Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tomorrow I will perform my third funeral in a month. A fourth was celebrated by a one-time member of my church by a close friend in a neighboring church where she had moved her letter several years ago. On the news this morning the death-toll in Haiti is expected to go well into the hundreds of thousands, hundreds more have died in Peru, the middle east, and who-knows-where-else.

Tonight the man whose father I will bury tomorrow called me. His little dog had three pups, her first litter. I get one of them.

Life in the midst of death. Life even from death. If it weren't for that hope life would indeed be absurd and meaningless for me. No wonder we always eat a lot at funerals!

Middle Class

Obama wants to defend the middle class. He wants tax breaks for the middle class and tax burdens for the upper class. He wants health care reform for the middle class. No wonder. He didn't come from the middle class, virtually none of our presidents did. But the middle class put him in power and if he's going to weather the defeats of the Democratic party in these midterm elections he's got to go back to his power-base, which is the middle class.

But who are the middle class? By his definition it is those who make between $250,000 a year and the poverty level of almost $11,000. That's a large spread. I have good friends who would consider themselves middle class who make just over the upper end of this limit and would be incensed to be labeled anything but middle class. I've got friends who make less than $10,000 a year but whose mentality toward the world is definitely not that of the poor class.

It seems to me the middle class is a function of thought, not income. The middle class looks to the upper class for leadership in the big issues of life, and generally they are more than obliged. They look to the lower class with a bit of distain and pity, and try to do things for them, but not with them. The identity of the middle class is really predicated on its relationship with the other classes. Any asistance to the middle class is going to have an effect on the others.

John McCain wants to help the economy by helping the upper class, the ones in power, with tax breaks and incentives. It worked under Reagan, he says. It probably did, and it probably will, not because it helps the upper class put the middle class to work, but because the upper class has disproportionate influence with the government, so if they get something they'd better give back. Besides, it does work--more money in the rich man's pockets makes it easy for them to hire middle-class workers.

I'm afraid Obama's plan is doomed to failure. It would work in an ideal world, but we don't live in an ideal world. As I said, the upper class has a disproportionate influence in Washington, and they will push for what they want. They don't want the burden of the tax bill, even though they are most capable of carrying it. They want to be able to pass it on to the middle class. They'll lobby hard against his plan and eventually kill it. They will not let the middle class get richer without making sure there is a guarantee of a solid lead on them. It's always been that way, and I don't see it changing any time soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A post about Haiti is long overdue, I've been stewing about it for a while. On the morning after the first big quake a singer said, "A lot of things that were important became unimportant today."

Robin Roberts on Good Morning America found little "Esther," adoptive child to a couple in Wisconsin and got her home.

A friend of mine is there as we speak, her hospital ministry imported a machine that cleans water for human use, they're using the water in the fish pond. They had to dig an unmarked grave for unclaimed bodies that died in the Baptist hospital where she is volunteering.

When a Haitian doctor who has returned from the States to help his people mentioned that Haitians always have hope, an American reporter looked at him and said, "Where does that hope come from?" "From inside," replied the doctor.

And then there is the dark side. There is the pernicious lack of supplies, the struggle to organize, the rising anger and anxiety of the victims, the terrifying aftershocks even days after the main event, and the total collapse of infrastructure that leaves people stranded in the middle of civilization.

Worse yet, I believe, are the scams on the internet, even people posing as the Episcopal Bishop of Haiti, asking for money, and Rush Limbaugh who said, "We already give money to Haiti, it's called income tax." Maybe he ought to go pull a dead child out from under some rubble and see what he says,--but then his pain medication might be needed for someone else instead and that would be too much for him.

Where is God when it's really nobody's fault? Right there with us, crying and struggling and giving, and holding and mourning and rejoicing, and providing hope--from inside us.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last week Kevin Pearce took a tumble while snowboarding that landed him in the hospital in Utah, without movement or feeling below his neck. A female ABC anchor immediately called for the Olympic Committee to investigate and put in place measures that would make this sport safer for those who practiced it.

I disagree for at least the following two reasons:

1. Yes, snowboarding is dangerous, that's why it's called an "extreme sport." Those who practice it have a moral responsibility to know the dangers and to manage the risks in the most appropriate way. Some people don't manage risks as well as others, but that does not absolve them of that responsibility. For an outside agency to come in and impose risk management when the risk is only to the individual is to strip that individual of personal moral responsibility and so strip them of a piece of their humanity.

2. Yes, snowboarding is dangerous, it involves tremendous risk. We cannot, though often we live as if we believed we could and should, avoid all risk. We cannot and we should not avoid all risk. To do so is to live entirely safely, and nobody ever changed the world by being safe. Columbus didn't do a safe thing when he sailed west from Europe. Armstrong didn't do something safe when he stepped onto the surface of the moon. My son didn't do something safe when he slipped behind the wheel of a car for the first time. Striving for excellence demands managing risk, not avoiding it, pushing the envelope, not sitting in it. And we know that whenever we push the envelope sometime or other it's going to rip. To strip away the ability to manage risk is to kill the desire for excellence, and to strip us of that testosterone-driven genius of our race; it is to strip us of part of our humanity.

If the Olympic committee is going to regulate the danger in snowboarding perhaps they ought to look first at the number 1 killer in the United States: driving your car!