Friday, January 30, 2009

Trickle Down???

Dear friends...
I am NOT an economist, but like the rest of you I'm puzzled by the current economic crisis. Frankly, I believe that the "experts" don't know or understand what is happening I took a stab at it...after all, I KNOW I DON'T understand the economy. Having said that, I do have some thoughts...and so share them with you now. WARNING: Don't read this if you think priests should keep their noses out of politics and the economy..

It Doesn’t Seem to Trickle Down Anymore

The idea that the wealth of a nation would “trickle down” to the rest of us from those that generated the wealth at the top seems to be an idea that has passed its time. The faith that we held in that notion and in the notion that an increasingly unregulated economy would benefit everyone indefinitely also seems to be shaken by current economic realities.

We find ourselves in a time when our financial institutions are foundering because they invested in an amazing array of financial instruments that few but the most technically savvy really understood. Unfortunately these speculative investments were not only undercapitalized but were also dependent on a presumption that the real estate market would continue its upward climb without a major correction. When the day came for that correction, and the debt was called in, the money was not there.

That is when the government began to try and bail out the financial system. Unfortunately, it tried to bail it out from the top down, again presupposing that wealth would trickle down to the rest of us. To the contrary the collapse that began when the real estate market began to correct itself continues as money is poured into the system from the top. It continues to collapse.

The new stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration has many attractive features but unfortunately does not generate enough jobs to build a solid foundation for the economy to build on. Tax cuts alone provide nowhere near the liquidity needed to prop up the financials in the economy and we are thus left with the prospect of a continuing downward spiral that seems to be heading rather precipitously toward a crash. As praiseworthy as infrastructure improvements are, they cannot alone drive the economy back to viability. As worthy as health and unemployment benefits are they too will not touch the fundamental problematic we face, or at lease so it seems to me.

To reverse this fundamental error in our thinking, we may need to explore the possibility of building the economy from the bottom up for a change and not from the top down. There is an ancient precedent for this approach in the biblical notion of the “Jubilee” which was mandated every fifty years or so. Occasionally, wealth gets so concentrated in so few hands that a redistribution of that wealth becomes necessary for the entire system to survive.

It is a matter of some urgency that we make a decision to reallocate resources, it seems to me because we can only go to the well so often especially when we do so to the magnitude we are proposing in our current bail out strategies and stimulus plans.

What strikes me is that the resources that we are pouring into all our stimulus plans and bail outs at the present time are somewhat misplaced and ineffective. Instead, let us consider taking these resources and paying off all those bad mortgages and a good deal of the credit card debt in the economy? What if we were to prop up the economy from the bottom up rather than from the top down? Not only would that rid our financial institutions of toxic debts but it would prop up the housing market, increase home ownership and take a huge burden off those caught in the current downturn. It would get the building industry back on track and that sector alone could begin to drive the economy back into some vitality and the consumer would then find him/herself in a better position to drive the recovery.

The theory then that I propose is not quite communist although it sounds like it at first blush. Karl Marx is quoted as saying; “From everyone according to their means; to everyone according to their needs.” If you were to press me hard, I would have to admit that what I am proposing here does sound like communism. But biblical theology does that from time to time, but not exclusively so. Biblical theology also underpins our capitalist systems especially from the point of view of developing incentives to growth.

The theory that I am proposing is more specific than communism. It is a theory that says that when the concentration of wealth in too few hands reaches a point where it begins to collapse upon itself you cannot prop it up by giving it more—it will merely continue to collapse. It is like a reverse form of welfare. The system is corrupt and bankrupt from the top down and tossing money at it continues the cycle of corruption and bankruptcy. It cannot rectify itself by giving it more money. The CEO's have forgotten the great virtues of capitalism; frugality, efficiency, and quality. The greed they exemplify has become so bankrupt, that it threatens to bankrupt the entire economic system.

In order to salvage what we can of the economic system, we may need to reallocate our resources from the whole of the system to those who have been frozen out of the system. We may need to buy out their debt in the form of a “Jubilee” and thus prop up the financial system from the bottom up.

Thus the debt burden is relieved throughout the system and a return to a free market is possible…and that I argue is the desirable end of whatever strategy we discover is the effective one in the end.

Hopefully some bright folks in the government will institute some controls to prevent some of the excesses and abuses that led to the current collapse in liquidity. That, of course, will take incisive analysis and sufficient time to understand and then institute.

Once we then buy the time to give the economy breathing room we can then look at a more basic question. How do we institute the kinds of incentives we need to begin to produce durable goods domestically once again? How can we make it possible for the consumer to purchase domestic made goods once again? I am not proposing protectionism but a leveling of the playing field that gives domestic labor and industry the incentives to become more competitive.

The most significant flaw in the notion of communism to my mind is that it does not build into its system incentives to production or quality. The primary problem with capitalism is that without some kinds of checks and balances it will always concentrate wealth in too few hands and again the system collapses on itself as it is doing right in front of our eyes at this very moment.

We have also been doing that in recent decades by exporting the means of production overseas. All kinds of durable goods are now made outside of the domestic economy and we are left with a growing service sector. That sector cannot provide income and benefits that can, in turn, sustain an economy that we need to satisfy basic needs especially for housing. With Wal Mart for instance now replacing the old manufacturing facilities that once drove the economy to sustainability, we find ourselves pricing our young and our elderly out of the housing market. That is to say our young and our elderly of modest means. Those who are of significantly higher income need not worry. But much of the population makes well under $100,000 per year. For them (let me say, for “us”) economic viability is becoming much less possible. This has actually become the fundamental problematic underneath the present crisis…and this crisis has revealed this fundamental weakness in our economy.

The unknown factor in all this is what great discovery is next and who will exploit it? The computer and its related digital discoveries have given us an exciting way of managing the information age.

How then shall we discover our way toward environmental sustainability? Who will make these discoveries? How shall we encourage those discoveries and then provide incentives for their exploitation? Not only would such discoveries provide opportunities for the development of wealth, they would go a long way toward salvaging the planet.

So there you are; another few thoughts from a non economist. Just a simple parish priest, I am, puzzling my way through this part of time along with all the rest of you. Hopefully someone will figure out the way forward through the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack Obama and The Universal Chruch of God

I received this email just a short time response...I thought...though a repetition of what I've been saying for a good long time, is worth sharing...

Mary Anne & Pat,

I wrote the following for our FB page but then realized that posting it there might have the same effect that I was concerned about in my congregation. The three of you were the only ones that I knew shared my enthusiasm about our new president. So I ask you:

Is anyone going to make reference to the Inauguration in their sermon Sunday? The vision that our new president presented is certainly Christian and oh so hopeful. I'm planning to use it. I'm just wondering what land mines might be there than I could wisely avoid and still lift up that message.

Or maybe the rest of you don't have to be so cautious. After all I live in Bushland. Both my siblings refused to watch the Inauguration because they're still furious about the election. I know my brother will never acknowledge him as president and is among those still convinced he is not an American citizen and is secretly Muslim. And my mother still looks at me confused when I ask her "Why do you call him 'black' when he's half 'white'?" It's disheartening to see so many (church going) people refusing to give ear to someone calling us to old-fashioned virtues as a nation.


Hi Sharon, Mary Anne and Pat,
Here are a few of my thoughts about yesterday's experience...
I don't have to be cautious here at all...we are an intentionally inclusive congregation.
But the inauguration of Barack Obama really does beg the question...are we truly a "universal" nation/church or aren't God universal or not?
Ultimately we have to deal with the question...are we a house of prayer for all people or not?
Is God the creator of all people or only everyone except (supply here.your category of choice, please)
A wise Anglican Priest years ago posed this question (in a lecture...not church...churches cannot take such questions sometimes)
"I wonder if God is able to send people like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, and all the others so that the world could be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea? I wonder too if God could send great scientists into the world that forced blind belief to face the truth about the world we live in? I wonder; if there is a God...if God could do that?"
We in the Anglican experience are one tiny corner of Christianity that is experimenting with the notion that the love of God embraces everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, economic class, gender or orientation.
We as a church are proposing that all human categories which we have conjured to organize the world we live in, fall before the gaze of the Glory of God. I believe we saw a glimpse of it yesterday...just a the inauguration of Barack Obama.
That's what excites me...and it has excited me ever since I was a child. I figured out early on that heaven was a place in the human heart where God's heart beats for all humanity...they said my daddy could not go to heaven because he didn't go to church. That's what the religious folks said...I have learned many times over not to listen to religious folks all the time. Sometimes I listen instead to my heart. Because it was in my heart that I heard these words..."Don't you know that there's a special place in my heart for your dad?"
I believe that question applied to my godless and unchurched family...a mother divorced three times and who had an abortion, an uncle who was gay, and now two kids who also happen to be gay...I hear what the religious people are saying...but I'm still suspicious...because I still hear the words of God in my heart..."Don't you know there's a special place in my heart for your dad, your mom, your uncle, your kids, and everyone else in the whole wide world....?" Good question God!
Frankly, I believe that God is right...or at least those words that I heard in my heart of hearts when I was a child and echo up into the present are right.
And so that's the approach I have taken in my preaching...and will continue to take so long as I live.
Peace...and love,

Sunday, January 04, 2009

God??? a comment and a response.

Meg wrote an interesting comment to my offering "God???" and I may enjoy the conversation....join in if you wish...I love a little bit of theology from time to time...Fr. Paul

Blogger Meg said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I love thoughts that require a fork and steak knife to get through and internalize.... and this coming from a vegan!
God's Will leaves me wondering about Free will. What say you about our free will and God's omnipotent nature? Doesn't omnipotence negate free will?
Megan from West Virginia

I enjoyed reading this post. I love thoughts that require a fork and steak knife to get through and internalize.... and this coming from a vegan!
God's Will leaves me wondering about Free will. What say you about our free will and God's omnipotent nature? Doesn't omnipotence negate free will?
Megan from West Virginia

9:10 PM
Blogger Fr. Paul said...

Hi Meg,
Thanks for your comment. When I think of God as "omnipotent" I try to see it in Biblical terms. In fact God is quite limited because of human will. We are free to be as mean, violent, hateful, prejudiced, dishonest and fraudulent as we wish to be...recent history is surely a witness to that.
In response to the nature of human nature, God cannot be anything but God. God is born, for instance, as a baby, homeless, and of an unwed mother, very poor and subject to the throes of all that befalls humanity. Ultimately he is put to death, and there is no intervention whatsoever. He is utterly helpless...isn't that curious. Jesus really is just like us. But what make God "omnipotent" is that he uses the occasion of his death, to forgive us, love us and give us the gift that we never expected, especially after we treated him so...he gives us eternal life. In fact Jesus claims the gift for himself but then curiously gives it to all humanity whether we want it or not and whether we deserve it or not.
What makes the gift "omnipotent" to me is that the gift is for EVERYONE...because ALL sins are forgiven. Even before we knew that we had done sinning at all.
We knew something was wrong...after all, there is lots of bloodshed...there still is. There was cheating, lying, and human suffering in generous supply.
But Jesus said...."I have a better idea...why don't you love each other?" We're still working on that...because being free...we'd somehow rather kill each other off...go figure.
Anyway...our job is to proclaim the good news...He is risen. We are forgiven. Love God. Love one another...please!
Godspeed to you Meg...and enjoy the veggies!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Holy Name

New Year's Day is the Feast Day of the Holy Name in Christian least in those circles where the seasons are kept with some care...and so today we mark the day that Jesus was circumcised as was the custom then as now for Jewish boys. And he was given the name the angel had given him at the visitation to Mary.
Here are a few thoughts about Names.

Illustration #1
“What’s in a name?” Juliet said, musing on the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Even if Romeo were of that “other” family, so what; she continues; “What’s in a name; that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet”. Perhaps then there is hope for their love. “Romeo, Romeo, doff thy name and for thy name which is no part of thee, take all myself!” Our hope for the young lovers always beats high no matter how many times we read the story; but in the end the cascading violent anger of the families brings the children both to their tragic ends. Only then can the elders see the folly of their ways. Thus the Holy Name of Jesus is born to us; the name that says “Savior” all over it; can the cascading, violent anger of our social order learn from Him? Has it ever? Will it ever?

Illustration #2
A wonderful moment exults inside Handel’s Messiah when the chorus sings; “And his Name shall be called; Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace!” How wonderful. The name of Jesus is a name that is above all other names. And it brings with it wonders, wisdom, power, eternity and above all else it brings Peace. It is inside that moment when the chorus rejoices; “For unto us a child is born, and then the Government shall be upon his shoulder. How fanciful is the scripture hope…or is the fanciful name of Jesus the only name under heaven that will really work?

Illustration #3
It is Christmas…and a cold icy grip has seized much of the nation. Like a frozen mantle, snow has fallen; snow on snow. A tempestuous wind swirls about piling up the snows into prodigious drifts. And the news we hear of the economy, foreign wars, and domestic threats of terror, seize us like a hard, hard winter. Shall we huddle in fear in such a climate or should we rather gather to sing the songs of a savior’s birth? Can Jesus save us from this mess? Can we save ourselves from this mess with the help of Jesus? We’ve been singing Christmas music for a long, long time and not as a backdrop to shopping frenzies. No it is best sung, gathered together in our holy places, huddled together by candlelight, singing in our sometimes untrained voices of the holy humble child in a manger. When we learn to love one another so; then the Holy Name of Jesus love can save us all! Sing on, sing on all through our Silent Night!

A Christmas Gift for ALL

Please notice the symbolism of the rainbow in the gift that God gives us in Mary's lap... I love the way this song sings of the Incarnation.
Peace to ALL
Fr. Paul


The question of God continues to come back to us day after day. We believe and we doubt and sometimes we do so close to the same moment. Here's an exchange between a friend and me that I thought worth sharing...what do you think of God???
When I noted on Facebook that we were hunkering down for yet another snowstorm, a friend wrote as follows.
"God WANTS all you Easterners to have all that lovely snow!! Surely you are not criticizing God's WILL???" (This friend lives in California)
I responded as follows: "God's will has always been a puzzlement to me!!!
Alas, as my grandmother was fond of saying; "I can't understand everything I know..."
Happy New Year."
He wrote back and interesting set of thoughts; "I am ABSOLUTELY with you! God has always been and I suspect will always be a Puzzlement! Since I retired (well, maybe in the last 2 years) I have been completely rethinking "God". I think I am at the interesting point where "God" is a creation of the human mind/heart/psyche - which is OK, and which does not make "God" unreal. To the contrary. WHat the human mind conceives is certainly "real". And has power. I think this is the way the Mystery we call God "works".
What think you?"
If you know me well, then you know how I might approach these rejoinder; "My thoughts...God is a matter of the human heart. Perhaps a projection of the heart, but I suspect that as we journey more deeply into the "Interior Castle" of the human heart, so too we also begin our journey into the heart of God.
I reject notions of God that project him/her as a demi-urge or as an unmoved mover or any other mechanistic cog in the universe.
To me God is much more of an integral part of experience...the experience of love, suffering, forgiveness, despair, hope and the like...all of which invites us into an encounter with the deepest dimensions of our being...the "I am" of my own being as being in relationship with the "I AM" of God.
Still, faith such as it is, is only a leap into the unknown and the unknowable...and as such is still a magnificent Puzzlement.
As for me, the only semi knowable in life is love...and that reality is the only pathway I know to my heart and to the heart of God.
....just a thought...
Godspeed and Happy New Year.
Paul of Salem.