Archive for October, 2008

That’s just Philly.

It’s hard to describe the mood in Philadelphia right now.  I likened it to the movie Meet the Parents where he has the perfect engagement set up and then through a series of escalating bad circumstances, the whole thing collapses.  What appears clear destiny suddenly has you saying, “Sorry I cared so much.”  I know nothing has collapsed.  We haven’t even lost a game.  But it feels as though we were robbed of something.  (We were robbed of a lead.  That last run was a joke and now our stud pitcher can’t win the game.)

It runs deeper than baseball though.  Everyone keeps saying, “That’s just Philly.”  “We wouldn’t do it any other way.”  But that’s what sucks so much.  For 21 hours there, it appeared that we would do it a different way.  It looked as though we were actually just going to come through, win big, and have a huge party.  It looked like optimism would actually be rewarded.  We can’t stop the murder rate.  We can’t offer decent public education.  We can’t develop our waterfront which has been in proposal for 20 years.  But at least the Phillies won.  That’s what we are supposed to be saying right now.

Someone from Oregon asked me today, “Do you think it’d really make a difference in the city if they won?”  And my thought was this.  We’d still have murders and drugs and unemployment.  But as it is, we’ve succumbed to these things.  We are defeated.  “That’s just Philly.  That’s the way everything goes around here.”  And for a moment, we could’ve said, “No, actually, the Phillies won the world series.”

They probably still will.  Nonetheless, today was simply depressing.  It was 35 and snowing here today.  Not like fluffy snow.  The kind that forms slush, so that your socks immediately get wet because you basically are in 2 inches of water.  In the midst of it, my car died.  And I sat there, wet, in my cold car and thought, “This freakin’ city.”

I guess that’s Philly.


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Remember the Poor

My friends, we need more red ties in America.

My friends, we need more red ties in America.

When I was in Assisi last year, I met a friendly monk.  When he learned I was to become a pastor, he got very excited, promised to pray for me, and made the sign of the cross on my forehead (I was Catholic for the day).  We talked for a bit, though the language barrier was tough.  And as I was leaving, his final words to me were, “Remember the poor.”

This imperative comes from Galatians 2:10, when Paul is describing the Council of Jerusalem.  The Council dealt with the first major theological break in the life of the church, having to do with Gentile inclusion in the church.  Paul seems to indicate that despite their differences in both calling and theological leaning, everyone in the early church believed that care for the poor was an essential part of the life of the church.  Caring for the poor is a central message of Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles.  There are over 300 verses in the Bible that deal with the poor and the responsibility of God’s people to care for them.

This is why I am a bit concerned that both of our political candidates, both devout in their Christian faith, talk only about the middle class.  I do care about Joe the Plumber.  But what about Bill the unemployed guy, Sarah the single mother on welfare, and Jeff the schizophrenic?  Are we committed to a society that cares for the least of these or one that ensures the perpetual comfort of the already comfortable?  The middle class are the majority in America and their well-being is important to the everyone.  But Isaiah 58 tells us we will not flourish if we do not care for the poor.

Historically, the poor do not vote.  They don’t make political contributions and tend not to watch debates.  They are not exactly a powerful voting block.  So those of us who are middle class must be a voice for the voiceless.  We must put poverty on the agenda.  In a time of economic turbulence, we are tempted to vote for the candidate who can retain our wealth.  But we must remember the poor.  And we must urge our future president to do the same

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Some important thoughts on the world:

I was listening to the 885 Essential XPN songs countdown today and they said, “This countdown is sponsored by Canada Dry.”  This struck me for two reasons: 1) Who drinks Canada Dry?  I was unaware the product was still on the market. 2) What’s with the name Canada Dry?  I should start a beverage line under the moniker Mexico Wet.  That at least makes some sense.

Why is the speed limit never 60 mph?  Why do we prefer our speed limits in odd increments (55 and 65)?  Is it because 5 rhymes with drive and we can write rock songs about it?

Why don’t we wash our toothbrushes?  We wash everything else?  But not the thing that we daily use to clean our mouths.  Seems odd.

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While I tend to be cynical of the view that free market capitalism is God-inspired and perfect in all its ways, I do believe it is the best system to provide the maximum benefit for the most number of people.  Left to its own, the invisible hand inevitably exploits some and leaves others behind and it the responsibility of a society to correct these problems.

However, the bigger problem is not with capitalism itself, but with the particular breed of corporate capitalism that seems to dominate the American landscape – valueless capitalism.  In this framework, the only thing that matters is the bottom line.  As I am constantly reminded by my mercantile friends, the job of the CEO is to maximize shareholder value, not to do what is right.  This to me is a fallacy that treats money as an end rather than a means.  Money on its own is worthless.  Money has worth only insofar as it is able to improve life.  Too often businesses make money but decrease the quality of life for so many who are involved. 

To ammend this situation, I propose we buy with our values.  We purchase from companies that have quality of life as their top goal, rather than making money.  This is more than a feel good strategy, but a means to overcoming poverty as well.  Poverty cannot be overcome through welfare and charity alone.  It takes business to provide good jobs, to sustain local economies and ecosystems, and invest in their neighborhoods.  Many companies buy only from local farmers (Ben & Jerry’s).  Many donate heavily to churches and charities (Chic Fil-A).  Many provide health benefits to even low-level employees (dare I say Starbucks).  Many even require employees to volunteer in the community (Timberland).  Quality of life is the goal and healthy communities are built, rather than bank accounts simply being increased.  These are all national brands, which are not bad, but I suggest you research your local businesses, which have an even greater ability to do communal good.  

Call me a liberal, but I am pro-business.  I just also believe in radical social change.  I believe in tithing and I believe in charity, but I also believe we must support systemic changes that can sustain and revitalize communities.  This way, the poor do not just have a meal to eat, but a well-paying job to go to, a city park to play in, and adequate housing for their family.  These are quality of life issues that valueless capitalism will not address.  We must support the companies that will, those that see quality of life as more important than the bottom line.  We must buy with our values.  We must be…Activist Capitalists!

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