The temptation of power

Years ago Richard Foster wrote a book on the great temptations of our culture. They haven’t really changed.

Money. Sex. Power. They draw us in. They are at the root of so much that dominates our political landscape. And the Church somehow gets caught up in this game.

Let me demonstrate the idea of “power” and “money” in this statement:

The “pro-gun” lobby and the “Planned Parenthood” lobby are two sides of the same coin.

That really sets people off. Both sides won’t see the legitimacy of the other side. Both sides will scream their righteous indignation, NEVER claiming to be alike in any way.

But here is what happens in our current political climate:

“The Democrats are taking away our guns!”

“The religious right is trying to tell a woman what to do with her body!”

When those two lines are screamed, you know what happens? Gun sales go up in the first scenario, and donations to Planned Parenthood skyrocket in the second. Guaranteed.

No room for compromise. No room for discussion. It’s simply going to be a stream of insults and then money comes out… It’s ridiculously predictable.

And in the middle of this we have a “voting block” the media keeps insisting on called “evangelicals.” And that group still thinks they have a lot of sway. They certainly try a lot of guilt!

“If all the evangelicals had got out and voted like they were SUPPOSED TO… Candidate X would have WON!”

So, in our current cultural upheaval we have an American slice of Christianity still trying to hold on to …. power. 

And fear is the driver. Just like “gun control” and “women’s rights,” the key words here are: “religious freedoms.”

Here IS the thing: We have been afforded, as Christians, tremendous religious freedoms over the years. It is true.

My contention has been that in a secular society when you have “religious rights” and that culture’s definition of “human rights” clash… “religious rights” will start to slide away.

We ARE seeing that. There are swipes at what constitutes a “religious organization” when it comes to healthcare law. There are bills that arise from time to time challenging property tax exemption for religious organizations. There is a bill in the California legislature right now challenging funding for religious based colleges.

Here is what we are struggling with: the power. We have had it so good for so long and now that influence and prestige is waning.

And this group wants the same thing as Trump supporters in general and Sanders supporters in general: protection. 

Trump promises protection from the big bad immigrants and terrorists. Sanders promises protection from the big bad corporations.

And yesterday, hundreds of evangelicals made pilgrimage to NYC (Trump ain’t coming to you, baby!) to hear Trump promise one thing: PROTECTION. 

All of these things demonstrate the pull of those big three “strongholds” in our culture: money, sex, or power. Some evangelical groups are still clawing for one last fingernail hold in “power.” And it is looking ridiculous. Honestly.

What we need desperately in the American Church is new thinking. Fresh thinking. Kingdom thinking. The kingdoms of this world pale in comparison to the Kingdom of our God. Yet, we are clawing for power in this realm.

Rights will be challenged. It is just the environment we are in. We can challenge in court. We can challenge in political races. But those rights will keep slipping away.

It is NOT whining on my part. I believe this will give the church the opportunity it needs to BE THE CHURCH.

Quit courting political power! Hillary, Bernie, and Donald do not hold your answers! You CAN live in a society that grows increasingly hostile to Christian belief. Millions of Christians do it every day!

Let us quit the silliness of chasing this system’s power and let us BE THE CHURCH in a fresh new way!

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The Big Short, Big Money, and Greed

In the past week I watched The Big Short and Concussion. Two movies that were out last year. The Big Short had some Oscar nominations. Concussion didn’t. After watching both, it’s simple to see why that happened.

  1. It’s easy to blast at Wall Street.
  2. We don’t DARE take down the new American god of football.

After watching The Big Short, I bought the book and finished it quickly. Michael Lewis is a great writer and the book moved quickly, even though he had to slog through a lot of financial jargon.

The Big Short and Concussion have the underlying themes of big money and greed. Here are some conclusions Lewis makes in his book (and just simply substitute “NFL” for “Wall Street” to understand how both behemoths truly operate).

Concerning all the changes made after the crash in 2008 (this would include both Bush and Obama administrations and legislation that followed):

The changes were camouflage. They helped to distract outsiders from the truly profane event: the growing misalignment of interests between the people who trafficked in financial risk and the wider culture.

For instance, I was in a quick conversation with someone after the second round of handouts were given (this time in the Obama administration). The stranger asked, “Well, I wonder how much money I’ll get from this new round of handouts.” I answered: “We can figure this out right now. In the last ten years have you given obscene amounts of money to any political party or candidate?” The response: “No.” My answer: “Then you get nothing.” (Which is pretty much how it worked under Bush and Obama in their “plans.”

There is a misunderstanding on “investing” on Main Street and “investing” on Wall Street. They are two very different animals, which may be why Warren Buffet lives in Omaha.

Greed on Wall Street was a given — almost an obligation… The line between gambling and investing is artificial and thin.

(Greed in the NFL is a given as well. The line between caring about the players and making a TON of money off the violence of the sport is thin as well. It may be just as artificial.)

Concerning the bailouts:

What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?

The promises made by the Treasury Department before the first bailout evaporated once Congress gave the money to be doled out to banks that had willingly crashed the economy. Millions of dollars had already been paid to CEOs to actually leave their banks while billions were lost to investors.

Both movies and Lewis’s book have stirred my thinking once again.

It is only a reminder that we haven’t learned lessons… and this current election style will only further our ignorance. Those who think Bernie Sanders has a way out by “taxing Wall Street speculation” really haven’t paid attention to his plan, either. To his credit, he puts the “plan” out there for people to see. (He knows, like any good politician) people won’t really READ that thing, or understand it if they attempt to read it. He counts on that because if people DID pay attention they’d realize he isn’t going after the speculation as much as he is taxing regular “main street” investment.

I could give a response to Clinton’s claims and Trump’s claims as well, but they don’t pretend to NOT like Wall Street like Bernie claims. (I think he genuinely doesn’t like them. I just also think his “plan” is more political smoke and mirrors.)

What is clear from both movies is greed is a nasty thing. It captures the best of us if we’re not careful. And you certainly can’t get ahead of it in a secular society and legislate it away. It is truly a matter of the heart. And therein lies the rub. We have scrubbed religious discussion from the public square and so to speak of things as being “legal but immoral” just ring hollow. We want to scream that something “illegal” happened. We don’t want to scream something “immoral” happened… and that is a shame. (But then again, shame is a taboo word as well.)

We need our hearts examined and it all comes at a time when we don’t want a sense of “moral” obligation in our world.

Greed isn’t about being rich

Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” (Luke 12:15)

If we could easily identify “greed” as just a dollar amount, it would be so much easier. We often try to put a dollar amount on greed… and then tax it.

The warning is against all kinds of greed. The story Jesus then tells concerns a farmer who has enough storage for himself, but then his crop is bigger than his storage, so he builds bigger barns. He looked ahead for his provision.

At face value, there is a lot of American good in that very short story. He looked ahead. He thought of his retirement. He didn’t want to “be a burden” on anyone else…

And Jesus says God judged him that night.

Included in that “all kinds of greed” is the greed that doesn’t look out for others as well. There is a temptation to think the “bonus” we get is just for us. The failure is to check in with God and ask what that “bonus” may have as a purpose in our lives.

“All kinds of greed” doesn’t have a dollar amount. Another component is looking for more… just for more. It’s not seeing “the other” in our lives. It’s allowing the thought that the god of Mammon can be enough for us.

There are “all kinds of greed” we need to be aware of in our lives. We need a greater awareness of the resources we have in our lives, and how God might want us to use them.

 

Unconscionable

The presidential campaign has reached the $2 billion mark. Each candidate, plus the “Super PACs,” plus political party dollars have added up to this presidential election raking in $2 billion.

It won’t stop. We will give reasons as to why this is “necessary,” and even some who will say it “helps the economy.”

But I find it unconscionable.

Democrats. Republicans. It’s about the money. It’s about the power and the ability to influence that power.

And. It’s. Wrong.

That kind of money that floats out there and people decided to turn it toward one election where the winner makes $400,000 a year? We can do nothing else with that money? Really?

Somewhere along the way this may actually hit us in our conscience. I know today is not that day. But, today, it bothers me.