Posts Tagged ‘Liberals’

Founding Faith

I really enjoy reading good history books. Since my interests are pretty eclectic, so is my library.  The startling thing about reading history is how much is not new to human experience.  It almost makes one believe that life is an endless cycle that experience death and rebirth or reincarnation.  Still, learning from people who have gone before us and the histories they leave behind can be very instructive.

Recently, I finished Steven Waldman’s national bestseller, “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical a New Approach to Religious Liberty” (Random House, 2008).  I have read conservative writers and historians take on this period of American history as well as extremely liberal writers and historians treatment of the same period.  Both sides seem to want to use this common history to push a political or religious agenda.  Waldman’s treatment of this formative period of American history and its major players was far more balanced (he takes shots at both sides’ attempts to use this history to prove their points).

I appreciate an historical perspective that allows the characters and events to be complicated. Steven Waldman does just that with how he portrays the beliefs of the different Founding Fathers.  They were complicated individuals who changed their religious and political opinions throughout their life times.  Some mellowed with old age, while others hardened with it.  Some began with a very narrow view of religion and then ended their life with a much more liberal view of it, while others had just the opposite experience.

The formation of the founding documents that all these key players had a stake in reflects a part of all of their journeys toward maturity. However, being a part of a political process, they also reflect the various and many compromises that all of them had to make concerning religious and political views.  They did this to bring unity.  Thus, necessity, once again, proves to be “the mother of invention.”  Individuals who found themselves at odds and even hostile to others’ opinions came to believe that compromise was needed to accomplish a larger mission.  After the revolution’s dust settled, then the gloves came off and parties returned to their factious ways, which made for some truly colorful politics.

Hot Rod, Pickup, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Hot Rod, Pickup, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Whatever one has studied about the faith of the Founding Fathers of the United States, one thing is pretty certain from Steven Waldman’s book: they defy easy definition or categorization according to our present political or religious definitions.  In other words, the words “conservative” or “liberal,” whether religious or political did not mean the same thing at the end of the 18th century as it does in the 21st.  At the same time, our present understandings or assumptions concerning the Masons, Unitarians, Puritans or Congregationalists are not completely adequate.

Just like the hot button issues that drives our political agendas today; the Founding Fathers had their own hot button issues surrounding politics and religion. Thus, they reacted against the perceived abuses of both spheres of influence in human affairs.  The common perceived threat was a political or religious authority that interfered with the liberty of a person to act according to his or her conscience. Thus, politics and religion was the battle ground then as much as it is today; perhaps it will always be a part of American politics.

The diversity of religious expressions throughout the colonies demanded liberal documents that would not too narrowly define religion or faith. The various economic experiments that the colonies had gone through since their foundings also demanded broadly worded documents that allowed states to continue their systems of governance.  Of course, the power struggle between states and the federal government continue up to this day and have had some interesting developments over the past almost 250 years.

In short, the seeds of the religious and political dramas being played out today were planted in the soil of this country by our Founding Fathers. Just as compromise marked their work, so it will and must mark our work today.  There is a larger ideal in the formation of the United States of America than what particular religion or faith must be expressed.  The critical issue for the Founders and for us today is the question as to whether any religion or no religion at all contributes to the moral character of our self-government.

As such, the Founding Fathers guaranteed that the game of politics in the United States would also be a rough and tumble sport. This can be witnessed in the lives of our very first leaders.  Politics is not for the faint of heart.  We need people who are willing to contend for issues that are central to the way we live and the way we govern ourselves.  At the same time, let us remember the larger principles for why we exist as a nation.  These can be seen in our founding documents.  Of course, this will require a faith in our Founding Fathers, whatever side of the political or religious aisle they stood.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Outward Posture, Inward Rebellion

There is something innate in human nature that makes most people want to conform to the social mores of a group to be accepted. It is the way we identify “those who are like us” and “those who are not like us.”  Even those who consider themselves mavericks, loners and social outcasts often conform to way of behaving and dressing that identifies them with all the other mavericks, loners and social outcasts.  As such, paradoxically, they become a part of their own self-identified group even though they want to exhibit their individualism and anti-group attitude.

No where is the propensity to want to identify with a particular coterie more evident than in or among religious and political groups. Even then, political assemblies do not hold a candle stick to the divisive nature of religious groups.  This is not just an issue with any one particular religion, but all religions.  Christians used to murder one another over doctrinal distinctives as quickly as Muslim Sunnis, Shias and other Islamic sects do today in the Middle and Far East.  Hindu castes war with one another and tribalism is known to rule many parts of the warring factions of Buddhists.

I am not able to speak to the other religions state of division, but I am not the only one among Christians who are dismayed at the lack of charity and love many Christians show one another from different doctrinal streams. This is especially ironic given the particular emphasis its founder, Jesus the Messiah, place upon “loving one another” in the Christian community.  It was these loving, grace-filled communities that were supposed to be a sign and witness to the rest of the world that God’s Kingdom had truly come to earth.

Without denying what is clearly described as the central tenets of the faith that all Christians can agree upon, nor marginalizing what all can agree Scripture clearly identifies as sin, it seems to me that there is a lot of room for allowing others to follow Jesus according to the dictates of one’s own heart and conscience without imposing those upon others.  Alas, this does not seem to be the case.  Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, Christians are determined to cluster in groups for the only particular purpose of identifying “who is in” and “who is out;” like they have some decision in the matter of who actually gets into heaven and who doesn’t.

So, we like to bunch ourselves around labels: conservatives versus liberals, fundamentalists versus evangelicals, pentecostals versus charismatics, dunking baptizers versus sprinkling baptizers, social gospel versus proclamation gospel, baby baptizers versus baby dedicators, congregationalists versus presbyteries, hi-church versus lo-church, liturgical versus non-liturgical, King James version only versus modern translations, traditional church music versus contemporary church music, denominational versus independent non-denominational.  And the grouping goes on and on and on.

It would be one thing if this was simply an attempt to gather like minds and hearts to worship and learn together. This could be done while at the same time recognizing and embracing other Christian fellowships that have different expressions and doctrinal emphases.  Sadly, this is not the case for the vast majority of churches and their followers.  The pride of triumphalism creeps into the gang gathered that emits an attitude that communicates, if not expressed overtly and outwardly at least inwardly, that they are the “only true” believers on God’s planet.  God must laugh, or weep.

All that we seemed to have accomplished with such behaviors is to confound nonbelievers and tarnish our testimony to the One we are striving to follow. Then, to make matters worse, our efforts to ensure group conformity in beliefs and behaviors only produce among us disingenuous and hypocritical believers.  The disciples we produce are able to spout our dearest doctrinal truths and exhibit, at least while within and among the group, the expected pious behavior.  Thus, they have an outward posture that says they genuinely belong to the Christian sect, but inwardly struggle with rebellion that will express itself sooner or later.

Once again, human efforts at religion create a human-focused and human-energized faith system. A faith system that holds in bondage its followers to a scripted religious expression and holds at a distance anyone who is at variant with that particular expression.  Is doctrine important?  Yes.  Is righteousness or right-living important?  Yes.  However, outward conformity to either of these without a change in heart only breeds a deadly religious syncretism where faith and belief do not really change attitude and heart.

Extending love and grace to everyone on their spiritual journeys, no matter where they may be in them, is the only way to live in the communal unity Jesus called his disciple to attain. Instead of attempting to identify “who’s in” and “who’s out,” what if every Christian fellowships goal was to identify where people are on their spiritual pilgrimage?  What if Christians permitted one anther to cluster around like interests and similar spiritual journeys without rejecting or disparaging other Christians of different interests and dissimilar spiritual journeys?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my household, all four of my children are different from one another. They have different abilities and talents; dissimilar likes and dislikes; as well as a various mix of personality traits from their paternal and maternal side of the family.  In my household, I do not attempt to make them all like the same thing.  They do not all have to play the same sport or same games.  Even the formation of their behaviors and beliefs has taken on unique and interesting paths.

I do not love any one of them more than any other. I love each of my kids dearly.  I cannot imagine my household without them.  Each of their character, sense of humor, way of doing things, seeing things, approaching things and processing things adds variety to our family life.  Yes.  Sometimes it is frustrating and even maddening.  At the same time, all of our differences can bring hilarity and light moments.

The point is this: we do not sit around the dining room table trying to identify who is really part of the family and who is not.  As amazingly different as we are all from one another, there is enough family resemblance to assure us that there is no mistaking our family tree.  Instead of picking one another a part with differences, we attempt to celebrate them.  And, as we mature, those very traits that once drove us to distraction when we were younger now become the most endearing qualities we love about each other.

We are not a perfect family. We have our dysfunctions for sure; just like God’s family here on earth.  What if God sees his family like this?  What if he loves each of our clusters, fellowships and groups as much as the next one?  What if he looked upon us with loving eyes and just wished we would honor and love each other the way he esteems and loves us?  What if he recognizes our spiritual quirks, illogical dogmas and inconsistent righteousness and loves us anyway and wishes we would do the same for each other?  Imagine that for a moment.

In truth, humanity is broken. Along with the rest of humanity, Christians are broken people seeking healing and wholeness in their Creator.  In the long run, it may suit our efforts toward personal healing and wholeness and seeing God’s Kingdom truly come to earth if we simply stopped and rejected our own religious posturing.  Rather than expending so much energy identifying “who’s in” and “who’s out,” if we took time to recognize our own tendencies toward inward rebellion, we may be more apt to extend grace to others.  This, in turn, may allow us to broaden our acceptance, care and love to all our spiritual siblings in the heavenly Father’s household.  It is, after all, his house and not ours.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bloodless Revolutions

The great American democratic experiment stands in marked contrast to many other struggling nations in the world today.  It is something for which every person living in the good ol’ U.S. of A. should be thankful for but seems too few really recognize – at least if one thinks the popular news outlets and local newspapers ‘Letters to the Editor’ is any indicator.  Once again, too many people seem to be ignorant of American history specifically and world history in general.

In American democracy, every two years to four years the American voting public can change its government without shedding a drop of blood.  This is not the case in many countries around the world.  Change in government structures and powers can only come through bloody revolutions that cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, and wreck havoc on the economy, safety and well-being of its citizens.  Oppressive governments stay in power by subjugating protesters to imprisonment, torture and the threat of death.

Today, in American democracy, the common people can rise up in open protest without threat of violence or imprisonment from the governing powers.  This was not always the case, however.  The unrest of the 1960’s helped to change all of this for future generations, whether it was the peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, student sit-ins or more violent student protests.  In the early 20th century unionists, socialists and communists were openly persecuted and jailed.  The McCarthy era communist scare of the 1950’s involved the blacklisting and even jailing of individuals.  Despite all of this, America has always been able to absorb social change and movements and find or rediscover its equilibrium.

Thankfully, peaceful protests and gathering people from opposing political viewpoints is not against the law.  In fact, it is a vital part of American democracy.  Town hall meetings, mass gatherings and forming new political alliances or parties can take place openly.  Police even offer protection to the most obnoxious protesters among us.  Take for instance the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at military funerals or Anarchists at world leader events or anti-abortionists with their gruesome pictures in front of Planned Parenthood buildings.  As much as they may be repulsive to some people, they have the freedom in an open democratic system to voice their views.  (What is appropriate and inappropriate communication of those views will be left for another time.)

On the other hand, recently around the world we have witnessed countless bloody revolutions, coups and violent protests.  Recently it was Kyrgyzstan.  However, since America’s most recent presidential election, other countries have gone through similar convulsions: Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, Iran, Georgia, Mozambique, Congo, Moldova, Nepal, Tibet, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Timor, and Gaza to name the ones that I know.  There may be others.  Many other places in the world have small revolutionary groups at work; far too many to attempt to name here.

The United States of America has always had its own revolutionaries at work behind the scenes.  Whether it is the White Supremacists, the Black Panthers, the Anarchists, the Militia Movement, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, the Army of God, the Black Liberation Army, the Communist Party or many other smaller fractured groups, groups like them have always been present among us from the earliest days of the American democracy.  For now, they remain on the fringe of American society.

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I believe that we who live in America should be thankful for two things1) That we have a system of replacing or changing our government and its officials through a bloodless means – a bloodless revolution, and 2) That there is an allowable system of protestation that gives voice to the variant messages in America – no matter how much we might disagree with them or even find them repulsive.  The alternative is no alternative.

This is why violence and the threat of violence are so dangerous to the democratic process.  Whether it is instituted at the government level or at the grassroots level of our society, the end result can only be the violent demise of democracy altogether.  The former will lead to an oppressive government that holds its people in bondage to one way of thinking and acting.  The latter will lead to an anarchy in which fractured groups will impose their will and ideals over others.  One will lead down the path to dictatorships and government by an elite and ruling class.  The other will lead to more Oklahoma City bombings.

When the government oversteps its boundaries, the self-governing institutions of our society kick into play through the scrutiny of conservative or liberal presses, public inquiries and social outcries from the public. 

When individuals and groups overstep their boundaries of protesting by moving into violence and the threat of violence, then the self-governing institutions of the local police and sheriffs, federal investigative agencies and the outcries from the public offer correction.

In either case, we still have a way of self-correcting the future course of America without shedding a drop of blood.  As long as the American public…

  1. remains educated about current issues,
  2. learns from its own history and world history,
  3. actively participates in the political and social process of our democracy, and
  4. demands civil discourse rather than violence or the threat of violence,

…then I am confident in the future of American democracy and society.  I believe there are enough sensible and educated citizens within its borders to navigate the issues the lay ahead of us.  We may not always agree on what the outcomes should be but we will always have a voice and a choice to be involved in the process.  Even as I write this, I hear the rumblings of another bloodless revolution this next November.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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It does not take a Ph.D. in history to know that human existence has been fraught with warfare. I doubt that there ever has existed a time of peace on earth.  Somewhere war between two groups of people or more was and is always waged.  It began as long ago as Cain and Abel and continues right down to our present day.  We continue to see it in the tribal or ethnic warfares of Africa, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka.

One would think that our human evolutionary process would have taken us past this need to annihilate one another after some thousands of years of our living together on earth.  But, alas, no.  Neither physical nor social evolution has brought us to an any brighter end than when we began.  Indeed, at times in our common history it appears that we have de-evolved back into cannibals; take the wars and genocides of the 20 century, for example.  These all took place at the height of western rationalism and scientific achievements.

The tendency to devolve into unthinking brutes is no more apparent than in the present state of American politics.  I am constantly amused by the “Letters to the Editor” in my own local paper, The Tri-City Herald.  Each week, social and political conservatives and liberals take turns lambasting one another.  The vitriol is bitter.  The hate is evident.  Each side uses over-generalizations, unfair caricatures, and name calling to publicly flay their opponents.  Of course, it is couched in language that is supposed to make us think it is all really intelligent and thoughtful when it is apparent that it is not.

This is nothing new to American politics.  It goes way back; before even the founding of our great nation.  Politics and religion in America have always been the cause of great divides between its citizens.  More than once in our history it has turned extremely nasty.  For example, one only needs recall the early colonial embattlement between Christian sects.  Crossing a colonial border with the wrong religious credentials could get a person thrown in stocks or worse.  Our early protestant heritage created an extremely hostile environment to immigrant Catholics, especially Irish Catholics in the mid to late 19th century.  It was still a major issue for Protestant Americans when John F. Kennedy (an Irish Catholic) ran for president.

Our greatest historical black eye came to us in our own Civil War.  This was essentially an issue over politics; the role the federal government was or was not going to play in state governments.  As we know, the pro-federalist north won the fight over the anti(con)-federalist south.  Federal government has continued to grow stronger and stronger since that time.

Those in power have always used the seat of power to promote their political and social agendas.  So we have in our history a crazy-quilt pattern of abuses by those in authority.  One only needs to note the persecution of those who tried to bring about changes: the anti-slavery activists who were vilified and persecuted; the women suffragettes who were frequently jailed; the unionists and socialist who were imprisoned and killed; the communists who were jailed and castigated in society; the civil rights activists who were beaten, jailed, and killed.  And the list goes on and on.

What we seem to have entered into today in American society, however, is a new level of hostility.  The “middle ground” that has always helped America keep her head seems to have shrunk to a non-entity or have been muffled by the screams of the extremist hostiles on both both sides of the debate.  Not only is the dialogue that does take place extremely uncivil but both sides are simply shutting down dialogue all together and shutting one another out.

As such, we frighteningly have taken on the characteristics of the tribal warfare that has plagued other parts of the world.  How far are we from the hostilities between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda or the Luos and Kikuyus in Kenya?  How different are we from the Serbs, Croats, and Albanians of the Balkan nations?  What makes us unique from the Catholic/Protestant or Unionist/Nonunionist war that has plagued Ireland?  How are these examples any different than what we presently see displayed in our own society between the Republican “tribe” and Democratic “tribe” or the conservative “tribes” and the liberal “tribes”?

Sure, we can boast that the difference is we do not now have the physical violence they have experienced (though we have admittedly had it in our past).  However, I’m left wondering how long that will last as long as both sides of the debate continue to demonize one another and paint each other as “the enemy”.  When the United State of America descended into the Civil War of  the 19th century, it took many by surprise that it had come down to an act of war.  Soon, friends and even family members were divided and shooting one another on open battle fields on American soil.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C. ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Given the fact that humans seems to have not evolved at all and that we still have a propensity to kill one another over skin color, religion, ethnic differences, political view points, and social statuses, we should tread very carefully into this 21st century.  We are not so far away from our tribal cannibalistic ancestors.  We will war with one another just because we are different from one another.

We also need to keep in mind that this great nation of ours is still an experiment in Democracy.  We have not proven that we have succeeded yet.  The story is still unfolding.  The end is still to be written.  Are we truly a nation that is still the “great melting pot” of the world where people of different ethnicities, religious and political backgrounds can come together and co-exist peacefully and in harmony?  Or, will we descend into a bunch of hostile tribes who huddle together and plan how to annihilate all competitors for food and control?

The way out of our present dilemma and stalemate is to return civility and a generous spirit back into the public discussion of what is best of the whole nation.  This will take a concerted effort especially by the more moderating voices in the public arena.  Places where incivility and unkindness are displayed in any form must not be tolerated by the crowd at large.  We do not need laws and government interference in the public forums.  What we need is self-censureship and self-control by all those involved.

What is also needed is for those who call themselves Christians to act like the One they claim to follow. Identity in the Kingdom of God trumps any social or political or ethnic identity.  If in the New Testament “there is now, therefore, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave or free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:28, see also Romans 10:12), then that truth is needed now as much as it was then.  The unity we are called to in Christ is lived out in the family of God as adopted sons and daughters from every walk of life on earth.  Who are we to determine who gets to be a part of the family of God and who does not?

Our recent historical lesson should be the African nation of Rwanda where supposedly 80% of its population claimed to be Christian.  Yet, that religious identity and calling made no difference in how one looked upon or treated persons from the other tribe.  Ethnic identity trumped Christian faith and calling.  Millions died and suffered because the Church abandoned its true identity as brothers and sisters in Christ apart from tribe.

This is just the opposite of what Christ calls us to.  It is the same for Christian Americans who come from different political, religious, or ethnic backgrounds.  Let us not stand around singing “We Are One in the Spirit” with only those who look and think like us.  Let us sing that in the midst of our great diversity as a the Bride of Christ, the family of God, and a Democratic nation.

Finally, two childhood sayings come to mind when I listen to the public debacle we have come to call town meetings or community forums.  The first is “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  This is not to say disagreement should not be voiced.  By all means, it should be.  However, whatever is said needs to remain focused on the main point and not degenerate into accusations and name calling.  The second is this, “It is not what you say, but it is how you say it that is important.”

The tone that we bring to the public discussion will in some part determine the response we get from the other side of the aisle.  It only helps our cause, not hinders it, when we treat each other and contrary view points with respect and kindness.  Perhaps these should be posted at our next meetings before we break out the machetes and machine guns.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Even before the founding of the United States of America, the question that bright minds have struggled with concerns the role of government in the life of the individual and the community. It is something that we are still trying to define today.  The answer really rests on one’s experiences in life and the attitudes that have been handed down.

Much of American life and culture is made up of the rugged settlers and individual entrepreneurs who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and earned their own success.  They left community, friends, and families behind to make it on their own.  As a result, their identity with a community is loosely based upon their individual fit in it.  If they come to a place where they do not feel they fit any more, they have no problem pulling up roots and moving – to a different job, a different community, a different church, etc.

These individuals came from families who left mother country and fatherland to start a new life in America. Then, they left comfortable lifestyles on the eastern seaboard of America to pioneer and settle the mid-west or start over in the gold rushes of the far west.  Later, their families left the family farms of the mid-west to find careers in the expanding industries and start-up companies on the west coast of the U.S.  There is a history of settlers, pioneers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs in this group.

Those that grew up in this cultural ethos tend to believe that government should leave the individual alone to do his or her best (or worst).  The role of government is largely relegated to ensuring the safety of the nation, the economic concerns of the nation on the international stage, and to provide, as much as is fairly possible, a level playing field for each individual or corporation to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Individual rights are more important than governmental interests.  Big business and their CEO’s tend to be suspect only when they are perceived as being in cahoots with the government.  Otherwise, they are content to leave well enough alone.

These tend to be what has come to be referred to as “conservatives”. They are conservative about cultural and governmental changes.  As such, they tend to believe that less government is better government.  The settler, farmer, rancher, entrepreneur, business owner and anyone else who attained the American dream by their own hard work tend to be in this mix.  America has a long history of such individuals: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (despite, among others, being a philosophical and social liberal), Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Booker T. Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan among others.  Of course, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are also included in the conservative camp, but they also did much to expand the role and authority of the federal government.

On the other side of the discussion are those who have thrived and succeeded in the American dream not so much on their own rugged individualism as much as in cooperation with others. Many of these have been immigrants who came to America and settled in immigrant communities.  They survived the transition into a new life through the safety and cooperative spirit of that community.  Others of these have witnessed the success of cooperatives to better their lives, such as labor unions or social justice organizations.  They tended to gather in large cities and depended upon their smaller community within the context of the large metropolitan area to maintain identity and gain a measure of success and stability.

These tend to be what has become referred to as “liberals”. They are liberal about social and governmental changes.  As such, they tend to see that government is the promoter and prompter for social change on the individual and corporate level.  Whatever change is necessary to better the whole community is welcome.  They believe that government exists not only to guarantee a level playing field but also to guarantee, as much as is possible, that every individual succeeds and attains life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  America has a long history of such individuals:  John Adams (despite, among others, being a philosophical and social conservative), James Madison, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson,  and Jimmy Carter among others.

These are two distinct visions of America. For one group, government is the extension of the individual with representatives to carry out the interests of the individual.  For the other group, government is the extension of the whole community with representatives to carry out the interests of the whole community.  One sees a lone pioneer struggling to make it on his or her own.  Another sees a village working together for the survival and fulfillment of all of its members.  On one side of the aisle you have a group yelling, “Stay out of my way.  I can do it!”  Then, on the other side of the aisle you have a group screaming, “Together we can!”

Yellow Flowers in Seattle, Full Color, July 2003

Yellow Flowers in Seattle, Full Color, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Which one is correct? This is part of the struggle surrounding the current health care reform debate.  Do we need government intervention and control?  Or, do we need to let the individuals and corporations of our society work it out in the market place?  Until then, who pays the price?  Is it better to have a government bureaucrat or committee deciding who and what is covered by insurance or to have a corporate lawyer and committee decide?  Both may hold power over the individual and make decisions that are life changing.   Are we better off allowing the abuses and responsibilities of  insurance and medical corporations to continue or should we entrust the government to do a better job?  Is the track record of government bureaucracies better than the track record of public or private corporations?  And this is only one issue our nation is struggling with among many.

The question that must be answered, and perhaps never will be answered in our current American cultural climate, is simply this:  What kind of community do we want to make as a nation?  Is community made up of  individuals in cooperation with one another based upon contractual agreements?  Or, is community made up of  individuals in responsibility for one another based upon larger responsibilities to the whole nation?

The question that must be answered in our religious communities is this: What does the gospel say concerning the care of the last, least, and lost among us?  What are the commands and injunctions given to us in the Old and New Testament concerning how we treat the oppressed, foreigner, and poor among us?  If we deny the government the responsibility to care for them then where are we in actively caring for them?  While we have built multi-million dollar campuses and facilities, what impact have they had upon caring for the poor and disenfranchised in our communities?  What portion of our church budgets go to help the poor, unemployed, disabled, hungry, sick and homeless in our own congregation or neighborhoods?  How much do the community churches support the local food bank, homeless shelter, free medical and counseling clinics, and pregnancy centers?

If the government is only a representative of the independent individuals of our society, then perhaps it is time for these individuals to own up to their moral responsibility and put up or shut up when it comes to donating time and money to help the less fortunate around them.   We are all our brother’s or sister’s keeper.  It is in our best interest to care for those in need around us.  For the religious, it is the essence of the gospel and our true identity with Christ.

On the other hand, if the government is an extension of community and community care to our whole society, then it is in everyone’s best interest that the government by the people, for the people, and of the people hears from the people.  For a community is more than just one, whether that one be the president, a senator or representative, a bureaucrat or corporate lawyer.  Likewise, “we” is more than just “me”.  Perhaps now would be good time to hear everyone say, “We can do this together!”  And for all the individuals to answer, “Count me in!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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There is a great deal of hand-wringing over the demise of the “American empire” – or at least the appearance of it according to some political conservatives.  I must disclose that I consider myself a political conservative or, perhaps more accurately, right of center.  There are some things that I think the folks on the left of the political spectrum have right.  I support them in these ideas and policies.  Nevertheless, the alarm conservatives have over what they consider to be the down fall of America has me puzzled.

History teaches us that empires never last forever. Why would we expect anything different for our nation?  Even conservatives use Edward Gibbon’s book “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to show parallels between our decline as a nation and Rome’s.  It is almost as if conservatives are sadistic about it; at one moment agonizing in the pain and in the next reveling in the joy of discovering yet another indicator of America’s Romanesque tortuous decline.  In fact, every empire’s decline in history reveals some uncanny similarities.  So, what’s new?  History repeats itself.  We know that.  Don’t we?  Well, apparently not.

Christian conservatives particularly have a negative eschatological view of history and the future. Yet, they seem to fight against what they know is coming.  Whatever one may call it – “the end of times” or “the end of the ages” – supposedly we are drawing to a close of this world and all of its nations and empires.  Do we expect that America will be immune from these events?  In fact, a careful reading of those portions of the Bible that foretell these events do not indicate any earthly kingdom in power outside of Eastern Europe and the Middle or Far East.  Western nations, including the United States of America, seem to be a non-entity according to the Biblical story.

Winter in Grand Forks, ND

Winter in Grand Forks, ND ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

The Old Testament, however, gives a pattern for how God deals with nations that may be more informative for us. The “highlight tapes” of God dealing with Israel and the nations of the earth could play something like this:

God sends a message through a messenger that he needs to get the attention of a nation and its rulers. In order for them to take the message and messenger seriously, he threatens to do the following:

  • cause events that humble and humiliate the nation and its leaders in the eyes of the world community,
  • cause economic hardships that threaten the security of the rich and powerful,
  • cause natural disasters that wreak havoc upon the nation’s food supply and infrastructure,
  • cause diseases and plagues to bring fear and death,
  • cause foreign nations to threaten national security,
  • cause hostile nations to drag the nation into unwanted war,
  • cause lesser nations, and seemingly more immoral ones, to bring terror and war into its borders

Does anything on that list sound familiar? These seem to be the ways in which God chooses throughout history to deal with nations.  According to the biblical story, God attempts to bring about a course correction with these events.  Any nation that corrects its course can expect a longer future.  Any that do not can expect a speedier decline and fall.  In any event, sooner or later, all nations succumb to the arrogance and avarice that destroyed all the other nations.

One common event that seems to be a part of every empire’s final demise is its involvement in the Far East, in particular Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. After all, where did Alexander the Great meet his end?  Where did the Roman Empire bankrupt itself trying to bring order but ultimately only managed to bring the Huns?  Even the Ottoman Empire had a time of it trying to maintain peace.  In more recent history, the English empire was glad to be rid of its responsibilities there after the Great World War.  It had long before that, however, wasted precious military resources and financial stability attempting to rule that part of the world.  The United Soviet Socialist Republic assumed in the 1980’s that inhabiting and ruling Afghanistan would be a walk in the park.  It, too, broke its back on the effort.

Now, the United States of America is involved in the same imbroglio. Do we think it will turn out any different?  Vietnam should have been a teaching tool for any involvement in another nation’s struggle for revolution and nation building just as the American Revolution should have taught England the dangers of attempting to rule a land and its people from afar.  It rarely works out well, especially when the people have national aspirations of their own.

In all fairness to the leaders of the United States, efforts in the Far East to bring peace and stability may turn out well.  It’s just that history is stacked against such efforts.  Worse, yet, it forebodes irreparable damage to national security, the military, and the economy because of the costs associated with such an effort.  But, who knows.  Maybe it will be different for us.  Maybe as a nation we will beat the odds and last another 250 years.  Maybe.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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I got my fifteen seconds of fame when Matt Haugen from our local TV station KVEW (ABC) asked me for a street interview.  I was lounging down at Howard Amon Park in Richland, WA, enjoying the wonderful weather and working on a piece of poetry that was giving me fits.  So, why not?

He wanted my opinion about a recent news article (printed that day in the Tri-City Herald) about the Government Accountability Office recommending that some of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste be left and not cleaned up.  The problem?  The cost of completing the task.  Apparently, the Department of Energy originally estimated the clean-up cost to be around $77 billion.  Now it looks to be more in the $86 to $100 billion range.

Supposedly, the majority of the cost of cleaning the storage tanks – about 80% – comes in getting the last 15% of the sludge out.  The recommendation is to just leave it there.  To put that in perspective, the Hanford Area has around 53 million gallons of waste left over from the nuclear weapons production era.  Let’s see…15% of 53 million gallons…seems like it’s still a great lot of toxic sludge to leave in leaky storage tanks.

Beach Log at Neskowin Beach, OR

Beach Log at Neskowin Beach, OR ©Weatherston/Ron Almberg, Jr (2009)

Those storage tanks that are leaking are allowing their toxic wastes to seep into the underground aquifer system. Some of these pollutants have already reached parts of the Columbia River.  So, why would we think it is a good plan to leave any of it in the ground?  The Government Accountability Office does not think that the cost of clean-up is “justified by the reduction in radiation risk”.  Excuse me?  Is any radiation risk – or toxic waste risk – acceptable when it may impact the local population and a major river system with its abundant eco-systems?

I don’t remember my exact response to the television camera. It’s pretty hard to speak off the cuff about something that has so many details and angles.  I think it boiled down to my sense that it was not very socially or environmentally responsible.  Good grief.  I wish I had had more time.  Surely I could have come up with something a little more original and intelligent.  Well, you can bet I’ll not be pursued for future commentary on important local or world events.  So much for my dream of being a local commentator celebrity (just kidding, folks).

Further reflection upon this report by the GAO for a U.S. House Subcommittee responsible for energy spending gave me reason for greater alarm.  There are obvious reasons why this is environmentally irresponsible.  And they are extremely important to the discussion.  However, I think the social responsibilities are important too and may more likely be overlooked.  Let me tick off just a few for you:

  1. The clean-up should be completed 100% to honor the social contract it entered into when it vacated the 520 square miles of land for its nuclear project by removing people from their farms and shutting down the towns of White Bluffs and Hanford with their established communities and businesses.
  2. The clean-up should be completed 100% to honor the memory of all the early Hanford Area workers exposed to radiation and toxins and died horrible deaths from cancers.
  3. The clean-up should be completed 100% to guarantee as much as is humanly possible that none of the toxic waste will ever affect future generations by contaminating its water supply through the under ground aquifer or Columbia River systems.
  4. The clean-up should be completed 100% to recognize the trouble and pain caused to the “down winders” who suffered exposure to toxic clouds released into the air for government experiments.
  5. The clean-up should be completed 100% to, in some measure, attempt to repay the American people the millions of dollars lost in past bad management and fiscal irresponsibility.

I’m sure that there are other reasons. It just seems to me terribly irresponsible for our government to walk away from one of the worst environmental messes in the world and not finish what they started.  If it was a private company, the government would be all over it and demand complete clean-up.  Leaving behind 8 – 9 million barrels of toxic waste just isn’t acceptable in my mind.  As I tell my children, “You made the mess.  You clean it up.”

© Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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One of my favorite quotes is: “God prefers spiritual fruit to religious nuts”. This is particularly poignant during our time where so much is being done in the name of God and religion that is ugly, let alone unrighteous.  One has to wonder if God is not deeply embarrassed by some of his ‘family members’ actions and attitudes.

Religious radicals (read nuts) ‘in the name of God’ have bombed abortion clinics, shot abortion doctors, practiced genocide, committed hate crimes, and robbed the innocent.  On September 11, 2001 religious radicals (again, read nuts) used planes filled with innocent people to kill and destroy.  It was their feeble attempt to humiliate and shower their hate upon America and the nations of the world.  Irrespective of religious identity, no such activities can be loosely attached to God’s character and name.

We would be foolish to think that all of this is really done in the name of religion or God.  In truth, not all of this is a purely religious problem but has its true source in economic, social, political and ethnic problems.  Nevertheless, the guise of religion is used to mask such activity and get wider mass appeal and approval.  In this way, many individuals are duped by deceptive fanaticism and led into a religious fascism.  The truly religious masses are held hostage by such evil behavior when they remain silent and don’t speak out against this activity.

Granted, not everything done in the name of a religion is done in the name of God. Just like you and me, God is jealous over his name and character and will not share it with just anyone, even if that someone assumes his name and to operate for his cause.  Would you like people performing evil activites with your name attached to them?  I don’t think so.

A big crime today is identity theft. People caught by such thieves testify that the worst part of the crime is undoing the damage done to their name.  Their credit rating with companies and their reputation with businesses and banks can take months, even years, to regain.  Unfortunately, it does the victims no good to cry out, “But I would never do that!”  The damage has already been done.

Pink Flamingos at Ixpu Ha', Mexico

Pink Flamingos at Ixpu Ha', Mexico ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

God is caught in the same identity theft by people with evil intents and wicked hearts. The damage done to God’s character and name is already done.  The result is that the dispersion cast upon God’s character and name causes many to reject him outright.  It does not matter that he would never do or approve such things.  His name has been used and marred.  And those who don’t know any better, well, don’t know any better.

You can come into my home, even become a part of my family, but you cannot assume the ‘Almberg’ name on your own.  It is something that only the Almberg family can give away.  You could only be given our name through such close affinity and affection to us that you would be adopted into our family and given our name.  It would be our gift to you.

Likewise, many people in God’s world assume his name. However, no one has the right to assume his name on his or her own.  Only he can give it to individuals by adoption into his family.  And he willing bestows it through adoption upon those who love and follow the lifestyle of his son, Jesus.  It is a lifestyle that follows the savior to the cross – where identities, rights, assumptions, judgments, and goals are freely given up for those that God bestows.  It is what has been called the ‘cruciform’ lifestyle.  It is a life formed after the cross of Christ.  Such affinity and affection is awarded adoption into his family.  His name is lovingly given.  No one can highjack it, steal it, or assume it.

Any other attempt to get into God’s family or to take God’s name is identity theft. So, the next time you run across a religious nut think, “Identity theft”.  You probably won’t convince that individual(s) about his or her error.  But you can help others identify the identify theft through your own conversation and action.  It will take the true family members to regain the honor and dignity of God’s name and character in this world.  And to all those who falsely assume his name, God would say, “Change your name!  Or change your conduct.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Let’s All Calm Down

Island at low tide on Washington coast.

Island at low tide on Washington coast. ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

In the politically charged climate of our day where polarization of opinions is populating every form of media, I have a suggestion:  Let’s all just calm down.  I especially speak to the political right and even more so to conservative Christians.  We all need to calm down and get a better perspective of our current state of affairs.

Every generation’s story could begin with the great literary line “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times“.  Some times, granted, are better than others and some worse than others.  Nevertheless, when put into an overarching view of human and national history, I think we can all say, “Well, thank God it’s not the worst it’s ever been but wish to God it was more like some of our better moments in history.”

Instead of listening to our pundits and favorite promoters of fear and hate, it might behoove more of us to study the events our day in light of our common history as a nation.  Each generation is crippled with a blindness to their history.  As such, they think that what they see and experience is unique.  Chances are, however, that it is not.  We are simply suffering the doom of repeating history.

For example, do you think that the vitriolic animosity between the opposing political parties today is as bad or worse than it has ever been?  Well, you would be wrong to think that way.  At the early formation of our nation, just after we won our independence from England, there were congressional episodes of politicians yelling at one another.  On at least one occasion, a fight ensued and canes were used in the battle with some bloody results.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became so embittered toward one another after the colonies won their independence from England that they refused to speak to each other.  George Washington lamented the fragmented state of politics because of political parties.  Abraham Lincoln was hated by the opposing political party as much as Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush were in our recent history, perhaps more so.

Our country also seems to be fighting for its own identity as to whether we will be a nation with small government and strong individual and state rights or a nation with a strong all-encompassing central government that serves the needs of the people and the states.  Once again, this is something that the United States of America has been struggling with since its inception.

It was one reason for the break up of the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, those who had risked life and fortune in a revolution were, shortly after their victory, to become bitter political rivals over this very question.  John Adams believed in a strong central government with a strong central bank and the capacity to deal with other nations and protect itself with a standing army and navy.  Thomas Jefferson didn’t want a central “all powerful” bank that would put money in the hands of a few financiers.  Other than representing the United States to the nations of the world, states and individuals should rule themselves as they see fit.  This debate has been a constant debate in American politics and will continue to be in the future.  Cries against socialism and communism go back to the late 19th century but have it roots in the 18th century.

One of the big debates today is what to do with immigration.  Once again, this has been a constant issue for Americans.  Except those of native American roots, we all come from an immigrant heritage.  Newcomers to this land have suffered discrimination from day one.  Literally.  The settled colonies in the “new world” were pitted against one another based upon nationality and religious expression – Catholic, Anglican, Puritan, Lutheran, Pietist, Anabaptist, on and on.  And sometimes, the discrimination could turn deadly.  The Danish, English, and French were a miserable triangle of national self interests and ethnic prejudices.

Afraid of losing the English language? I dare say that there has been very little of history where we have all spoke the same English dialect.  Up until a few years ago, the Midwest was full of churches that only used the “native tongues” of their forefathers – German, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, French, Russian.  My Swedish grandfather told of times when he first came to America where the discrimination against him for being a Swede was really brutal.  At a young age entering school, he was mercilessly made fun of by the other kids who spoke English – with strong German accents mind you.  His Swedish language and broken halting English made him an outsider for a long time and a brunt of jokes well into his adulthood.  It was a crying shame when in the ’70’s the Lutheran congregation of Swedes could not find a pastor any longer who preached in Swedish.

A good friend of mine just a couple of years ago pastored a German speaking congregation in North Dakota.  This is all within my generation!  Go to the upper-Midwest and you can still hear the lilt of the Scandinavian influence in people’s English.  Go to New Orleans and you can hear the strong French and Creole influence.  Go to some places in the Appalachians and you can still pick up the Scottish influences in the dialect there.  Go to Dutch Pennsylvania and lo and behold if there isn’t a Dutch influence on the language and the culture.  Those immigrants!  So, I wouldn’t be afraid of someone with a strong Hispanic accent.  They’ll keep their mother tongue for awhile, but like our ancestors, their children will learn English.  And just as my relatives have kept lutefisk, krumkake, kringla, and other Scandinavian delicacies in their diet, we can expect that they will keep their traditions and diets too.

What about the fears concerning our economy? Once again, American history tells us that there have been many stock market crashes and recessions.  Amazingly, America is still around to deal in the world economy!  The stock market crash of 1929 is the most recent in modern American’s conscience, but there were some that were just as bad.  The crash of 1916/17 saw the market lose 40% of its value.  In the crash of 1973/74, it lost 45% of its value.  The crash that effected the economy from 1901 – 1903 saw the market lose 46%.  Anyone else remember “Black Friday” of 1987?  The market lost almost 25% in one day!  These are just in our own century.  In 19th century America they came harder and more frequently.  1876, the one hundredth anniversary of our nation, was especially hard for the U.S. economy.  After the 1929 crash, there was plenty of predictions that American capitalism was dead.  Yet, here we are today.  Yes, many individuals have suffered.  But it has not spelled the end of us as a nation.

What about the changes in our economy? The loss of manufacturing sectors and job markets?  The change in the late 19th century from whale oil to crude oil for heating and lighting was prophesied to be the end of all good things.  It wasn’t.  The truth of the matter is that our capitalist economy has gone through many changes in 200+ years of history.  We moved from an almost total agrarian society to an industrialized one.  We are quickly moving from an industrial one to a technological one.  We have an incredible capacity as a nation to adapt and change.  Does it bring hardship and change?  Yes.  But does it spell the end of all things?  No.

So, where does this leave us? Let me humbly suggest a few things:

  1. Turn off the pundits who make their money by keeping the fear alarm at feverish pitch.  They arent’ doing anyone any favors.  It is their livelihood and business to always be in opposition and to keep the alarm ringing.  They are only serving their own financial interests.  You are just a part of their market.
  2. Read up on history.  Educate yourself. You don’t have to check out large, boring volumes from the local public library to be informed.  There are some good web sites on the internet that will distill the information you need into understandable packets.  However, I do suggest reading a few good history books on American history – particularly biographies.  (David McCullough is one of my favorites and so is Barbara Tuchman.)  Even historical novels will give you a sense of background and historical perspective for a time period.
  3. Do the very thing the Bible instructs us to do. Pray for and bless our political leaders.  I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of the “Obamanation” invective thrown around by political conservatives.  The Bible is clear about using our tongues to bless and not curse.
  4. Get involved in the political process and be Christ-like about it. I believe that the political conservative movement has rightly earned their bad image.  We have behaved poorly.  It is especially disappointing for Christian conservatives – those who supposedly follow the way of Jesus – to behave in like manner.  What or who are we taking our social action cues from?  “As much as it depends upon you, be at peace with everyone” and “Bless and curse not” are Scripture verses we could remind ourselves of a little more often.

This applies to those on the left-side of center as well. Christians who find themselves on the liberal side of politics pour as much fuel on the fire as anyone else.  In short, we are all to blame for the mess we are in.  Our greatest enemy is not from some distant Arabian land but from within each of our own hearts.  Therefore, it might be to our best interests if we all just take a little time-out break.  Let’s all just settle down.  It’s not the best of times.  But it’s not the worst of times either.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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