Friday, August 24, 2012


I don’t know too many ways that we can measure all of the disputes about the current economic environment in the United States and determine who is to blame for it; but I have one very personal measurement that seems to reflect my own status, and I think it is a valid reflection of our economy in general.

When George W. Bush took office at the beginning of his second term (January 20, 2005), I already had retired. Part of my retirement package was a 401(k) account with my former employer. That account has been invested continuously in an array of mutual funds through all of these years with no deposits and no withdrawals. I think my 401(k) probably represents pretty well the status of our economy’s growth and tribulations during the last seven-and-a-half years.

On George W. Bush’s second inauguration day, the value of my 401(k) exceeded its cost basis by 4.7%. That’s nothing great, but it did show some growth had occurred through the years of ups and downs in the market. When George W. Bush left office on January 20, 2009, and Barack Obama became president, the value of my 401(k) had dropped from a positive 4.7% to a negative 21%. In other words, my retirement account had lost $1 out of every $4 during Bush’s last term. As of today, three-and-a-half years into Obama’s term, my 401(k) account has not only regained the 21% loss , but it now stands at a gain of 9%. In other words, I now have $4 in my account of every $3 I had when Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009.

I know these results only reflect the investment environment, and I’m sure that many working people (and especially those who have lost their jobs) have faced a much different financial situation. Yet the reality is, that in spite of a hostile opposition party that has refused to take the obvious blame reflected in the losses of the second Bush administration, Barack Obama’s leadership has provided a turn-around in investors’ confidence in the future of our economy. I suspect that if we had a collegial atmosphere in Congress instead of an intransigent, uncompromising Tea-Party stalemate, we would have seen even better results in our economic progress.

I cannot in good conscience support a party or any candidates who think that they can get elected if they injure the economy and place the blame on the opposition party. In my eyes, that is “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” Aesop recognized the fallacy; I hope the American public can as well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesus and the Health-Care Debate: A Non-partisan Call for Compassion and Mercy

I am beginning to despair that we can have a rational, non-partisan discussion about any significant issues in our current political environment, and that is especially true of issues that relate to the poor. The only way I can see around this polarization is to shift the discussion from how we address our concerns for the poor (the programs, budget, and apparatus of our welfare system) to the underlying issues of why we are concerned about the poor, the hungry, the needy, the disenfranchised, and the aliens in our midst (i.e., those general categories of the needy to which the Bible so often gives attention). Focusing on programs and methods without consideration of the compelling motives that must undergird our efforts will always lead to disagreements, disputes, misunderstandings, suspicion, and partisanship.

In a recent series of Bible study lessons, my friend Dr. Janice Catron pointed out that two emphases are central in Scripture: loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (she called this “simple-minded, single-hearted worship of the Lord God”) and loving your neighbor as yourself (which she simply called “caring for one another”). These two emphases are distinctly separate, but they also are inextricably bound together. In some ways God is the “theory” and our neighbors are the “practice.” The former is “abstract” while the latter is absolutely “tangible.” Some do effective and compassionate ministry for the poor and needy without the “theory” of a divine imperative. Others so emphasize the “abstract” that they never connect the heavenly vision with the earthly compulsion toward tangible action. I am afraid that without some kind of moral imperative we will never give adequate attention to the needs of the poor. On the other hand, I also am afraid that ministries to the poor will never succeed without some moral expectation for personal responsibility and ultimate self-sufficiency.

Self-centeredness is evident on both extremes of our economic spectrum. The rich resist efforts to take their money via taxes to help the poor. Some of their objections are so strong that they will aggressively contribute to groups and organizations that advocate withholding or limiting assistance to the poor. I suspect their contributions far exceed what their tax bills would be. On the other hand, many welfare folks have a sense of entitlement to government assistance and “disability” payments. They think they are entitled to everything they want or need without putting out any effort—including full cable TV service, mobile phones, and their “smokes.”

In my next few posts I want to explore two passages in the Gospel of Luke that I think will help us to put these issues in context. Two of Jesus’ parables will give us some basic principles that will help us incorporate compassion and mercy in our perspectives and our actions.