Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
For years I had the following quote from President Roosevelt tacked on the bulletin board in my office.
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
What is particularly sad about the proposals to make cuts in the funding of these programs is that they are short-sighted. Money spent on early child health care and nutrition saves us money in the future. These expenditures are investments which have been shown to provide good returns. Like the infrastructure investments that we need to make, these investments in poor children and their families are investments in the kind of America that we want.
When I vote next month, I will vote hoping that the people we elect will continue to make these important investments, investments in a better future for all Americans.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Several Kenyans are suing the United Kingdom, claiming that they were tortured by British soldiers during the Mau Mau uprising. Although I had long assumed, as a confirmed Anglophile, that such atrocities could not have occurred in British colonies, I think the claims of torture are most likely true.
Reading about the case got me thinking about the GOP claim that the President went around the world apologizing for US actions in the past. Although the "apology tour" charge has been given PolitiFact's Pants on Fire rating, what is so wrong about apologizing for things our government has done wrong? What is wrong with a bit of repentance?
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Thank you for reminding me about my dependency upon the government. I had not realized how dependent I had been until your recent comments about the 47% were reported. I guess my dependency started very early when, because my mother couldn't afford private schools, I had to depend upon the government for my education from kindergarten through high school. I tried to be self-reliant and attended a small private college, but dropped out half through the first year. Then I was back into dependency, attending a state university. When I took a year off in the middle of college, I was still dependent on the government as I worked in Washington and Wilmington, Delaware in the VISTA program. I was able to escape from government dependency when I spent three years at the Episcopal Divinity School and remain free of it for about fifteen years, although I may not have been as free as I thought as my salary was paid by donations from church members who got to take the charitable giving tax deduction and I lived in church-owned housing which was exempt from property tax. When we bought a house and got the federal subsidy in the mortgage interest tax deduction, my level of level of dependency increased and it got worse when I went to work for county government in Buffalo, New York. I managed to break free again for a decade, but then I retired and became dependent upon Social Security and Medicare.
As dependent as I have been, I do pay taxes. Not only the payroll taxes that even the working poor pay, but also federal and state income taxes. That, of course, means that I am supporting the crippling dependency of other Americans, of those who depend upon government for public schools, for Medicare and Medicaid, for school lunch programs, for fire and police departments, for public transportation, and even for clean air and water. Maybe that means that we are all dependent on government "of the people, by the people, for the people" for so much that is important to us. Maybe depending upon others is not the evil that you seem to think it is. Maybe, if you become our President, you will learn how to be President not only for the privileged and independent Americans, but for all of us, dependent or not.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
One of the messages that has come from this week's GOP Convention is that Republicans are willing to make hard choices while Democrats aren't.
I find that puzzling as there has been little evidence that Republicans in Congress have been willing to make hard choices about the federal budget. Locked into a no new taxes ideology, many in the GOP are unwilling to see that one of the hard choices that must be made is to raise taxes. Budget cuts will not be enough to eliminate the deficit, and the trickle down theory that low tax rates for the rich will magically revive the economy and raise federal revenues is just a theory. What does work is making sure that middle and low income households have enough money to spend. Increased demand for goods and services creates jobs. A million dollars in the wallet of one person does not create as much demand as one thousand dollars in the wallets of one thousand working people.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Friday, August 3, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
1. Mayor Menino did not abuse his authority when he urged the company to reconsider its plans to locate in Boston. Although the letter was on official stationary, he was careful to limit his comments there to his personal opposition to a store in Boston.
2. If the Mayor has said elsewhere that he will block the granting of a license to Chick-fil-A, I think that would be an abuse of his office. It would not, on the other hand, be an abuse of his office if he encouraged people to express their opposition to Chick-fil-A's plans.
We will probably never see more of Mr. Romney's tax returns and we will be left wondering if he is hiding something. But what we do know now is that Mr. Romney's overall tax rate is less than most of ours. That is because the tax code is designed, maybe not intentionally, to benefit those who can afford to hire tax advisors to lower their liability. To eliminate that inequity will require more than eliminating the Bush era tax cuts for folks with incomes above $250,000. It will require a major overhaul of the tax code, one that will not be about soaking the rich, but about establishing greater fairness. Given the size of the the deficits in the federal budget, the overhaul of the tax code may mean somewhat higher taxes for most of us, as it seems impossible to me that budgets can be balanced simply be cutting expenditures. However, I agree with one of the early investors in Amazon that it is middle income households that are the true job creators as they have enough disposable income to buy things. Companies don't hire more workers unless there is more demand for what they produce. Any overhaul of the tax code that leaves more money in the pockets of the very rich and less in the pockets of middle income households will not be good for the economy.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Saturday, July 21, 2012
These words from the Gospel for this Sunday are not only about how Jesus sees the world, but about how we ought to see the world. God invites us to suffer with those who suffer, just as Jesus suffered with those he encountered in his ministry. And like Jesus our suffering with ought to move us to action, not only to bring healing and comfort to those who suffer, but also to work to remove the causes of suffering whenever we can. The move from caring to advocacy is often a difficult one for us. Sometimes the causes of suffering are hard to define. At other times there are political forces that make our efforts seem futile.
We often need courage to move out of our comfort zones and speak truth to those in power. Several years ago a friend of mine was engaged in a campaign to rid her neighborhood of abandoned buildings, some of which had become drug houses. She and others from her Roman Catholic parish had arranged to meet with a housing court judge in his chambers to discuss one particular house. They asked the judge to order the immediate demolition of the house. When he told them that he did not have the authority to do that, my friend said, "Your honor, that response is unacceptable." A short time later, in open court, the judge ordered the demolition of the building.
How are we to show compassion in the wake of the killings and woundings in Aurora? I think we need to get out of our comfort zones and demand what our employees in Washington - the President and the Congress - have been unwilling to give us, sensible gun control laws.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Theology has a bad name in certain quarters. Clergy and laity alike often think of theologians as ivory tower academics with little or no experience of or commitment to the Church. That is unfortunate because theology matters. Although how we think about God is not as important as our faith in God, our willingness to trust God, it does matter. Over the nearly forty years as a person in holy orders, I have a met a number of people who think of God as a stern judge waiting to squash them if they were to step out of line. Thinking about God in that way tended to make them fearful and rule bound, unwilling, to use Luther's phrase, to risk sinning boldly. It also tended to make them judgmental of others, bolstering their own fragile sense of self-worth with the idea that, as bad as they were, there were others, even in their own circle of friends and acquaintances, who were much worse sinners.
We need a revival of theological thinking in the Church, not just in theological schools, but in our congregations. Given how shamefully we have treated the environment and how uneasy many of us are about our own creatureliness, we need to rethink our understanding of the doctrine of creation and of our responsibility as stewards. We need to rethink our understanding of the Atonement, saving it, if you will, from presenting a picture of an angry Father demanding the death of his loving Son. And we need to rethink our understanding of the Church itself, leaving behind both a life boat understanding of it and all of the trappings of establishment and seeing it again, or for the first time, as a community of disciples sharing God's love with the world.
Theology matters, perhaps now more than ever as the Church comes to grips with the end of Christianity's de factoestablishment in North America. We need to learn, perhaps from our Jewish neighbors, what it means to live as diaspora communities of faith, embracing our new minority status as a gift that frees us to engage more freely and fully in God's mission in the world.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
A letter in today's Boston Globe made the interesting claim that the health insurance mandate should not be viewed as a mandate but as a tax incentive. I found the argument persuasive, because we have used the tax code to support and even encourage certain behaviors. Homeownership, saving for retirement, getting married, and raising children are all encouraged by the tax code. Now we can add, if the Supreme Court doesn't rule it unconstitutional, having health insurance.
Critics of requiring or, as I see it, encouraging the buying of health insurance have made a distinction between this mandate and the requirement of havng car insurance. Their argument is that one can choose not to own a car, but the choice of not being alive is very different. I will grant them that, but I think that misses the clear parallel between the two requirements. States require car insurance to be sure that there is money to pay for injuries that occur in traffic accidents. The millionaire could argue that he has enough resources to pay for those himself and should not have to buy insurance, but that argument has been rejected by legislatures in adopting the mandate. The health insurance mandate exists for the same reason, to be sure there is money to pay for health care. In both cases the mandate aims to prevent costs being shifts to other persons, in the case of those injured by an uninsured driver, or to institutions, in the case of a person without health insurance receiving free hospital care.
I hope the Supreme Court doesn't strike down the mandate, but if it does, I suggest that we go back to Congress and get a tax incentive for having health insurance added to the tax code.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Our brothers in the Roman Catholic hierarchy have launched a campaign, Fortnight for Freedom, against the birth control mandate being imposed on religiously affiliated institutions that serve the public. Their argument is that, even though those institutions will not have to pay for the inclusion of birth control in the health insurance they provide their employees, they will still be paying for it indirectly, as, one must assume, will all the rest of us through our insurance premiums.
They are, of course, right, as there is no free lunch. Someone has to pay. However, that is the entangled nature of things in our society and economy. We cannot avoid paying for things we don't like, things that may well be contrary to our deeepest religious convictions. Pacifists pay taxes that support the military. Home schoolers pay taxes that support public schools. Texans who oppose the death penalty pay taxes that are used to execute people. There is no way to avoid this entanglement, as my mother learned when she refused to pay the portion of her federal income tax that went to the Pentagon.
The Bishops have also complained that agencies like Catholic Charities have had to stop providing adoption services because they would be required to provide them to gay and lesbian couples, in violation of the Church's teaching. The problem with that objection is simple: the adoption programs were financed with money from state governments. When you want to use government funds, you need to be willing to follow government rules.
I have some simple advice to the Bishops. If you don't like living in a secular republic where governments have to decide how best to provide for "the general Welfare," I know a small theocratic state in Italy where you might prefer to live. Or, if that doesn't suit, perhaps you might want to stop whining and grow up.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Last Sunday I celebrated the 62nd anniversary of my baptism by presiding at the Eucharist at Trinity Church in Topsfield, Massachusetts. In her sermon, our rector, Jo Barrett, challenged us to think of how the Spirit is leading us - in our personal lives, in the parish, in the wider world. Jo's challenge got me thinking about how the Spirit might be leading us in this election year, not how I feel myself led as I decide how to vote, but how all of us are being led. What came to me, and maybe it was of the Spirit, is how much we need election campaigns with no demonizing of any of the candidates or those who support them. We need campaigns that focus on issues of public policy and the experience and character of the candidates.
I am not optimistic about our getting what we need, but, as always, I can hope.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
There has been, as one would expect, a lot of talk about marriage equality in the past few months, especially since the President's announcement about his support of it. Although his support of it is not surprising, a great many odd comments have been made about it, some accusing him of changing his position for purely political reasons. I happen to think that there is nothing odd about a state senator supporting marriage equality in Illinois, but deciding not to do so as a US senator. Different roles often call for slightly different positions. What should be obvious is that the President has been a supporter of the rights of Americans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
More troubling to me than the critical comments about the President's position, have been assertions that marriage equality puts us on a slippery slope to accepting polygamy. Most of those who make these assertions are Christians, arguing that same-sex marriages are inconsistent with Biblical marriage. Of course, anyone who has actually read the Bible knows that there is not just one pattern of marriage seen as acceptable. However, these critics of marriage equality do get one thing right. Over time Jews and Christians came to believe that monogamous lifelong unions were, if you will, God's will. In western democracies these have also been accepted, with perhaps some waffling on lifelong, as the one kind of relationship that deserved legal recognition. Sadly, what we have now in the US is both lifelong monogamy and serial monogamy. There is, I think, no reason to believe that marriage equality will do anything to increase the incidence of serial monogamy. It will not destroy what its critics like to call traditional marriage.
There are two qualities of marriage that I think are just as likely to be true in same-sex as in opposite-sex marriages, and may, for a variety of reasons be more likely in same-sex marriages: mutuality and fidelity. When a couple marries in the Episcopal Church, they include in the statement of their intention to forsake all others. I often like to point out to couples that the others should include anyone or anything that becomes more important than one's spouse, but the most obvious meaning of this is that what the Church describes as a union in "heart, body, and mind" is intended to be exclusive. I think one reason why fidelity is essential is because without it mutuality will not be possible. Even with fidelity, most married people find mutuality challenging at times. This may be particularly true for men married to women. Patriarchy is still a powerful force in society and it is often very hard work for men - and at times women - to leave the father knows best mentality behind. Mutuality means, as a colleague once said in a wedding homily, that it's not about me, it's about her. If I am in the relationship to get my own way, to get my needs met, then I am not committed to mutuality. While all healthy relationships do involve mutuality, the mutuality that is intended in marriage, that union of heart, body, and mind, is not possible in polygamous relationships. We cannot give ourselves wholly and unconditionally to more than one person.
Like the domino theory on the 1960s, the slippery slopeargument against marriage equality sounds hollow. What rings true, and what the wider society needs to hear from Christians, is our support for lifelong monogamous marriages marked by fidelity and mutuality, our belief that it is such marriages that most of us will flourish.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
I bullied another student when I was in junior high. I only did it once. A friend and I decided to gang up on a classmate we didn't like, although I cannot remember what it was about him that we didn't like. Things went as planned until somehow the boy we were bullying got me down on the floor, sat on my chest, and punched me in the nose. My nose broke and I learned a lesson.
Not that bullying was wrong, but that I wasn't much of a fighter.
I learned the more important lesson much later as I began to hear stories about kids who didn't fit in being bullied. Perhaps Mitt Romney hasn't heard those stories or hasn't made the connection between the bullying that happens every day in America and the "pranks" that he did when he was at Cranbrook. Maybe Romney doesn't think bullying is serious. It is and what Romney and I did as teens was wrong. Not a a little high spirited horsing around, but ugly use of power to hurt and humiliate another person.
I like to think I was lucky to have had my nose broken that day in junior high. Maybe if I had succeeded in my bullying I would have kept on doing it. If the stories from Romney's fellow students at Cranbrook are accurate, he was a more successful bully than I. As hard as it can be to own up to our bad deeds, I think Romney would do us a great service by admitting that what he did was bullying and join other leaders in taking a stand against bullying