Obama self-portrait

This spoof of Rockwell’s famous self-portrait is going around the internet as an attempt to be a pejorative statement.  There have been conservative pundits who believe there is a messiah message being sent about President Obama by the liberal left.  Self-portrait

But from an Universalist Christian theology perspective the message is far from pejorative and is in fact a very positive one.  We are all made in the image of God and therefore something of God is revealed in our lives.  And for Christians who believe that Jesus lives within our hearts then when we look at one another we should see the God who lives within shining out of them to us.   Jesus for many Christians represents not only the messiah who saves humanity from sin but also the ideal, the best of humanity, the best of who we can be. 

There is an old story about an old monastery that was dying. There was no longer any life or zest in the monks who worked and prayed there.   The Abbott of that monastery was friends with the Rabbi.  So one day the Abbott goes off to speak with his friend the Rabbi about his concerns for the monastery.  The Rabbi had no words of wisdom as his synagogue was also dying.  And so the two old men cried together with their grief.  And as they cried and prayed together the Rabbi comes across a passage about the Messiah coming.  The Rabbi’s face begins to glow and he says that he believes the messiah is already come and is living at the Monastery. 

And so it was time for the Abbott to return to the Monastery.  And the monks ask him if there was any special wisdom that the Rabbi shared with the Abbott.  The Abbott shook his head sadly, no; just some nonsense that the Messiah is here living among us at the Monastery. 

The monks heard these words and wondered, who could it be?  As they pondered the words of the messiah living among them, they began to wonder if it was one of them.  And has they thought of each of them, they remembered how awful they treated each other.  If Brother Mathias was the messiah, why he must think I am the dregs of the world for how I have piled on him the work I did not want to do.  If Brother Sebastian was the messiah why he must think I am just the worst as I am always scolding him about being late for prayers.  And on and one the wondering went, each examining their own behavior towards the messiah living among them.

And so in time the brothers began to change their behavior to the other brothers of the monastery, not wanting to do anything that would offend the messiah.  The monastery began to change.  It was somehow more inviting to the villagers and they would come up and partake in the noonday meal.  And the monks would go into the village more and share their farm grown goods with the poor.   The synagogue also began to show some new life with children coming to learn from the Rabbi the teachings of the Torah.  The messiah was indeed living among them.  The messiah was in each of them. 

For all of humanity’s faults,  for all the human failings that we carry, there still lies within  each of us, a spark of something transformative, of something divine that beckons us to be all that we can be.   This painting reveals not a president with a messiah complex but rather a human being who sees beyond the frailties of humanity towards a more compassionate and loving reality.  We all should be able to look into the mirror and see our best potential peering back out at us. And then find the strength to live it. May it be so.  Blessings,

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Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  

What I Ought to Be

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

I am seeing this quote popping up a lot lately in many different circles.  It is used as a stand alone quote.   I don’t think it works as such.  In the context in which Martin Luther King, Jr. said this, it refers to the power of racism and how that hurts all of us.  Racism keeps the oppressor as well as the oppressed from being their full authentic selves.  And so in this context, until the oppressor begins to see the sin of racism and how it has scarred, wounded, and held back the oppressor from their full potential then the oppressed can never be their full potentials.  That is the context for this quote but rarely is the quote given in context any more.  The hearer needs to be literate to the context of racism to grasp what this quote is about.

As a stand alone quote it is a bit circular and self-defeating. Some one has to start the process of reaching full potential and since the only person I can change is myself, then it must begin with me.  Quoting this statement is just an excuse for not being any different from what I currently am.  It says, if only you were different then I would be different but since you aren’t different, this is who I am.  Don’t blame me for my actions, my personality, my behaviors;  these are your fault for not being at your full potential of who you ought to be.   This quote removes responsibility from me and places my behavior as a result of who you are. 

Martin Luther King did not wait until the oppressor realized his sins and changed his ways before living the life of a free black man.  He began by stating that he was already free of the oppressor’s yolk and living accordingly.  He began the process to being what he ought to be. He did not wait for the voting rights legislation to be passed before encouraging the vote.  No, he began by casting ballots first as a full citizen of this country.  Rosa Parks did not wait for the Montgomery Bus Company to change its seating policy, she began by taking her seat. 

The quote as a stand alone is an excuse for being the same ol same.  There is no empowerment in it.  There is no life in it.  Just excuse after excuse of why things remain the same.  If only such and such were true then life would be better.  If only that person would see what I can do then my life would be better.  If only that group of people would just stop what they are doing then my life would be better. 

I like Gandhi’s quote,  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It places responsibility back on me.  And if I be the change I wish to see, and you be the change that you wish to see, and we be the change that we wish to see in the world, well low and behold… a whole lot of people begin to be what they ought to be.   Blessings,

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 2:07 pm  Comments Off on What I Ought to Be  
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What are the fruits of our beliefs?

appletree” ‘A man bears beliefs, ‘ said Emerson, ‘as a tree bears apples.’ He bears beliefs about himself, about his fellows, about his work and his play, about his past, about his future, about human destiny. What he loves, what he serves, what he sacrifices for, what he tolerates, what he fights against–these signify his faith. They show what he places his confidence in.” James Luther Adams  wrote these words in 1946 in his essay A Faith for the Free. 

I found these words to resonate a chord with in me as I read and watch the news about events in our country.  I only have questions at this point.  And there are many.  What is our faith if we deny health care to 47 million uninsured americans and millions more with pre-existing conditions?  What is our faith if we feel justified in yelling, “You Lie!” to the President of the United States?   What is our faith if we continue to support business practices that are clearly not in our best self-interest?   What is our faith if we feel comfortable in fighting against others receiving something (government sponsored– taxpayer paid  health care)  that we ourselves benefit from (Our elected officials in Congress) ?  What is our faith if we insist that schools only teach concepts we are in agreement (creationism, euro-centric american history) ?  What is our faith if we teach that some humans (sexual minorities) are abominations?  What is our faith if we insist on citizens being able to own weapons of automated destruction?   What do these things tell us about us as a people? 

If we were to honestly attempt to answer these questions, I think we would find that we are not the religious people who we claim to be.  Our faith seems to be made up of beliefs that are not found in any religious heritage.   We have missed the mark and need to repent of our short comings. 

Perhaps the day will come where we can measure up to the ideals stated by Vice President Hubert Humphrey:  “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”    We seem to be having trouble with how that government even treats those in the fullness of life.  We can be better.   Blessings,

The heart of the debate

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I was having a friendly debate the other day on facebook about a quote by Ayn Rand and indirectly about the health care debate that is raging in this country.  One of the participants placed this quote from the preamble of the US Constitution into the conversation.   I suddenly realized that the current polarization that is occuring in this country is when stripped of its emotionalism of fear is based on how we interpret this preamble.  

I personally believe that healthcare needs to be a right or privilege  given to the citizens of this country as one of the benefits of being a citizen.   It is part of the process of establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquilty, of promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.  For me this seems clear cut and a logical extension of  these principles that this country was founded on.  From my perspective providing health care as a right given as a benefit of citizenship will reduce many of the domestic problems we have;  reduce bankruptcy, reduce crime (Think the story of Les Miserables), reduce infant mortality, increase life expectancies, increase quality of life across the board.

My friend in this debate believes that government should not interfere with the lives of people in any way, benevolent or otherwise.  His perspective claims that there would be a loss of self-sufficiency if the government was given the power to dole out health care provisions.  He bases this on the dependency he sees in generational recipients of welfare assistance.  How it seems that once a person is on welfare not only do they remain but their children and grandchildren remain on welfare.  His perspective points out the need for reform in many arenas not just healthcare.  In short his perspective emphasizes what he sees as the primary goal of government which is to provide for the common defense of the nation.  Period.   If this is done, he believes that the rest is assured or made possible by the ingenuity of private enterprise.  

I now have a better understanding of his position.  However, I still disagree and for this reason.   President Reagan proposed what became known as trickle down economics.  The notion that if the government de-regulated various industries and reduced government taxation on corporations that the money earned by these industries and corporations would trickle down to the working class.  President Reagan believed that government should be smaller and less involved in the daily operations of corporations.   It is an argument that has been debated repeatedly and it presumably is the main difference between two political parties.   Whether the answer to various problems lies in government intervention or in no government intervention is the core debate.  

Well, Reagan’s theory of trickle down economics was an interesting one but unfortunately nothing trickled down.  The top 1% got richer and the bottom got poorer faster than ever before.  The  middle class shrunk and continued to shrink as the policies instituted by Reagan’s administration were emulated by the administrations that followed.   In fact, the current recession / quasi depression is the result of policies begun in the Reagan trickle down econmic era.   

To be fair to President Reagan, I need to add that the current health care debacle is based on policies instituted not by Reagan but by President Nixon.  President Nixon allowed for deregulation of health care insurance companies allowing them to become predominantly for profit industries.  This was when the shift from the doctor making the decision with the patient on a particular plan of action to the health maintenance organization making the decision took place.  It was supposed to cut costs and not allow doctors to perform unnecessary treatments.  The HMO’s however were formed to be in it for profit and so denying a treatment saved them money and increased their profit margins.  

The question remains how do we form a more perfect union? Is it through private enterprise and if so how do we ensure that private enterprise serves the best interest of the people and not their own coffers?  Or is it through government regulation and offering a public option of health care and the risk of making a people who are ultra dependent on a government? 

I believe the debate is anchored in this preamble.  There in lies the question of who we are as Americans and how we see ourselves as citizens not only of this country but also as citizens of this world.  Blessings,

Published in: on September 12, 2009 at 3:22 pm  Comments Off on The heart of the debate  
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