Entertaining something more …

Spirituality. Active belief in God. Faith containing both experience and resultant action. These immediately bring up suspicions, fears and even instant dismissal. I understand that and I know why. People have communicated and advanced visions, pictures, ideas, sayings, instructions and life-leading direction, advice for others, words from the dead and all manner of extra-corporeal (that is, outside of “normal” experience and life) phenomena. How can all that be parsed and made sense of?  And if it cannot, is there anything spiritual that can be reliably projected?  Also, the political leanings, decisions and life-styles of those who claim themselves “spiritual” may well dissuade anyone from even considering experimentation let alone discipline in these matters.

So a Bible verse like this:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to that person, and cannot be understood, because they are spiritually discerned.

might well be taken as exclusionary. But I want to make sure you know you are not excluded as I tell some of my story and bring up common objections to faith and its practices:

Spiritual anencephalus

I recently heard Bill Maher interviewing Ross Douthat who was reporting on poll data concerning the church and Christian spirituality. Multiple times, Bill used the phrase “otherwise intelligent people” with no hidden meaning that he considers spiritual matters unintelligent and thus, wasteful of time and effort. I have read others who have said that belief in God was like believing in a childhood imaginary friend. Ignoring the derogatory nature of these slams and the pride they exude (to be sure, believers can be just as proud or worse), they articulate a problem we all have in understanding spiritual life: Do we need to become anencephalic (having no brain – a condition of newborns, almost always fatal) when we do spirituality?

No. The brain engages. And communicates, listening and speaking and experiencing all that is happening. One thing that does happen is that attitude about cognition changes. A know-it-all becomes a know-some-of-it or a know-nothing-in-order-to-hear. And a different part of the brain becomes engaged in an exchange of words and thoughts. It’s not like “My Favorite Martian” with the antenna coming up from the cranium:

Image result for my favorite martian antenna going up gif

… because it can happen at any time, but it involves thought and intelligence that often exceeds that of mere logic and witty intellect.

Belief – instant or progressive

Bible verses and faith statements and sayings can come across as an assault on one’s spiritual state or lack thereof. I really want to be sensitive about that because I come down heavily on the side of progressive faith. That is I strongly believe that people grow in belief. For sure there is a seed of faith I believe all humans possess and that seed must be watered via some action taken. But my story is one of a long chain of events, experiments and perceptions that together form a combined basis for faith.

Space doesn’t allow for an accounting of all of these, but I will relate one I had this past weekend – yesterday as I write this.

People may think that people of faith never doubt – the opposite is true – we constantly doubt. We have the writings of Mother Teresa and have her doubts with us. So I have been in a state of doubting God’s care for me as an individual. The doubt goes beyond an engineer’s calculation of my being one of 2 billion people “vying” for God’s attention. It’s an assault on the character of God – that God does not care about me as an individual. Well, I awoke on the lake where I was staying and was the only human witness to this dazzling display on the otherwise fog-blanketed water and shore:

GodWink - 10-15-17

Now as soon as images like that get linked to a spiritual tenet, people start mocking. There are those, after all, who see angels and entire apocalyptic scenes in cloud formations and get all excited. I have similar reactions to their revelations though I try to be very kind.  So why is this case different?  Well, the context (some fairly intense prayer and seeking), timing (it lasted 5 minutes) and even the attendance (that is, me alone) of the event all combined to make the point that it was something special for me.

And that may serve to display the idea of progression, for there is a long list of “coincidences” in my life that establish both the existence and personal nature of God. As I said, I cannot list them here, but suffice it to say that after a while, were I to make the argument of happenstance and accuse those in faith of being childish, the coincidence stance itself becomes the childish one.

Righteousness, sin and judgment

I know, here is where a lot of people will just get off the train. That’s because there is such a thing as spiritual malpractice. Most religions teach that there exists a higher plane of morality and ethics than is practiced on planet earth. And many actually condemn people for not attaining that level, all the while their most ardent proponents and practitioners have lives that are anything but exemplary of the tenets they espouse. Not to pick on Catholicism – I have dear and vital Catholic friends – but Woody Allen described his experiment with the Catholic church as “die now, pay later”. I hope at least some can smile and nod.

But it is a fact of my life and all human lives that we fall short of purity, ethically clean and morally good thought, speech and behavior. And we know it. At least some of it. The other half is that we know when we have been hurt by others. So even if we wouldn’t call it “sin” we would certainly agree offense has been done both to and by us causing damage that may last a long time.

And if there is a spiritual law that transcends all religion and belief systems, it is that of retribution.  What goes around comes around.  You reap what you sow, etc.  It works on the positive side as well, for there is “pay it forward” as well.

It is is the offer of faith to rectify this aspect of life – the guilt and debt. We need a remedy for our own culpability, and for the damage of what has been done to us as well. Jesus attacked this problem head-on, not mincing word about our state and not just stopping at talking about it. He died to fix it.

Image result for jesus on the cross

Now, there are many, many who insert their own judgment for that of God. They assume the guilt of others but their own innocence. These people don’t want people to be free and forgiven; it would upset their personal reign. There are also those who wallow in shame, never rising above the acknowledgment of their dark deeds and supposing those actions define them. Both extremes, as well as a host of other misreads and misapplications can pollute and hide the biggest reason to be a Christ-follower.

Because there is freedom. And forgiveness. And reconciliation, peace, love, joy and all the rest.

This is not the accomplishment of an imaginary friend. Real blood was shed. Real miracles happened, including the miracle of my life.

Invitation

I would therefore like to invite anyone reading this to entertain something more in life rather than only wake-eat-work-party-sleep. Because there is more and there are riches found in a life of faith. Even a faltering, wobbling sometimes-trudge that experiments and experiences God.

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The unliberated Christmas tree

I attended Brandeis University in the early 70s. For my freshman year, there was some controversy about the mass acceptance of “townies” – those from the same town of Waltham, MA – into the school. I knew of no one who applied who did NOT get accepted. It was hypothesized that the school wanted to make some amends for recent political stirrings on campus. Anti-war sentiments were very high at the school, and among the offshoots of those leanings came a group of students who robbed a Boston bank and killed a police officer. They intended to use the stolen $26,000 they gained to overthrow the US government.

I am very grateful for the blessing of attending the school; it was a great experience. It was agreed that I should live on campus, at least originally, and so I moved into a dorm room in September 1971. My roommate was Oliver, a gay Puerto Rican man from Brooklyn. Getting to know him and both communities he represented was a very rich part of my time at Brandeis.

Among the Latinos I befriended were many who had not just liberal, but radical politics. Hailing from some of the most repressive nations in the Western Hemisphere, many of them had family or friends wiped out by those regimes. They were also largely anti-American, at least anti-American government (in that they were in the right school). They were uniformly poor people by US standards. Yet intelligent and good students. Many had lived in NYC, though some came from Latino communities in the south. They were almost all on hefty scholarships, which I thought and still think was great.

I remember one instance when the older brother of one of my friends came to visit the school. A strong anti-government, anti-establishment discussion was brewing and I recall his objection, saying “No! I love my boss. I have a good job and it pays for my family to eat and someday my children will go to a school like this and I will pay for it!” He was regaled by most as a traitor to his people and culture, though his point was made nonetheless.

Most of all, I remember the love.  They would address each other and speak of another in the third person as ‘dito Lydia, ‘dito Edwin.  It was short for “bendito” – blessed.  The closest thing to it in English would be “dear” or “dearest” which was and is so foreign to common speech as to invite skepticism or even ridicule.  But it was completely authentic – they meant it.  From the heart.  And then they started to call me ‘dito John.  It was so beautiful it made me cry.   I had taken Spanish in high school, so I knew a little of it.  But I never heard “simpatico” used in a sentence.  Though it sounds like “sympathetic” it is much more than that.  It’s love that condescends without shaming or belittling.  Today I would say it’s Jesus coming to earth and dying for us.

Part of their culture, part of their group mindset, held that stealing was okay. They reasoned that since everything good in life was out of reach financially, they were themselves the victims of theft, so “liberating” (code for stealing) goods was perfectly ethical. And they would have actual examples of being targeted by agents of “the system” that were perfect descriptions of corrupt government and policing. So, they would sometimes show me clothing they had left on while in the changing rooms at clothing stores, sneaking it out under their outer clothing. And they had other methods.

Since I was a townie with occasional means of transportation, I would act as chauffeur to my friends, though they would humor my gringo presence well enough. We loved each other; let’s be plain about that. I don’t remember whose idea it was – certainly not mine – that my family car would serve as a getaway vehicle for the liberating of a Christmas tree, but it somehow blossomed into a plan without my having much say in it.  The dorm had a need, and no one had the money so ..

I believe it was a Sunday night that we were to do the deed, and we pulled up to the unguarded lot where the trees were. Suddenly I was unanimously nominated to do the actual stealing. It was a moment of truth for me – a true double bind. I wanted these people to be my friends but come on, I’m no thief. Part of the latter conviction came from the grace of getting caught 100% of the times I had tried to steal as I grew up. And I didn’t share the same mentality about theft.

Image result for christmas tree lot

The Christmas tree remained unliberated.  And I guess I let them down.

My parents later revoked my rights to using the family station wagon to drive anyone around, another grace.

Given today’s biggest qualification – back then it didn’t matter to anyone – I have no idea as to their legal immigrant status at the time. Many were Puerto Rican and were certainly allowed to live in the US.

But I will say this. I loved and still love these people. Stealing is wrong, not because you might get caught. And if your politics justifies it, you need to adjust your politics.

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.   Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

That is, though there exist reasons that people might resort to theft, it is wrong.  Period.

As a result of knowing my friends in school, I do understand that mentality. They weren’t making up their stories of poverty. Nor were they trying to establish their culture or Spanish language over English. They were just struggling for an identity as a people – without shame and without stigma.

Much later I would learn about a theological branch called Liberation Theology.  Even in that, I would learn, there is imbalance and a hardened, corporate victim mentality.  The balance is that God does move on the hearts of people to help the poor.

Though I have lost touch with them all (that actually happened by senior year), in my little way, I was glad to give my friends my love. And I was glad I chickened out with that Christmas tree, because that was a small gift to them as well.

Sanity and mercy for the alien

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy

The third beatitude spoken by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount hits at a key double standard that plagues humanity. That is, people universally want mercy extended towards them but adopt stances that lack mercy towards others. Christ repeatedly linked the incoming with the outgoing, because it’s the foundation of community in a human condition where people have a strong likelihood to fall into destructive and hurtful behavior.  So the statement has a flip side – no outgoing mercy, none coming in.

I take it as a given that we all need mercy.

I’m going to write about a hot button issue with the hope of being a cooler head and inspiring other heads to cool off as well. And become exercise more mercy, because they need mercy towards themselves.

As we experience the actions of individuals and groups, we will observe behavior that can offend and injure ourselves or our group. That behavior is widely various and so are its effects.

When the others’ behavior becomes a hot button due to flash points or political arousal, the practice of outgoing mercy evaporates and hearts are made hard.

Image result for quichua milford ma

The current turmoil of sentiment against illegal American aliens is a very good example. Offenses, real and imagined, have energized a movement and candidate to take decisive action. And the backlash of liberal ideology that embraces immigrants then became merciless towards their political foes who they didn’t bother to understand, let alone even consider exercising mercy.

I’m a moderate, which means I have very few political friends – or better put my political friends are actually civil enough to see both sides of the issues. So you know

  • I do understand the problems caused by illegal aliens – lack of tax-paying while consuming services, taking jobs from American citizens, breaking the law by being here illegally, crime and more.
  • I do understand compassion – that these people came to our country for a better life just like all immigrants before them, that they are “illegal” because of laws that have failed and that they have families just like mine.

I’m also an engineer and part of my make-up is trying to solve problems. So I want to advance some ideas, not necessarily new ones but in composite perhaps only lightly articulated. I would ask readers – who mostly fall into the camps described above – to avoid finding a problem with every solution. Mostly because we have no solutions now and the very will to find workable ones is primary to getting out of the current turmoil.

Here are the bones of a plan:

  1. Establish a path to citizenship for aliens currently in the country. Make it attractive and make it well-defined with steps anyone could walk. Start with a social security card to go with a path towards a green card.
  2. Provide a deadline by which people have to sign up for the plan and make it clear that if they fail to do so, they will be deported. I mean forcefully.  Serve strong notice to all known employers of undocumented aliens.
  3. Once the deadline is reached, aggressively go after scoff-laws and have them either sign up or leave. Hit places of employment very hard.  Yes, this is merciful because it advances responsibility.
  4. Reform the immigration laws. Establish reasonable quotas (higher than they are), asylum rules and vetting processes. Provide a method for safe haven for refugees while keeping out those who would harm the country.
  5. Make a 5-year review of immigration law mandatory. That is, times and people movement change. And so should the law.

.. or some set of points like that.

I realize this forgives the offenses of overstaying one’s visa, illegally crossing borders and potentially lying about it.  I don’t do that lightly but as a pragmatic step whose only alternatives both lack the mercy and are too costly on many fronts to make them viable.

And I would definitely both share the riches of my country with others and insist that if they are here, they become part of “us”. Because we need each other.

Can we learn from Bruchko? Please?

We have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Along with the general attitude of gratitude suggested by the holiday is a the history of least a single point-in-time harmony of Europeans and Native Americans.  The image of the two groups in fellowship, enjoying a share meal is seared into the minds of young American children from early age.  And it’s not that inaccurate:

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But it’s also not complete as a story.  Because the whole story mostly features the two group not getting along well at all.

Native Americans were misnamed “Indians” by the wave of southern European explorers who found themselves landing in the shores of the Americas. “America “ itself was a name bestowed upon the new world, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

By most DNA and historical analysis, the tribal groups inhabiting the Americas at the time of the “discovery” by Europeans had migrated from eastern Asia thousands of years earlier. Their distinction as the earliest inhabitants establishes a context for what would follow, but their real origin makes the moniker “Native American” a bit less sticky.

Whoever or whatever existed in the American continents prior to their arrival would be more “native” than they. This does nothing to soften the horrible tale of brutality later practiced against them. I mention their origin only to note that their discovery and settlement of the same land traveling from the east had at least the same aspect of people movement as that of the discovery and settlement from the west by Europeans. And we’ll never know what else it had in common.

I have thought and hard about how the ensuing conflict between the two cultures could have been avoided or lessened. Aside from the Europeans sailing back and leaving the Americas and their residents alone – maybe establishing trade partnerships, say – there was going to be conflict. Consider:

  • The Europeans who came to the New World were discoverers and settlers. Negatively they could be called conquerors, though the European version of conqueror was quite different than these settlers. They were not diplomats or people sensitive to other cultures. There were traders for sure, and perhaps these were the most likely strike a harmonious balance with the indigenous people.
  • Cultures were going to clash. There were many difference, but the principle one causing conflict concerned land. Owning and permanently settling on land was a foreign concept to Native Americans. And restrictions of where could live, hunt, fish and farm were also foreign.
  • There was a profound technological advantage. There has been much said and written about the forgotten (or repressed) advances of the Native American people. In spite of this, the Europeans held a 800-1500 year advantage in development upon their arrival. I do not say that to say that made them better as a people group, though that’s exactly what they concluded. The racist attitudes created an atmosphere that squelched any move for reconciliation.

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Now, Native Americans were not the only people treated poorly by the westward moving whites. Mexicans, Asians and Africans also received prejudice and brutal abuse.

So, beginning with King Phillip’s War, there would be conflicts between the peoples. The Europeans prevailed, supplanting their culture over the land. It is in the wake of that prevalence after conflict that we live today. It can also be said that the conflict is not over – there have been skirmishes that persist even today.

Native American population is thought to have decreased from 12 million to about 250 thousand by the end of the 19th century. Most of the decrease is attributed to disease, but loss of life due to conflict and relocation was awful.

Image result for indian dead at wounded knee

Saying that conflict was inevitable is not to say that cruelty or maltreatment was. The war had atrocities like many others, and after a point, neither side cared much about the culture or even survival of the other.

There have long been voices calling for restitution and restoration but I would hold that neither can occur without allowing Native American culture to dominate, at least provincially.  And yes, that means the war for cultural dominance is still with us.

I will assign value to advancement in technology for the benefit of people without it, divorced from its often-linked cultural domination. Some might call this culturally insensitive; I really just want the best for all people. I believe that the advancement of the human race through innovation and invention is a blessing for all humankind. And yes, not all technology is good or used well, of course. Like all people who are exposed to new things, we do well to be suspicious of the motives and practices of those introducing us to new things.

So how can Culture A be brought up to speed with the blessings of Culture B? And how can the differing elements of culture be reconciled?

I thought about this and one story came to mind.

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It was Bruchko – the story of Bruce Olson who sought out a reclusive tribe of Native South Americans in Venezuela – the Motilones – and not only brought them into the 20th century, but made them a political force to be reckoned with in the nations of Venezuela and Colombia. They kept their land and evolved their way of live mostly peaceably.

And please, if you assign him a stereotyped role as “missionary” you will miss a very important story of compassion and cultural sensitivity.

Image result for pipeline protest

How can this story help us today with Native Americans in the US? I don’t know, but I want to believe it can be done. Because it has been done.

Nothing “senseless” about it

I don’t like war. But when it happens, it doesn’t matter what I like. And if I dub an act of violence “senseless” when it makes perfect sense in war, I practice self-deceit.

We’re watching war, like it or not. We’re at war, like it or not. We have a tough time saying that word “war” because a) the events don’t fit our patterns of territorial acquisition – though they really do – and b) our very neighbors can be turned into the enemy without our knowing. And let’s be sure we fully understand the murderous antipathy that happens in b); body counts tell a vivid story of hatred.

The root of Islamic terrorism is a mix of greed, poverty and broken, missing or dysfunctional government. I don’t mean American or European government, but that in the Middle East from where most jihadists hail. They find Quranic verses to justify all manner of depravity and slaughter. But they recruit those who calculate they have little to lose in life and yearn to be heroes of something. And indeed they do not.

jihadpic

Why then are the targets America and Europe? It’s because those nations are seen – somewhat accurately – as those with interests that prop up corrupt and oppressive regimes while vaunting an un-Islamic culture. Jihad is waged against infidels – those of another belief system. But it’s more than that internally. It’s a tribal-based chauvinism directed against those who have shamed the tribe. And there is no statute of limitations on such feelings of shame – the nations of Europe and America are called Crusaders due to a long, selective memory (indeed there was no America yet).

It is of interest that if America and Europe stopped consuming Mideast oil that China and Russia would continue – propping up those same leaders.

As important as any of those sentiments are, there is one that is greater. It is so strong that bitter Muslim enemies unite behind it. Of course I mean resentment towards the democratic state of Israel. Its Jewish identity offends Muslims. The tragic relations between Arabs and Jews have created a permanent state of war. Of course, who but the Europeans and Americans are those who support Israel? Thus, the lumping. And again, not inaccurate.  Though to emphasize the good sense in supporting Israel – it remains one of the only nations in the Middle East where an Arab (yes Arab!) can vote.

But there’s no getting around it – Western Civilization, for all its flaws and injustices – stands opposed to the caliphates, monarchies and oligarchies of the Middle East. And I have no issue with citing its evolved superiority. I don’t say that proudly because there is no human history without systemic crimes and injustices. But the means in place to address those are further along in the West.

It’s obvious that this war cannot be fought conventionally. George W. Bush said that after 9/11 but no one has gone deeper into strategy beyond better military options. I am no pacifist in this conflict, but if one leads with guns one or uses only guns, then it will only enforce the hatred, ironically because our guns are better than theirs.

So, what to do? There are thousands of lists out there, so here’s number 4903:

  1. Love a Muslim. It is absolutely true that most Muslims are NOT jihadists. They don’t even bite. They need to be heard, understood and loved.
  2. Nix the tribe. Individuals are much more effective to engage with than armies. And I don’t even mean the armies with guns. If I want another to surrender his/her preconceptions, I should surrender mine. Because most of them did not come from me in the first place.
  3. His name is Jesus.  The Crusaders got it wrong.  Very wrong.  This is not at odds with “nix the tribe” because Jesus followers are from every tribe.  He didn’t conquer by force, he did so by dying, loving those who were killing him.  And yes, that’s more powerful than suicide belts.
  4. Work and support justice for the poor. Very few charities get the money to the problem. Find one. Support it. Raise a child.
  5. Become energy independent. Not only in the name of being green, or more natural but because Mideast oil is too valuable to the whole world.
  6. Advocate for better Israeli/Arab relations. It’s a bitter past but not all Arab people are united in the desire to destroy Israel. Nor are all Israelis hateful of Arabs. There has to be middle ground to find here. Support those who seek to find and walk on it.
  7. Pray. Doubtless there are those who are decidedly non- or even anti-spiritual reading this. That’s okay, we’ll pray for you too. These problems are bigger than us all, so I have no problem promoting them to One who can actually help.
  8. Fight and support the fight. Yes this includes supporting the military forces of the West, but it’s also a cultural and moral fight. Learn the truth and tell it – even if it indicts our side and thus pollutes our cause. Truth wins the war.

We have a mess on our hands. Doing nothing is not an option. Jihadis want us dead. It’s a war.

The Hubris of Revision

I read an article yesterday picking on Valentine’s Day. It took down the card companies, the forced and scheduled love, and even the Single’s Awareness Day which it has fostered.

The article said it was fine to celebrate. But somehow it was necessary to find things wrong with that, which is akin to saying “You are free to do that, but you’re an insensitive and ignorant idiot.” At least that’s what I heard.

It didn’t really go into history, and I think that’s because the writer may have found himself attacking something really beautiful. But historical and cultural revision is all the rage.
RevisionistHistory

And I’ll say it – it’s predominantly by the millennial generation.

Now getting history right is good. Let me talk a little about a popular-to-malign figure, Christopher Columbus:

I do think Columbus has been over-lionized, and mostly by a distinct group – my ethnic Italian friends. But the attack on old Chris has presented him without any good qualities. He was, at the very least, a daring explorer. And on the bad side, at the very least, a horrible governor. So now if you celebrate his day – which was always a good day to take off from work – you are a heretic and one espousing pillage and rape.

Not so!! I have no particular connection with things Columbus and I’ve known since 15 years old or so that the Norwegians were the first Europeans to set foot on North America.

So what? Columbus set sail across an ocean not knowing what he would find. His modern critics have the courage to post entries on the internet.

His crew was a collection of tough, morally compromised men who believed they answered to no one, not even Columbus.

I don’t know the details and context of the abuse his crew and people heaped on Native Americans. Neither do his detractors, though they love to find and spit disconnected writings as if they prove their points. We can probably say he at least didn’t stop it. But we don’t know what would happen if he did. There are other explorers who treated the indigenous people they encountered with kindness and dignity. Bartolome de la Casas is such a person.

Columbus had weaknesses – in particular he was a poor leader and governor. His men ran rampant and did their brutal best to ruin the good country and people they had found.

I’m not making excuses for Christopher Columbus. I’m saying he wasn’t as good as the holiday says and not as bad as his modern critics say.

The more troubling phenomenon is the need to revise. To make some points:

1. Snobs revise. C.S. Lewis coined the phrase “chronological snobbery” to describe the phenomenon of a generation declaring its superiority to past generations by applying its enlightened perspective to those living in past centuries. Note that he wrote that in the 1940s – so there’s nothing new about revisionism.  But “snobbery” is an accurate description of the practice.  One thing is certain – that same practice will be exercised by one’s children.  The snobs will be vilified by future snobs.

2. Context and progress matter. In the American south during the slave era, racism was rife. Believing that Africans were subhuman was required to live in a society where they were treated that way. It was wrong, horribly unjust and we live with the wounds of that society to this day. But expecting someone who lived in that society to have the values of 21st century America ignores the economic system in force and the struggle it would take to bring justice. So, reading the words of a white slave owner – like Thomas Jefferson – and coloring them all with a single fact is willfully ignorant and unfair.

3. Injection is fallacy. Like Walter Mitty, those who insert themselves as heroes, retroactively into systems and times of injustice and abuse are day dreaming. It’s so easy to write critically and spew ad hominem vitriol on one’s forebears. It’s an entirely different matter to live under such systems and stay alive to make change. Nazis killed detractors; and the fear that spawned helped poison the minds and actions of an entire generation of German people.  There were heroic ones who resisted, but they did so risking it all.

4. Do revisionists really care? If those writing so critically applied the same energy to the known injustices of today; they would get a taste of the roadblocks and realities of the good fight. That way they would understand better that, for instance, misogyny was once a sea in which entire cultures swam (indeed still swim) and its practice, assumptions and language permeated everything.

Please, let’s revise US. And let’s practice mercy – finding the good and virtue amidst whatever else we might find wrong – with our historical past.

We will then find that mercy triumphs over judgment. Period. And when we need mercy, we will also receive it. There was someone really important who said:

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 2

I need to pop Robin Hood’s balloon here. I like Little John and Friar Tuck. They’re great guys to have on your team.

And in the face of real oppression, the team is well-formed, -purposed and -led. But it’s only a story. Because

  1. Rich people can be very good people with vital talents. I mean they can be charitable and generous.  And if they lack those attributes then they are at least “good with money”.  Their profits are revenues that someone else once had, but so are monies that go to charity and welfare.  The thing is, they understand a good investment. And a bad one. They tend to be smart and creative. They are good strategists and tacticians.

  2. Poor people can be very bad people. Regardless of income, they can be just as greedy and oppressive as those “over them” in authority and resource. Despite romanticizing Robin Hood, thieves are generally not heroes. They are thieves. In practice, they steal from their own more than from the wealthy.

Now this is no defense or advocacy of leaving the poor impoverished. Poverty is a terrible problem; an ancient scourge on humanity. And its persistence across the generations humbles all who would hope to address it. As Jesus said, referring to the objection of some to a poor woman pouring expensive perfume over him:

Matthew 26:11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

But the Robin Hood solution will not work. As I wrote above, it’s a lousy projection – the patterns are contrived.  Also, the poor in Nottingham remained poor even after Robin had returned their money. Because that’s often (not always) what happens when poor people – really almost any people – get one-time deposits of money.

So these are brief principles to move towards more effectively fixing things. They have implied action in public policy and yes .. political action. I won’t engage in the nasty banter of the latter here.  Just posit some ideas.

  • Help the wealthy own the problem. I did not say “Make” but “Help”. As in provide an incentive for. The opposite of greed is not deprivation but generosity. One thing we can “make” is to make generosity attractive and in vogue. That would help these best-in-the world problem solvers and investors find ways of developing the human potential of poor people. The trouble is that the rich are not trusted to do anything but make themselves richer. That’s a mistake and a misjudgment. Bill Gates is a good example. He will always be rich, and he stands to gain from some of his investments in human capital. But so what? The guy is trying to cure malaria. Let taxes be paid by hiring and training the jobless. And by investing in civic and human infrastructure in poor communities. Borrow from the Incan mita system, allowing taxes to be paid via service. It can be done; we just have to want to do it. And stop the worthless class warfare.

  • Change entitlements. I did not say “Eliminate”. The poor need help, but Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made poverty worse, the jury is in. Avoid the right’s equation of all aid being handouts (= irresponsibility). But also the left’s sacred cow of assuaging guilt by spending money. Neither is helpful. Aid needs accountable focus.  The physical operation of the system is archaic.  Waste and fraud need elimination by doing away with paper transfers like stamps and physical vouchers. A single card could be used to provide benefits, say. Tracking and strongly encouraging/promoting life-progress should be a component of any benefit provided. People who can work must work. Slant towards making benefits conditional using the strategic like education and job-skill attainment. Of course there are people who do and can not progress, but that is a particular class of benefit. Clean up and streamline government agencies administering such benefits. Open up competition to such agencies in the private (or faith) sector, if necessary, to make them efficient and diligent where need be. Some of this has been and is being done; do it all the more.

  • Let Friar Tuck help. Bar none, the most efficient and effective charities are both faith-based and Christian. I make no apologies for the plug. And I advance the conviction that “faith-based” is neither a negative term nor one laden with any toxicity. The Salvation Army already receives government funding, for example and they preach the gospel. Values-based exclusion of the contribution of faith groups to helping the poor is ignorant. It shows the projection of other stories (than Robin Hood) onto the landscape. Inaccurate and unfair. And values are ALWAYS being advanced when aid is given; it’s only a matter of whose.  Indeed, Robin Hood was a friend of Friar Tuck for a reason – it even legitimized his work.

  • Involve the people. I mean all the people, not just those in “government”. Class-ism is as bad or worse a problem as poverty, since it destroys a nation. Anti-immigrant people need to know an immigrant family. Anti-poor need to know one that’s impoverished. Anti-rich need to have spend time with those who own yachts (plural) without money on the conversation agenda.

Sherwood Forest is pretty but not a good place to stay warm and dry. And though we may find evil tyrants and heroic thieves, there’s a whole lot more people who really care out there.

I don’t just believe that, I’ve seen it. Psalm 112 is recommended reading.