Saturday, October 28, 2006

Are there really only ten?

Exodus 34:11-26 Psalm 119:1-24 Matthew 5:17-20

What do we really know about the so-called “Ten Commandments”? For instance, how did it become established that there is even such a document which only contains “ten” commandments? Actually, the phrase “ten commandments” is in the Hebrew text, but it is not associated with the better-known passages of Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. Rather, the biblical ten are found in Exodus 34:11-26. I wonder why it is that this seemingly genuine “ten commandments” has not gotten the press that these other two have?

It is a popular notion among Christians that we had even begun to argue about the appropriate posting of these Ten Commandments in public places, namely court houses and school houses. The reasoning behind each is relatively sound: the Torah is the first established social “order”. It is the foundation for what our legal system entails today. The Law is designed and intended to bring order out of chaos, and this is precisely the purpose of our contemporary criminal justice system.

And even though many would be hesitant to suggest that our faith is reduced to nothing more than a simple list of do’s and don’ts, there is in addition to a social order also a moral order. Having children in our public schools exposed to these “ten” commandments arguably might help to bring about some positive changes for young people if they are exposed to sound, moral teachings, but even the best of moral teachings cannot go far without teachers, specifically adults who order their lives in such a way as to honor these commandments. At the very least, there can be no real harm unless we would care to argue the finer and secular constitutional points about state vs. religion.

Perhaps the reason the passage from Exodus 34 does not resonate with Christians is that it seems to emphasize what would be considered exclusively Jewish practices. Yet even in light of the singular presence of the phrase “ten commandments” in Exodus 34:28, do we then acknowledge that for as long as we have insisted upon Exodus 20 to be “THE LAW” that we have been wrong for so long? Or do we acknowledge the reality that in the Jewish tradition, the Torah (which actually means “direction” or “instruction”) contains far more than only ten commandments?

Here is a little bit of Bible trivia: which is the first commandment? If you guessed, “You shall have no other gods before Me”, you would be correct only in accordance with what has been taught over time. If, however, we consider that the first five books of the Bible comprise what we know as “Torah” or “Law” (aka, “Pentateuch”) and that every word spoken by the Lord should be considered a “commandment”, then the very first recorded commandment would necessarily be, “Let there be light” because it was spoken and “there was light”. Thus it is that this particular commandment is one of only a few for which it can be said that perfect obedience was the end result.

My only point is this: that we not try to package and condense our religion according to traditions that have no basis or foundation in fact or faith. The only thing that separates what is commonly referred to as the “Ten Commandments” in Exodus 20 is a literary break in the story. After the “10th” commandment against covetousness, chapter 20 ends with the people being afraid when they see the lightening and hear the thunder coming from the mountain.

Exodus 21 then begins with, “These are the laws you are to set before them [the Israelites]”. After this is the law established and categorized according to how it is written and laid out. It should be clear that there is certainly more for Israel - and us - to know than only ten commandments even though it is written that Moses only carried two stone tablets (could it be that rather than focusing on the set number of “stone” tablets, we would do well to consider that these commandments are “written in stone”?).

There is a clear social order by which a nation is shown how to establish itself and to also set itself apart from the other nations especially in what is offered in Exodus 34. Without the Law, Israel is nothing more than a nomadic people aimlessly wandering in the wilderness with no clear established order, no real cohesive national identity, and certainly no sense of purpose. If anything, these “Ten Commandments” serve as a preamble or an outline of what is to come.

This in no way is a suggestion that these “ten” can be summarily dismissed as insignificant. It should only serve as a reminder that while children’s Bible study classes consist of a lot of memorization – which is important – it is equally important to move beyond the simple “1-2-3” of early childhood Christian education and delve more deeply into the Word of the Lord which is much more profound that one thru ten. For instance, is it more important to know “which” commandment is “You shall not steal”, or can this single commandment stand on its own without being relegated to an ordered “list” that can only be applicable according to its ranking?

What I intend to explore in the coming weeks is a systematic approach to an exploration of the Law and hopefully demonstrate that what some try to relegate to antiquity status is as relevant for us today as it was for the nation of Israel then. Jesus and the apostles quoted the Law constantly. Jesus even specifically mentions to the rich young man in Mark 10 the significance of only a few of these commandments to a life in pursuit of righteousness, but He then takes it a step further. Jesus goes beyond the written Law itself and yet summarizes the Law at the same time. The summary? It’s not about the individual. “Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. On these two commandments hang ALL the Law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days: I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they all shall know Me…” Jeremiah 31:33-34

But the passage in Jeremiah does not suggest that the Lord is suddenly going to “posses” us one day and eliminate our capacity to think for ourselves and respond according to that which is most important to us. Instead, it seems that Jeremiah is offering the Lord’s promise toward those who make a commitment to live the Word, feel the Word, breath the Word, and “do” the Word as James encourages us to do. Perhaps it is that there will finally come a day when we are so consumed with the Word that as it is written upon our hearts and firmly within our minds that we have finally reached a point when our understanding of our Lord will qualify and quantify every single thing we do and every single word we speak. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34b

Worshipping “in spirit and in truth”, as Jesus teaches us, should come to be more than a conscientious and deliberate act as a particular situation might warrant; it should come to be the very essence of our being. It is that level of spiritual perfection that John Wesley encouraged his students to strive for in daily living and practical application of the Word of the Lord. It is this never-ending quest for perfection that will put the Holy Father first in every situation, in every thought, in every deed. “Then will they know that you love Me, when you obey My commandments.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Perpetual Fruit

Exodus 20:1-17 Matthew 7:15-20

I had a visit the other day from a Jehovah’s Witness. He stopped by, as by my experiences is usual, to hand off a tract and go about his business. Although I’ve heard of others who have had unpleasant experiences with some, including my wife, I have never been challenged, threatened with hell fire, or preached to. They all, like this fellow, hand me some reading material and are on their way.

I cannot say that I know much about Jehovah’s Witnesses although my very first experience with a practitioner was not very nice. It happened to be a co-worker in Dallas who was extremely pointed and downright rude with me when I asked her to sign a birthday card for a co-worker. It turns out they don’t do birthdays or any other holidays. And when she was done being pretty darn mean, I wondered if it was that everyone was supposed to be born knowing what she thought she knew to be true.

Oddly enough, the most interesting thing about JW’s is that their contemporary practices and beliefs look a lot like the 1st and 2nd century church. They are very simplistic, they are far removed from the contemporary culture, and their beliefs are firmly grounded in Holy Scripture. They don’t have the equivalent of our Book of Discipline to my knowledge nor a particular catechism, a system of teaching doctrine. They do not participate in government on any level and, as far as I know, they don’t vote. Military service is also not an option for the genuine JW.

Today, however, the JW along with the Mormons are looked upon with more than a little suspicion. It is almost a reflex that if they approach the door, we are already geared for battle. We are pretty sure they are going to attempt to convert us, and we are going to do our level best to knock them off their “holy” perches. Isn’t it strange how they are the ones most often associated with door-to-door evangelism and yet we mock them as not being “real” Christians because their beliefs are considered to be “strange” even as we know very little about them and won’t even let them talk to us? I suppose they have just found it easier to hand off their materials, wish the recipient a nice day, and move along as has happened - at least with me - in each encounter.

It was interesting that the tract this brother handed off to me was along the lines of what has been on my mind these past days. Every election year things get rather heated, and the name-calling and mud-slinging seems to get worse with each passing year. We have politicians who are desperately trying to present themselves as our last great hope if we ever want to live decent lives in safety and comfort. And if any of us has a particular gripe or concern, you can believe that the politician will be right there with us agreeing with everything and “sharing our pain”.

It gets worse when churches sponsor political candidates and initiatives or allow them to speak to a congregation from the pulpit. It can also be very dangerous for church “spokespersons” to speak or write publicly – ostensibly in the name of that particular body - about any particular political issue or candidate. For my way of thinking, this practice is at the very least legally questionable.

The tract that the JW brother offered to me was about false religion. It begins: “What is false religion? Are you distressed about crimes committed in the name of religion? Do the warfare, terrorism, and corruption perpetrated by those who claim to serve God offend your sense of justice? Why does religion seem to be at the root of so many problems?”

“The fault lies not with all religion but with ‘false’ religion. A widely respected religious figure, Jesus Christ, indicated that false religion produces bad works, just as a ‘rotten tree produces worthless fruit.’ What fruit does false religion yield?”

Our own UM Book of Discipline lines out what we believe, what we do, and how we should go about doing it. The Catholic Church has its catechism which teaches the faithful about church doctrine and why the church teaches a particular thing. I have never considered either of these as tools of a “false religion”, but it would seem that the JW might suggest that anything outside of the Bible can be misleading because these systems are strictly man’s own understanding of the Holy. These are how we try to make sense out of things which can sometimes seem to make no sense at all. Like the Bible, however, these are records that are perpetuated from generation to generation. Unlike the catechism, however, the Book of Discipline is modified every four years however slightly.

Yet Jesus seems pretty clear in Matthew’s passage about what constitutes “false religion” even if He does not make a specific reference to “religion” itself. Yet what else could it be? Because the fruit to which Jesus refers is manifest fruit worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, it becomes necessary to think in terms of religion and faith. The problem with the term “religion”, however, is that it is not necessarily equated with terms of faith anymore than politics is equated with “good government” even though politics and government in general have become synonymous. Either way, good and positive results of our labors is expected and in spite of what some may tell us, we cannot separate our life of faith and religion from our public life in the political process. Our necessary fruit “production”, according to Jesus, is not seasonal from which we can take a break.

In light of verses 4-6 in the reading from Exodus, it would also appear that what we do now and what we teach our children and others will affect the “fruit harvest” for generations to come.

I think maybe the Exodus passage has been misunderstood or misrepresented by far too many who wonder how a God of “love” could be so spiteful. After all, to be held accountable for the behavior of past generations is about as fair as our generation now to be held accountable for the sin of the practice of slavery. We were not even there and so were not part of the process by which the buying and selling of human beings amounted to nothing more than the buying and selling of live stock. So why does the Lord seem intent on holding future generations responsible for the sins of generations past?

I don’t think this is the proper application. In the context of what Jesus is talking about, it would seem to me that what the Law is referring to is precisely the “fruit” to which Jesus refers. If we do not teach well, then generations to come will be the poorer for our failure.

It is not unlike the cycle of violence and abuse in the home that moves from generation to generation. If one is abused and neglected at home as a child, the cycle is too often carried forth from that generation and into the next because for the victim, it is the norm. It is what has been taught and learned. It is what they know to be true even as they can painfully recall the hurt and the harm done to them. It is still a mystery to me how these victims can be so mindful of the pain, the fear, and degradation they endured at the hands of abusive parents and instead of learning from that, they learn instead to perpetuate the violence.

But what about individual responsibility? Just as it is not fair to be held responsible for something over which we had no control, it is also not fair for those who live well and do good that those who do not are given an alibi because of their past. Our society has moved in such a direction in which we claim to understand that they have come by their harmful behavior at least honestly, but the cycle of pain is perpetuated because those who are guilty of such behavior do their level best to assign blame to the past.

Consider the case of former Florida congressman Mark Foley and the ensuing page scandal. When this adult congressman’s behavior was revealed, he resigned his congressional seat. He then checked himself into rehab for alcoholism and revealed that he had been abused as a teenager by a clergyman.

Whether any of this can be proved to be true is not directly relevant although alcohol has the potential to render any reasonable person “unreasonable”. Before he can ever hope to be “cured” from whatever it is that ails him, however, Mr. Foley is going to have to step forward and accept responsibility for his own behavior and not seek to lay blame elsewhere.

Notice, however, the “light at the end of the tunnel” in verse 6 of Exodus: “…but showing love to a THOUSAND generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Notice the contrast between the judgment against the “third and fourth generation” and the “thousand generations … who love Me.”

The wisdom of the Spirit of the Lord God insists that these cycles of negativity can and must be broken for the sake of future generations, for the sake of the “fruit” to which Jesus refers. Even though there is a definitive reference to sins of the past perpetuating into the future, there is still the element of hope. The determining factor will be whether we accept the judgment from the past or the hope for the future.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Differences in Political Ideology

"Government is like a baby: an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other end." Ronald Reagan

US Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, was recently speaking in Philadelphia to a group of professional women and compared the United States under the Bush administration to a child who had not been to school for years: "They would be so far behind. They would need so much remediation."

If Blanche Lincoln is the voice of the Democratic party and the Democrats manage to take control of the Congress this election year, I think we better hold on to our hats because if we thought President Clinton pushed through the biggest tax increase in US history during his tenure, I think "we ain't seen nothin' yet".

This attitude is not unlike Senator Lincoln's recent vote to allow minors to be transported across state lines by a non-parental adult (thankfully, the measure failed) to obtain an abortion. Ms. Lincoln failed to acknowledge that this "adult" could be the father of that minor child's baby but, hey, who knows better about what people need than the US government?

At one time there were many conservative Christians who believed that the 2000 presidential race had enormous implications as to what our government would allow, demand, advocate, or remove. I wonder if this election is not somewhat more ominous if the Democrats believe that somewhere, someone or something is due for some "remediation".

Monday, October 16, 2006


I know that I have sworn not to listen to any more talk radio but, Lord help me, I still do. I have it on during the morning commute because it is mostly news with only moderate commentary from the hosts. In the afternoon commute, however, that host is just not a nice person. And speaking as a conservative person, this conservative radio host is looney!

Recently the host took the necessary classes to prepare for applying for a concealed-carry permit, and he has been on the band wagon to encourage everyone to follow suit. It is his contention that the only way we are ever going to be safe is if we are all carrying weapons.

Today the conversation centered around the recent spate of school shootings and whether or not teachers should not only be allowed but actually required to carry weapons, maintaining that these shootings might not have happened if the shooters had known beforehand of the potential risk of a "strapped" teacher or perhaps a well-armed teacher might have been able to save a life or two.

One caller claimed to be a public school teacher who was absolutely opposed to teachers carrying weapons, but he was also "absolutely" supportive of the concealed carry law. This conflict, of course, trapped him. He just did not feel that armed teachers are conducive to a positive learning environment and as he also pointed out, not everyone should be allowed to carry weapons. The law has its own limitations and requirements and it must also be pointed out that if one could not qualify to carry a weapon under the radio host's idea, then one could not serve as a teacher.

As a former Marine, I have had extensive weapons training but not nearly as much as the average police officer. What I do remember most from all that training is that it has to be constant for one to be proficient, and it is not all a simple matter of pulling the trigger and hitting what is being aimed at. There is a mentality that must be able to tell the difference between an uncomfortable situation and a genuine threat. Simply meeting the one-time requirements to earn the concealed-carry permit is just not enough.

I know some who make time to go to firing ranges and shoot regularly. In fact, I used to enjoy it myself. Over the years, though, I've gotten away from it and could not say for sure how I would react if I were to be carrying a weapon and was confronted with a situation that would require a snap judgment on my part. That judgment would literally be a matter of life or death. "Shoot to wound" can only be properly applied by a well-trained police officer who undergoes such situational training on a consistent basis. Run-of-the-mill citizens do not have this kind of time.

Even when Peter's intentions were admirable, Jesus reminded him to sheath that sword for "those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword". Did He mean that someone might accidentally be killed by an error in judgment, or did He mean that we would perhaps sacrfice the well-being of our souls to protect our "stuff" or even our loved ones?

The school shootings require our attention and there are reasonable options for having armed police officers on campuses. Arming every teacher, however, is inviting trouble. How can we declare a school zone to be "weapons free" while demanding that every adult citizen carry a weapon while on campus?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The True Measure of Wealth

How rich is rich? What is the depth and breadth of wealth? At what level of affluence do we finally reach the point of difficulty to which Jesus refers as it pertains to entering into the kingdom of Heaven? And when Jesus refers to the “hundred times” returns on our “investment” both in this life AND in the life to come, is He trying to make us a deal? In other words, is He appealing to our own sense of need in suggesting that the only way He can get us to be generous with others is by offering a reward in return for our generosity? Does Jesus not believe that we are capable of giving generously for its own sake?

This passage from Mark in the lectionary could not have come at a more appropriate time. It is no wonder that many believe that as the lectionary calendar rolls around for its own time, there was divine guidance so that the Lord could speak to us right where we are and just when we need it most.

The Amish community suffered its worst tragedy that I know of when a crazed man entered into a tiny school house in Lancaster County PA and murdered six innocent children for no reason other than that, according to a suicide note, he was angry with God for the death of his own child in 1997. There were also other sinister motives mentioned, but these have no relevance to what I would like to share. The experience was horrifying enough without trying to create more than what really happened. The bottom line is that innocent children lost their lives for no reason other than that they were children and, perhaps, pretty easy targets considering the community in which they lived.

In the end – even in the midst of evil - the world has been shown a truer portrait of what the life of faith should more closely reflect when the Amish attended the funeral of the shooter and are now actively involved in helping to raise money for the shooter’s family. There have been no public statements decrying the government or seeking to place blame on anyone or anything. The Amish community – as simply as they live their lives – is doing nothing truly extraordinary, at least according to the simple lives they choose to lead. This is what they do every single day. This is how they live. In my mind’s eye, they are the epitome of true wealth and true grace and are freely giving of each. The world, and especially the Christian world, would do well to pay attention.

Consider the context of this tragedy as it relates to another tragedy some 2000 years ago. In the midst of evil, Someone – in fact, the One who was the very target of this evil – prayed for the forgiveness of the evil doers, “for they know not what they do.”

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The rich young man approaches Jesus with a burning question and certainly an ulterior motive but walks away extremely disappointed in learning that the way of Christ is much more than simply refraining from evil acts. He also learns that as much as “not doing”, we are also called to “do” perhaps especially on behalf of the poor. As much as I have maintained that tithing is not exclusively focused on dollars and cents, I also do not think that what Jesus is referring to has as much to do with our material riches than with the condition of our hearts. And probably far more often than not, the condition of our hearts is firmly defined – if not confined – by dollars and cents.

The rich man in the story is presumed to have much material wealth, depending on the translation, and walks away from Jesus after having been told that if he wants to inherit eternal life, he must give up everything he owns on behalf of the poor and ultimately become poor himself. It is not a stand-alone deal, however. Jesus says in verse 21 that when the man gives up his worldly treasure, he will reap divine treasure. It is clear, however, that material wealth is what the man equates with material comfort – but only in this life. He is not able to see much further than his own day-to-day existence, and it is equally clear that he was seeking a simpler and personally pleasing answer than to actually make any kind of sacrifice. It would seem that the man would not have minded very much if Jesus had told him that his worldly wealth could somehow be used to purchase the eternal life he was seeking. In fact, he probably would have preferred it. I doubt, however, that the man expected that it would cost him everything he owned even in return for riches not yet seen.

But how do we define the kind of wealth that Jesus refers to as that which can hinder us from entering into the kingdom of heaven? What do we consider to be “great” wealth such as what Mark refers to? Is it not all relative? In terms of those who live below the poverty line here in the United States, I would be considered possessing of “great” wealth. We have a nice home, three cars, a motorcycle, AND good health though this cannot be measured in dollars and cents except for perhaps the health insurance we are fortunate enough to have. By relative measure, we have “great” wealth but then according to US standards and measures, we are only “middle class”. Compared to the Walton family, we are “poor”.

So whom is Jesus referring to as those who will have “difficulty” entering into the kingdom of heaven? Do I have a better shot at it than the Walton family? After all, my “riches” cannot be adequately measured according to their “riches”. My cars are not classified as “luxury”, and my motorcycle is not a Harley. And the third car we own – Chelsea’s – had over 300,000 miles on it when we bought it. So since we don’t have “great” wealth, at least compared to the Walton family, will I be measured by the same standard since we don’t share similar standards of wealth?

You bet I will, and so will anyone else; even the Amish. Because I believe Jesus is talking about more than just material possessions, our standard of measure cannot be relative to others because we will not be judged according to the standards of others. Yet the Amish, who seem to care very little for the trappings of this life and appear to have little – at least according to our societal standards – are giving much more than our own society would expect of them especially in the face of such evil.

It may seem simple enough to us. After all, the shooter’s wife and children had nothing to do with this man going off the deep end. And in the face of it all, the Amish have more to be bitter about than what is evident. Yet their seemingly few material possessions and intentionally simplistic lifestyle directed more toward focus on the Lord and His will has enabled them to respond in such a way that is completely foreign to our culture. Then again, the Amish intentionally distance themselves from our culture, don’t they?

It would appear to me that in terms of true wealth, the Amish have us all beat hands down. They have great wealth and are not afraid to use it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wanna-be Amish

There have been several excellent pieces written by UM bloggers, editorialists, and others about how the Amish in Lancaster County PA were able to forgive the shooter who murdered their children in school so much so as to even attend his funeral. Such is the portrait of grace to which we should all aspire. Maybe much of this was written in response to Westboro Baptist's intent to "protest" at the children's funeral as a contrast to what genuine Christianity looks like. Either way, it was good to see and the Lord was indeed glorified by the sheer poetry of their grace.

Compare the Amish response to such a tragedy to a typical American social response when children are hurt. Those who do such harm are regarded as nothing more than "monsters" who are condemned in the harshest language possible - all before a trial has even begun! Once the accused has had his (or her) photo published, it's all over for them. They are guilty before they set foot in a court room.

This attitude toward those who are accused of heinous crimes violates two fundamental principles: a constitutional guarantee of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, and Christ's call to love our enemies. Why is it that the Amish are the only ones who seem to get it?

I cannot help but to think that perhaps their simple life style has much to do with an ability to be more spiritually focused and not so consumed with the trappings of this world. We with our cars and boats and homes and jobs and schools and ambitions and desperate climbs up the corporate ladder and designer clothes and ....

Of course we hurt when we are threatened; even more so when we perceive danger for our children. And perhaps it is a natural response to anger when our young may be in trouble but judging by such comparisons, it is clear that we all have a long way to go before we can come close to being compared with Jesus. It is no small wonder that the general public seems to view Christianity with more than a little suspicion especially when such groups as Westboro enter into the fray.

For what it may have been worth, I sort of wish the Westboro people had gone through with their lame "threat" to protest (what the heck was there to "protest" anyway??) the Amish funerals. More than the Patriot Guard riders, the Amish - with their quiet, unassuming way and Christ-like demeanor - would have surely put the Westboro people in their place ... without uttering a single word.

Then again, maybe it is not necessarily the Westboro people who need to pay attention to the Amish.

Expectations of a Pastor

The Arkansas UMC has a very good e-mail network through which news, commentary, prayer requests, and so much other very good information passes. It is a very good way to stay in touch and share ideas.

Often there are also requests for information and ideas about what works, what doesn't, Sunday school ideas and PPR information. Today a brother submitted a request for any kind of PPR information that spells out a congregation's "expectations" of a pastor, sort of a job description. In turn, he also asked whether anyone had information about a congregational "job description" perhaps as in what the pastor may reasonably expect in return.

Does such a thing exist? Should such a thing exist? To a degree, of course, a pastor does indeed answer to his or her congregation but not to such an extent that a job description would become necessary. True? The pastor essentially answers to the DS, the bishop, and the cabinet. The expectations of a pastor are pretty much already in place, are they not?

On the flip side, if a PPR committee were to submit to a new pastor what he or she could come to expect from a congregation, what might such a document look like? And would the PPR be able to assure the pastor that the congregation would truly be willing to live up to these expectations?

Overall, the request was such as I had never heard of before. I've been a part-time local pastor since 1999 and I have yet to see any such thing in a charge conference packet. My evaluation comes with annual sit-downs with the DS and with the DCOM with some feedback from the congregation and, I suppose, some expectations but certainly no independent "list" of what the local church "expects" from its pastor.

Is there such a thing?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Morality, Philosophy, and Taxes

The race for the Arkansas governor’s open seat has produced some interesting questions that boil down not to what is right or wrong but more a question of opposing philosophies and beliefs about the role of government. The questions for me have become even more interesting in light of my enrollment in a political science program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and being exposed to political processes I had never before considered.

In the 2000 presidential debates, I recall President Bush making a statement that his views and Vice President Al Gore’s views were nothing more than a conflict in personal and political philosophy about government’s proper role in daily life.

In one of my texts for a policy processes class, the author makes the statement that never in the history of the United States has the government been more active in the lives of ordinary Americans and I could not help but to wonder if it is because Americans are demanding more from the government or if politicians are offering more to Americans for the sake of political campaigns. For my way of thinking, it has become a vicious cycle that will only expand unless or until Americans tighten their belts and government officials stop pandering to the whims of particular segments of the population.

In Arkansas there is a growing demand that the sales tax on groceries be eliminated. For those who oppose this tax, the argument is primarily that it is a regressive tax that hurts the poor who are forced to pay more for their food, a necessity of life, on an extremely limited budget. In light of Arkansas’ current projected budget surplus in excess of $700 million dollars, it would appear that the time is right to seriously consider ending this unfair tax.

One gubernatorial candidate insists that as governor, he will work to end the tax on food. Arkansas can afford it according to budget estimates, and Arkansas cannot afford NOT to end this “immoral” tax. The other candidate insists that it would be “irresponsible” to end the tax without careful consideration of what budget forecasts might suggest a few years down the road. He maintains that there are somehow greater needs for the state which would require expanded state spending and MAYBE a gradual repeal.

Like Mr. Bush said six years ago, it boils down to a difference in philosophy and our belief about government’s proper role in society. Even beyond the tax on food, there is another tax which I consider being extremely unfair and downright immoral and that is the “personal property tax”. Consider that the purchases we make require money left over after taxes have already been withheld from our pay. Then we pay a sales tax on the purchase itself. Then we pay a tax for the privilege of owning said property, be it our homes (another necessity) or cars or boats or other items. In addition to these taxes, we pay fees to license some of this property. We then pay taxes on subsequent purchases we make to maintain and operate this property.

The philosophical difference in how each tax is viewed depends on what the government promises in return and our own expectations. Have we, as a society, become so dependent on government services and campaign promises that that we are taxing ourselves into oblivion? It would seem so.

What do we expect from our government? Do we as a society believe government exists to help us when we fail? Do we expect government to provide for us when we cannot or will not provide for ourselves? Is it moral to expect the government to take care of social situations where the Church might be better equipped? Is it moral to pass off to the government what should be the more proper role of the Church not to proselytize but to offer Christ’s hand to those who have “fallen but can’t get up”?

Those who suggest "evil" at the thought of government tax cuts which might jeopardize certain social programs are also the ones most vocal about the so-called "separation of church and state". I ask: what church in favor of what "church"?

Out of the mouths of Babes

Do you sometimes wonder what is going through young children's minds these days? My twelve-year-old daughter offered me the following prose that seems to be making the rounds with her e-mail friends.

IF YOU DELETE THIS WITHOUT READING IT YOU HAVE NO HEART... BUT IF YOU FIND YOU CANNOT STOP UNTIL YOU REACH THE END THEN YOU MUST HAVE A VERY BIG HEART... Mommy.. Johnny brought a gun to school, He told his friends that it was cool, And when he pulled the trigger back, It shot with a great pop. Mommy, I was a good , I did What I was told, I went to school, I got straight A's, I even got the gold! But Mommy, when I went school that day, I never said good-bye, I'm sorry Mommy, I had to go, But Mommy, please don't cry. When Johnny shot the gun, He hit me and another, And all because Johnny, Got the gun from his older brother. Mommy, please tell Daddy; That I love him very much, And please tell Chris; my boyfriend; That it wasn't just a crush. And tell my little sister; That she is the only one now, And tell my dear sweet grandmother; I'll be waiting for her now, And tell my wonderful friends; That they always were the best; Mommy, I'm not the first, I'm no better than the rest. Mommy, tell my teachers; I won't show up for class, And never to forget this, And please don't let this pass. Mommy, why'd it have to be me? No one deserves this, Mommy, warn the others, Mommy I left without a kiss. And Mommy tell the doctors; I know they really did try, I think I even saw a doctor, Trying not to cry. Mommy, I'm slowly dying, With a bullet in my chest, But Mommy please remember, I'm in heaven with the rest. Mommy I ran as fast as I could, When I heard that , Mommy, listen to me if you would, I wanted to go to college, I wanted to try things that were new, I guess I'm not ! ! going with Daddy, On that trip to the new zoo. I wanted to get married, I wanted to have a kid, I wanted to be an actress, Mommy, I wanted to live. But Mommy I must go now, The time is getting late, Mommy, tell my Chris, I'm sorry but I had to cancel the date. I love you Mommy, I always have, I know; you know it's true, And Mommy all I wanted to say is, "Mommy, I love you." ****In Memory of The Columbine Students Who Were Lost**** Please if you would, Pass this around, I'd be happy if you could, Don't smash this on the ground. If you pass this on, Maybe people will cry, Just keep this in your heart, For the people who didn't get to say "Good-bye".
Lord God, have mercy on us.