Scale Back Public Aid Programs? Yes and No

Freedom From Want (1942, Norman Rockwell)
Freedom From Want (1942, Norman Rockwell)

A recent NY Times article (“Behind Trump’s Program to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net“) describes how the current administration is seeking to restructure social welfare programs “in a way that would make them easier to cut, scale back or restructure.”

While I’m very much against “scaling back the safety net” that doesn’t mean that reshaping it is a bad idea.
The “safety net” in this country is a complex and confusing web of programs overseen by an often opaque and always byzantine bureaucracy that is frequently underpaid with high turnover.  (This doesn’t mean that the bureaucrats are unfeeling or callous people: you can only do so much when your hands are tied by a forest of overlapping, inconsistent, incomplete, and often outdated regulations and programs.)
In homeless shelters (where I served as a chaplain) I’ve seen people carrying around HUGE binders of information about their case.  They often contained hundreds of pages of letters, documentation, emails, flyers, and forms.

Continue reading “Scale Back Public Aid Programs? Yes and No”

The Need for Humanity in Israel, Gaza, and The West Bank

The people of Gaza have made it clear that all they want is jobs, food, adequate sanitation and healthcare, a safe place to raise their children.  They want some hope for their future; something more than the hopeless and meaningless lives they now have.

The recent events in Gaza are distressing, to say the least: thousands of Gazans attempting to cross the border into Israel, protesting the inhumane conditions in Gaza.  Scores of them murdered by members of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Many of us have seen the videos of IDF soldiers cheering when a sniper shoots a protestor.  We’ve seen people in Israel celebrating the slaughter of their Palestinian neighbors.

This whole situation is disturbing on multiple levels.

For one, many Jews (not all Jews) are seeing and treating their Palestinian cousins as animals: celebrating their deaths, taking their land, murdering and imprisoning those who resist or protest, giving no credence whatsoever to any of the concerns and voices being raised in protest to how Palestinians are being treated by the Israeli State, blind to the injustices that they themselves are visiting upon their neighbors.  They’ve become indistinguishable from the genocidal regimes and individuals that were responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions of Jews in WWII (and before).

Continue reading “The Need for Humanity in Israel, Gaza, and The West Bank”

Compassionate Sanctuary

In 1 Kings chapter 2, the Hebrew Bible speaks of the bloody purge commanded by  King Solomon at the start of his reign.  One of the young King’s targets was Joab.

Joab had been David’s most capable commander: ruthless, zealous, and without an ounce of compassion.  He seemed to be intensely loyal to the Monarchy, but that did not necessarily mean he was blindly obedient to the King.  For instance, a few years earlier he had killed David’s rebellious son, Absalom against David’s wishes; and he killed a rival (and his own cousin) Amasa, whom David had appointed to replace Joab.  Finally, when David died, Joab made the mistake of supporting  a rival claimant to the throne, David’s son Adonijah, instead of David’s [apparent] choice, Solomon.  Not a nice guy, to say the least!

Once he became aware that a purge was taking place, Joab fled to the Tent of the Ark of the Tabernacle, claiming Sanctuary as others had done before him – including David himself.  Upon hearing this, Solomon ordered his new General to kill him anyway; and so Benaiah went into the Temple and slaughtered Joab there.

The modern “Sanctuary” movement embodies this same concept: we can (and should) offer sanctuary to those fleeing injustice.  On the other hand, we cannot (and should not) provide sure sanctuary to those fleeing justice.

In my little New England hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts, this very question is on the ballot in this coming weekend’s Town Meeting: shall we as a town adopt a resolution declaring we are a “Welcoming, Safe Town which resolves to make all residents, workers and visitors feel safe and secure regardless of immigration status.”

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Starman Dreams

Our current economic and social imbalances rob people of their dreams, and it is dreams that we need to have hope for the future.  Our dreams embody our hopes; but if there is no hope then all we have is our nightmares.

The “Starman Tesla” we’ve all heard about in the news has caused quite a stir.  Elon Musk’s launching of his own personal Red Tesla Roadster into space with “Starman” – a Spacesuit-clad dummy – at the wheel has captured the imaginations of many, producing innumerable new internet memes.

On the other hand, a fair number of Progressives and those involved in social justice have pointed to this as a prime example of the imbalances in today’s economy and society.  They say that Billionaires like Elon Musk are throwing away money when they do things like this.  They feel that this is another example of how out of balance our society is – too much money at the top, and not enough for people to meet basic needs, even for many who once saw themselves as “middle class.”  And yet, going too far down that path can lead to error – as it did with Judas the Betrayer of Jesus.

Even so, they have a point: our society is out of balance.

Continue reading “Starman Dreams”

A Women’s March Prayer

Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action

The Women’s March was exactly one year ago today.  And, I’ve been thinking about how it connects with the story of the Cleansing of the Temple from the Gospel of John, where the Temple practices of Jesus’ time are seen as a system that is accepted by all, even though they had drifted far from the intent of God.  But, Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action.  Many are determined to do just that: as we saw in Boston last year, and again (in Cambridge and many other places) yesterday.

Through John, Jesus calls to take a stand against injustices that most accept as “just how the world works.” And so, this prayer is derived from the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who spent his life in the pursuit of justice for the people of El Salvador…

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Who’s Right? It Depends…

We are all valid.  We are all wonderful.  We are all unique.  God made it so.

I came across this fascinating video yesterday.  It was created last year by Hillary Diane A. Andales, a teenager living in the Philippines, to provide an easily understandable explanation of the theory of relativity.  Her video was the winning entry in the “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” of 2017.

What I find most fascinating about this video is its relevance to many of the battles we see being played out in the media and other forums within this country, and around the world, every day.  The focus of these battles always seems to center on the question of “Who is right?”   Ultimately, they are battles over the question of who’s reality is THE Reality.  But, Ms. Andales’ video forces us to ask ourselves whether such battles are worth fighting at all.

Continue reading “Who’s Right? It Depends…”

I’m Not Racist?

We cannot be our own judge.

“No, I am not a racist.”

Really?

The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless.  (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it!  But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)

Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view.  They are an expression of how we see ourselves.  And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life.  So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists.  We’re not misogynists.  We’re not bullies.  We’re not evil.  Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.

In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist.  That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism.  Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves.  We cannot be our own judge.

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Whose Button?

About that button…

Mr. President:

This is not a cock fight.  Neither I nor a few billion other people care one bit whether your “button” is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s, or not.

You took an oath to protect us and our government: you swore that every single action you take while in office, and every single word you speak, will be done with the best interests of us and this country in mind.  Everything you say and do is a reflection of us, and of who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

To act as you have done here is an abdication of your responsibilities and duties as President.  Threatening nuclear war in such an offhand and unthinking manner in response to a blusterous comment (from a two bit dictator who has delusions of grandeur) elevates your opponent and degrades you and your office … and our nation.

We hired you.  You work for us: not the other way around.

Shut up and do your job.

And never forget: it isn’t your button, it’s ours.

– Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2018, Allen Vander Meulen III.

All Men Are Created Equal?

What do we mean when we say “all men are created equal”? And, who gets to decide what “being equal” means?

It seemed appropriate for my final post here for the calendar year 2017 to focus-on and reaffirm the ideals that I see as central to my walk as a Christian (and indeed, for all Christians).  Then ask how those ideals should (or at least can) be applied within the context of the issues of the present time.

Let’s begin with some well known quotes…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
– Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
– The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

The well known maxim “All men are created equal” is itself is a corollary of the First and Second Great Commandments as stated by Jesus…

[One asked] “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” [To which Jesus replied] “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

– Matthew 22:36-40 [The Message]

“All men are created equal” is the foundational principle upon which this nation is built.  Putting that principle into practice is at the heart of the entire purpose of the Constitution and Laws our forefathers crafted for themselves (and us).  And, “All men are created equal” is the standard by which all of our laws, regulations, court decisions, ideologies and leaders must be judged.  It is the standard that lights our way in times of  confusion and discord.

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Conspiracy Theories

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Here’s why I have no patience for conspiracy theories, and come down hard on those who unthinkingly repeat them…

With conspiracy theories, everything The Other says is assumed to be a false front for a hidden agenda.

The Other has no recourse, no ability to challenge what is being said, because anything they say is assumed to be in support of the conspiracy, even if what they say is objective fact or truth.

The Other, and everything they say, is judged as invalid (if not evil) even before they say it because they are seen as invalid for being (or believing in) the conspiracy.

Such thinking led to the deaths of millions of Jews (and others) in World War II, not to mention many other massacres of Jews and other minorities throughout history, all over the world.

Such thinking led to the U.S’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, and to the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 70’s.

And yet, we all do this. Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories”

And Tell Me How This “Tax Reform” Makes Any Sense At All?

About the GOP’s proposed tax reform

The talk is all about how we need it to stimulate investment and therefore boost the economy.

To this, I have one question: When is the last time you handed out money, no strings attached?

If you want a particular result, you hand out the money with conditions. We call these “performance guarantees.” Look at any contract, you’ll see them there. Nobody in their right mind makes large financial commitments or investments without firm guarantees that their money will be dedicated towards producing the agreed-upon result.

Continue reading “And Tell Me How This “Tax Reform” Makes Any Sense At All?”

Violence Begets Violence

I can understand a church’s desire to protect its’ people. We’ve seen far too many massacres at churches (or anywhere, for that matter).  But, despite that reality, threatening more violence in reaction to violence doesn’t even remotely approach having anything to do with the teachings of the faith.

When relating the story of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemene, Matthew 26:52 tells us that when a disciple sought to defend Jesus from those arresting him:

…Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

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