Saturday, November 29, 2008

Keepin' It Real

I hate plastic! It's good for some uses, but it's terrible for others. Too much is used for moving parts in everything from vacuum cleaners to automobiles. Things that cost too much wear out too fast as a result. What a drag!

As a substitute for cold, hard cash, plastic has proven our undoing in the West. Whatever else may be said about irresponsible government deficits, overcompensated corporate executives, unscrupulous mortgage brokers, or evil oil producers, let's face it-- it was our addiction to plastic money that jumped the cushion. We thought plastic helped grease the wheels of commerce, but at some level, within tight tolerances, it only serves to seize up the whole system.

Plastic is rampant in the church. You know, plastic smiles that hide uncaring, even spiteful, hearts. Plastic hugs that forget the closeness of that contact three feet out the door. Plastic testimonies that have no semblance to the reality of our lives. Church is not a masquerade ball, yet how many churches are filled with the made-up, costumed, and scripted every Sunday?

I've come to learn that I'm never alone when it comes to feelings or reactions. Stuff that bugs me, bugs others. Stuff that seems out of place to me, seems out of place to others. Convictions that stir my heart, stir the hearts of others. So I'll share a hope that some of you probably have too.

I dream of a plastic free world. I'm resigned to its use at the gas pump, and I can live with it on the dinner table, or even in my car's transmission, but I long to see it disappear from the church. Wouldn't it be nice to be so dependent on Christ and the grace of God he embodies that we could gather as saints without costume? That our successes wouldn't serve to shame others, nor our failures serve to shame us? That we could walk with each other, as we are, and actually progress into the deeper things of God?

Plastic doesn't feel, doesn't know, doesn't love, doesn't develop, so if we're ever gonna to be more like Jesus, we're gonna have to strip off the make-up and start keepin' it real.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Subtraction by Addition

How did mankind get so depraved? Adam was not depraved when he was created, and yet he sinned while in God's company in a perfect environment! I suppose had he been a lawyer, he could have pled temporary depravity, but I don't think the Judge would have heard that excuse from a shivering barrister hiding in the bushes. Figleaves were certainly not proper courtroom attire! The simple truth is that depravity had nothing to do with Adam or Eve's sinfulness.

If I'm reading Romans 1 correctly, the pattern of depravitization is laid out with emphasis. Three times (vs. 24, 26, and 28), we are told that "God gave them over." In other words, depravity was the result of willfulness being expressed against God (sin), and God stepping back from mankind leaving them to their own devices. Therefore, depravity is a lack rather than a possession: an absence rather than a presence. Sin separates us from God and depravity is the vacuum. Depravity did not lead to sin, sin led to depravity.

That mankind is born separated from God is beyond argument. We have been born in sin, dead in spirit and depraved as a result. We are capable of perceiving the good when presented it, but are always unable and often unwilling to do anything with it. It is our distance from God that ensures our depravity; but if that is the case, then the effects of it can be mitigated by God coming near. Ultimately, that will be perfected when we are incorruptible and the the dwelling of God is with man.

In the meantime, what depraved mankind needs is to be contended for by God. That does not ensure that we won't sin or walk away from God, it's not irresistible (remember Adam, the pre-diluvians and Romans 1), but it does open up the possibilities of faith and perseverance. Mankind can never gain righteousness by ridding themselves of their depravity. Depravity is a consequence of absence. It came as an addition by subtraction, it can only be solved by a subtraction by addition.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spreading the Wealth Around

Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan... In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. (NIV)
I know that this cryptic passage from the book of Leviticus is not in force for non-Jews, nor for the church of Jesus Christ; nonetheless, I find it interesting in that it reveals, at least to some degree, how God looks upon the redistribution of wealth in an earthly economy. That should be interesting to any American, given that our economy is supposedly one under God (at least that's what we say on our currency!). Redistribution, the pariah of free-market capitalists everywhere, seems to be looked upon with favor, even ordered, by God. Every 50 years, God wants the scale set back to zero, the land redistributed, so that inequities in society don't become so entrenched as to produce a slave class, perpetually indentured and beholden to the rich.

And all the Republicans said, "What?!"

I've heard it said that a severe financial crisis crops up once or twice a century in the West. Hmmm, every 50 years is God's metric for resetting the playing field--do you wonder if there's any correlation? I think there may well be. One statistic that would be germane is the concentration of wealth, the measure of the "rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer." The old adage, "it takes money to make money," is true and describes the mechanism though which wealth is concentrated. Could it be that once wealth concentration reaches a critical point amongst his people, God wants it shaken up?

Some politicians have long cited the concentration of wealth and the need for redistribution as a justification for increasing the size and spending of government; however, increasing spending among the poor doesn't make them wealthier, it only increases their share of consumption. That may not be a bad thing, but it doesn't shift the economic balance of power which is more correlated to wealth. If government actually wants to effect wealth distribution, the place to start would be reforming the Social Security system along the lines George Bush suggested just a few years ago. Making the government wealthier in no way makes the poor wealthier, it just shifts their indenturer from the rich to the government while keeping their slavery just as perpetual.

Over the last couple of months much of the wealth of the rich has evaporated into thin air. That kind of thing hasn't occurred since the Great Depression--not exactly 50 years, but close enough for government work. The poor are not likely to be statistically poorer as result of this economic downturn (we'll have to see what unemployment ends up doing), but the rich sure will be. Could the Great Depression II, which we seem to be in the beginning throes of, be God's redistribution plan? It wouldn't be the first time God took things into his own hands and spread the wealth around:

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy... The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. (NIV)