Shopping Carts, Taxes and Hip Replacements

With the possibility of the repeal and replacement for Obamacare, my Facebook timeline has been abuzz. One side calls for compassion to the poor, the other complains of higher premiums they blame on Obama. I can understand the desire to have a bit more money but I can’t understand valuing that money over the lives of the poor and marginalized.

Neither the Church nor our Lord calls us to value personal wealth above humanity. We aren’t called to hoard our money. We are called to be our brother’s keeper. Logically, if you cannot do that within your own resources, the next step is to see that it gets done by an entity that can do it. Pope Benedict wrote ” To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.”

My wife and I once went to a church where the pastor was very keen on pointing out the differences in the way Christians and non-believers act. he definitely felt that the way people behaved could tell you about their spiritual life. He told us (over and over) that he would be careful to count the change he got from the store cashier because, if too much, it gave him the opening to “present the Gospel.” How? He would announce to the cashier that he was returning the money because he was a compelled to by virtue of being a Christian.  Once in the parking lot, he would proudly push his cart into the cart corral because that is what Christians do.

And, yes, to this day, Liz and I laugh about that every time we shop.

Somewhere along the line, a new generation of Christians bought into this delusion. Christians, more and more, seemingly believe that their belief can be summed up in being nice. In being exemplary social creatures. Say, Merry Christmas. Please and thank you. Pardon me. Allow the other guy to turn left in front of you at the intersection. And, why not? That’s the reason Christ willingly went to the cross, isn’t it? So we’d all have good manners?

Well, it’s great to have good manners. But, of course, Christians are called to do more. We are called to care about our neighbor and to act upon that caring. And, it isn’t just a caring out of convenience. It sometimes costs us something.

So, I link that to the health care debate I see on Facebook. A number of Christians have recently advanced the argument that it isn’t the government’s Biblical responsibility to collect taxes to take care of the uninsured. Plus, they work hard and their taxes and premiums are already too high to now subsidize the poor. One poster responded to me by writing “The problem with the govt doing it is that it is no longer charity for the poor. Charity for one’s neighbor must be out of one’s free will. Therefore, the govt imposing high premiums on some to support others is not consistent with our Christian faith. The missing element is freedom.”

Freedom? Freedom to ignore the needs of the marginalized is not a Christian tenet. Yes, the gospel states “freely have you received, freely give.”  But, clearly, the one who opposes the government caring for the poor must now take it upon herself to do it. Yes, I will support your desire to have lower premiums as soon as you commit to paying the $200,000 for your neighbor’s hip replacement.

So, to claim that taxes to help the uninsured are wrong because they deny the taxpayer the “freedom” he is entitled to is a weak excuse to go on turning your back on the poor. It exposes the desire to hoard your wealth, to build the bigger storehouse of Luke 12.

It’s a darkened heart that closes an ear to the cries of the poor. And returning all the shopping carts in the world will never make up for it.

 

 

Mt:18, Escaping a Cult, and Laughing it Off (Part Two)

Thanks for the great response and kind words from everyone.  I just want to make it clear that while we left that management team in the rear view mirror many years ago, they have continued, more than a decade later, to be unable to turn their thoughts elsewhere. They just can’t quit us. This past week we have seen the son send a nasty private message to Liz on the Facebook, Then, man that he is, block her before she could respond. But, that didn’t give him the satisfaction he sought so he contacted friends of ours to ask if we’d been saying “mean” things about him.

So… game on. Here comes part two.

The dad contacted us and told us that we had some unspoken grievance against him. We assured him there was none but he remained adamant. In fact, we had held a party at our home just a week or so before and we’d invited his son and him. I reminded him of that and he said that we’d done that as some sort of diversion from the truth. We wanted to make it look like all was well although he knew for certain that it was not. He declined our offer to get together and talk things out face to face. And, he let Liz know that she could no longer go to a woman attender’s home for a Bible study. Yes, that’s just why he opened a church business-to keep women from attending Bible studies!

They maintained an email prayer chain where members and attenders could find out who needed prayer. It was a great way to bathe someone in prayer support when there was a sudden need. The day after the phone call, Liz was removed from the list. Her prayers were no longer wanted. Well then, maybe that’s why he opened a church business-to keep people from praying for each other!

Nonetheless, the son had agreed to come to our house. We looked forward to straightening things out with him. We were confident that he was his own man and would be rational about why we left. Surely he would be able to see that we felt that we could do more good in a smaller church that needed able bodies.

Or…so we thought!

The son called and said he could no longer come to our house. His dad wouldn’t allow it. If there was to be any meeting, it would have to be on their property, not ours. And, he told us the reason why the dad had refused to come talk things out. The reason? His dad was offended that we were planning to serve dessert. Maybe that was the reason the dad opened his church business-to keep people from resolving conflict!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt:18, Escaping a Cult, and Laughing it Off (Part One)

I once attended a church near my house that might more accurately be described as a cult.

My wife and I left it nearly twenty years ago and really have not given it much thought since. Although it was pretty much a clean break from our side, it proved to be a more difficult breakup from the viewpoint of the cult. For a number of years, they initiated attacks on us, most recently when one of them sent an abusive private message to my wife via Facebook and then blocked us all before he could be answered.

Pardon me as I avoid referring to this place as a church. It was set up then, and is still today, as a family business. The dad started it when he caused a rift at the denominational church where he had committed to shepherding. But, things didn’t go his way and, rather than working out the difference of opinion, he took a good part of the tiny congregation with him to start the new “church” in a local social club. The new church was set  up with the dad at the helm, with a constitution designed to keep someone from splitting his group the way he’d trashed his old church.

My family attended that group for more than two decades. We were active, we served as elders, Liz led worship. We were very happy and blissfully uncaring that this business was run like few others. Nearly every paid position in that business, and there were many, was filled by a family member or family friend. There was little chance that any Sunday donation would see the light of the outside world before it graced a friend’s pocket. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hinting that there was anything illegal going on. Just something unseemly. And we didn’t care. It’s a good thing that didn’t bother us. Because my wife was on the payroll, too.

Eventually, embarrassingly far along in our Christian walk, we began to yearn for a different type of Christianity than we practiced in that building. We felt called to serve in a smaller church that needed our help. The one we’d been attending had grown to about 500 people (1600 in any of their press mentions). They were fine. We wanted to go where we were needed. So, I wrote a letter to the dad, letting him know that we were leaving under the best of terms, had no grievances, and wanted to serve in a smaller church.

One of the first things we were able to do with that small church was to pick up litter around the entire neighborhood. That was what we were doing when our local paper showed up to take a picture. And, when it was printed in the paper, all hell broke loose.

I got a phone call from the dad’s secretary and was told that I should call the dad. He wanted to speak to me. Now, I was shocked. I had been a group member for over two decades! Yet, somehow, the dad didn’t feel as if he had the freedom to phone me. I assured the secretary that he was welcome to place that call and that he should call me on the very same number she’d successfully reached me at. Yes, I know he had her call me because he was playing a power game. But, unless you are the Pope, I win those games. So, he caved and called me.

He initiated the phone call by introducing himself merely as “Pastor.”  That forced my stubborn self to begin a practice I’ve kept up until this day. I addressed him by his name, not his title. How angry he was! What, he asked, were people going to think about his “church” if they saw us picking up garbage in the street? Why would we minister at another church if it was not something designed to embarrass him?

He demanded a meeting at his office. We offered to have it in our living room. He refused, insulted that we would challenge his authority. I pointed out that we had left cordially, that we wished him the best. I also told him that his son was coming to our house to speak with us the very next week.

Or, so I thought…