Monday, July 25, 2011

Wrestling with God by the riverside, the debt ceiling crisis and the feeding of a multitude...

This past Sunday we baptized two babies into the life of Christ here at St. Peter's. It was a blessed day, with two little ones that were just about as cute as babies can possibly get; not to mention that they were just as happy to be there as we were to see them. Not a peep or a cry, even in the late-July heat that was curling the leaves of the trees and causing anyone just standing outside to pop a healthy sweat. Thank God for good infant formula and air conditioning. And grace, thank God for grace....

So now I sit in my office, pondering the reading for next week whilst reading the headlines that even after weeks of political posturing and looming deadlines the legislative and executive branches of the United States government continue to bicker and whinge on about how to address the need the US has to increase its own borrowing limit-its debt ceiling. Odd that, as a nation we get to decide just how much money we will are allowed to borrow? How different things are at that level. I think if Laura and I called out bank and informed them that we intended to increase our own debt ceiling we would be greeted with guffaws and concern for our mental health.

This is interesting, really. Of course, people want us to keep borrowing money. Credit card companies are always soliciting our business. Even cards we currently are carrying want to up out credit limits. Still, with all that "ready credit" reality does eventually need some degree of attention. The more we borrow, the more debt payments preclude our economic freedom. The more we owe, over the long run, the more we wind up paying out of pocket.

The macro-model is not that far differentiated from the micro...the nation faces the same issues. Our national debt has increased hand-over-fist through the last five presidential administrations and half-again as many legislative sessions. We owe more than we are worth...and we are worth quite a bit on the world stage, as it turns out.

Still, instead of getting down to brass tacks and being willing to hash out a program that both reduces debt and seeks to preserve services the politicians (and various want-to-be presidents, congress-folk and senators) insist that the other side of the aisle is leading us all down the garden path...and their arguments and eleventh hour brinkmanship is starting to have a seismic impact on world markets. Anxiety and fear are rising, not that we are going to continue to be a debtor nation...but that we might decide to stop being one without a plan in place to get enough cash to meet our obligations when we through inaction wind up being unable to borrow more....

How did we get here? Complicated question...one that my theology degree simply can't being to explain...still, it is my task to preach God's peace, grace a justice to a world that is continually experiencing a deficit overall.

This coming Sunday, we have two water-side events that I think give us something to work with as we watch and wait to see if the garbage throwing in Washington will eventually result in Geo-economic Armageddon. The first is Jacob wrestling with a heavenly being by the riverside as he attempts to travel home from his exile with his kinsman Laban. The second is Jesus commanding the disciples to feed the multitudes who have followed him into the wastes with what turns out to be the equivalent of one person's lunch, five loaves and two fish.

So, two illustrations, one of conflict and the other of abundance being made manifest from scarcity by faith in God's command to care for the hungry, the poor and the less-fortunate.

When Jacob wrestles with the being beside the river, it is a night-long struggle of grunts, sweat and pain with no progress being made on either party's behalf. Stalemate, and human fatigue (along with a dislocated hip) seem to be tipping the scales away from the terrestrial opponent's resolve to gain victory. At least, that is, until the sun is rising...then, the being demands to be released, and Jacob demands a blessing. Jacob is blessed, and renamed Israel (struggles with God). The being is released and goes on its way, both, I am sure a bit worse for wear. In fact, I am pretty sure that Israel limped for the rest of his life. It really is true, we carry the remnant of those struggles like twenty-somethings carry tattoos.

What I think we can learn from Israel's struggle with God at the riverside is that when it comes to creative conflict, it is worth it to take hold of each other and refuse to let go until some form of a solution is attainable. Conversely, it is ultimately destructive to self and other when that conflict is just there for its own sake, driven by ego, agenda and the desire to see the other person vanquished. There is no such thing as "winning" when the idea of resolution is based in gaining a material advantage over and against the benefit of those who have less. "Bless me" says Jacob...even though he is half-crippled by what can only be agonizing pain. I hope the folks who are playing with the well-being of host of the poor and working poor realize that "when elephants fight in the forest, the grass suffers." Victory is going to come at a great cost, first to the most vulnerable and then eventually to the ones who chose power over mercy...just look at Jacob as he limps away from his victory.

Or, for further color, look to Jesus himself. At the shore side in a remote place the people who insist on following him, the sick and lame-the searching and the needy, he has compassion for them and insists that his disciples as well join him in taking responsibility for their well-being. When it is time to eat, and there is not enough food to go around the disciples do the prudent thing and tell Jesus to send the people away so that they can go find food. He tells them not to send them away, but instead give them something to eat. All the disciples can come up with are five loaves and two fish. Not enough to feed their own small group, much less a multitude...all the same, but Jesus gathers them, blesses the food and orders it to be shared. There is enough, with twelve baskets of food left over. More than "just another miracle," I have come to see this feeding of the multitude as a seminal description of what we are called to do as the people of God in a world that is not kind to us-particularly for those who have less, who experience REAL poverty.

The reality is that many hands make light work...but sadly, the current model of our socio-economic culture is really the exact opposite. Those who have want to retain it in order to "create jobs" while those who need are facing reductions in crucial social and economic support. All while financial markets around the world fidget and worry. What happens next?

Anybody got five loaves and a couple of dried fish? We might be needing that boxed lunch multiplied soon to cover 6 billion hungry folks, afore too long....

Loaves and fishes....loaves and fishes.....

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