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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Corn male flower AKA corn tassel. The stamens ...

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My mother remembers among her childhood memories, a time when her small family farm was anticipating a corn harvest.  The corn was ripe, mature with tassels promising a great yield.  As is the risk in the midwest, about this time, a powerful storm blew up with increasing intensity.  As hail began to patter against the roof and then drive against it, my mother remembers her parents watching the storm through the picture window of their modest farm-house.  With their arms wrapped around the small of each other’s backs, side by side, my mother read her parent’s faces:   worry…then sorrow and slowly….ever so slowly… resolve.

My sense of America and my sense of my own work ethic is grounded in such stories.  It is with a sense of my grandparents humility, creativity and self-reliance that I consider the future of our country.  When I think of my investments (material and immaterial) I think of the promise and vulnerability of their corn.  When I think of life, they remind me there is much that you cannot control.  So human beings need one another for strength at the base of the spine.

Chapter six, “Is Social Security Really Broken”  of Progressive Christian Uniting:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics was written just as President Bush’s proposal for the privatization of social security was being anticipated.  I have included links at the bottom of this post that might allow individuals to think about social security reform in a more up to date way.

Despite its age, like the other chapters of this book, the in-depth analysis of this chapter can inform our decision-making today.  The central concern of the chapter is the way in which privatization of social security might privilege those who are financially sophisticated.  “But what about the less fortunate citizens, the ones who will need to live on their Social Security checks but who may not know the difference between a stock and a bond?  Is a freedom of choice a blessing for them?” (99).  There is a great deal of work in the chapter to do math on the projections for privatization or the status quo and I am quick to admit the economics is beyond me.

As a pastor and granddaughter of farmers is the way that our country reforms itself according to capitalism as opposed to community.   There is an undercurrent of scarcity amid our abundance.  Like a proverbial pea under the mattress of gratitude, scarcity whispers to us…”there is not enough for all get what you can while you can.”    Such whispering seems likely to break the back of social security which is not the security of some individuals over another but a security for the whole fabric of our society.

Even as I am concerned that the poor at risk in the reforms AND that there is a fearful undercurrent driving reforms, I agree with the authors and am not opposed to “…the restructuring of Social Security in ways that increase participant choices over how they obtain their social-insurance protections.   …Americans have come to expect choices over what they buy and do.  …a structure that offers participant choice may be less rigid and more capable of evolutionary change than one with unitary structure.  ….Alas, the search for more efficient structures usually ignores the economic security of those (usually the poor) who are unfamiliar with the risks and rewards of private investment decisions.” (102).

We in the church have a responsibility to think about social fabric beyond our individualism and even beyond our nuclear family.  (Zech. 7:10 and Amos 2:6-7)  So the security we imagined has been ravaged by economic weathering!  There is an opportunity, with resolve to clean up, dig in and sow a few new ideas remembering that property lines are not as important as good neighbors.

http://www.progressivechristiansuniting.org/Blog/Entries/2009/1/28_Restoring_Dignity:_The_Employee_Free_Choice_Act.html

http://socialsecurity.procon.org/

http://www.socialsecurityreform.org/ (updated as of 16th of February 2011)

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As Christians we are all concerned about those who are unable to secure health care for themselves.  It is not only the suffering of people that matters to people of faith but for Christians, it is also the attention that Jesus, himself, seemed to pay to the systems that managed ancient health care.    Some of us within the Christian community recognize many of Jesus miracles as acts of audacious reform to the health care system of his day.   Health care matters to the Christian as does creative, responsible audacity.

I heard a great program at my Osawatomie rotary group yesterday by Tim McGraw of www.EHealthCover.com.  The conversation that rose up around his program was the way in which technological innovations are expanding our health care experience.  The cost of technological innovations surely impact the cost of health care for healthy individuals as well as individuals with preexisting conditions.  As we are all anticipating the final form of the health care bill, there may still be time to involve creative individuals from the field of health care technology. 

Shouldn’t Christians be involved in making sure that the right voices are at the table?  Some say health care reform is already underway.  What are your ideas on the subject?

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Chapters 7-10 of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger considers issues of obesity, educational acheivement, teenage pregancy and violence.  In all the cases the authors cite equality as a factor that informs previous and partial explanations.   Below is a snapshot of each chapter.

  1. Obesity: Addressing the epidemic of obesity, the authors invite the readers to consider the matrix of issues involved and to include inequality in the mix.   The World Health Organization performed a study in the 1980s that found obesity has increased as the disparity in the social gradient as increased.  Obesity, as cited in previous chapters of this book is more prevalent among the poor than among the wealthy.  Further they concluded that it “seemed that people in more unequal societies are eating more and exercising less.” (95).   All the the states within the United States have an adult obesity of at least 20 per cent.  Studies in this chapter reveal that despite knowing what produces a healthy body, many people do the contrary.    Knowing that behavioral changes are more possible when we feel positive about our life and have the sense that we can control the changes, Pickett and Wilkinson speculate that lessening inequality could affect the epidemic of obesity.
  2. Education  The drop out rate of children cannot be measured by poverty alone.  “No state has a poverty rate of higher than 17 per cent but drop-out rates are above 20 per cent in sixteen states and dropping out is not confined to the poor.  When unequal situations are revealed in the classrooms, the performance of those in the lower social gradient is affected negatively.  This has been tested internationally in at least the UK, India, and the United States.   Particularly, parental attention and bonding to the children and investment in their education is an indicator of future success.  The more the parents are involved in the first three years of their children’s life and education the more successful the child is likely to be.  Countries that are more equal provide more extended maternity leave (Sweden – 3 months paid and 3 months unpaid).   More unequal countries like the United States provide less (no more than 12 weeks).
  3. Teenage Births  This chapter can be well summarized with the following excerpt from page 121 of the book.  “Teenage birth rates are higher in communities that also have high divorce rates, low levels of trust and low social cohesion, high unemployment, poverty, and high crime rates.  It has been suggested by others that teeange motherhood is a choice that women make when they feel they have no other propsects for achieving the social credentials of adulthood, such as a stable intimate relationship or rewarding employment.  Sociologist, Kristin Luker claims that it is ‘the discouraged disadvantaged’ who become teenage mothers.”   While this is not always the case, this explanation may contribute to a more comprehensive response to the trends.
  4.   Violence  Immediately within this chapter, the authors cite a problem with studies in violence.  Most studies will emphasize an experience with shame or humiliation as a precursor or root to violent behavior.   However, all of us identify with these experiences of shame and humiliation.  “…why is it predominantly among young men that those feelings escalate to violent acts?” (123)   It is as if the authors play connect the dots between significant studies that show violence is not just about poverty but about inequality.  As inequality increases so does violent crime.  When there is less hope that education, material wealth, good employment, esteem from peers will be realized, violence is perceived as an immediate way to maintain respect and honor.

Issues of inequality are at the heart of the Gospel message of the church.  Evidence of inequality could likely be the new mission field of the church in North America.  We know as the church is related to relevant mission, so it is able to experience revitalization.   The history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is an intellectual and pragmatic one.  Considering pragmatic responses to the findings recorded in The Spirit Level may be among the most important responses we could make.  Educating pastors which such information and then encouraging pastors to consider calls in areas that are challenged by inequality is one possibility.   Surely financial support and congregational support will be required to transition churches who have not been as active in the social ministry as they would like to have been. 

In my own ministry, some of the greatest rewards have been the times that the church has allowed people of unequal status in the larger culture to co-mingle in the pews.   It is always interesting to me how folks who are unequal in all other places are fast friends, colleagues and mutual cheerleaders in the church.    As contrasting individuals build relationship, there is the experience of what process theology calls harmony.  Harmony is the reconciliation of constrasting events or circumstances.  The degree of the contrast is congruent to the degree of the harmony experienced.   Jesus is remembered for being most interested in reconciliation of contrasts and discovering anew that we are all children equal in the site of Goid.    The church of today still has the potential to live into the Jesus movement of the ancient days.

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