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…

 

 

 

The Cross and Conformity

I often do things backward. In my spiritual life, I was a Protestant first and a Catholic last. I was my own personal Counter-Reformation.

One April morning, Palm Sunday in 1976, my wife and I raised our hands in response to a pastor’s challenge to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. That was how they did it in the church I’d attended for the first time that day. The pastor preached a sermon on some Biblical topic he deemed pertinent, offered up the opportunity to become a christian, and invited you to come forward. Yes, that’s right. On our first day in that church, Liz and I walked to the front, stood before the congregation, and repeated a prayer that was promised to change our lives.

Now, having embraced Catholicism, I see the “altar call” event differently. But, truth be told, that simple prayer did it’s job. From that day forward the two of us have walked a path that has immersed us deeply into the love of God. It changed our lives immediately and continues to do so daily.

That Tuesday, the pastor surprised us with a knock on our door. He wanted to follow up with us about our decision. He wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing and he wanted to give us a framework for our new lives as Christians. He told us about tithing! and he told us that Jesus had called each of us to take up our cross and follow him.

The carrying of our own cross was a topic this pastor, as well as other pastors in my life, revisited often. Mostly, it was an explanation for why Christians still suffered. You have cancer? That’s your cross to bear. Unemployed? Your cross to bear. Cranky mother-in-law? It was that cross again.

Somehow, it seemed to me to be too tidy an explanation. First, My life was pretty good. We always had enough money, no one had cancer, none of our children were in jail. My mother-in-law passed away before we met. All in all, our lives were perfect. I had no cross to bear. It took me years of Christianity to really bring the cross to bear issue into focus for my life. When I did, I wondered how those explanations could be true. Why would we carry our own crosses if Jesus had told us to cast all our burdens upon Him? seemed to me that carrying our cross must mean something else.

After going through RCIA and being received into the Church, I settled into a Jesuit serviced parish. And, not long after that, the carrying of my cross took on a clearer meaning.

I began to see that Jesus, through the Incarnation, placed Himself into total conformity with the Father. Everywhere He went, to everyone he spoke, he spoke the will and the words of the Father. He continued this conformity to the Father’s will right up until His death. His death on the cross. Jesus’ cross to bear, pictured by the wooden one, was His willingness to be conformed to the will of the Father. Ours, the, is to be conformed into the will of Jesus Christ.

That’s why the decisions we make are so important in our daily lives. They are our cross to bear. Can we look on immigrants with disdain? We cannot. To do so would put us in nonconformity with Jesus. Can we walk past the beggar? Can we call political candidates vile names? Can we hate someone based on the color of their skin? Their gender? Their sexual preference?  Can we label an entire religious group terrorists? Can we look the other way when we see someone being bullied?

Of course we can’t. We must respond in a way that conforms us into the will of Jesus. We must do it in a way that reflects the love of our Lord. We do that because we are the salt of the earth, the light upon a hill. We do it because it is our cross to bear.

Refugees, Regulations and Righteousness

Franklin Graham

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue.We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

 

The world’s a little bit crazy right now. I’m really concerned by the level of hate and vitriol demonstrated by the Anti-Trump people. Theirs is a movement that was once identified by the #LoveTrumpsHate hashtag and now is known by #notmypresident. During the march in Washington we heard the marchers and spokespeople saying vile things about the President and wearing genitalia inspired hats and costumes while demanding respect. It’s a crowd that has come a long way from espousing love.

Meanwhile, the Trump people flood Facebook and Twitter with mean-spirited gloating about winning the election. There seems to be much more than political motivation for their gleefully nasty position. There seems to be much of it fueled by hate and anger, That side has felt held down by media and public opinion for so long that the unexpected Trump victory has them acting in ways that in no way are acceptable.

A quick scan of my blog will show that I, in no way, support Trump. I withhold that support on the basis of my understanding of Catholic teaching. At my parish I don’t recall hearing the name of any candidate mentioned during this election cycle. The priests were just very consistent in presenting Catholic social teaching from the Ambo each day and trusted the laypeople to an make enlightened choice. My parish is a Jesuit serviced parish and I  hear quite a bit about the Preferential Option for the Poor. It’s an easy position for me to accept.

We have some serious issues in this country, indeed, in the world. Watching the campaigns, it seemed to me that the Clinton people were totally fine with the way the world was going and felt no need to change anything. Trump  was the only candidate addressing the hot button issues of immigration and terrorism. Not in a way I could reconcile with my religious beliefs though. His solutions seem harsh and uncaring. Yet, the voting block that put him over the top was comprised of Christians. I’ve yet to be able to understand that.

Unlike Franklin Graham, I cannot separate these issues from my religious thinking. Graham said that the refugee problem wasn’t a Bible issue. But, I contend that every issue is a Bible issue. The Bible isn’t a compilation of lovely thoughts bound in a book on a shelf in our homes. It’s a comprehensive overview that compels us in a way that imitates the actions of Jesus Christ. Simply put, there is no secular world. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein. Everything belongs to God and he leaves His mark upon all creation. Every person is God’s, made in His image, and he marks each one with dignity.

So, let’s find a way to protect our borders. Let’s come up with a stern, sure response to terrorism. Government has both a right and duty to keep it’s citizens safe. But we must do it in a way that respects the God-given dignity of our neighbors. With either issue, we must find a way to achieve our goals without demonizing entire populations of people.

If we don’t do that, if we pass by our brethren without helping them, our religious convictions are like that of the Levite who left the traveller suffering by the side of the road. God didn’t call us to that kind of faith. He called us to a daily walk where we are kind to strangers, love our neighbor, help the poor and marginalized. We are called to an active faith where we work to realize a more equal distribution of God’s earthly gifts. And this must be the parameters within which we walk, because every issue is a Bible issue.

More than merely granting assent to our responsibility to share, we need to respond. Like Jesuits, we need to become contemplatives in action. Of our great Catholic faith, St. Basil the Great once said, “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

Asking the wrong question

Recently, at the Staten Island FuXion Leadership Academy, I was recruited to speak about success. It’s strange in a way, because I certainly was not the richest person in that room.

But, I didn’t shrink from speaking about it because I legitimately feel I know a thing or two about the topic. And one of those two things I know is that success is not measured by your bank account.

I planned to start by stealing a line from our friend Randy Gage. Randy is Direct Sales royalty. He’s in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame as well as the MLM hall of fame. And yet, as a FuXion leader, he’s eminently accessible to each FuXion entrepreneur. Success to Randy seems to be getting others to fully realize their personal potential. It’s helping others and leading this team that seems to genuinely float his boat.

The line I’m stealing is this: “If you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.” It’s a line that makes all the sense in the world. Think of it this way…if you buy the best car and head off in the wrong direction you will never get where you are headed. If you don’t fill the tank, you won’t get there. If you close your eyes really really tight and hope for the best, you’re still not getting to your destination because you are not headed the right way. If you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.

If Randy is right, the first part of success, the very first step in your achievement, is to ask the right questions. Ask the right questions about success. And ask the right questions about you. You have to define success. And you must define it in a way that means something special to you.

I used to work in the car business. I was a salesman, a “closer”, a finance manager and a desk guy. It’s a pretty stressful, competitive business. So competitive that the store I worked at was the dominant store on this island, selling more Fords than the total domestic sales output of all the other dealerships combined and it no longer exists! When they went out of business it was like the Yankees had stopped playing baseball. Shocking.

The car business is based upon 12 monthly campaigns a year. The first of each month started a new battle and the last day of the month brought it to a close. And the salesperson who did the best job got the recognition of a plaque. A plaque and a big paycheck. And, it was that way every month. Recognition and money, recognition and money.  But, embedded in the very design of the business was failure. Because next month, if you didn’t do it again, someone else got the plaque. Someone else got the recognition and money.

I learned something about myself there. And, along with that, I learned the definition of success. I learned to ask myself the right question. I learned, in that environment, that recognition and money didn’t do it for me. I needed something else. Not something more, just something different. I learned that I got my success from something else. I felt successful when I was able to make something out of nothing. My friend, my mentor in the business took the time to work it through with me. He could see that it was no big deal for me to get another plaque. He could see that it didn’t matter to me that I was given the best demo to drive. He knew I didn’t get worked up over the money. And he sat with me and talked about it until we both saw that it was making something out of nothing that made me successful. One minute I would be with a customer and there seemed to be no possibility of selling him a car. Then, magically, I’d say the right thing and suddenly we had a deal. I’d made something from nothing. I was a success.

So, what about you? Do you work in a job where success is measured by recognition and praise? Does someone have to notice you in order for you to move up? Do they need to see something special in you? Do they have to like you?  Ask yourself the right question about that. Are you okay with that? If you are, that’s okay. If you aren’t, that’s okay too.

Just be sure you’re asking the right questions and defining success for yourself.

If you want to be recognized, if success for you is someone saying you’re doing a good job, we have that here at FuXion. There’s an entire rank advancement system in place. It doesn’t involve approval from anyone else, though. You rank advance on merit. And more pay avenues open to you as you rank advance. You’ll get to walk across the stage and receive a special pin that tells everyone in the company what you’ve achieved. You may well be pinned by Randy himself.You will have gotten the recognition and the money.

If you get a different answer when you ask yourself to define success, we have something for you, too. You can work your own hours, be your own boss and make something from nothing.You can define your own parameters for what success is.  We have mentors and leaders but we don’t have bosses. I’m certainly not the one to boss my team around. But I’m there for whatever they need. If I don’t know it, I know someone who does.

And, that’s a beautiful thing about FuXion. We know someone who knows what we don’t know. For all of us, that’s Randy Gage, Erick Gamio Luca Melloni or Lily Rosales. They’re our core four. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when we have these four. They’ve been through it all. They’ve heard every objection and, more importantly, they’ve heard every excuse. You needn’t be a super smart direct marketing whiz to succeed in this business. You have people who are. All you need to do is model the behavior that we already know works You do what Randy does. You do what  Lily does. Modeling means success in this business.

A phrase I often hear from my son is “you still have to do the work”. He’s right of course. In FuXion, we have a great product. It’s ahead of the health trend. It has a ready made market. IT WORKS. And it’s pretty much cheaper than any so-called competitions. But, “you still have to do the work.”

What is the work? Not a lot! You have to buy enough personal product to have enough for sample giving. You need to drink the product in public. And, friends, you have to drink it from a bottle that says FuXion on it!  Please! No GNC shaker bottles! You need to be on the XTribe website and the XTribe weekly call. You need to share the videos every chance you get. “You still have to do the work.”

So, how about it? Are you ready to ask yourself the right question about what success means to you? Because, if you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.

Meryl, The Mountain and the Madness

Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.’

At the recent Golden Globes, Meryl Streep spoke to a very receptive audience about the need for kindness and civility in those who hold high, visible office. While she never named him, she was obviously referring to President-Elect Donald Trump.

What an uproar that caused among the evangelical Christians who, to the tune of 80%, voted for Mr. Trump, identifying him as God’s choice for President. Nevermind that many other candidates laid claim to Christianity while Trump never did, the evangelical horde insisted he was the Christian candidate. They actually turned away from every Christian candidate to support one who never claimed to be a Christian.

Mr. Trump took the entire evangelical movement, a demographic which mirrors the more conservative part of the Republican party, up to the highest pinnacle of the country. He promised them respect. He offered them an illusion of power. He promised to fight their enemies for them. He offered them the kingdoms of the world if only they would jettison their principles, morals and core beliefs to follow him.

The catch here is, of course, that Christians are not to seek power of their own. Scripture tells us that in our weakness we are made strong. We are, as Christians, to be ready to be mocked and ridiculed for following our Lord.  Jesus, Himself was mocked, scorned and ridiculed by the Roman soldiers before His crucifixion. If He didn’t insist on respect, how do we? And our enemies?  Is there any more well known Bible principle than love for our enemies?

The Christian isn’t called to shut off help to the needy. The Christian is called to help the marginalized. The Christian is not called to build walls. He is called to open welcoming doors. The Christian doesn’t subject families to terrifying deportation raids. She is called to welcome the stranger in her land.

While I don’t agree with everything Ms. Streep has done (the Polanski standing ovation comes quickly to mind), I do agree with what she said at the Globes. She said, in part, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

All people are made in the image of God. That’s a basic tenet of the faith. Anytime you disrespect someone, anytime you are dismissive of another person, anytime you step on the marginalized or look the other way, you are wrong. You are wrong. You are wrong.

I’m grateful to Meryl Streep for saying it so beautifully.