Saturday, December 31, 2011

Class Warfare, Calvin Coolidge, and the Great Depression

Sometimes I wonder, are people stupid, or just willfully ignorant?  Many times I’m forced to think it’s the latter; enter author and correspondent David Pietrusza and his Op-Ed piece for titled “Class War—The Calvin Coolidge Response”

Of course Pietrusza starts off with a predictable story line, rambling on and on about how Obama has instituted a “war” on the upper class; Pietrusza even says America “no longer enjoys a peacetime economy. I speak not of Iraq or of Afghanistan. I speak of the class warfare economy officially imposed on the nation in Barack Obama’s Osawatomie speech.” He tells that Obama’s policies have been "tried everywhere. And has failed everywhere.  It leads to the guillotine—and, ultimately, back to the poor house.” Well, besides the ridiculously over-the-top suggestion that Obama’s policies will lead to people getting their heads chopped off, I can’t help but wonder how Obama’s policies will lead to the “poor house.”

'Calvin Coolidge, Thirtieth President (1923-1929)' photo (c) 2008, Cliff - license:
After getting in his rhetorical cheap shots in on the President, Pietrusza then goes on to explain what a great example President Calvin Coolidge should be to us; Yep, Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, in office from 1923-1929.  Despite being pressured to raise taxes on the rich, Coolidge resisted.  Coolidge succeeded in lowering income tax rates that had skyrocketed during the wartime Wilson administration. A booming economy resulted. Inflation and unemployment nearly vanished. The budget was balanced. The national debt reduced.” Oh, and there was this “Great Depression” thingy immediately after he left office.

Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey, authors of the presidential biographies found on, tell that “Coolidge demonstrated his determination to preserve the old moral and economic precepts amid the material prosperity which many Americans were enjoying. He refused to use Federal economic power to check the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition of agriculture and certain industries.” Sound like any other former President (Bush) or current Presidential candidates?   

It would be unfair to blame the entire recession on President Bush’s policies (despite the willingness of some to blame it entirely on Obama), yet it is curious that just like Coolidge, who exited the White House just before the Great Depression, that when Bush’s presidency also ended a horrible recession immediately followed.   So, it has me wondering, should we really be praising the economic policy of a President whose term directly preceded the worst economic depression in American history?  Yet this is exactly what conservatives would have us do, continue to keep up the status quo, to continue the practices that Coolidge and Bush both promoted.   It’s hardly a surprise, for just like it was back in the “roaring 20’s,” the wealthy have been incredibly successful over the last 10 years and why would anyone want to change that?

I really, really doubt that David Pietrusza is stupid, I don’t think he’s willfully ignorant, nor do I even think he’s being blinded by his own ideology—I wonder if it’s much simpler.  Pietrusza knows what’s good for him and those like him, and he knows that any changes to the economic policies under which he has benefitted will likely negatively impact his bottom line.  So should we blame a guy for only caring about himself? Well, that up to your standard of morality (last I knew selfishness was immoral), but misappropriating history to support your positions—that’s just not cool.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed

I wanted strength and received difficulties to make me strong

I wanted wisdom and received problems for me to solve

I wanted prosperity and received brawn and brain to work

I wanted courage and received dangers to overcome

I wanted patience and was placed in situations where I was forced to wait

I wanted love and met troubled people for me to help

I wanted favors and was given opportunities

I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed

I now realize what I needed was all I ever wanted

A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world

The Disciples of Christ, the denomination I am a member of, has an unofficial slogan that they are a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”  This saying is quite relevant today, for as humans we are broken and living in a broken world.

Many smart people throughout the centuries have spent time thinking and discussing what it means to be broken.  People like Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther have debated the idea that human beings are inherently flawed, or broken; a concept known as “original sin.” The idea of original sin is that each human being, from  the beginnings of life is predisposed to fail, almost like a built in self-destruct function.  This original sin therefore is the explanation for every failure and mess up of humans, for we are inherently broken.

I think we can all recognize within ourselves and within others, times when we have broken ourselves, times when we have made bad decisions which led to painful consequences.  There are so many times we reap the consequences for our poor actions and we find ourselves crawling around on the floor, trying to pick up the broken, scattered pieces of our lives. Some would say this is simply evidence of our innate problem, our inborn brokenness—we are already ruined, we are just digging the whole deeper.

Yet, I think there’s more to it than that, for as often as we may be the source of our own troubles, there is, more than many religious folks would like to admit, things in this world that simply break us.   I’m sure many of us can understand what it’s like to be broken, whether it be by dept, divorce, depression, discouragement, despondency… we find ourselves shattered in pieces, strewn across the room, through no fault of our own.  Financially we did all the “right” things, but the economy tanked and we lost our job and our home, we committed ourselves to our marriage yet when our partner just walked out the door we found ourselves hurt and alone, and despite reading all the self-help books and following the positive thinking gurus, we find ourselves beat down, depressed, discouraged, and defeated. We are broken all right—but it is this world which has broken us.

For far too long in Christianity “sin” was simply a personal problem, one’s problems were only the result of one’s personal failures.  The thing is, Jesus debunked this idea long ago; when he and his disciples came upon a blind man, the disciples asked him whether the blindness was a result of this man’s sin or the sin of his parents—Jesus said neither.  Unfortunately today, many are just as dense as the disciples; in both religious and non-religious circles, when someone is broken, the standard response is that it is the result of some moral failure on their part, that if they had just taken more “personal responsibility” for themselves or had had a better “devotional life” with God, these things wouldn’t have happened.   Slowly but surely many are beginning to recognize that “sin” can be structural—there are systems and schemes in our world that in the way they function inevitably break people. 

Anyone in America who’s been paying attention surely recognizes that there are many systems which inherently break people—economic systems, social systems, family systems.  What do I mean?  Economically it’s when a mortgage company systematically cheats minorities into bad loans and worse rates (remember Countrywide?).  Socially its strict societal expectations of how people should behave, and when they deviate from that norm—like being gay—they find themselves victims of relentless bullying and end up broken (often permanently from a tragic suicide).   As often as we may be the cause of our own brokenness, there is so much in this world that simply breaks us.

This time of year is what is called “Advent” in the Christian tradition.  Advent celebrates Jesus’ coming to earth as a child while also looking forward to a time when Jesus will return again and right all wrongs.  When Jesus was on earth he talked about what things would be like in “God’s Kingdom;” that when God is in charge, when people do things God’s way the hungry will be fed, the poor will have enough, and  the sick will be well.   So in Advent we celebrate Emmanuel, “God with us” in the form of the baby Jesus—we recognize God’s presence among us here and now loving, caring, and working for the good; true incarnational theology.  Yet Advent is also about a looking forward, with a bit of anxious longing, for a time when God’s kingdom will come, when God’s ways of justice, fairness, and rightness will be the rule of the day—as opposed to the pain and brokenness which is caused so often by the world we live in today.

We are a broken people, and that is why I am glad to be a part of a group that has as its stated mission to bring wholeness to this broken world.  The other day someone asked me what salvation meant, and I’m beginning to think it’s as simple as this, wholeness—for when someone who has been utterly broken begins to find healing and wholeness, that is true salvation.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A sports fan’s NFL magic carpet ride just came to an end.

Professional sports are the ultimate reality TV show; between the multi-million dollar personalities and the non-stop media coverage, this is as real as it gets.  There’s drama, intrigue, surprise, suspense… often all in one game.  Professional sports is the ultimate live event, for there really is no telling what may happen;  and there is just something special about seeing it live as it happens—in person or on screen—that makes it so entertaining. Sports are one of the few TV programs people watch live anymore; it’s easy to DVR a show or movie, yet watching a game on tape delay just isn’t the same.  Besides just the difficulty of avoiding the results of the game (“earmuffing”), there is the general let-down of fast-fowarding through all the tension filled drama.  There’s the 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, the 3rd and goal in the 4th quarter, the last-second shot attempt, and so on.  What makes sports great is that it happens live, in the moment, and as fans as spectators our heart races, we move to the edge of our seats, and we turn up the volume as we anxiously wait for what will come. Professional sports is a about enjoying the present.

This current NFL season has given sports fans some great moments, from the 13-0 Green Bay Packers to Tim Tebow’s magical ride with the Broncos; these two stories alone are perhaps the best examples of what makes sports great.  As sports fans we long to see greatness, whether it be the Jordan’s ’96 Bulls winning 72 games, the ’98 Yankees winning 125 games and a World Series, or Justin Verlander lighting up the speed gun and in so doing make so many batters whiff.  We watch sports to see greatness happen.  We also watch sports to see the unexpected happen; Villanova shocking Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final, Boise State pulling the “Statue of Liberty” play to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and The Dallas Mavericks beating the Miami Heat’s big three of James, Wade, and Bosh in the NBA Finals.   We also watch sports to see the unexpected happen—for as much as we want to see the best at their best, we also love the upset, we love seeing the little guy knock off goliath.  The 2011 NFL season had, up to this point given us both.

The Green Bay Packers were 13-0 entering this Sunday’s game; an offensive juggernaut and a defensive-takeaway machine, the Packers showed no signs of slowing. All talk centered around whether or not the Packers would rest their starters after this weekend’s assumed win over the Chiefs or continue to strive after a perfect season.    The Denver Broncos were 8-5 entering this Sunday’s game, having started the season 1-4 and being left for dead after a week 7 trouncing by the Detroit Lions, the Broncos had somehow managed to win 6 straight games and take over first place in the AFC West due to some Tim Tebow magic, some great defense, and some incredible special teams play. 

This Sunday both of these magic carpet rides came to an end; the Packers shockingly lost to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, able only to score 14 points against a team which had just fired its head coach. The Broncos meanwhile, after racing out to a 16-7 lead, promptly turned the ball over 3 times in a disastrous second quarter leading to 27 straight points by the Patriots.  It was a disappointing Sunday for myself and any other true sports fan.  Not only did one team trip up when they were so close to true immortality and greatness, another team came up lacking when the big boys came to town.  Rather than getting to see greatness (the Packers) and the unexpected continue to happen (the Broncos), we had to see greatness lose some of its shine and see normalcy return.

All is not lost; the Packers are still incredibly talented and with any luck will use this loss as a springboard into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl, where they will be able to display their greatness for all to see.  The Broncos too still have a stingy defense and a ridiculously competitive quarterback who with a couple more wins can get into the playoffs where once again, we will hope to see the unexpected.  

This is what I want for Christmas as a sports fan:

A dominant run to the Super Bowl by the Packers with a great performance by Aaron Rodgers, accomplishing what Brett Farve for all his greatness could not do—win back to back championships.  What a great sight that would be to see! 

More gut-wrenching, hand-clinging, heart-racing, last minute games and wins by the Broncos and Tim Tebow. At this point I don’t expect them to do much beyond making the playoffs, yet it’s that suspense of knowing that this is a team from which to expect the unexpected which makes this team so exciting to watch!

So while sports fans lost a chance to see a team go 19-0, and another team make yet another improbable win, sports fans will continue to watch, for we know that these teams give us what we really want to see in sports; greatness (Packers) and the unexpected (Broncos).  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Straight Talk For Conservatives and Liberals: Tim Tebow Explained

After reading article after article written by partisans who neither understand football nor understand Tim Tebow, I’m taking a shot at it.  Being that I’m a former conservative, a current liberal, live in Denver, and am a Broncos fan, I think I can offer some fairly unbiased perspective.
First there was this article from Sojourners in which author Joshua Witchger describes himself as “not a football fan” yet proceeds to write an article on football.
Then there’s conservative Fox News pundit Todd Starnes complaining about all the “anti-Christian bigotry” coming Tebow’s way.  Cry me a river Todd.
So here it is, straight up,  for conservatives and liberals alike:

Quit getting upset that people don’t like Tim Tebow’s evangelical message; in case you didn’t realize this, it’s pretty polarizing.  I know conservatives agree with it, and that’s fine, but telling people who don’t agree with you that they will  be tortured forever after they die just for not agreeing with you isn’t a good way to make friends.  “We can agree to disagree, but you’re wrong and you’re going to burn forever.”

Tim Tebow took some heat for “starring” in a pro-life commercial funded by Focus on the Family during the Super Bowl.  Besides being completely cheesy (he tackled his mom!) the commercial really wasn’t provocative at all.  Being that when Tim’s mom was pregnant with him doctors suggested that she terminate the pregnancy out of concern for her health, is it so unbelievable that he would actually be advocating against abortion? The guy wouldn’t be here if his mom had listened to the doctors. 

Tebow isn’t being “picked on” by the sports media—it’s their job to say something interesting, that’s what they are paid to do.  It’s like Rush Limbaugh, do you really think people would tune into his show if he said something to the effect of “Obama is a nice guy, but I don’t agree with his policies, but I imagine he’s doing what he thinks is best, even if I disagree. “ NOPE! Instead it’s something like, “Obama is a leftist, socialist intent on destroying the fabric of America and I hope he fails.”  These sports media folks are, like Rush, entertainers first and foremost, it’s their job to say something interesting, and if it garners more attention, all the better.
Tim Tebow hasn’t been pushing himself into the spotlight; he hasn’t sought out attention for himself.  He turns down countless interview requests every week. He didn’t ask for all the attention, so cut him some slack. It’s not like he’s Lamar Odom starring in a reality TV show or Terrell Owens taking of his shirt and doing crunches in his driveway for the media.

Yes, it is annoying that he says “first and foremost I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior…” EVERY TIME he is interviewed! But it’d also being annoying if he said, “first and foremost I’d like to thank Zeus.”  It’s not so much what he says; just that he says it OVER and OVER again. We got it Tim!

Just a reminder, that EVERY time he starts off with that “Lord and Savior” stuff, before talking about himself he immediately thereafter thanks his teammates.  And it’s not like he’s trying to go through the whole “Romans Road” with the interviewer (okay, only conservatives probably get that reference). Then at the end of the interview he tells the interviewer “God bless you.”  Whatever you think about Jesus or God, this guy wishing divine favor upon someone seems like an okay thing.

No, God isn’t rewarding Tim with wins because of his “great faith.” Tebow admitted such after the latest “miraculous” come-back. Despite what his dad thinks.

No, God isn’t rewarding Tim with wins because of his “great faith.” Tebow admitted such after the latest “miraculous” come-back. Despite what his dad thinks.

Tim’s a big boy, there’s no need to rally to his defense or assume he’s some persecuted martyr.  He’s mentally tough enough to keep on going after being told his entire sports career that he’s not “good enough.” He’s mentally tough enough to lead come-back after come-back despite having the odds completely stacked against him. Brian Urlacher called him a “good running back” despite the fact that Tebow actually plays quarterback.  When Tebow was told about the comments, he calmly replied that “coming from a really good player (Urlacher) that means a lot.”   And Jake Plummer, no one else took Jake seriously, neither should Evangelicals.  In Plummer’s big shot at stardom he threw three first half interceptions in the AFC championship game then was traded away so a Rookie (Jay Cutler) could start. He’s a nobody who’s trying to say something to get some attention for himself.   Oh and those Lions players who “Tebowed” (Tulloch and Scheffler) have been roundly criticized for their actions (Check out Jemele Hill on

A few weeks ago Tim Tebow’s foundation broke ground on a hospital in the Philippines, where his parents served as missionaries and where he’s spent many summers.  During his weekly radio show on 850 KOA, Tebow said that the hospital was “the most important thing he had done all week,” bigger than one of his comeback wins.  Last week he called a sick kid and said again that it was the highlight of his week, despite yet another big win.

Stop anointing him as the “ideal Christian,” you’re just setting him up for failure; he’s human after all.  When Christians anoint somebody, their inevitable failure just adds more fuel to the fire and makes Christianity look even more hypocritical to non-Christians.  Stop anointing Tebow as the “ideal” Christian.  People are not perfect, quit expecting everyone to be.  You already have a Messiah, Tim Tebow isn’t it.  

Yes, he’s VERY Evangelical, but it works for him.  The guy has some incredible mental toughness and apparently his faith is a big part of that.  And anyway, would you rather have your kid look up to Tebow or Ben  Roethlisberger?  Tim Tebow or Tiger Woods?

Conservatives & Liberals
Tim is starring in a TV commercial in which he wishes everyone “Happy Holidays.” Guess he’s now a part of the “W_r on Christmas.”        

I’ve heard a lot of respect for Tim Tebow on progressive talk radio stations because people recognize despite his strong beliefs he tries his hardest to be authentic and down-to-earth.  Also, people appreciate all the good work he does in the community and in the world.  I wonder if all the criticism of Tim Tebow for his faith is rather a criticism of Evangelical Christianity as a whole, for over and over again Christians have anointed some figure only to have the failure fall. And rather than being caring and authentic like Tebow, Evangelicals have been harsh and judgmental.  Take Tim Tebow out of the conversation, the question Evangelicals should be asking is, why are liberals so “put off” by conservatives?   And the question I’d ask to liberals is, what would it take for you to be more respectful of Evangelicals?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The War on War

There’s the War on Christmas, The War on Christianity, The War on Religion, The War on the upper-class, The War on the poor…

Is this really an appropriate use of the word?  It would be easy to pick on one particular political party for their constant use of the phrase, yet the usage of the word “war” in reference to things other than actual war is a bi-partisan problem.    For every conservative complaint about the “War on Christmas” or “class warfare” liberals come back with phrases like the “War on the poor;” it’s a bit disturbing.  Do we really know what war is?

America is winding down a nine year war in Iraq while another in Afghanistan continues.  In these actual wars, many service men and women have lost their lives, thousands more have suffered casualties, and countless others still deal with the after-effects of war such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  That’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters killed in war—families torn apart, kids growing up without a parent while scores of wounded soldiers learn to function without an arm or a leg.  Oh, then there’s the civilian deaths, which number in the 6 digit range.

This is what war is like—its kill or be killed.

The word War should be an expletive.  Sure there’s the F-bomb, the S-bomb, and even that still taboo C-word; yet what happens in a war is far worse than any of these other words put together.  Men are tortured, women are raped, children suffer brutal deaths—we use the word so flippantly.

Every time we use the word to describe something other than actual war, we disrespect the men and women who have suffered and died in actual war. When we misuse the word we dilute the horror, suffering, and violence that takes place in actual war.

America has been at war for the last decade, wars which have basically been “out of sight, out of mind” from the general public.  Are we seeing the results of a blissfully unaware public in America today? I can’t help but wonder, for when people throw around the word “war” when talking about something other than actual war; it only cheapens the sacrifice of America’s soldiers and softens the horrors of war. 

Next time I hear anything about war, I’d prefer it to be in reference to an actual war.  Even better, I’d prefer not to hear of any war at all—because war is a horrible, awful thing which our world would be far better without.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Rich Fool

The Gospel of Luke tells of a parable Jesus spoke about the “Rich fool.” In the story, the man had a bountiful harvest, so much so that it was more than he could store, he decided the best thing to do would be to tear down his current storehouses and build bigger ones to hold all the abundance.  The man says to himself, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”[1]  Jesus tells that God considered him a “fool,” for after he died his great storehouses of grain would be worthless to him.

This man, by all modern standards, was a wise investor making a prudent business decision.   Similar to the advice any retirement specialist would tell a worker thinking about the future today, he was going to set his resources aside in the best financial portfolio of his day—large, secure storehouses to keep his wealth safe.  Translated to modern terms, he would be putting away all his cash into a well-managed, organized financial portfolio so her could relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  Translated into modern terms, “you fool” still means “you fool.” 

 Though he did not consider himself to be so, Jesus described him as a hoarder.  Despite his organization approach, despite his attempts to be make “prudent financial decisions,” he was simply a hoarder, he could not recognize when he had enough.  It seems to me, despite all that fancy terms and in-depth descriptions given today, all the modern avenues available to save one’s money equal to this man’s storehouses.   And despite what one may call it, “saving for a rainy day, for retirement, for the future…” when it comes right down to it is simply hoarding.  Because what did Jesus suggest later in that chapter as the proper way to live? “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[2] That does not sound like a Roth-IRA to me. 

[1] Luke 12:19 NRSV.
[2] Luke 12:33-34 NRSV