Election Levity for CamPAIN Relief

A headline that has appeared in my Internet Explorer home page claims that Presidential Candidate John McCain’s aids are complaining that Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is “going rogue” by getting off the carefully scripted stump speeches and inserting more of her own ideas into her talks.  What did they expect?  They picked her because she is a “maverick.”  She’s a soccer mom, not a stay at home mom!  She is used to yelling at her team to kick a little asphalt.  She is being true to form, and they are not happy with the turn of events.  Politics – go figure.   If they wanted someone who was going to support the status quo, it is strange that they picked someone who has shown a willingness to buck her own party at times – an image that John McCain touts about himself. 

I know of some dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans  who cannot imagine how or why people would ever vote for a candidate from the opposing party.  There actually is a good reason to have lots of candidates from the opposing party be in office – it gives your party someone to blame when things go badly.  So both Republicans and Democrats benefit from a two party system in which both parties are viable and strong – you can always blame the other party for what is wrong with the economy, foreign policy, domestic policy and your insurance policy.   Many dictatorships do offer one party democracies, and we know these as tyrannies.  Besides having someone to blame for what is wrong, true democracies have competing ideas which tends to improve the rationale and policies of all the political parties.

A Presidential Pardon: Commuting the Death Sentence for the Unborn

When Rick Warren asked Barack Obama when life begins, he gave a politically avoidant answer that such knowledge was above his pay grade.  In fairness to Senator Obama he is not seeking an office in the Church, and so he can dodge such an “ultimate” question.  It may also be true that his own personal belief or that of his Christian denomination is indeterminate on the subject.

But as President he will have to weigh in on some life and death issues – capital punishment cases or anti-terrorism decisions for example – and he will not always be able to avoid the issue of life and death by deciding such ideas are determined by God not man.  He did express approval for the killing of Osama bin Laden which he apparently views as just.

He has as president the power to commute some sentences.

It would certainly be right for him to commute the sentence of babies consigned to death, especially those condemned by late term abortion and those babies who survive attempted abortions only to be killed once they are taken from their mother’s womb.   Such barbaric and heinous practices should be stopped.

Those voting for McCain have a candidate who has more consistently opposed abortion, but who is in support of capital punishment.   However because of so many pressing issues, it might be easy for McCain as president to put pro-life issues on the back burner as has happened before.   So those who vote for John McCain, should he win the election, must also champion the cause of opposing late term abortions and of stopping the killing of babies who survive abortion attempts. 

Numerous pro-life supporters and death penalty opponents will vote for Barack Obama for president.  Such people are obviously not single issue voters, and they will cast their vote as they give weight to the various issues at hand in this election.  May they not however abandon these issues of life and death after the election, but rather bring them to the forefront of presidential policies. 

It would behoove all those who embrace pro-life ideals and who oppose the death penalty to press Mr. Obama to think again about when human life begins.  It is not an issue that a President can avoid, even if as presidential candidate he could dodge the issue.   He may not be able to decide when life begins, but he certainly will have to decide when life will end for some humans. 

It is not the candidate’s campaign promises and stance that matters, but what they do once they are in office.  Commuting the death sentences for the unborn, especially late term babies, is a pardon worthy of a presidential act.

The God Who Does Not Despise the Sinner

In a previous blog I mentioned Fr. Theodore Pulcini’s A Brief Guide for Christian-Muslim Dialog.    Fr. Pulcini mentions what can be a basis for a discussion between Christians and Muslims but also notes there are significantly different and even contradictory ideas about sin and salvation which cannot be ignored in any real dialog.    For example, he writes:

Because Muslims do not recognize the universal and corruptive power of sin, unleashed as a result of original sin, they see no need for salvation in the Christian sense. What you should do, according to the Islamic view, is simply live a good life, pleasing God in all that you do. Submit to God and follow his directives. Religion, to the Muslim, does not mean salvation from sin; it means following the right path, or the sharii`a, mapped out by Islamic law. … That difference in emphasis is very important. If one recognizes the pervasive power of sin, salvation is not just an option; it is a necessity. Christians lament the fact that an incomplete understanding of original sin led early Islam to “throw out the baby with the bath water” with regard to their understanding of sin. …  they have missed what Christians consider to be the central truth of human existence: that no matter how hard we try to conform to “right practice,” we will fall short of the goal. We cannot live the kind of life that God wants by our own power. And that is why salvation is necessary.

That difference in understanding is reflected in the Christian emphasis on repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness rather than an emphasis on keeping God’s Law (Torah, Quran) and is a major difference between how Christians understand God as versus how Muslims and Jews view God and humanity’s relationship to Him.   For Christians if strictly and perfectly keeping God’s law was possible and all that was needed, then Christ serves no purpose as we do not need God’s forgiveness and salvation, all we need is more strict observance of the Law.  Christians would say the very revelation of God’s love and mercy is that He forgives sinners who repent, and does not base salvation on our perfectly keeping every detail of the Law.  God’s love and mercy trumps His demands for righteousness, or maybe more correctly His righteousness turns out to be forgiveness, mercy and love not judgment as we sometimes incorrectly ascribe to Him (see Job 42:7-8)

The difference in belief, thinking and emphasis seemed very clear to me in the priest’s prayer of the Divine Liturgy before the Trisagion Hymn (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…) when he prays:

Holy God… who does not despise the sinner , but instead has appointed repentance unto salvation…

God is not so rigidly righteous as to condemn His human creatures for their sinful failings, rather in that He is love, He loves us while we are still sinners because He desires our salvation not our condemnation.  He takes into account our weaknesses and provides us a way to the Kingdom of heaven even when we fail to follow or obey His commandments – through forgiveness and love.

A Real Economic Stimulus?

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”  (Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve)

Greenspan expressed dismay that the lending institutions did not look after their shareholder’s interests.   But he may have been wrong – but mostly in terms of the time frame.  He assumed the lending firms would be interested in their shareholder’s bottom line before there was any economic meltdown and government bailout.   But his timeline was simply too short.  For according to the Associated Press, Uses for $700 billion bailout ever shifting:  “But reports surfaced that bankers might instead use the money to buy other banks, pay dividends, give employees a raise and executives a bonus, or just sit on it. Insurance companies now want a piece; maybe automakers, too, even though Congress has approved $25 billion in low-interest loans for them.”

It’s all quite legal according to the bailout plan sold to the congress by the Bush administration.

When the price of the entire bailout-economic stimulus is calculated, it may come close to $1 trillion.  Perhaps, if a truly comprehensive plan had been considered, instead of intervening in the market in such a way as to save lending institutions and wall street brokers who made very risky and very bad decisions, congress should have considered divvying up all the monies they would have invested in failed and failing companies and given each tax payer a $5,000 tax rebate.  Now that would have caused a real stimulus in the economy.

Sermon Notes for 26 October 2008

Sermon Notes for 26 October 2008        

Epistle:      (2 Cor. 11:31-12:9)    

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-…  Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

St. Paul, God’s chosen vessel and apostle is given a vision of the third heaven, paradise itself, and yet on earth has to flee for his life and escape arrest by escaping in a basket lowered from a window like some kind of contraband.  (actually I am wondering what they  would normally be lowering from a window in the wall of a city that would have escaped the notice of the authorities – smuggled goods or trash?   The city dump no doubt was outside the walls of the city, perhaps the public latrine as well.  Normal cargo would not doubt pass through city gates where it could be taxed).

St. Paul is chosen by Christ to carry the Gospel to the world, and yet the Lord will not free Paul from suffering.   Whatever the ecstatic experiences of Paul, whatever visions he had, or ascension he was given, he was never freed from the dangers and suffering of this world.  The Kingdom of God does not ensure for us the pursuit let alone the attaining of happiness in this world.  God deems the suffering of his chosen ones in this world to have value for them and the world or otherwise He would take his servants to paradise and keep them there.  As it is He seems satisfied with allowing us to work in this world even if we are weak or disabled.

  Gospel:     (Luke 16:19-31)

[19] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, [21] who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. [23] In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. [24] He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ [25] But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

Details I note in the Gospel lesson – this is a parable of Jesus, a story to teach, not a dogmatic or doctrinal statement about heaven or Hades.   And it is yet another parable that involves economics – Jesus frequently dealt with issues of wealth, prosperity and justice. 

Note both the rich man and Lazarus are alone in the story.  No other people surround them.  Lazarus is alone in his suffering.  The rich man feasts sumptuously, but alone – there is no mention of a banquet full of guests. 

The rich man dresses in purple – in the Roman Empire, normally only those born into the imperial family are allowed to wear the purple.   The rich man has not earned his wealth, he inherited it – he has never know poverty or want.   He stuffs his face at the table and food sloppily falls to the floor – he has so much to waste he is not worried about wasting food. 

Lazarus can only wish to eat from the food falling from the rich man’s table – but note he isn’t given it to eat.  He only desires it – his impoverishment is total; he is famished and allowed to see such sumptuous wastefulness and yet not able to reach the wasted food.  The dogs who lick his wounds no doubt had the mobility to get to the rich man’s food. 

Father Abraham basically tells the rich man – “Look in your lifetime you thought about nothing but yourself and feeding your face and always having not just enough but as much as you wanted.  You got what you always wanted.  You never gave thought to the poor or the afterlife, so now that you are tormented in Hades you have nothing to complain about.  Your only concern in life was you and your immediate wants.   Lazarus on the other hand had none of his needs met and he longed for relief from suffering, for liberation, for salvation, for mercy, and so now he is getting what he wanted all his life.  You have no complaint.” 

The message for us is clear – we can pursue all we want in this life, we can be fixated on this world and having enough or having too much.  But this life and this world belong to a bigger reality, and one day that bigger reality is going to open up to us, and then we will come to understand how selfish were our desires and how narrow minded our vision, and how little prepared we made ourselves for that greater reality – paradise, Hades, eternity and judgment. 

What are we living for?  What are our preoccupations and worries and concerns and priorities?  Are our ideas about life and God big enough?  Or have we so concentrated on ourselves and our wants and our lives that we have forgotten the bigger reality around us?  Have we reduced God the Creator of the Universe to some kind of personal Genie who is to provide for our personal needs? 

The turmoil in the stock market and the economy is certainly unsettling, but let us not lose sight of the bigger reality in which the world exists – God’s plan and God’s Kingdom.  There are things to fear in this world and to worry about, yet riches in themselves cannot commend us to God but they certainly can make us self absorbed.

If in this life time, all we worry about is having an abundance of things – of being prosperous, or of being satisfied – what complaint will we have in life beyond the grave if we are found to have made no provision for life in the world to come?