Personal and political decisions impact others

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by Burton Carley

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

One cannot separate the life of the spirit from how we are bound together either economically or politically. Whatever ails the spirit will also infect how we are in right relationship in all areas of our common life together as a people in a nation, state and city. If greed becomes our god or individualism at the expense of others then we will find ways to justify our self-interest no matter how ruinous to the greater good.

Rigid ideology and demonizing those with whom we disagree lead to dysfunction. Right ideas become more important than people. Statesmanship that serves the common good is abandoned for a partisanship willing to sacrifice others for a cause or party. Arrogance than cannot imagine being wrong takes the place of a humility that comes with being a public servant. Power that is not accountable is tempted toward corruption.

People can bear almost anything if they have a moral reason. People will make sacrifices if they are fair in scale and provide concrete results. Clarity in bipartisan leadership that offers hope rather than polarization will provide a way forward. Understanding how our personal and political decisions have an impact on others is essential to our being in right relationship with one another.

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Much is required of one to whom much is given

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by Albert Kirk

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

There are moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to every aspect of our lives. The role of the faith community is to do the hard work of discernment. To recognize what is going on in our communal lives, to name both grace and the presence of evil. The economy is not magic, even though its global manifestation is very complex. The economy is a human creation and we CAN do better. The finger of responsibility cuts across our usual lines of demarcation. Participants in every shade of political persuasion are called to conversion.

Two principles of Catholic Social Teaching seem to bear directly. One is concern for the most vulnerable. In some aspects the global economy seems weighted in favor of those who already have much. Should not the economy seek to bring others into this abundance? Another principle is the responsibility of every person to participate in communal life. Depending on one’s health and age, each person should share in the duties that we call “making a living.” At this moment, we need more jobs, so that all can make a contribution. Again, the Lord would seem to put responsibility on those already blessed who have the resources to create employment opportunities.
Much is required of the one to whom much is given.

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Stealing from the poor

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by Val Handwerker

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

With a growing disparity between the very rich and the rest of the populace–in our own nation and abroad–the great saint in the early 400s captures the New Testament vision as regards economic woes: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.That’s guidance–for politicians and for the rest of us as people of faith!

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This world is not our home

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by David E. Leavell

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

Living within your means is a moral/ethical value that individuals and governments must learn.  If there is any consolation, we are not the only country deliberating issues of this magnitude.  Ultimately, we must understand that this world is not our home.  After this life we are ushered into eternity.  Living life with eternity in mind gives purpose, meaning, and significance.  If this life is all there is, there would be much depression and hopelessness.  When one understands eternity and forgiveness in Christ, one can be hopeful even in the midst of difficulty.  In Christ, we are overcomers!

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Our nation is great because we take care of those in need

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by Nicholas Vieron

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

Please forgive me for the following naive suggestion.

Why do people such as I who can’t balance my little checking account, are ready to give financial advice to the world? Of course the truth is, I can not.

But I can suggest something simple which no politician, for obvious reasons, would be ready to make. And that is this: Our Nation is in difficult financial straits. If some people on the low financial ladder, such as an old retired clergyman such as I, are ready and willing to have their taxes increased, why not all of us in a proportional manner be willing to support our Nation?

As a priest however, I would make this comment: Although history has shown that great nations, empires, have fallen, if we in this benevolent Nation which has been “the hope of the world” because of its humanitarian manifested efforts, continues to take care of those in need – for here is true religion: “to protect the
orphans, to embrace the widows, to feed the hungry….” – then we will eventually find ourselves liberated from this current financial problem.

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Blind absolutism is a sign of failure

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week by Mark Matheny

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

It is not enough simply to point out that we have been through hard times before and somehow we will make it through these. That might be true, but in many ways, we are in an unprecedented situation. Regardless, moral failure is rampant. One of the worst signs of that failure is in the blind absolutism of many politicians.

God help us! I believe God will, but we must embrace a unity borne of loving one another.

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Is there no balm in Gilead?

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Stacy Spencer

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

The crops are in, the summer is over, but for us nothing’s changed. We’re still waiting to be rescued. For my dear broken people, I’m heartbroken. I weep, seized by grief. Are there no healing ointments in Gilead? Isn’t there a doctor in the house? So why can’t something be done to heal and save my dear people? ( Jeremiah 8:20-22 The Message)

I keep wondering if this intense heat will ever lift. Today there is a pleasant overcast with a promise of rain. I never thought I’d be relieved by an overcast. Many of us keep waiting for something to break while we sit under an overcast of dissension, political jockeying and economic uncertainty. All of the gains we made in the Dow Jones this year have been lost, our school system is closer to being consolidated but yet still divided, and people are still looking for work with threats of more layoffs. Memphis feels like Israel when Jeremiah said, “the harvest is past, the summer has ended and we are not saved. Since my people are crushed; I mourn and horror grips me.”

In the midst of all that is going wrong in our world, I’m still helpful that there is a balm in Memphis as well as the United States of America. Jeremiah asked a rhetorical question when he asked “Is there no balm in Gilead?” He knew there was a balm, that is a medicinal extract from a tree in Gilead, he just didn’t know why his people didn’t have access to it. We have the ability to create one equitable school system in Shelby County. Why are we still divided? We have the ability for every person to get healthcare. Why are we still arguing over Universal healthcare? We have the ability to bring our troops home. Why are we still fighting? We have the ability to create jobs by focusing our energies on rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Why are we sending more jobs overseas?

A house divided against itself cannot stand. The sooner we can come together for the good of the people, for the good of the children, for the good of the least of these we can see the balm or the healing we need for our city and nation. The way we see that relief get to where it’s need the most is to put into practice what God told Jeremiah for the people of Israel in Jeremiah 7:5-7: Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing. Be fair in your treatment of one another.6 Stop taking advantage of aliens, orphans, and widows. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop worshiping other gods, for that will destroy you. 7 If you change, I will let you go on living here in the land which I gave your ancestors as a permanent possession.

The effects of healing in our city and our land have been blocked by self interest, partisan politics, and a lack of concern for the least of these. Whether it’s an unjust shooting by police officers in London, five million starving people in Somalia unable to get food and water, or unemployed teachers in Memphis, we must put our difference to the side and create an equitable school system, create jobs for our people, bring our troops home, and work together for liberty and justice for all. In short we must heed what God said to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14: 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. New International Version (NIV)

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Economic woes and Biblical principles

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Peter Gathje

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

Biblical economics has three fundamental principles, both of which are being largely ignored in the economic policies and practices of the United States and indeed the world today.

The first of these principles is that the economy is to serve people rather than people serve the economy.  Another way to put this is that the economy is not God, and human beings are not slaves to economic life.  Instead, as both the stories of Genesis and Exodus show, the economy is part of God’s creation over which human beings are to exercise stewardship.  This principle of human liberation and stewardship urges that people come before profits, that compassion and justice come before competition, and that we need to respect both our dignity and our limitations as creatures in relation to the whole of God’s creation.

The second of those principles is that in God’s bounteous creation there is more than enough for everybody if people do not hoard but rather share.  This might be called the Manna Principle after the story of the manna in the desert.  The Israelites were fed by God, but they were commanded to not keep what they did not need for that day. The same Manna Principle is evident in the feeding miracles of Jesus in the New Testament in which he feeds large crowds with evidently little in the way of food. He begins by thanking God for the food that is present, and then commands his disciples to begin sharing the food. Lo and behold, there is more than enough for everybody.

The third principle of biblical economics has been called the Preferential Option for the Poor. This principle urges that all economic institutions and decisions are to be evaluated by how they help or harm the poor. Jesus, in Matthew 25:31-46, clearly states that the nations will be judged by how they treat “the least of these.” By this standard our national and world economy are utter failures.

Evaluating our economy and the world’s economy by these three principles it is no wonder that we are experiencing economic woes.  God has revealed to us in many stories, commandments, and prophetic pronouncements that our economic life is to be guided by these three principles, and we are by and large ignoring them.  We will flourish economically if we live by these principles.  We will destroy ourselves if we do not.

Each day at Manna House, a place of hospitality for homeless people, I see firsthand the destruction caused by the ignoring of these three principles. Many of our guests have been broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually by slave-like work that paid little, demanded too much, and cared nothing for their well being as humans.  Such work is part and parcel of system of greed that violates the Liberation and Stewardship Principle along with the Manna Principle.  Their lack of access to housing, medical care, mental health care, food, and clothing reveals the continuing violation of the Preferential Option for the Poor.

How might we begin to turn things around, to change our economy to reflect these three principles? There is need for both political organizing and personal change. Consistent with the first principle of liberation and stewardship, people of faith must reject any economics that would put human dignity second to economic life.  Corporate capitalism is as bad as communism. Both overly centralize economic power to the detriment of human dignity.

Thus consistent with the Manna Principle, we must work to decentralize economic power through re-distributing of wealth, breaking up of monopolies, and encouraging local production and consumption of goods.

And finally, reflecting the Preferential Option for the Poor, we must create an economic life that cares especially for those least able to care for themselves, and also one that does not exploit and victimize people in the first place.

None of these goals are easily attainable.  Our current economic system took years to build and will not go away without years of political and economic agitation. But we can begin by choosing political leaders who will seek to craft economic policy ever closer to those three principles, and by creating in our own lives alternatives to the dominant economic structures.   We can already begin to refuse to be defined by economic life, to redistribute wealth, to produce and buy locally, and to share our lives with the poor. There is no law against any of those, but there is biblical support for each.  We can build a new economy from the ground up.

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A holistic approach to governing

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by André Johnson

These are fretful times. The economy seems to be in another tailspin. We’re witnessing gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around. Are these difficulties strictly economic and political, or are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes? How are these difficulties affecting the people you serve?

All economic and political issues are profoundly moral, ethical and spiritual, but that is the point—many of us do not believe this foundational premise. When we see the financial chaos happening in our nation and around the world, upon closer inspection, we also can discern spiritual, moral, ethical and theological premises as well. In other words, a theological position and belief that supports the interest of the powerful and wealthy at the expense of the poor and marginalized can only produce a system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The insistence of tax cuts for the wealthy (yes if you make $250,000 a year while the other 98% in this country do not, you are wealthy) and tax cuts and tax incentives for corporations, while at the same time cutting or gutting programs, jobs, and other services for the working class (no middle class) and poor is a symptom of a moral and ethical belief rooted in “God favors those who are wealthy and well off.” As Jim Wallis reminded us a while ago, “Budgets are moral documents” and we see politician’s morality in the budgets they support.

However, I would like to challenge our leaders on a local level to start first with the poor. What I mean by this is that for any budget, bill or law that you will have to vote on, ask yourselves, “How will this affect the poor?” This should be the question first and if they poor will suffer more than they are before the passage of the item, then maybe it needs to stay in committee a little while longer.

However, here is the irony of the whole situation–what if we could solve our financial problems by taking a “bottom up” instead of a “top down” approach to governing? Not only would we help the poor and working class, but also the rich would benefit too. A holistic approach to governing would incorporate shared sacrifice because it also would acknowledge that we are all in this thing together and that one group cannot continue to have all while the other group continues to have “little to nothing.” But then again, that would call for us to challenge our religious leaders to think of “new” theological paradigms that would lead our politicians and us to see differently.

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Why the world still needs the empty tomb

August 12, 2011 in Are there moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions to our economic woes?, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Chris Altrock

Gridlock in Washington, panic on Wall Street, riots in London, high unemployment and budget cuts all around.  The recent crises in our world turn my mind back to the tomb of Jesus. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright writes about the significance of the resurrection: “Jesus was raised from the dead to inaugurate the final chapter of God’s renewal of the cosmos so that one day heaven can come to earth.”  That is, God brought life from death and restored wounded flesh and bones at the tomb as the ultimate illustration of what he’s doing with the entire cosmos.  Jesus’ story is the climax of a much larger story that starts in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve and their rebellion throw the entire universe off center and decay and death and evil start to reign.  Ever since that moment, God’s been recreating and renewing us and the world.  He’s been taking dead things and breathing life into them.  This work climaxed at the resurrection.  And according to Wright early Christians believed that “God [is] going to do for the whole cosmos was he had done for Jesus at Easter.”  The resurrection was God’s announcement that this is what he intends to do to the entire world.

In Col. 1:20 Paul writes about this.  He says that through Jesus God is reconciling to himself all things.  One definition of that word “reconcile” is this: “to bring back a former state of harmony.”  In other words, it means to bring everything back to the way it was created to be.  To bring everything back into its right relationship with God and with others.  To bring everything back to its right function and role in the world.

Just think of this: There was an ideal way that governments were to function (the opposite of gridlock), an ideal way in which economies were to operate (the opposite of free-fall), an ideal way in which people were to relate to one another (the opposite of riots and looting), an ideal way in which families were to live, an ideal way in which marriages were supposed to thrive, an ideal way in which friendships were to be rich and rewarding, an ideal way in which work was to be fulfilling, an ideal way in which companies were supposed to operate, an ideal way in which churches were to function, an ideal way in which nations were to relate to nations, and an ideal way in which people everywhere related to God.

Through Jesus God is working to bring back everything to that ideal state.  And the resurrection was God’s way of demonstrating that even when things look dead and broken beyond repair, he has the power to breathe new life into them and restore them to their original and intended state.  That’s what the empty tomb was about.

The tomb thus comforts me.  It reminds me that although things look dead and broken beyond repair, God has the power to renew and restore.  God can fix what appears unfixable.  Nothing that hits the headlines is beyond God’s glorious Easter power.

Even more, the empty tomb calls me to action.  The story of Jesus and his people did not end with the tomb, as if we’re all just waiting around for God to do now what he did then.  Instead, the story continues with a band of Jesus’ followers spreading out across the world joining in God’s renewal efforts.  The story moves into its next chapter as the people of God partner with Him in repairing, restoring, and recreating.  The empty tomb reminds me to play my part in that work.  It calls us all—Congress, citizens, families, administrators, diplomats, economists, business owners, etc.—to join together and participate in the ongoing Easter activities of God.

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