Paxil

Sigh.

For some reason, the bigwigs in Washington Do. Not. Seem. To. Get. It.

They are concerned with scoring points, with making sure “their” side “wins,” with “defeating” the other side.

What they are not concerned about is the American people. You know … us. The folks whom the bigwigs are supposed to serve.

Actually, it's NOT the economy, stupid!

We, it seems, are not part of any equation for solving the financial crisis confronting this country.

Well, “we” as in, those of us who are in the middle class or the lower class, or who, alas, actually live in poverty.

If we were part of the equation, then some of these dingbat ideas under discussion in Washington would never have seen the light of day.

I’m talking about the idea of extending the retirement age – again. Only white, privilege males who receive the best health care in the world would think this is a good idea.

The rest of us? The ones who work in factories or stores, who physically labor, who are the grunts of the work force? Who spend our time outside in all the elements? Who climb up and down ladders, or tote heavy items, or deliver things that have been ordered online?

Please. Our bodies break down a whole heck of lot earlier and easier than do the ones of so-called leaders who work, yes, but do not labor.

Every sane study shows that upper-income white males with marvelous health care indeed can retire later. But the rest of us? Get real. (See Ezra Klein’s column in The Washington Post on Nov. 21. He does a great job of explaining this.)

And this is why I’m sighing right now.

Because those in charge seem to be forgetting that they are in charge for one reason:

To advance the common weal of all the people.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, that mantra needs to be changed.

It needs to say, “It’s the people, stupid!”

As in, PAY ATTENTION TO US!!

The economy can’t get better as long as too many of us are (a) out of work or (b) working in jobs that simply do not pay enough.

And please don’t talk to me about this silly idea that increasing taxes on the rich will hurt the economy. Because that is Not. True.

The richest among us have received extraordinary tax breaks for the last decade … a decade in which they have grown much, much (did I mention much?) richer, while unemployment has grown and wages have fallen.

So … tell me again how giving the rich yet another tax break is going to help the economy?

And if it isn’t going to help the economy, how, pray tell, is it going to help the people of this country?

And if it doesn’t help the people of this country, then, I can assure you, it is not for the common good, and therefore should not be done.

I know that we are headed for a so-called “fiscal cliff” and that I am supposed to be quaking in my boots over this.

Well, I’m not.

You know why?

Because if nothing else, going over that cliff will at least serve as a wake-up call to the folks in charge. Heck, it might even get them to do something about the state of the economy, to help those in need, and to get going on doing the work that needs to be done, for our people and for our country.

I know, I know:

IF we go over that cliff, the middle-class will be hit, immediately, with a tax increase on average of $2,000 per year. In simpler terms, that means an additional $5.50 per day for each of us.

Ouch.

          But it also means that the richest people will have to pay more as well, which means that there will be more money in the budget.

Yes, drastic cuts are supposed to happen as well.

But that’s Congress’ fault, because Congress has failed to act, because Congress has been focused too much on “winning” political games and not enough on doing its actual job.

I also know that what Congress hath wrought, Congress can un-wrought as well.

It was Congress that mandated these stupid, across-the-board cuts.

So Congress can un-mandate those same cuts.

But only if Congress decides to be sane, to quit posturing and to take care of the real business of this country, which is not, as Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “business,” but the welfare – the common weal – of the American people.

One more thing:

Those so-called “entitlements”? The ones that conservatives like to attack with abandon, even as they and their family members collect them?

Leave them the hell alone.

No, wait.

Reform them.

In sane ways.

Social Security? It would be solvent for decades if we collected FICA on incomes above $110,000, the current cap for taxation. Really? We only tax up to $110,000? That’s totally insane, you know, from an economic standpoint. It means that the people who pay the most are the ones who can afford it the least, while those who can afford it the most pay the least.

In what economic universe does that even remotely make sense?

Medicare? Stop the insane talk about increasing the retirement age. See the argument above – only upper-class people can afford to do this, and they don’t need Medicare anyway. So they certainly are not the people to be making this decision.

Medicaid? Someone really wants to cut this? Are they, too, insane? Who in their right mind wants to ensure that sick people stay sick? In what economic model does that make sense?

Never mind the nonsense about cutting assistance to those most in need. Those ideas? They need to be named for what they are: Punishment on those who are in need, who are less fortunate, who don’t have a leg up, who can’t get a leg up.

Every sane study out there says that the better we care for our people, the better off we will be as a country.

Bingo! I say we need to catch each other ... that's what community is all about.

And those wacky ideas on closing loopholes and removing tax deductions? Be careful what you ask for, is all I can say. Let’s take just one of those deductions, the one for charitable giving: End that one and boom! Charities are in deep kimchi. I’m sure all those homeless people, and needy people, and any other people receiving help via charities would be fine with having their help cut in order to magically “balance” the budget on their backs.

So you know what I say?

I say, Go ahead. Let’s jump off the danged fiscal cliff. Let’s do so with joy and abandon.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay $5.50 day – if it means that (a) the whole community is being helped, and (b) the people who can afford this a whole lot more than me kick in their fair share as well. (And no, having a rich person pay the same amount as me Does. Not. Count.)

I am not going to like paying $5.50 a day – and frankly, it’s going to be a stretch to do so (I’m not exactly middle class right now). But dang it! If that’s what it will take to ensure that the least among us are cared for, that our government is focused on all the people, that the community will be built up, that the safety nets will be strengthened … well, yeah. I’m in.

Are you?

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Dear Congress: For God’s sake and ours, please, just do it!

Dear Members of Congress:

It is time to get back to work.

The election is over.

Many of you won, some of you lost.

It doesn’t matter. You are still the 112th Congress, and you still have a spit-load of work to do.

So go do it.

Now.

For God’s sake, and for our sake, please, just go do it!

I know you’re tired. I know you’ve been working your butts off getting re-elected, that you’ve been traveling a lot, that your throats are sore and your heads are probably pounding, and that your body is, quite simply, ready to quit

So take a few days off — but ONLY a few.

Then come back to DC and do the work we actually elected you to do.

Yes, Thanksgiving is coming, and you traditionally take a long time off for that, and yes, this is a lame-duck Congress, and yes, you really want to rest right now.

But the rest of the country is working – hard – either at jobs or at trying to get a job. The rest of us don’t get to take a break. We don’t get to pass the buck, and neither should you.

Because of your recalcitrance, mixed in with some of the same from the President (who got re-elected, so deal with it), you have managed to pass the buck on darned near everything. Through your intransigence, we are now facing a man-made (and yes, I chose that word deliberately) fiscal “cliff” that is completely your own fault. You don’t want to make hard decisions, you don’t want to compromise your so-called values, you don’t want to look weak.

Blah, blah, blah.

We the people have spoken, and we have not spoken for more gridlock caused by people who cannot, for the life of them, learn to play well together in the sandbox, much less share their toys.

Well, guess what, gentlemen and gentlewomen?

They aren’t your toys. They’re ours.

And we the people demand that you use them well, for the greater good of the American people and the world.

We demand that you pass a jobs bill that indeed will indeed put us back to work. It’s not a hard thing to do, so please: Just do it.

We demand that you pass a budget bill that is not filled with special perks, also known as “pork.” We’re on a diet, folks – we don’t need the extra fat. Face reality: You are going to have to mix tax increases with cuts. You cannot come remotely close to a decent budget – never mind a balanced one – on the backs of the poorest and the neediest.

The automatic cuts? The automatic rise in tax rates for all? The looming limit on the debt? FIX them! Stop messing around and just do it!

Remember: You did not win a mandate for business as usual. You are in Congress now – and many of you will continue in your jobs – because we, the people, need you to work on our behalf. So pass a danged budget that is sane and fair, that raises money from those who can afford to give more, and cares for those of us, the forty-SIX percent (that’s the accurate number) who need help.

No more posturing, no more whining, no more fantasies about trickle-down economics. Face reality, and do the right thing. For God’s sake and for our sake, just do it.

And lest you think that is all you need to do: Wait. There’s more!

We demand that you, Congress, step up and pass a bill that will stop this obscene spending on election campaigns. Billions were spent on this election, in great part because of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, as I said, obscene. Just think of what we could have done with that money. Think of the people we could have fed; the teachers, firefighters and cops we could have hired; the medical care we could have provided; the infrastructure we could have repaired; the homeless who could have had shelter.

Think about what could have been – and then hang your heads in shame.

So the next time you see a person begging for food, the next time you see a person sleeping on the street, the next time you actually meet a person in need – ask that person for forgiveness, for you, my dear members of Congress, could have done something about this.

And you didn’t.

While you’re back at work, remember: We women in this country? We do not want you messing around with our bodies. No way. No how. So stop your assaults on us. Stop trying to pass moral laws that are, at best, immoral. Get your hands off our bodies. Now.

We demand that you finally, finally, take a realistic look at climate change, and do something about it! I know, I know: Some of you live in a fantasy world in which you believe you can deny reality. If you are in any way confused about what climate change looks like, call Chris Christie. Or Cory Booker. Or Michael Bloomberg. Ask them to take you on your very own personal tour of devastation.

Then, get real about what is happening to our world, and do something about it. Just do it.

In the House, we the people demand that you stop passing stupid – I really can’t think of another word to use here that would be more accurate – bills to rescind the Affordable Health Care Act, that try to impose inane economic policies, that target women and their bodies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, we know you want to show off your conservative credentials. But the fact is, every time you pass one of these stupid bills, you look like a child taunting the loser of a game: Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! We won and you lost! For God’s sake, could you possibly act like grown-ups? The fact that the country has spoken should tell you: Stop screwing around. Just do it.

And to the members of the Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: You, gentlemen and gentlewomen, need to read the Constitution again. Nowhere does it say that a majority is not a majority, that to merely have a bill considered takes 60 votes. This is balderdash and a childish game. So stop it. You have a chance, right now, to finally demonstrate to the people who elected you that you are grown-ups. So end this stupid practice right now and get to work. Just do it!

We have a lot of work to do in this country. We need to get out of a war, care for our veterans, find housing for millions, jobs for millions more, and make sure all those people have health care. Our infrastructure needs urgent help. The people of New York and New Jersey are in dire straits. Our children need better education.

We the people are damned tired of the war between the have’s and the have-not’s. We are fed up with posturing. We are not stupid – we understand economics a whole lot better than many of you do, apparently. We are willing to sacrifice together for the common good. We want to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim jubilee for the poorest. We want to be a community!

And we can’t – not while you’re lolly-gagging around and posturing like puffed-up little Napoleons.

So listen to us, dear members of Congress:

For God’s sake and for our sake, please: Just do it!

 

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Philippians 1:21-30

                   The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church is meeting in Quito, Ecuador, this week. One hundred and sixteen bishops from the 109 dioceses spread out over 16 nations have gathered to pray, to learn … and to think …

One thing they were asked to think about came from Don Compier, a liberation theologian who recounted to the bishops a recent conversation he had had.

Compier told them that “he was recently asked by someone in another denomination: ‘If you care about the poor, why are you an Episcopalian? Aren’t you just interested in liturgy?’ Compier reminded the bishops that “our tradition of witness to the concerns for the poor is not well known, even by us.”[1]

What Compier was asking the bishops to think about was, in essence, the same thing St. Paul asks, in a variety of ways, throughout his letters: How then shall we live?

Shall we live as people who are in love with liturgy?

Or shall we live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, as Paul exhorts us this morning?

And what, pray tell, does that even mean, to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel?

For Paul (and implicitly, for the person who asked Compier that question), Gospel-worthy lives begin and end in community.

Gospel-worthy lives are never about us … They are never about getting ahead or getting more, never about adopting the attitude of “I’ve-got-mine-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-get-yours,” never about leaving others behind.

Gospel-worthy lives are about love.

Gospel-worthy lives are love.

Paul makes this clear in what is known as his “love letter to his friends in the church at Philippi.”[2] Everything he writes them is about how we are to live in love and in community because this is what God desires for us.

As Walter Brueggemann, one of the most respected theologians of our times, preached not long ago:

Paul says to his beloved church, imagine your life caught up in the great divine drama in order that you may not imagine your life as a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing, in order that you may not imagine your life as an endless rat race that no one can win, in order that you will not imagine your life as an endless series of accidents that amount to very little. Christians (he says) are people who imagine and receive their lives differently, bracketed and ordered by God’s goodness and God’s resolve for us.[3]

 

Our lives will have meaning, our lives will fulfill God’s desires for us, if we bracket and order our lives in God’s goodness, in God’s resolve, if we live focused not on ourselves but on God’s beloved community.

                  That’s what Paul is talking about when he says “living is Christ,” that living is “fruitful labor” for him, that it is “more necessary for you.”

Paul is talking about community, which can only be lived in love.

Even the word Paul uses to instruct his beloved friends in Philippi underscores this. The Greek word for “live your life” is politeusthe – which comes from the Greek word for “city” – polis – which according to one commentator “has the sense of ‘live as a free citizen,’ [or] ‘conduct your public life.’”[4]

So Paul is crystal clear that our lives are never to be about “me-me-me, mine-mine-mine.” Not only are they are always to be focused on others, but, Paul insists, we are to bring our focus as a community.

Because we are the Body of Christ, Paul teaches, we are to act as the Body of Christ.

If all of us were to focus our lives and our love together, there wouldn’t be 52 million Americans living in poverty right now. There wouldn’t be 48 million Americans living right now without health insurance.

If we focused our lives and love together, there wouldn’t be 14 million unemployed people in our own country, there wouldn’t be millions of our children going to school hungry every morning, there wouldn’t be a wealth disparity in this country and in this world that more closely models medieval times than modern times.

If we brought our Gospel-worthy lives to bear on the problems of the world, do you really think there would be 650,000 Somalis about to starve to death in the Horn of Africa right now, because no one will give them food?

Would there really be children who die of easily cured diseases – diseases we can cure for less than one dollar per child – because no one will give them medicine?

If we lived Gospel-worthy lives – and we can easily choose to do so – each person, each beloved child of God in this world – would have enough – not too much, not an over-abundance of things, but enough ­– enough food and water, enough shelter, enough education, enough money to not just survive but thrive.

Paul “is speaking (to us) about how a community whose common life is founded and sustained by the crucified and risen Christ should live together.” [5] And, he’s telling us, this is our choice to make.

Now, I need to warn you:

Being Gospel-worthy – living Gospel-worthy lives – is dangerous. It gets us in trouble. It upsets the status quo. And sometimes, when we focus our lives in this way … sometimes … we end up in jail … like Paul. Sometimes, we end up dying … like Jesus and Paul.

You don’t think Paul was hauled off to prison – which is where he was when he wrote this love letter to the Philippians – just because he didn’t pay his taxes, do you?

As Paul himself would say, Me genito! By no means!

Paul ended up in jail – Paul ended up being executed – because he upset the Roman apple cart!

Because he kept getting in the face of those in power, he kept threatening those in power, with the Gospel … with Jesus’ instructions to care for those in need, to feed the hungry, to cure the sick and touch the leper and eat with the tax collectors and worship with the prostitutes and the destitute … to give hope to the hopeless and power to the powerless, to include the excluded, to love the unloved.

And that’s just not where the world – or, I should say, where the powers-that-be in the world – want us to go.

The powers-that-be in no way want us to stand up and say, No more. Nada mas. Bas. Basta.

In no way do the powers-that-be want us – members of the Body of Christ – to upset their apply carts.

But we are the Body of Christ, commanded by none other than Christ, to love God and love our neighbor – to live in love and community every moment of our lives, to make choices – every moment of our lives – that are for the common good, not for our own good only.

• • •

This past summer, I was at Camp McDowell, the Diocese of Alabama’s camp and retreat center, helping to lead a week-long summer camp program for 125 seventh- and eight-graders. Our program was focused on how to live together as the Body of Christ.

We called it, OMG, Y’all! (That stands for … wait for it … wait for it …) On a Mission From God, Y’all. (Not what you thought, eh?)

One part of the camp program was a game called “Survival,” in which we asked each small group of about 10 campers to become a “nation,” to which we then gave red and green beads.

Each red bead, we told the campers, represented 1,000 people.

Each green bead, we said, represented enough food for 1,000 people.

No group – no nation­ ­– started off with an equal amount of beads.

Some nations had lots of red beads – lots of people – and very few green beads – very little food.

Other nations had enough food to feed their people several times over.

The goal of the game, we said, was for each nation to end up with an equal number of red and green beads – with enough food to care for all their people.

Now, what normally happens in this game is that the nations swap food and people with each other – all the while dealing with disasters or blessings, with locusts or emigration, with tornadoes or gentle rainfall, with drought or bumper crops, with whatever disaster or blessing we decided to drop on them, whenever we decided to do so. What normally happens is that at the end, each nation has enough food to feed its people, but some nations are huge, and others are small.

That’s what normally happens.

Not at Camp McDowell, of course.

There, the kids decided first that they would take care of each other. One group,  every time it found itself with a surplus of food,  started going to other groups and simply giving their extra food away for free, asking nothing in return. Others entered covenants: You take care of us, we’ll take care of you. Still others formed coalitions, sharing food and people equally.

And then, in the end, in a completely unexpected turn of events (which I have never seen before), the groups decided they no longer wanted to experience famine or overcrowding. So they joined together.

All 12 groups.

Into one nation.

That way, they reasoned, everyone would have enough to eat. No one would go hungry ever again.

May I remind you that these children were in seventh and eighth grade? That they ranged in age from 11 to 14?

These children understood what it means to live Gospel-worthy lives.

And then they lived them.

Let me tell you: Those children in Alabama? They knew how to answer Paul’s great question of “How then shall we live?” Yes, it was just a game in a week filled with games. But they still did it. For them, it was a no-brainer! (Actually, I believe what they said to me was, “Duh!”)

And if those children can do it, can’t we as well? If they can see this solution as a “Duh!” can’t we do the same? After all, we are the adults here!

The children already know this, and they teach us about our call in life. Their answer Paul’s question:

We are called … as members of the Body of Christ … to live Gospel-worthy lives.

We are called to be Gospel-worthy.

Gospel-worthy.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year A, 18 September 2011, at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.



[1] Quoted in “Theology of Liberation” on the blog of The Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley, Bishop of Oregon, http://www.bishop.episcopaldioceseoregon.org/, 15 September 2011. Compier is a professor at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary,A Love Letter…concerning a Work in Progress,” First Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Mich., 6 December 2009, http://www.fpcbirmingham.org/worship/sermons/a-love-letter/, emphasis added.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Susan Eastman, Assistant Professor of the Practice of the Bible and Christian Formation,

Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C., “Reciprocating Glory,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx.

[5] Stephen E. Fowl. Philippians (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary), 79, Kindle Edition.

 

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