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If you are a conservative or a Christian (I am both), one of the boxes you seem to have to “tick” is “pro-Israel.”

This also seems to imply, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

I am a great admirer of Israel. They have the best democracy and the most vital and diversified economy (from electronics to agriculture) in the Middle East.

The Israeli national anthem “Ha-Tikvah” stirs me emotionally.

The Hebrew Bible is one of my happy places. Our congregation, Robinwood Church, is preaching through the Psalms (have been at it for a year and a half).

One of my mentors, Prof. Dr. Ralph Gehrke, read Isaiah in Hebrew with me every Saturday for ages.

However, I find that some of the black-and-white pro-Israel sentiment in the circles in which I run is often un-reflected at best. Ignorant at worst.

Here are some random thoughts:

  • We don’t need to “defend Israel.” They have a formidable military and a credible nuclear deterrent. We have never fired a shot in defense of Israel and have never needed to intervene to help them. They buy our arms. Fine. So do many Arab states.
  • We need to focus less on the Eastern Hemisphere and more on the Western Hemisphere. We have a fixation on the Middle East. Because we import oil? Most of our imported oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and South America. We are only 4% of the world population, and the main reason for our budget deficit is our bloated “police the whole world” military. We got entangled in the Eastern Hemisphere during McKinley’s term (Philippines) and we have been messed up ever since, with very little to show for it. The Founding Fathers warned us against “entangling alliances” in the Old World. We have the resources to make the Western Hemisphere a democratic, prosperous heaven on earth.
  • Although there is much overlap, biblical Israel and modern Israel are not exactly the same thing. Modern Judaism was hatched after the New Testament was written, when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they had to reinvent themselves. As did Christianity, Judaism had a Reformation in the 1500s (the hasidic/lurianic impulse) that still affects them to this day.
  • You can’t draw a straight ethnic line between ancient Israel and the modern state of Israel. Golda Meir was born in Milwaukee. Most of modern Israel has Rhineland into Eastern European (Ashkenazi) and Spanish/Portuguese (Sephardi) bloodlines. Middle Eastern DNA roots among them are sketchy at best. You can look up Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish lineage on Wikipedia.
  • The main tribe (of the 12) remaining somewhat intact is the tribe of Judah. From which we get the word “Jew.” The “ten lost tribes” are, well…lost. The tribe of Judah was NOT given the entire holy land, only a county-sized area around Jerusalem. The tribe of Judah can lay no biblical claim to the northern West Bank (Samaria), the area around Tel Aviv, the areas of Galilee and the Golan Heights. God never, in the whole Old Testament, gave the entire land of Israel to the tribe of Judah. The other tribes are gone, as are their claims. It’s like Texans coming back after centuries and laying claim to the whole former USA territory. Not saying that Jews all over Israel (or anywhere in the world for that matter) don’t have a right to their homes, I’m just saying that their saying “the Bible says so” is overstated. There is another tribe, Levi, from which we get the Kohenim (priests), but they were, expressly according to the Bible, to be given no land. Just for the record, I believe Jews (and all of us) have a right to own land anywhere in the world, including the West Bank and Gaza, if they want to buy it. Being a libertarian, I believe in open borders.
  • There are lots of Palestinian Arab Christians. But conservative US Christians prefer non-Christian Israeli Jews over them anytime. They actually got angry when a Palestinian Christian got elected to be the head of the Lutheran World Federation. A pastor told me last week: “He’s probably really a Muslim.”
  • I often hear people say “God is pro-Israel so I am pro-Israel.” It’s simply not that simple. The Israelites were the “good guys” in the Bible, so anyone who uses the label Israel today must be the “good guy.” Often, but not always. Israel was very fallible in the Old Testament, and not always the object of admiration. You could bring that line or reasoning to its breaking point by being “Pro-Ahab” because he was the king of Israel. And using the label “Israel” today, which modern Israel has more of a right to do than anyone else, does not equate you with biblical Israel. The two nations (biblical and modern) are deeply related, but not identical.
  • The Bible is ambiguous as to whether Israel is a physical or a spiritual nation. Galatians 6:16 makes it clear that the two are not necessarily mirror images of each other (you can be one without being the other).
  • The Bible is also ambiguous as to whether or not the promise of the land (ha-aretz) is conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness, or permanent. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, only 57% of Israelis believe in a “higher power.” Israel is a much more secular nation than the United States.

Not asking anyone to be anti-Israel. The whole world should love and admire Israel. Modern Israel is an amazing nation. I tip my hat to them. I want to see them prevail. They have much to add to the world.

Just asking us to consider de-emphasizing our American fixation with the Eastern Hemisphere in general and the Middle East in particular. Had we stayed in the Western Hemisphere, our homeland, the New World; well then, Pearl Harbor and 9-11 would never have happened.

Also asking us to question the “straight line” thinking that equates ancient Israel with modern Israel. One was the mother nation of us all, at some level. The other is a different and amazing contemporary society. Sure, there are deep connections. But there are also some disconnects.

Your thoughts?

Please forward this to others…

Have a look at my other essays–80,000 recent page views.

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Debt has become a national epidemic.

We, individuals, are slaves to the myth of universal home ownership, and the debt that comes with it. You don’t own your house. Only a part of it. And if you’ve paid it off, the community still owns it. Don’t believe me? Quit paying your property tax (a form of rent). The very term “real estate” comes from the Spanish “re-al” which means “royal land.” No one owns land free and clear in the USA.

We, as a nation, are slaves to chronic government debt. We have started to think of it as normal.

The United States of (Neo) Slavery.

We, as a society, are buying more than we produce, creating a trade imbalance which…you guessed it….enslaves us at all kinds of levels.

When our real (adjusted for inflation) wages don’t go up, they push credit cards on us to keep demand for goods and services up.

We are a debtor nation of debtors.

When the bubbles burst (and the gold bubble could be next), we are left “owing our souls to the company store” with no means to pay it back.

Hardly a way to live up to the ideal of “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”

My grandfather and my father-in-law, the two people in my family who rented (rather than bought) homes, for most of their lives, died richer than anyone else in our clan. They only bought homes when they retired–and paid cash.

Paying interest (along with paying taxes) is pouring money down a black hole.

And the tax credit on mortgage interest is a joke, unless you are really, really bad at math. If you think it’s a good deal, please, I beg you, never go to Vegas. I hear, all the time, “I don’t want to pay off my house because I would lose my deduction.” Good Lord. Go ahead and continue to pay more interest than you will ever get deducted from your taxes. Every month.

It happens to churches too. I have actually heard the phrase: “If you are serious about mission you will take out a mortgage on your church property.” The Crystal Cathedral is collapsing in a morass of 8-figure debt.

We lethally destroyed the British army at Yorktown, and won our freedom. We took a HUGE blood-hit as a nation to free our African slaves. We hit the beaches, facing machine gun nests and barbed wire, at Normandy to free Europe.

Only to enslave ourselves.

The government, in the early 21st century, made it far too simple to go massively into debt and the result is the Great Recession. Today in LA, tens of thousands of people are gathering outside a sports arena to get help with mortgages they cannot pay. It’s a huge nut to crack every month.

My cynical side believes that perhaps those in charge in the 1930’s were tired of labor unrest and demonstrations. So they made it (too) easy to buy a house, knowing that those with endless mortgage (Latin-French for “until you die”) payments were less likely to hit the barricades in protest. Big mortgage payments would keep us docile.

Ever notice how the unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s was calmed with a deluge of easy-credit plastic cards? I owe, I owe, so off to work I go….

Debt is out of control in America.

We need a national makeover.

This essay is going to be a bit jarring for some of you.

There are a lot of things we do at churches that would be foreign to the church Jesus started:

  • Youth Groups
  • Choirs and Bell Choirs
  • Men’s Ministry
  • Receptionists and Offices
  • Robes and Liturgy
  • Ordination
  • Christian Counseling
  • Christian Schools
  • Cantatas
  • Full-time Ministry People

Now please hear me; all of these things can be good things. They’re just not essential to what church is, or Jesus would have at least mentioned that we might try them.

The problem is, glance at that list again and you’ll see that these “markers” have become the very distinctives of church life. We assume that church is about doing them and promoting them.

So here’s a question: Does Jesus want our churches to have food banks?

It seems assumed by all, that charity work is the essential work of the church. But is that true?

Now, before you think that I’m some kind of anti-poor-people wingnut, let me go on record by saying that I believe that it is the responsibility of any society to feed its:

  • Widows and Orphans
  • Disabled Veterans

I would add children to that list, since children are poor through no fault of their own.

I would also add that there are times of famine throughout the world, and that the Christians have been and should be at the point of the spear in responding. The Apostle Paul gathered an offering for the upcoming famine in Jerusalem.

Able bodied men (and women) should be working. And families should be the first line of defense. Solve the family problem and you solve the hunger problem. Divorce shreds the fabric of extended families and real people fall through the cracks.

It seems obvious to me, also, that most of the panhandlers in our midst (at least in the US) are mentally ill. We used to institutionalize them. I still think we should. For their own good, and out of love for our neighbors who can’t make their own good decisions.

I think it’d be a great idea for you to have a food bank at your church, especially if you feel led by the Lord to do so. We don’t have one. Not out of principle, but because we don’t feel led by God to do so, at least at this point. We work hard to empower single women who were considering abortions, usually because of poverty, to make a path toward sustainable life: http://hisnestingplace.org It’s what we feel called to do and we hope it’s helping.

The truth is, however, that much charity work (giving a man a fish) actually reinforces poverty, rather than teaching a man to fish. Giving to a panhandler (which I sometimes do and can’t explain why) rewards begging. And we all know that begging and more giving to beggars is not the answer to the problem of poverty, so why reinforce it?

I am struck and saddened by the level of obesity of those waiting in food lines in the USA. Many going back home to cable TV. Many of whom smoke while in line. There is a food bank across the street from my house, behind the library, and a bus stop just feet from my door. Much food gets left behind at the bus stop (stuff they decided not to keep). More than you think, as you picture it.

Let’s discuss, as responses to this essay, ways to end poverty. I believe that it is possible. Jesus said “the poor will always be with you,” but not that the poor would always be with us, 20 centuries later. There has been much progress against poverty in my lifetime. Breathtaking progress, to speak the truth.

But it doesn’t come through:

  • Wealth redistribution (left wing answer). It ends up being forced, and then fails.
  • Rugged individualism (right wing answer). The strong just get stronger and the weak can’t keep up.

It comes through great creativity, the Spirit of God, and relational solutions.

The truth is, poverty is a curse. And people need to be taught out of it. Here are some suggestions, meant to help. Some may work. Some maybe not.

  • Teaching children out of poverty mentality and into abundance mentality. Not reinforcing victim mentality. In schools and in churches.
  • Providing better public transportation so those who can’t afford cars can get to work.
  • Making it harder to get divorced. Divorce compounds poverty. Encouraging people to have babies IN marriages. Not just in church, but in all of our schools.
  • Abolishing welfare “as a way of life” for able bodied adults.
  • Strengthening extended families and teaching them to care for the “least of these” in their midst.
  • Trying to focus your help on those with whom you are willing to go the distance (e.g. the Good Samaritan). You can’t do this with everyone. Quality of aid over quantity.
  • Re-establishing public healthy living communities for the mentally ill. Homelessness is expensive! In Canada, it costs $110,000 per year per person (money spent on homeless divided by number of homeless) to care for these people (homeless) who are moving targets. Not sure what the American number is, but it can’t be too different.
  • Stop selling lottery tickets, 40 oz beers, etc. in underclass neighborhoods. Redline them if you have to.
  • Re-establishing Christian mutual aid (common in NT times). Church members would receive from the offerings when there was need. This kept the giving relational. The Mormons are the only ones still doing it well.
  • Incentivize entrepreneurial immigrants (e.g. South Asians) to settle in underclass neighborhoods. This may have done more to help blighted US neighborhood economic development than anything else.

There is great reason for optimism. Poverty is much less a curse than it was a couple of generations ago.

What are some of your ideas?

If you have a food bank, great. But let’s think beyond the foodbank.

Waiting to hear from you…

Of course, you could say that we are thousands of years old (from the date the first human set foot on Alaskan soil) or 234 since the Declaration of Independence. But I prefer 1607, the day people started speaking English and living here (Jamestown). That’s when America as we know it started to take shape.

I am hopelessly patriotic. Not sure where that comes from, because I never set out to be that way. And my patriotism is not comparative. I don’t think in terms of “better” than other nations. Having traveled extensively, I can easily see why Italians and Ethiopians are also patriotic.

So, let’s talk about America for a few paragraphs, since we’ve taken another trip around the sun together. Some random thoughts:

1) Patriots can question America and point out faults. Family can do that.

2) Americans need to respect their political opponents more. I am so tired of conservatives and liberals bashing each other.

Conservatives who don’t think liberals are right about anything (and vice versa) lack perspective. I am a family-values free-market guy. But I actually listen to my political opponents, value them, and learn from them. Demonizing Bush or Obama (depending on your flavor) closes your mind. Keep it open.

3) The immigration issue has degenerated into sound bites and posturing. Where are the real solutions that would actually work?

Politicians stir up xenophobia in order to pander for votes, and then they present no real plans to solve the issue. The result is hypocrisy (let them in but say we won’t tolerate it).

Like him or hate him, the last one to present a real solution was W. And his own party shouted him down. Since then it’s been useless pundit-pulpiteering.

4) America needs to re-embrace having children.

Listen to people talk about having kids or being pregnant. Trust me, they will usually imply that children are a liability.

This, not politics, is at the heart of our abortion statistics. Children should be seen as a blessing, not a curse.

And economically, we aren’t having enough of them to pay for our retirement. And then we wonder why we need so many immigrants to keep the country running.

We think that having children will get in the way of our development, but all of us with children know that NOTHING develops and matures us like having them!

And children with more siblings tend to be healthier and have better social skills.

5) America needs to go on a diet.

This is the main problem behind our soaring health care costs. I struggle with it as everyone else does.

6) America needs a big project or a frontier.

We lack vision as a nation. Haven’t done anything cool together since Project Apollo.

7) America needs to embrace the Open Source revolution.

This will most affect education. Stacking kids in huge buildings and talking at them is no longer the best way to maximize learning. We need much smaller schools which encourage friendship building and teamwork. Children need to be evaluated for aptitudes and these skills need to be brought out in teams. We need to re-visit job skills (whatever happened to vo-tech schools?), apprenticeships, and stop implying that everyone needs to go to the university. Children should learn how they are wired up and be motivated to develop those gifts.

8. America needs to solve her energy problem.

The gulf oil spill is a painful reminder that, economically, environmentally, politically, and otherwise, running our national engine on gasoline and diesel is not sustainable for the rest of the century.

Which of you is going to be the new Edison? Time for major breakthroughs.

9) America needs to redesign her cities around people, not cars.

The way we have built suburban tract housing has isolated our children and created a sedentary generation. Most Americans now live in a setting where there is nothing meaningful to which we can walk. It’s all designed around cars.

After many years in tract-land, we moved into a real (old school) neighborhood 8 years ago. I can easily walk to: library, bank, drugstore, post office, UPS, the beach, schools, and 25 places to eat.

Is your neighborhood designed around human beings or cars?

10) America needs to embrace local food and urban gardening.

You don’t want to watch massive food factories at work, especially with animals.

11) Our children need to be given more social free time.

We are over-supervising and over-scheduling their lives. As a result, they are no longer developing leadership skills.

12) It’s time to revisit our spirituality.

American faith is potent and vital. Its taproot is in the slave songs of the cotton fields. It is empowerment-based and transformative.

Listen to gospel music on a regular basis. It’s one of America’s greatest cultural gifts to the world. And develop a live relationship with a live preacher. Having a “rabbi” and a faith community is deeply enriching. There is a little “indie” church near where you live that could use your presence. They are doing a lot of good–join them.

13) We need to withdraw our military from the Eastern Hemisphere. Our future is in teamwork with Canada and Latin America. All North Americans should learn some Spanish. All Latin Americans should learn some English. We need to build a 21st century railroad to South America. We need to send out brightest and best north and south, not east and west.

Our over-involvement with the Old World has caused nothing but trouble and heartache. Most all of our war casualties (since 1865) have soaked the battlefields of the Eastern Hemisphere with their blood, and we don’t have a ton to show for it. The founding fathers saw this ahead of time and warned us against “entangling alliances.” We are obsessed with virtually impossible blood feuds in the Middle East, which they are going to have to solve on their own, and we all saw how this bit us on 9-11. Badly.

We could easily protect the Western Hemisphere, with about half of our military budget. Dream a little. What if we sent all of our young adults on a one-year sojourn to Canada or Latin America (instead of straight to college) to work and learn and build contacts?

In the broadest sense, everyone in the New World is an American too.

All that being said, I love living in this country. I love being American. We can rise to prevail over all of these challenges. I feel blest every time I wake up here.

God bless you all and God bless the United States of America on her birthday.

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Please pass the link to this essay on to everyone you know. Thanks!  Short version: http://wp.me/pGQxY-b0

Che and Marty

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Movements “morph” over time. And the labels they once used no longer fit what the movements have become. Revolutionaries become oppressors. Conservatives become Progressives and even the primary change agents.

Disclaimer: This essay is not for the irony- and humor-impaired. I am not promoting any partisan political view. I am just pointing out how words change their meaning over time and no one seems to notice. And how “true believers” of any “line of thought” are more than ready to accept huge contradictions for the sake of their cause.

For the record (I always lay my cards on the table): I am a family-values free-market guy.

I just see some cracks in the ice, and think it’s a good idea to tell you where they are…

Also, there is a PG-13 woodcut coming up. Commissioned by Martin Luther. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Think about these five words:

  • Liberal
  • Conservative
  • Progressive
  • Republican
  • Democrat

The meanings of these words change over time. In a few generations, a total 180-degree-shift in meaning is possible.

German Reformer Martin Luther was an almost-crazy, authority-taunting radical. He was the “Che” of the 16th century; except that Luther was more influential than Che over time. Che, on the other hand, was more iconically photogenic and had a cooler rifle. Both are responsible for much violence and bloodshed as a result of their charismatically resistant posture. They both also had streaks of bigotry a mile wide.

Luther’s most ardent followers today are anything but radical. There is no word “rigid” enough to describe some of his most enthusiastic students. Luther wouldn’t spend five minutes with these “hyper-Lutherans” if he were alive today. He would drink too much beer, make fun of them, and probably get some world-class artist to do woodcut-cartoons of them with animal heads. Like the one below he had done of the Pope:



Pardon the PG-13 nature of Luther’s propaganda. He was a tad earthy. Well…more than a tad.

“Lutheranism” is a prime example of radicalism, over time, under the same banners and labels, becoming entrenched “conservatism.”

And today’s self-proclaimed political “conservatives” are anything but conserving. Especially here in California. They are trying to reform a bloated, decadent societal core–grown fat on entitlements, and trying to accomplish this more or less from the outside. Hint: the ones chopping away with hatchets are not those who are conserving things.

California will be electing a governor this year, maybe the one in the EBay pic above. “Conservatives” are running as the ones who are going to dismantle, not preserve/conserve the “large public sector” system. Thus, “conservative” is the wrong word for them. They are the progressives, but they are afraid to use that word.

And, liberals are liberal? Hardly. They seem to be the ones who want more, not less, regulation. Liberal should have a “laissez faire” economic and social vibe, as it does in Europe. The word “libertarian” is a close cognate, but true liberals won’t return their phone calls.

Liberals want to tell me that I can’t have a weapon in my house potent enough to protect my family and neighbors should there be large scale social unrest (already happened here in LA twice in the past couple of generations), even if the US Constitution is crystal clear in saying that I can.

After Lexington and Concord, the founding fathers saw the value in a lethally-potent local militia of gun-owners powerful enough to chase away trained (Red Coat) armies. Such combat-quality weapons today are “California Unapproved.” What’s liberal about that? Not saying I want or need such a weapon, but telling me I can’t have one is not very “liberal.” Liberals, if they are true to their label, shouldn’t want the government to have a monopoly on force. They should be NRA members.

By the way, famous British “red coat” general Burgoyne surrendered 8,000 of the best trained soldiers on earth to the barely-trained American citizen militia at Saratoga during the Revolution in 1777 at least partly because one regular American guy, Tim Murphy, put a bullet through General Simon Fraser’s heart (from 200 yards out) with his own rifle, which was better (sporting newfangled spiral rifle threads) than any muskets with which the Red Coats were equipped. The gun was made in the USA and not registered anywhere with the authorities.

Every time I’m in Europe discussing politics, someone reminds me that our liberals in the US are not really liberals. Liberals in Europe (like the Free Democratic Party-FDP in Germany, or the VVD in Holland) are the free-market, no-regulation people.

Liberal is Latin for “freedom-oriented.”

And our “Conservatives” are actually big socialists when it comes to military spending. They love huge socialized military (Think about it, we are 4% of the world population and we spend over half of the military money on earth). This outrageous spending, along with other entitlements (much of which are going to people who don’t need them–many of the people getting social security would be fine without it) are the reason you have to work most of the first half of the year just to pay our taxes.

Somehow it doesn’t count as big government if it’s armed. If you break the economic back of the country through military spending, somehow that’s not big government. We won’t mention that, by far, the biggest office building in Washington is…the Pentagon. If aliens landed in DC, they would go there to find the leaders.

Conservatives used to be against foreign wars and “entangling alliances.” Now they want to build aircraft carriers that cost a bazillion dollars and sail them all over the world, way far from home, poking our noses around where we have little business being. What on earth were we doing in Kosovo and Somalia? Would we want Chinese aircraft carriers (thank God they don’t have any) sailing around in the Gulf of Mexico? We do the equivalent to everyone else all the time, our Nimitz-class carriers commanding sovereignty over an area bigger than California wherever they go. No wonder we have PR problems.

The Russkies sent one old navy cruiser and a destroyer escort to Venezuela in 2008 and we had a cow.

And all of this, and we can’t, a decade after 9/11, with stratospheric spending and the ability to read license plates from orbit, find ONE guy behind the WTC attacks. Not exactly a lot of bang for our (countless) bucks.

Please hear me, I’m not anti-military. I think a draft would be a good idea, as long as draftees had a choice between military and non-military public service. And I am proud of our soldiers and sailors, who do their best given the decisions that our leaders make.

There are lots of valid opinions on this, I just believe that our true security interests are:

1) Ensuring stability, free trade, and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere, in cooperation with local governments.

2) Protecting the nation from incoming missiles from rogue states.

3) Foiling the efforts of yet more nations to achieve nuke status. Ideally through diplomacy. By stealth and sabotage if necessary.

4) Making sure there is never another 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

5) Finding the guys who plot 9/11 schemes and bringing them to justice (Bin Laden types). Best done by special elite forces, not by invading whole nations (Iraq and Afghanistan).

6) Ensure that air travel is safe and convenient.

We don’t need tanks or aircraft carriers to pull off any of the above. WW2 was over in 1945. Nostalgia continues to craft our military budgets.

Just my opinion (and there are lots of good opinions), but I think we should pull out, militarily, of the Eastern Hemisphere altogether. Especially the Middle East. If we got cut off from their oil, it would force us to become self sufficient–and it’s about time we did learn how to provide our own energy needs.

How about another word that has changed meaning? “Progressive.”

The two Republicans on Mount Rushmore were arguably two of the most progressive statesmen we ever had. Abraham Lincoln hardly conserved the status quo. He deconstructed the Southern social/political/economic system by force. He was willing to take casualty numbers in single battles as high as all of our casualties in Vietnam put together (biblical-level battle death) in order to enforce central Washington DC control. Played fast and loose with the Constitution all the time (made Nixon’s line-crossing look like a mischievous choirboy). Hardly a states-rights anti-Washington guy. Phenomenal leader; he did what he had to do. He wouldn’t get to first base with today’s Republicans. Not a strict constitutionalist. Not a church member. Not afraid to shed American blood. Too intellectual. Unable to carry the South.

If you can read his Second Inaugural Address without shedding a tear, you’re not paying attention.

And Republican Teddy Roosevelt kicked the pooey out of established big business, robber barons, and monopolies through…get this….massive new government regulation and federal takeover of HUGE tracts of the Western US for conservation. Lincoln believed in powerful centralized government at the point of a bayonet. TR would be kicked out of today’s Republican party for being “business unfriendly.” His enemies (think today’s Wall Street barons) had to figure out how to put their political teeth back into their mouths after meeting with him.

I think that today’s Republicans are economically progressive/liberal (they want change). The Democrats are the ones who want to conserve big government and create regulation. Except for military, where the Republicans are socialist conservers.

I used the word “progressive” once to describe, favorably, a certain kind of missional evangelical Christian. I was warned by MANY afterwards not to use that “P” word or people might think I’m a liberal…but not liberal in the sense that the word liberal really means :-).

The Mount Rushmore darling of the (so-called) liberals, Thomas Jefferson, hardly believed in the rainbow coalition and diversity. Current Democratic party conventions would bewilder him. He kept slaves…for a lot of reasons.

He is often invoked by the ACLU to halt school prayer and town square manger scenes, although most all the explicit (and very moving) spiritual/God references in our founding documents come directly from him. He (although quirky-deist in orientation) considered himself a devout follower of Jesus and did several stints as a vestry elder in the local Episcopal congregation.

And his views of US-American rule of the continent were decidedly imperial. More American Indians had to move and go somewhere else because of him than because of any other one person. He planned the Euro-stock settling of the whole Northwest Territories (why it looks like a checkerboard to fly over), which the British had reserved for the Indians, and bought the whole Louisiana purchase to the west of that without really thinking about where to put these Indians (who aren’t from India, as you well know–another word with a total shift in meaning).

And then we go all PC on them with the term Native American. “Native” is Latin for “born here.” Thus, I am a Native American since I was born here (My wife and my son are not–Asia and Europe births). And American? From Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian who finally figured out (unlike Columbus) that this wasn’t Asia. Thus, the First Nations (this Canadian term is way better) peoples that the Europeans found here are “native” (as I am) and connected to some Italian (i.e. “Native American”)? “Native American” is just as odd as calling them “Indians.”

Any why are pro-life people (and I am one of those) usually for the death penalty? Only super-spiritual Catholics seem to come out as consequentially against abortion and the death penalty.

And why are many pro-choice people afraid of laying out all the choices for a woman with an unexpected pregancy and against giving her a day to think it over and make a choice? Or offering her a solid alternative choice to abortion? Seems like only pro-life people show up on the sidewalks of abortion clinics offering women the choices of food, shelter, and long term help. My head swims when I think of this stuff.

And we talk about a woman’s right to choose. What about the 50% chance that there is a woman being formed inside the mother? Is anyone asking that woman if she wants to be born or not? If we’re going to affirm the right of a woman to choose, why not both of the women involved?

And one of the most universally held beliefs out there (left and right) is that late term abortions are (way) yucky. The more you learn about them, the more you think so, no matter how you label yourself. And yet, in a democracy, we still do them. How does that work? Go ahead and google an image of a late term abortion. You won’t forget it.

And the religious far right has to come to terms with the fact that the two of the three most outspoken presidential followers of Jesus in my lifetime were Democrats. Bush the younger is the lone Republican with enough explicit faith even to have had the potential capacity to teach a Sunday school class.

Hint: One of the two Democrats on the explicit-Christian list wrote a book called Born Again and still teaches Sunday School every week.

The darling of the Republicans (also a hero of mine, by the way), presidential-wise, was apparently more interested in astrology readings (yes, I know his wife dragged him into it) than Bible class. But the conservatives forgive him for that. Because…well, I don’t really know. It is not unthinkable that “conservative” Christians will help nominate a Mormon in 2012 to try to unseat a Black evangelical. Never mind that this Mormon instituted the same health care concept for Massachusetts that Obama passed for the USA.

Many of these same hardline “conservatives” believe the bizarre conspiracy that our current president is a Muslim. Never mind that he’s one of two presidents in my lifetime that can describe his explicit concrete born-again Christian conversion experience in any more than somewhat evasively vague terms.

Granted, it’s strange to me that he’s pro-choice. But then, what about American politics isn’t strange (the whole point of this essay).

And then “conservatives” want a free market when talking about goods (which is why you are right now within reach of something made in China) but not with labor (which is why they try to close the borders).

Voodoo economics.

A market cannot be partially free.

A free market does not work without freedom of labor to find its way to capital. If you close the border to labor, you have to close it to goods too, or they will flood in from the outside, manufactured by someone else’s cheap labor.

Unless you are a liberal in the true sense of the word and open it to both (goods and labor).

We don’t make things in America anymore because we seem to be afraid of freely mobile (and cheaper) labor coming into our country.

Not saying I understand all of this, but the contradictions on this topic are not only bizarre, they are heaping up a trade deficit that God himself could never pay off. The result is that capital is leaving our shores in search of overseas labor. Why would we want that? Why not attract BOTH labor and capital in OUR direction? Isn’t that how we built this country in the first place? Isn’t that what brought your ancestors here? Labor seeking capital.

If our immigrant ancestors had faced today’s paperwork immigration regulation jungle, they wouldn’t get in either. It took less time to process a non-English speaker with little meaningful documentation at Ellis island than it takes to change your oil. We basically just checked them for lice, spelled their names wrong, and let them in.

And less than a third of all American immigration (from 1609 onward) was ever documented. If you don’t believe me, try finding all the immigration entry points in your family tree. Even the Mormons can’t find them for you. Widespread passport use wasn’t even common until around World War One.

My ancestors came in legally!

Oh yeah?

That’s because it was easy back then, usually easier than getting a driver’s license today at the DMV. Or that for a majority of us, no one was even watching.

Picture Title: “Our Trade Deficit”

And all the talk about “securing the borders.” Have you ever flown from LA to Houston with a window seat? Right over the border. Our whole military could never pull it off. The distances are VAST. And most of the Canadian border doesn’t even have a fence. God bless you if you want to “secure the borders.” Good luck–it simply is not physically possible. Your grandmother can cross the Canadian border at will wherever she wants to at any point along the line, night or day. And Canada is so big it doesn’t even really have borders. Certainly no one is able to watch their coasts! I don’t think there are enough Canadians, total, to play red rover with us at the border.

You can believe whatever you want about immigration. But securing the borders is not physically possible. Go ahead and build another Iron Curtain. But remember how well the first one worked. Even the best walls leak…a lot. The Great Wall of China (similar dynamics gave rise to it) never worked. Ever.

We are a funny people. Myself included. We get all caught up in group thinking patterns that spin us away from the truth. We are so off balance that surveys can prove that a few catchy sound bites and a couple negative campaign ads can convince us to vote for just about anything.

Beats thinking.

CONCLUSION:

So, liberals aren’t “liberal” when it comes to guns or economics. Today’s conservatives lean toward dismantling, not conserving, the political and economic status quo (especially here in California). These true progressives are afraid of their own label. But Republicans are also socialists when it comes to the military; an over-funded, under-focused military which is still designed to fight World War II. Pro-choice folks are wary of too much choice for women with distressed pregnancies. Pro-life people tend to be pro-death when it comes to nasty criminals. Free-market Republicans want to close the borders to mobile free-market labor, and conservative Anglo-white Evangelicals would rather vote for a Mormon who “feels” like them than for an African-American Evangelical (most all of whom tend to be Democrats).

Once again, I am not taking stands on these issues, just trying to point out the truly bizarre nature of current American politics. And the need to start “thinking straight.”

What if we all started believing in real truth again, and started with the assumption (as I do) that no one of us possesses it fully?

How about: There are flaws in my thinking and I want to find out what they are.

The truth is out there.

What if we started valuing it more than our opinion patterns?

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Please pass the link to this essay to everyone. I write these things because I want everyone to read them :-).  LINK: http://wp.me/pGQxY-9y

I have been especially aware of patterns this week.

People all have a certain way of being in the world. A pattern.

There is a Muslim way of being in the world, a Mormon way, a Right-Wing-Fox-News way, a PC-liberal way, etc.

Some of these patterns are potent (Islam). Some are not so potent (mainline Presbyterianism). Some are on the rise (Hipster-ism), and some are on the decline (the “emerging” church).

I’ve done extensive live-in stints with:

Lutheranism

Action Sports World (surf/snowboard)

Theological Academia (22nd grade and a Fulbright Scholarship)

Pentecostalism (even wrote a book on it)

Each “-ism” has abundant self-serving circular reasoning and tribal litmus tests. They have buzzwords and enemy images. Perhaps they are even necessary–but none of them correspond perfectly to naked reality and truth.

It’s a trade off; you get security and you tolerate errors and inaccuracy when you “buy in” to any “-ism.”

I am about to be voted off the Lutheran island for good. Sad, because I have nothing against it, and, on better days, I consider myself one of its more intentionally constructive, original, and helpful thinkers. I appreciate the good in Lutheranism, my family of origin, but I don’t pretend that God depends on it, or that it is the highest possible way of being in the world.

I am increasingly troubled by the American liberal/conservative polarized political thinking. The left doesn’t understand the power and creativity of the free market and globalization, and the right doesn’t understand sustainable environmentalism, and the potency of collectivism for certain public endeavors (fire, utilities, roads, etc.). We are disintegrating into TV attack ads with stupid sound bites. We need an intellectual like Lincoln to come back, who sees deeper nuances.

In any case, these political “patterns” relieve everyone of the responsibility to think.

And the much of the world is just plain out-growing the need for religious patterns. Especially the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist global young people. If you don’t believe me, you’re not spending much time with them.

Let’s just have real conversations about who God really is. Let’s pray together. Let’s talk about Jesus and how his message is so different than that of the Buddha (see E Stanley Jones and his “Egg and the Bubble” analogy). Let’s talk about God’s preferred future, and include him in on the conversation, rather than argue about the merits and errors of competing eschatological “systems.”

Does God Almighty really care about the victory of Confessional Lutheranism or TULIP Calvinism? Is he secretly pulling for a return to a stricter Reformed theology? Is he really upset about the idea of married Catholic priests? Is he hoping we finally secure the Mexican border? Is he worried that Health Care Reform will ruin the world he created? Is Oprah his worst nightmare, wrecking his weekly Sabbath rest? Hardly.

Are we willing to set aside our patterns, even ones we love, to seek the truth? Look it right in the eye?

I have this crazy idea that God is real, and that he doesn’t report to a pattern.

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Please forward the link to this essay to the leaders of your congregation: http://wp.me/pGQxY-8T    Thanks!

Spent some time on Wikipedia and elsewhere today.

Why? Listened to the State of the Union last night (it’s all the Republicans’ fault) and then listened to talk radio responses (mostly: Obama is an evil socialist who just might have really been born in Sweden, not Hawaii).

Wanted to find out for myself what’s really going on with the debt/deficit/spending thing.

Got surprised by a lot of things. The right/left divide has created an ideology-bound way of bending the truth about debt/deficit. Both left and right just see what they want to see. And they love to blame each other.

Facts suffer under this ideological pressure to prove one’s side as “correct.”

For instance:

Q: When (in the last 75 years) was the cumulative (real % of GNP) national debt the lowest?

A: During the Carter years. Lower than the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 80’s, 90’s or whatever we decide to call the last decade.

Q: When was federal spending the highest?

A: FDR’s reign. Nowhere in our history even comes close in federal spending as % of GNP. The Great Depression and WW2. Since then, it’s been less clear which side of the aisle is the biggest spender.

Also, the national deficit and the national debt are not the same thing.

For some of you this is 101, but apparently not for most Americans, a majority of whom are unable to distinguish correctly between the two.

The deficit is the annual gap between government income and spending; the “hole” in the annual budget, if you will.

The debt is the cumuilative total amount we owe (to whom is pretty unclear, no matter how much you look into it); the result of lots of deficits in a row.

I am a pro-family, free market, fiscal conservative (not that this matters, just want to be clear that there is no “liberal” agenda here) and was surprised to find out that the following presidents increased the total national debt, during their total time in office, by these percentage amounts:

Jimmy Carter: 45%

Ronald Reagan: 189%

Bush the Elder: 55%

Bill Clinton: 36%

Bush the Younger: 89% (not so bad over 8 years, considering the challenges he faced)

Obama: We don’t know yet, the first years for all of the above presidents were not indicative of the patterns to come for their terms.

Of course, Reagan, Clinton and “W” were 8-year presidents. The others were 4-year guys. Factor that in. Also, inflation is always a rich field for misinformation. It often gets left out or mentioned specifically in order to skew info. 1960 dollars are not the same as 2010 dollars, so sometimes “record” deficits are not really records. No president, in real GNP %, has spent as much as we did in WW2.

Same is true for population changes. America has about 300 million people (we’ll see how the 2010 nose count goes) which is almost twice as many as when I was born. Comparing the debt of a nation of 300 million to the debt of a nation with 150 million is apples vs. oranges.

It seems that, in real un-spun facts (which no one would dispute), the presidents who have most increased the National Debt of the US, in my lifetime, have been primarily–Republicans.

So how do the Democrats get the ‘tax and spend’ rep?

No matter how you cut it, no matter whose numbers you use, Bill Clinton was the most frugal of the presidents in our lifetime–and the prosperity during that era, in my opinion, may have resulted from that (my libertarian tendencies are showing). Not that I approve of him, his policies, or his views. But I like his deficit numbers. Who doesn’t?

The last recorded annual surplus (the opposite of an annual deficit) was during Clinton’s term. A Democrat.

My only explanation is that Republicans somehow don’t count defense spending as “real.”

In all fairness, Republicans aren’t ‘tax and spend,’ they just spend (and cut taxes). This opens up huge deficits.

Bush the Elder had the courage to call this “voodoo economics,” and he was right. He took it back so he could be Ronny’s VP, but it was true then and it’s true now.

Now granted, thank God that Ronald Reagan spent so much on defense–he bankrupted the Soviet Union without firing a shot; history will remember him for that. But he raised the stakes with money he didn’t have.

Glad he did it? Yes.

But it was real spending.

Granted, the social programs that the Democrats prefer are usually more or less useless in terms of real results (good intentions–lousy outcomes). But they cost way less than aircraft carriers.

And those who want to paint Democrats as socialists, ironically LOVE socialized military (obviously the most expensive form of socialism around). But somehow that doesn’t count.

Please hear me, I also, along with the Republicans, prefer a well-funded socialized military. A private military (pay the Hessians to protect us) would be a mess. And the corruption would be unbelievable. Interesting that no Republican would deny our men and women in uniform the right to socialized medicine…which they all have.

We fought a war (WW2) on two continents and destroyed massively evil regimes (Nazis, Fascists, etc.) in four years with socialized military. I am also very proud of our men and women today in the military–they are amazing.

Not that I have totally formulated how I feel about all this, but it’s important for social and market conservatives like myself to look at real numbers. We tend to want to idealize Republicans and demonize Democrats. Overspending is apparently an equal-opportunity employer!

The truth is important. In my adult lifetime, the big spenders have been the Republicans. The only difference is, they cut taxes at the same time–which piles up debt.

Military spending counts as real spending. And there is a real cost to being a warrior nation with extensive, long term, expensive deployment (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) in a hemisphere (Eastern) where our country isn’t (Western). Last I checked, with all of our valiant efforts, those four countries (where we have spent so much money and spilled so much blood) are still nut cases. Half of Korea is arguably the strangest place on planet earth.

If we are going to make real progress against big government, we have to look at real numbers. Including military spending.

How much of the world are we going to protect and how many failed states are we going to rescue from crazy dictators? Can we afford to straighten out the whole world? Where does it end?

Seems simpler to me. Agree on what % of our GNP we want to spend on the public sector (including military). Make real laws (Constitutional Amendment) against spending more that that. And then prioritizing, through democracy, how that fixed amount gets spent. Decide on how much of the globe we are going to police and stick to that. Let the Europeans worry about Kosovo, etc.

Living within our means.

My libertarian side says that our economy would flourish. And our military would focus on defending (which they do well) our homeland.

Just ideas. But since they’re my ideas, I think they’re right.

Unless you have better ones, which may well be true. Let me hear from you.

What do you think of Obama after about a year in office?

I am looking for thoughtful reflections. Nuanced. Deep.

He is not the Antichrist and he is not the Messiah.

All opinions (far left to far right) are totally welcome, as long as they are respectful of our president and of other posters; otherwise, I will edit and/or remove them. I don’t normally do this, but I am specifically looking for a higher level discussion.

In other words, this will be a rant-free “thread.”

My odd Forrest-Gump-Life led me to interact with him in the 80’s in Chicago when we were both community organizers on the South Side. I was with Grand Boulevard Community 76 (Betty Booker and Co.) and he was with a church group in Roseland. We had meetings at the Urban League to coordinate efforts with other organizers. I was in housing preservation and grant writing. We are almost exactly the same age. I’m zany. He was very serious. So there wasn’t much affinity. We weren’t close, although there is “organizer-solidarity” in these situations, and I forgot all about him until the big speech at the Democratic Convention when I tried to place him from my memory. I did visit his church (fairly often) and that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another time.

I am looking for a broad, high quality debate on his character and his effectiveness.

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