during that time has been mostly due to the increase of wives and mothers in the work force.

I guess you could blame my naivete on my birth as a member of the undeserving poor. I was born into coal, on the excavating side. My father was a coal miner for twenty-five years before he pursued the American Dream by getting out of coal to become a barber, upward mobility to much cleaner and less dangerous work. Meanwhile, families who had never seen a coal mine lived wealthy lives provided by royalties from coal while romping beneath the golden Sun on the French Riviera.

This belief system of the rich that God gave them their money works as well as it does because it is supported by other belief systems that are working in tandem. One, built around the theme of entitlement, inclines the believer to acept the rich’s approbation of themselves as deserving of their immense wealth because they think that with time and chance, they too can belong to the select few. Although the second group hasn’t yet arrived at the very top, they, like the rich, feel entitled to the best of everything. Based on what? Their looks, talent, intelligence, education? Culture? Their sparkling personality?

When my father died, my family was thrown into poverty. Despite how hard my older siblings worked to keep us together–warm, fed and clothed, I remember one day at school having nothing to eat for lunch and I hid from the other children until lunchtime was over so they wouldn’t know. I was ashamed of being hungry.

Except for a small group who provide much ammunition to the welfare critics, most of the poor do not feel entitled to anything, and even blame themselves for not doing better than they are. After all, this is America, land of opportunity and the American Dream. Or was. But even though the Dream has died for many, God cannot be co-opted. He lives within the heart of His people. His love shines on us all.

Bah Humbug Revisited

Well, yippee! The release of my built-up negative emotions lurking behind my feel-good front has cleared the air once again and I’m ready to take on Father Christmas, the presidential candidates and the winter storm coming in for the weekend. I mailed my last Christmas card yesterday, giggled about Romney fudging his facts, watched Huckabee trying to walk on water (and drowning) and stocked up on groceries. I’m cozy in my little house and have parked my guilty conscience in the back of my ingratitude journal until it’s time to call it out again. Gee, I can’t do everything at once.

When I was a child my baby brother and I decided we no longer believed in Santa Claus. Of course this was in July. I think we had first begun to doubt the Christmas before, but as December drew closer our disbelief began to waver. Maybe there really was a Santa after all (and if we didn’t believe in him he wouldn’t bring us any presents). That turned out to be the happiest Christmas of our childhood. The following March our Daddy died. And the Christmas after that, we no longer doubted, but knew. There was no Santa.

Except that we learned the true meaning of Christmas through our older siblings. They cared for us, saw that we did not go hungry, and shared their loving spirit with us. If there were few gifts at Christmastime, they were lovingly made and although the tree they found in the woods was so tall it had to be topped, and took up far too much space in the tiny house, we created room for it.

As I enter my second childhood and romp with my wonderful grandchildren, I try to balance my good memories with the harsh ones, for the world requires a balance. Between what I perceive as the good and the bad I hope to see the truth. I’ve watched goodness take on the badness of self-righteousness. I watch the future leader of America and the free world, one of those people on the stump who are making asses of themselves, and I feel discouraged. I watch them attempting to usurp the glory of the birth of the Christ child and claim God’s sponsorship, and I know that He will not be persuaded but will only give us the one we deserve. And that scares me most of all.

So let’s try to be deserving of a strong leader who will truly lead the American people, who will not force his/her own personal beliefs on us but will help us to live up to the ideals of America and the American Creed. And let’s celebrate, each in our own way, the beauty of God’s earth and His gift of the Christ Spirit.

Good Morning, World

And a beautiful world it is, with the streetlight still shining on the new snow covering the old snow’s dirty tracks. As I watch from the window of my warm and cozy house the below-freezing temperature outside bothers me not at all. A friend of mine complains that her heat bill is rising, and I say “But aren’t we lucky. We have heat, and enough money to pay the bill. Some don’t.”

My friend naturally has to agree. How can she not? But, instead of dropping this banality on her head I should’ve written it in my gratitude journal and forgotten about it. After all, that’s what a gratitude journal is for. To fill with stupid remarks that I would otherwise drop on my unsuspecting friends.

Positive thinking is well and good. I’ve practiced it long enough to know. But it’s given negative thinking a bad name. What am I supposed to do with all the negative stuff that is piling up back there, waiting for the dam to break? We need to create balance in our lives and let’s face it, how often does positive thinking keep us from taking appropriate action or lead us into compromising all that we hold dear?

Perhaps that is what’s wrong with America these days. Positive thinking and gratitude journals and all that pablum having led us down the path of unreal thinking. In order to face the truth, an antique expression, visualize an instrument formerly known as the scales of justice before it went out of fashion. Positive thinking lies on one side, negative thinking on the other. Weigh them carefully. If you can get them to balance you just might be on to something.

The Sun has risen and the street light has gone off. I see rabbit tracks across the new fallen snow and wonder if they were made by the same rabbit whose silhouette I saw before dawn yesterday. I wonder, as I often have, whether the spirit of the animals is amused by the human race and our naive assumption that we are the crowning glory of God’s creation.

Bah Humbug

Here it is, only a week until Christmas and I’m trying to find my Christmas spirit. I looked under the bed this morning but all I found were dust bunnies. I heard on the news that stores were slashing prices to tempt people to spend more money. Is that the solution to everything? Spend more, eat more, and waste more? I know. I’m a mess. Here I am, a positive look-on-the-bright-side and joy-to-the-world Christian and I wonder why God even thought we were worth the bother. Why didn’t He just admit He made a mistake when He created man and send a flood?  Oh, that’s right.  He did.  Ha Ha. Well, we’re back at it again. Sinning and hating and tripping over our own shoe laces.

I can’t blame the politicians as they’re just another symptom of the problem with all their blah blah blah. Same old thing. They don’t inspire me and I want to be inspired. I’m ungrateful. I just know Santa is going to put coal in my stocking. Which reminds me. What’s this about clean coal? I grew up in coal country and there’s no such thing, at least not for the people who have to breathe the coal dust. But, of course, those people don’t count, never did.

See what I mean? After I finish depressing anyone who has the misfortune to read this diatribe I’ll return to my sweet old self and sing Joy to the World, off tune of course. I can’t carry a tune in a lard bucket (I’d change that to coal bucket but lard is cleaner). The only good thing about my day is that after I awoke before dawn this morning to let Winston out I saw a dark silhouette of a rabbit against the snow. It stood so still, waiting for dog danger to pass that it stirred my heart. Sadly, I let the day deteriorate from there. But the memory has given me a new resolve. Instead of looking under the bed at the dust bunnies, I’ll remember the beauty of the rabbit in the snow. I will remember. I will remember.

Ethical Lobbyists – Oxymoron?

Anytime I see, hear or smell an oxymoron, my antennas stand at attention. Because I’ve been touched by a parallel universe. It happened yesterday when I saw a reference to “ethical lobbyists”. The world split into two universes and the stink of sulfur reached my nose. In one universe happy lobbyists marched into Washington, pick axes in hand, to the tune of We’re in the Money. In the other universe they’re being welcomed by droves of politicians responding with a hardy rendition of Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

Do I exaggerate? I hope so. Lobbyism started about forty years ago as a respectable consulting business by two partners who decided to use their knowledge of Congress and the federal bureaucracy to help businesses and institutions. The idea proved to be so amazingly successful, money wise, that Washington became a humongous magnet drawing everybody with a pick axe to the nation’s capital to make their fortunes.

In the beginning there was no question about ethics, which was taken for granted. After all, this was America and our elected representatives in Washington were there to represent its citizenry, their almighty constituents. But as time went by and those elected to office saw the extent of the coffers of the lobbyists, ethics became, for many of them, of lesser concern. Just a buzz word, you might say.

There has been an explosion of the lobbying business. The Center for Public Integrity estimates that nearly half the ranks of former Cabinet officials, members of Congress and staff members who’ve left since 1998 have become lobbyists. Also, that the number of former congressmen and agency heads turned lobbyists has doubled in the past ten years.

For many, the time served in government work is becoming a training ground for real careers as lobbyists, where the big bucks are–we’re talking millions of dollars a year. Congress has an evolving door provision, set now at one year and going up to two years in January (some think it should be set at five years) which may be the reason Trent Lott is leaving now instead of later. If he becomes a lobbyist, as is pretty certain, he will be the first senator in history to leave midway through his term to lobby. Some suggest it’s so he can beat the one year extended time in January and can begin to lobby as early as next Thanksgiving. During the waiting period he can work as a “consultant” and start making the big bucks right away.

All of this is in the universe we now inhabit. But what about a universe where Ethics stayed in place, where ethical lobbyist is not an oxymoron but exists unequivocally in an alternate reality? In September 2007 a new, supposedly tougher ethics bill was passed and signed by the president. It was put together by those of our representatives who are trying to connect with this other universe. I pray they will be successful as I still see pick axes everywhere.

Beware the Ghosts of Christians Past

“If we take you with us,” he said, in solemn words, “It can only be as believers in our creed. We shall have no wolves in our fold. Better far that your bones should bleach in this wilderness than that you should prove to be that little speck of decay which in time corrupts the whole fruit. Will you come with us on those terms?”  Joseph Smith in The Country of the Saints — Arthur Conan Doyle 

Here we stand, at war between the past and the future, still fighting the same old battles. When are we going to learn that religion and politics don’t mix? I don’t care if it’s the Church of Christians Past or the Church of What’s Happening Next, religion is a private choice. Government is what we have to agree on, and good government takes work. Mix in religion and we might as well throw away the last two hundred plus years of progress.

Although all formal religions should be shown respect none should have special influence within the government from the seat of power. That includes the Mormon religion (which is also Christian and believes Jesus Christ is the son of God, by the way, something that’s been misunderstood) as well as believers in Creationism who want it taught in the schools as an alternative to Evolution.

Romney and Huckabee are both Religious with a capital R. Yet they will both tell you they can carry out their presidential duties without inserting their religious beliefs–these two men to whom Religion has been such a core part of their existence. Romney served as a missionary for two years and Huckabee was a former Baptist minister. We aren’t talking about faith.  Millions of Americans have faith, even Faith with a capital F.

Although we call ourselves a Christian nation and rightly so, our foundation is built on freedom of religion, to such an extent that in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president people had the unfounded fear that the Pope would rule America from Rome. But there the similarity to the current situation ends. I’m sure most would agree with me that JFK was not Religious with a capital R. He was only a believer and follower of his religion, not a propounder taught to induce people to his beliefs. By nature of their callings both Romney and Huckabee are propounders.

Since we want a leader who has high morals, it’s tempting to believe morality goes hand in hand with religiosity. But just look to the past and sadly you’ll know, it just ain’t so.

If Thou Dost Shed One Drop of Christian Blood

If it weren’t for the lady in front of me wearing the big red hat I could see the stage better – An observer in the audience

I got a big kick out of Karl Rove’s advice to Barack Obama, published in the Financial Times yesterday. I was also amused by the fact that television news is abuzz with speculation as to why Bush’s Brain is giving pointers to a Democrat on how to beat another Democrat–“calculating and shifty” Hillary. Apparently, Mr. Rove has missed being in the limelight lately.

Well, he’s right up there on center stage now while we in the audience sit open-mouthed, waiting for the next scene. Since Rove has always reminded me somewhat of Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, I’m wondering if he’s trying to manipulate events so that he’ll get his pound of flesh from a hated Democrat come November 2008. And of course, if he is Shylock, young Obama could only be the merchant Antonio (perhaps in this case the sacrificial lamb) confident his ships will come in and his flesh remain sacrosanct. But alas, Antonio’s ships are lost at sea and Shylock demands his pound of flesh.

But wise Portia (played by Hillary, of course), who is disguised as Antonio’s lawyer, will save the day when she announces that the law allows “no jot of blood” to be drawn. She will thus save Antonio’s bacon – er–I mean flesh from the evil Shylock, who will, in the end, get his just desserts. Wow! This is really high drama! I only wish Shakespeare were alive today. Just think of all the material going to waste!