Morality in Chains: Where are Christians in The Midst of Suffering?

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells the famous and what some refer to as the “least of the these” parable. Jesus tells his followers that the actions you take towards those society condemns as the “least” desirable are remembered deeply by God. Jesus is letting all those who seek to be Christians and live like Jesus must always remember that how we interact with the poor, orphans, widows, disabled, prisoners, etc. will serve as a testament for how we view our relationship with God. In essence, if we love God we will love those that society rejects as “outcasts” and “undesirables.”

In a nation filled with people that profess to be Christians it’s worth taking a second to reflect on a study commissioned by the Industrial Workers of the World. The Study (https://incarceratedworkers.org/news/new-report-documents-poor-quality-food-and-health-care-prisoners) is filled with first hand accounts of the horrors prisoners suffer on a daily basis. From food devoid of any nutrition, to Prison Nurses and Doctors purposely withholding medically necessary treatment, the report is shocking.

Some may be quick to do the cliché “they are criminals. They chose their lot in life why should I care?” However, as a country where the overwhelming majority claims to be Christians are failing to live out his vision.

Lets belabor the point so we can truly think about what this report says regarding our countries moral health. Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry garnered a reputation for befriending people labeled as “undesirable.” From Prostitutes, thieving tax collectors, to even the prisoner who was hung on a Cross next to him, Jesus was never far from those who have been rejected from society as a result of the poor choices they have made. While society runs away from people who are different, rejected, or “odd”, Christ made it a point and commanded all who love him to run towards people whom others would call “deplorable.”

I remember reading a passage from renowned Theologian C.S. Lewis that has stuck with me for years. He was asked about society and the impact strong moral values can have on those countries Social Policies. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it essentially was that “you will know if a country is moral by looking at how it treats its most vulnerable people.” I agree that prisoners have chosen poorly. Left-wing assumptions aside I will even agree that maybe they could have chose better decisions. However, when one becomes a prisoner they instantly become vulnerable. They instantly become what radical Theologian Cornel West might refer to as “blues people.” They become vulnerable to violence, sickness, and depression. They become people that Jesus would most certainly label “the least of these.” I pray we do better as a country to correct this evil. I pray that Christians stake their lot with “the least of these” and end this nightmare.

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Finding Truth in Cliché

More and more I ‘ve come to believe that we can find some of the sharpest social criticism in the sometimes vulgar, lowbrow, comedy of Family Guy. In one scene there is a “cut away” to an anti-war activist shouting, “We need to ban nuclear arms. You can’t hug your children with nuclear arms.” The intent is to highlight the sometimes-overwrought cliché that are attached to social and political protest. As a self-proclaimed “Christian pacifist” I admit that even I found it funny to laugh as such a “corny” statement regardless of the political sentiment.

While reading the news and following updates on President Trump’s attacks on Syria I expected to read and hear a lot of familiar cliché. I expected my daily diet of left-wing commentators to shout things like “food not bombs” and “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I agree with these statements but they are used so much their meaning seems stale and a bit useless.

While reading one of my favorite commentators I saw the often-used left-wing cliché “budgets are moral documents.” This commentator was speaking of the government’s budget that included sharp increases on military spending with sharp decreases in social welfare spending. The cliché here is that we can understand the morality of our elected officials by seeing which programs they choose to fund and which programs they cut. While I’ve read, and probably have used, this cliché a thousand times it stuck with me as I thought about the missile attacks on Syria.

Journalist Will Bunch made a point in his column on the “differences in priorities” that the U.S. government was taking with its policy on Syria. Bunch noticed that

“Two numbers really stand out regarding the Syrian missile strike. The first is 105- the number of cruise missiles fired at Syrian targets Friday night, an arsenal that has a cost of roughly $200 million dollars. The other number is 11- the grand total of Syrian refugees that America has accepted so far in 2018. In other words, the number of missiles we fired into Syria because of our concerns for their suffering people is nearly 10 times the number of people we’re willing to offer safe harbor in the United States.”

I believe that Bunch has found the truth that is buried in the often-used cliché. We see the morality of our leaders in the policy decisions they have made.

The context of all this and how we think of policy prescriptions should be centered in scripture. I thought of the verse in First Chronicles 29:14, where King David is thanking God for choosing to save his people from their misery and injustice. King David is so thankful that God has extended his mercy on his people that he observes, ““For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you. For we are aliens and pilgrims before you, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.” I know that things are dark for the people of Syria right now. But as a Christians we are nothing if we don’t become like little children and surrender ourselves to “hope.” My hope is that as Christians we will push our decision makers to take a holistic approach to this problem and embrace solutions that promote life. I pray that Christians across the world bear witness to hope and help our Syrian brothers and sisters.

 

 

 

 

The Social Gospel in The Sunshine State

Last week I had the chance to embark on the quintessential American “family vacation.” We did what so many New Yorkers do this time of year and set out for the warmth of Orlando Florida. Aside from taking the kids to various Disney parks we set aside some time for relaxation. While taking my kids to the hotel swimming pool I met a very nice father of two from England. We made some polite remarks, I had a book with me so I have to admit I was hoping he didn’t want to have a lengthy discussion, but I could tell he did.

My new British friend inquired if I knew what time “shuttle service” at the hotel ended. I informed him that I wasn’t sure. He went on to explain that he comes to Orlando every other year with his family; however, this is the first time he has stayed outside of the very pricey “Disney Resorts.” Out of curiosity I asked him what he does for a living and he explained he is a public school teacher and that his wife is a “stay at home Mom.”

As he returned to his hotel room with his children and we exchanged friendly formalities to end the conversation I was struck that this simple civil servant can afford this luxury that so few Americans can (for the record we saved up our money for awhile to be able to afford our trip). I wondered how he can afford to regularly take his family to, what I heard one Mother of three staying in our hotel refer to as “the most expensive vacation destination on earth”?

I started to notice while conducting a very unscientific personal survey, the amount of people from Europe who were on their family vacations in Orlando. It made me think of a scene in the Michael Moore film “Where to invade next?” in which he talks with an Italian couple. The husband is employed as a police office and his wife works in a department store. However, the couple comes to America on vacation at least once a year. In the film they were planning on spending a week in Boston. While as a diehard Yankee fan I have no explicit desire to visit Boston I did think that its astonishing how an American like myself has probably seen less of his country than an average European citizen.

Does any of this matter? Well, while reading an article online I came across something that speaks to my social observations. According to Gallup “out of 25 European Union countries only nine have a fifth of their adult population who report attending religious services weekly.” Compare this to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, which has found that as many as “40% of American Adults attend weekly religious services.” Contrast this with Labor Lawyer Thomas Geoghegan who observed on a recent trip to Germany “Unlike the United States, Germany has strict labor laws that prohibit a lot of retail stores and other business from being open on Sundays.” I started to think what happened to the supposedly “Secular state of European Society”?

Titus 1:16 provides an interesting line that speaks too much of what occurs today in American Civil Religion. The scripture reads, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny them.” Simple scripture but it speaks a lot to how Americans approach our social reality. In much of the world our high levels of Church attendance, high ranking politicians who are publicly known for their faith, and overwhelming poll numbers that show American’s are “more religious than others” I wonder if Titus is speaking of our country?

After my British friend left I was thinking of the Social Gospel and Martin Luther King jr (it just so happened that the day of our conversation occurred on April 4th the anniversary of America’s leading Christian Pacifists assassination). I started to wonder if we are a nation of people that have “conformed to our world” rather than a nation of Christians who have taken Jesus’s words to heart in becoming “transformed in this world.” I pray that we all become transformed and work to build a heavenly community built on the basis of Social justice and Christian peace.  A nation that works to enhance health family and community life regardless of how this impacts our countries “bottom line.”

 

 

 

 

 

A Bob Marley Easter

As a social worker you essentially get paid to give advice. As an extremely anxious human being who happens to be a social worker I’m often afraid to give advice. So instead of advice I usually tell my clients stories and hope somewhere in those stories they find some nugget of enlightenment that helps them along the way.

One client (lets call him Ken), who as a result of his struggles with opioid addiction was living in the homeless shelter I oversaw, once asked me if I thought it was possible to change so late in life? As the uber optimist I told him “absolutely. It’s never too late to make a change.” However, since that conversation I’ve sometimes wondered if I was telling him the truth. I must say that when considering his years of imprisonment, rehab stints, and length of stay in local homeless shelters I did think maybe he was one that would never get his “act together.”

While packing for our family vacation I was listening to music and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” came on. I have always loved this song for the truth it speaks. They lyrics speak of struggle, self-realization, and most importantly “redemption.” I began to wonder if someone like Ken would ever have his redemption song. Would Ken always be confined to a life of addiction and struggle?

I replayed the song three or four times and sat down to just listen and reflect. I thought about Easter and Christ’s resurrection and what this meant for humanity. We no longer would have to fear the future. Oppression, injustice, violence, hurt, and loss would no longer have the same power they once had. Christ had completed the ultimate redemption for humanity.

I’m not sure if Ken will ever have his redemption. Sure, Ken has all the opportunities available to “turn his life around” but in all honesty I’m not sure that will happen. Yet, I can’t forget about Ken and his struggle. Easter signifies the start of hope, the beginning of a revolutionary change that interrupts how we relate to the world and each other. Ken may not have heard his redemption song but that does not mean that the tune is not on his playlist.

As Christ ushered in a new paradigm for social and spiritual reality not everyone instantly experienced a complete change in consciousness. If I could go back and speak with Ken (I have since moved on from my job in the shelter and thus have not had contact with Ken in almost a year) I would tell him the truth. I would tell Ken that maybe he is too old to change. I would tell him that maybe he has to keep waiting. However, I would tell him that just as Easter can show us, your redemption song could be played. We just can’t always be sure of when.

The Radical Wisdom of a Child

I have to admit that when it comes to being what some would consider a “progressive parent” I probably don’t win any awards. Sure, I try to teach my kids the importance of Christian love, charity, social justice, etc.. However, I sleep pretty soundly at night, even after hearing my son tell me he killed 45 people with direct “head shots” on the XBOX.

I also am guilty, along with a great many other parents throughout the history of Western Civilization, of assuming that my children are not really all that interested or attuned to what is going on in the world. So when my son asked me the other day if we can attend the “March for Our Lives” gathering in Washington D.C. to protest gun violence, I was a little surprised.

As a Father I try to be very small (d) democratic. For all my parents neo-conservatism I always appreciated their Laissez Faire approach to their kid’s social and political beliefs. I always promised that I would do the same when I had kids. So when my son expressed his desire to attend I was unsure how to think about this. Is he really concerned about gun violence? Does he want to go because a famous you tuber or reality star will be there? Am I a bad Dad because I never talked about my personal beliefs on gun control? Should I create a PowerPoint and go through the pros and cons of gun control policy? Should I share with him Jesus statements on non-violence? Should I just calm down and be “normal”?

Like so many things in my life I couldn’t shake a desire to explore this with my son in greater depth. I immediately summoned him an asked him his views on things like poverty, war, racism, and the chances of Loyal Chicago winning the NCAA Championship. His response, all kidding aside, was very simple. He explained that “anything happening to me that will make me sad, scared, or upset is something we should make the President work on. The President needs to make bad things stop so that people can have good lives.”

My son is not part of the 44% of millennial youth who told researchers they would prefer living in a “Socialist Society.” He isn’t old enough to have had a wiled eyed lefty professor like me influence his worldview (in a bit of interesting information, in the study where 44% of students expressed a desire for Socialism over Capitalism, the majority stated that their views were not influenced at all by their college professors or teachers.). My son is an expression of what Christ tried to teach us so long ago when in Matthew 21:16 he told the Disciples “From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise”

We should listen to our children more. We should learn from their wisdom. We should imitate Christ teachings when he said we “should be like little children” when we seek to enter the peace which passes all understanding. Their wisdom could change the world.

 

 

 

 

Walking by Faith Not by Sight!

 

This blog is a step of faith. I always thought of myself as a “writer”, however, I haven’t really ever written anything. Sure, I’ve written a billion papers from years as an undergrad, Masters, and Doctoral student, but they weren’t what I would consider to be real “writing.”

I define “real writing” as anything that someone who looks like they enjoy the films of Woody Allen would do to earn a living. Since I only slightly like Woody Allen, full disclosure I love ‘Midnight in Paris’ because its like a Freshman English Class come alive, I’ve never written anything that would garner someone to give me a dime for my written thoughts.

I started this blog because I think I have something to say. I know we all believe that our opinions matter and that our observations are so smart they should be shared with the world. What makes me different, at least I think this makes me different, is that I’m 32 years old, married with four kids, overly educated in the social sciences, underpaid, and still unable to shake the burning feeling that my opinions are worthy of being read by the masses. This blog is essentially a “participation trophy” that I hope to turn in to a “most improve award” as I try to leap start my “writing career.” It’s the product of a liberal, we are all winners, and you can do anything you put your mind to, public education system run amok on word press. I hope you enjoy!

I think what will make this blog different is that the narrator, aside from being chubby and handsome, is a bit of an odd duck. I describe myself as a thirty two year old Born Again Christian/Pacifist/Socialist/Budding Scholar/Wannabe Intellectual/Not So Progressive Father and Husband. My life as a “die-hard” Born Again Christian with a passion for the Frankfurt School, Marxist philosophy, daily scripture readings, and professional wrestling, make my opinions wide ranging (maybe).

This blog, like so many clichés is a result of the times we are living in. As someone that has a deep faith that dictates the minutiae of my life I feel like voices like mine are missing from the popular and not so popular mainstream/underground media. I think success for this blog will be sitting back and saying to myself “yea, I would read a blog like mine if I was a guy like me.”

Anyway, this is the launching point that will hopefully set the town for the many blog posts to come. Putting your thoughts out to the universe can be a scary act. You have to start somewhere so why not start now.