Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joy in the Midst of Suffering

Wow. It has seriously been a long time since I've posted anything. Not surprising, really - given all that's been going on these last several months. Allow me to elaborate:

Way back in January, when I had my accident, I was forced to withdraw from or extend most of my seminary classes - there was simply no way that I could keep up my studies while undergoing intensive physical therapy several times a week. Nevermind the fact that I was in a wheelchair and on some type of pain medication for much of the time. Thus, instead of graduating in June 2009, I would extend my schedule and complete my degree by the summer of 2010. So far, so good.

As for work (and income), I had been on Active Duty Special Work (ADSW) orders with the California National Guard since March 2008 doing officer recruiting for them. My history with them over the last year or so has been... well, interesting, to say the least. After an unexplained break in my orders from Nov 08 - Jan 09, I was given one more set of orders from 26 Jan - 28 Feb 09. As I was led to understand, the state would not be renewing my orders, but I would be able to continue doing my job, only I would be under the auspices of the National Guard Bureau, which oversees all the national recruiting programs.

However, a week into my new orders, I went and got myself hurt, which totally threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine that is the National Guard. *smirk*

As I lay recuperating in the hospital, my boss called my wife to see how I was doing. After chatting for a few minutes, Tamara shared with him her concern about how my orders were due to expire in a few weeks, and what would we do then? "Don't worry," he assured her, "we'll take care of him and keep him on orders for as long as he needs so he can continue to receive a paycheck and get medical care." And, true to his word, that's exactly what happened - until September rolled around.

I had been receiving 30-day orders at the end of every month that extended me for the following month (why they chose to do it this way, I have no idea). At the same time, they were working on enrolling me in the Active Duty Medical Extension (ADME) program - sort of a Wounded Warriors unit - that would keep me on orders until I was well and fully fit for duty again. Although the ADME process was only supposed to take 2 weeks to accomplish, they somehow managed to drag it out until sometime in early October. The completed packet wasn't sent to the medical board until October 8th, over 8 months from the date of my accident.

Anywho, around the last week of September, I start expecting to see a new set of orders show up in my inbox. When none appear, I start calling the folks up at HQ in Sacramento to see what's going on. Unsurprisingly, I am unable to reach anyone on the phone, nor do I get any response to my emails (this lack of communication had been endemic ever since I began working there). Finally, on October 8th I managed to get in touch with the new head recruiter at HQ who had taken over for my old boss. She informs me that my orders had ended on September 30th (duh) and that they wouldn't be renewed (what?!?). The reason I was given was that there had been budget cuts, and that I was just dead weight who was just sucking up their limited financial resources while not adding anything to their bottom line (Ok, maybe she didn't actually say it in those words, but that was the distinct impression I received).

To put it bluntly, unless there was some regulation that required them to keep me on orders, they weren't gonna do it. Period.

We went 'round and 'round on that point, but it was a battle I couldn't win. The rules, such as they are, were worded in such a way as to allow various interpretations - depending on who's doing the reading. And the budget-conscious folks at HQ weren't going to be very liberal in interpreting them in any way that would be favorable to yours truly.

So there I am, just now learning that my last paycheck was over a week ago and that I'm on my own as far as finances are concerned.

"But wait," you say, "what about that ADME packet that was finally submitted?"

Ah yes, thanks for reminding me. My last hope - to be transitioned over to a medical unit that would be able to continue to pay my wages while helping me down the road to full recovery. Surely the good folks on the medical board will see all the evidence and clear the way for me to be admitted to this program, right?

Umm, no. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

On November 18th, over a month after submitting the packet (and 9 1/2 months after my accident, for those of you who're counting), I learned that my request had been denied. I still haven't received official notification of the fact, so I have no idea what they based their decision on.

So now I'm six weeks out from my last paycheck, I have no real job prospects, and I can't even file for unemployment since the Guard hasn't seen fit to send me my discharge papers. The bills are piling up, my family healthcare has been cut off, we're having to apply for food stamps, and to top it off I'm struggling to get through a Greek Exegesis class that I'm woefully unprepared for since I had to drop out of Intermediate Greek earlier in the year.

So how do I feel?


Yes, you heard it right - despite all that's occurred, fairly or unfairly, my response is one of joy.

How can this be? Well for starters, I still have a lot to be thankful for. I'm alive, when the accident could've easily have been fatal. I'm recovering, when I could be crippled or worse. I'm not in pain, when it could be chronic. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful kids when I could be alone in all of this.

But more than that, I have joy because of who I am in Christ. I'm his child, deeply loved by Him, and nothing can take that away, according to Romans 8:38-39. I am where He has put me, doing the work He has given me to do, and my strength comes from Him. Because of this, I can join Paul in saying, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Late Post about Michael Moore

Awhile back, a friend of ours sent me an email containing a message that Michael Moore had posted on his website in support of his movie "Capitalism: A Love Story." Here's an excerpt:

I'd like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I'm sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother's and sister's keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you'd have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers ("Blessed Are the Wealthy"?) are amassing more and more loot -- and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs' tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn't seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian -- because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line. That's called "immoral" -- and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others."


I wrote an email response to our friend, but then thought that if I really wanted to argue against Moore's film, I should probably go to see it first. But how could I justify paying $11.50 to Michael Moore when he clearly is against capitalism, and would certainly not want to take my hard-earned money? The solution was simple: I paid to see another movie, then snuck in later to watch his as well. Moral crisis averted. I also brought a small notebook so I could recall exactly what he was saying.

But before I get to his film, I'd like to answer some of the questions he raises in his letter. First, his initial few questions strike me as a flawed premise. Is there something inherently “sinful” in creating something people want and then selling it to them at a profit? Did he and Joseph just give their stuff away? As for what form of economy & government Jesus would approve of, I think we’re trying to read too much into his purpose and goals. Jesus was apolitical – but he did tell the Pharisees to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,” so he at least recommended supporting whatever government one found themselves under. As far as capitalism goes, I’m sure Jesus would be against many of the excesses, but probably not the system as a whole.

I think he’s less concerned about economic systems than he is about attitudes of the heart. If your sole aim is money and you’re consumed by greed and lust for wealth, I don’t think he’d be happy with you regardless of how fair your business practices were. In theory, communism was supposed to be an egalitarian society based on common ownership of property & production – and we’ve seen how that system eventually imploded after only 70 years of practice.

As for the Bible, Michael distorts different passages and takes them out of context. Why did Jesus say what he did to the rich young ruler? Was it simply because he was wealthy? Or did he know that great wealth creates a feeling of self-sufficiency that can cause one to rely one oneself to the exclusion of God? Was it about his physical possessions or the attitude of his heart? As the saying goes, “When a man becomes rich, God either receives a great deal of money or loses a man.”

Michael mentions that “It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over.” This sounds noble enough on the surface, but what pie is he talking about? Are resources so limited that if I make a million dollars I’m somehow “robbing” others of some of that money? And I’m sorry, but I’ve never read the passage where Jesus says that all riches are to be divided fairly – maybe someone could point that one out for me. Again with the homeless & hungry, Jesus is talking about compassion – an attitude of the heart – and not about a form of government and/or an individual’s ability to gain wealth.

He probably has some good points to make in examining corporate greed and the unethical practices that many investment firms followed which led to the economic quagmire that we are now swimming in. But he loses me when he tries to take that big picture and narrow it down to you and me. I’m not denying anyone their healthcare, nor am I benefiting at the expense of anyone else.

The part that gets me the most – the pill that I have a hard time swallowing – is where he declares that he intends “to do what I can to stop this evil.” Considering that his personal net worth is somewhere north of $50 million – what exactly is he going to do? Is he going to give his money away to those who need it more than he does? Is he going to move to France as a means of protest against “evil America?” He’s not exactly known for his philanthropy – according to Peter Schweizer’s book "Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy," he found that "for a man who by 2002 had a net worth in eight figures, he gave away a modest $36,000 through the foundation, much of it to his friends in the film business or tony cultural organizations that later provided him with venues to promote his books and film."

As for the movie itself, it was another example of Moore's well-known pseudo-documentary style of film-making. That is, he claims he is making a documentary, but he takes clips out of context and edits them in such a way as to support his bias, instead of presenting the facts as they are and letting his audience draw their own conclusions. Basically, it fits the definition of propaganda.

This is not to say that he doesn't have any good points to make - he does - but they're buried in all the other rubbish. For instance, he points out the pitiful wages that airline pilots make these days and how some of them are on welfare or getting food stamps to make ends meet. Ok, I agree that it seems pretty absurd to pay people who are doing such an important job little more than what they could earn working at Wal-Mart, but nobody's forcing them to do it. Their career is their choice - if they don't like the pay, they can always leave and find another job.

Despite Moore's religious-sounding letter, there was actually very little in the movie about the immorality of capitalism. He "interviews" three liberal Catholic priests - Father Dick Preston, who married Michael and his wife; Father Peter Dougherty, who married his sister; and Thomas John Gumbleton, a retired bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The whole segment took maybe five minutes (out of two hours) and provided little in the way of enlightenment. Father Preston said that capitalism is evil, wrong and unjust - but provided nothing in the way of Biblical support for his opinions. Likewise, Dougherty said that capitalism was "radically evil" and Gumbleton quoted the "woe to the rich - blessed are the poor" passage, but neither gave any convincing argument from Scripture.

Of course, as expected he devoted a significant chunk of his film to bashing on Republicans. Reagan was portrayed as an actor endorsing various products, and Bush was presented as the master conspirator behind a national financial "coup d'etat" to undermine the economy and pass the bailout bill. No criticism was leveled at Obama, despite the fact that the bailout passed on his watch, and he was an ardent supporter of it, along with Pelosi, Reid, and others. In fact, a quick search will reveal that 60% of Democrats voted in support of the bill, while only 33% of Republicans did so.

The end of the film has Moore showing FDR's proposal in 1944 of a "2nd Bill of Rights" that would guarantee every American:

  • A job with a living wage
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • A home
  • Medical Care
  • Education
  • Recreation
While I agree that all of these things are good - and may in fact be necessary - they are in no way a "guaranteed right" for any of us. The key issue here is freedom of choice - if I choose to show up for work late or not finish my assignments, I may lose my job. If I do, that's my choice. Similarly, I may not want to go to college, buy a home or pay for health care - those are all choices that I make. It's not the government's job to provide any of those things for me (I for one would hate to see what government-sponsored "entertainment" looks like) - it's my job to decide for myself what I want to accomplish seek to meet my goals. The governments job should simply be to remove any unfair impediments - such as racism or sexism - that would stand in the way.