Fare well, Communities

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A CCDA Café (Christian Community Development Association meeting) took place on June 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. I participated in this wonderfully diverse group of people that came together from around the city for one purpose: to work collaboratively for the well-being (shalom) of Metro Richmond. From across our variations in faith perspectives, congregations, neighborhoods, political points of view, gender, employment, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together in unity for the common good of our communities.

 I was in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2011 with a group of interfaith clergy leaders that gathered from across the United States to advocate in the U.S. Congress and the White House for something that has not been done in 46 years: a complete evaluation of the entire U.S. criminal justice system that will include recommendations for improvement of this costly, vastly complex, and extensively broken system. We were and are advocating for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 (S.306) – NCJCA. From across our differences in geographies, faith traditions, gender, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together for a unified moral purpose: to voice our support and advocacy for justice and mercy via the National Criminal Justice Reform Commission Act.  

We all have some stories to share about our various communities working and advocating for the co-creation of common good; however, especially in America today, the win-lose battles being fought in the states and at the federal level threaten to severely cripple and perhaps to destroy the common good and the good will extended to America. The congressional volleys appear more like bullying tactics than civil discourse and mutual agreement for the good of “all”. Clearly, the legion gridlocked battles are primarily the result of unilateral “power-over” politics rather than attempts to achieve policies roted in “shared power”. I believe that our nation’s Founders would be outraged at the current state of bickering, divisiveness, and power-wielding bullying that result in disunity, inequity, anger, fear and ever-deepening isolationism and classism. It is not the kind of community – not the kind of “United States” – that I believe the Founders had in mind.

 In the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution appear these words:

 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, 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.

The word “Welfare” conveys the cognitive assent and practical actions necessary to “fare well” or to live in a state of well-being. Welfare is not a pejorative term even though it has been used to stereotype the poverty-stricken. Rather, welfare may be translated “well-being”. Furthermore, well being is a semantically accurate though incomplete translation of the community, individual and societal assent and acts of wholeness conveyed by the Hebrew word “shalom” (see Robert C. Linthicum on shalom). As evidenced in Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, mutual provision for the well being (shalom) of all – with special emphasis upon the poor – is essential to the life and sustained success of the entire society (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Jeremiah 29:7, Proverbs 28:27, Acts 20:35, Matthew 5:7).  Why are we not endeavoring to achieve well-being for all?

 Why in the name of Economics are powerful policy-makers, organizations and institutions failing to see, hear and respond to the agonizing cries of the suffering masses who are jobless and underemployed; who are physically and spiritually hungry; who live in the woods because their homes have been foreclosed; who are imprisoned by a grossly engorged criminal justice system; who have lost faith, trust, and their investments in equity-producing systems and programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) that were established by a past generation for future well-being?

Why in the name of Human Life are the factorings of federal and state budgets producing bottom lines that afford abundant benefits to the powerful, the wealthy, the influential, the elite, well-fed, well-housed, and the well-insulated; while unilaterally consigning the vulnerable masses to struggle and suffer in a sea of scarcity?

Why in the name of Politics are we so complacent, so accepting of inequity, so comfortable, so isolationist, so quick to judge, so cocksure, and so angrily limited in mercy?

 Why in the name of God are we not unifying with mutual empathy across our many differences to form interdependent communities of well-being (shalom) that collectively build, rebuild and sustain the common good?

In recovering from the Civil War, to restore after the Great Depression, for rebuilding after World War II, to liberate incarcerated minds, hearts, bodies, economies and relationships in every community, America has been successful because of its unity, empathy and shared power (resources). Now, in the wake of the Great Recession, at a time when hope, empathy, unity, and mutual power are necessary for achieving the common good, America has again arrived at a time for recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation: a tipping point!

Will cocksure political and economic power result in a distant, passing wave of farewell to the struggling masses in our communities? Or will Americans unify in our collective recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation?

Have You and Your Neighbor Read the U.S. Founding Documents?

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New Year’s greetings to you.

Over the past few days, some television news and written articles have captured my interest and motivated more research and reflection upon power and its uses and abuses with a special emphasis on U.S. Founding Documents

Over the Holiday weekend, I overheard a television newscaster mention that the entire U.S. Constitution would be read at the opening of the 112th United States Congress on January 5, 2011. I did not find this particularly unusual given the power vested in the Congress by the document; however, since this moral document holds such power and has been so frequently used and misused in political rhetoric, the news prompted me to get out my copy of the U.S. Constitution (including Bill of Rights), Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, and to re-read them in their entirety: something that every American Citizen should do with regularity: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html.

What most strikes me as I re-read the U.S. Founding Documents is that current political rhetoric excerpts sections of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights to support unilateral power (“power over”), while other counterbalancing sections of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (“shared power”) often remain silent in political discourse. I’m not surprised. A similar thing happens when certain sections of the Bible are proof-texted to support a perspective of particular favor while counterbalancing sections are ignored. Here is one for- instance.

In the opening lines of the U.S. Constitution, the moral and beneficent role of government to “promote the general Welfare” – providing for the poor/poverty-stricken, homeless, foreclosed, uninsured, unemployed – was clearly an intention of the U.S. Founders and is asserted in our Founding Documents. The same morally sound perspective may be found in Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and other areas of Scripture.

However, often heard, particularly in conservative political rhetoric, is the dominate goal to downsize government and increase business revenues at a cost that “appears” to yield economic benefits (though history and public policy dictates that the benefits will be unequally distributed); while the same goals simultaneously bankrupt the moral and social fabric of our nation: counter to the letter and spirit of our Founding Documents and Scripture. If less government and more “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” public policies are the goals to which conservative government aspires; does this not mean abdication of the benevolent role of government?

Will less government, less regulation, more unregulated capitalism and individualistic consumerism, less access to health care, and more laws truly help and empower people and communities that have little or no power: no boots to pull up, no roof over their heads, no living wage jobs, no political representative that will seriously (sans rhetoric) take up the causes of the poor and downtrodden? Is unequal distribution of power that is achieved unilaterally the intended design of our Founders and Founding Documents? I think not!

Let’s all join with the U.S. Congress to re-read the U.S. Constitution (and Bill of Rights); and, while we are at it, let’s re-read the Declaration of Independence, and Articles of Confederation. Let’s also re-read the Sacred Texts that guide our spiritual and moral sensibilities. Finally, let’s re-consider morally sound, equal distribution of power, and re-calculate costs not just in economic terms but also in the social, political, physical and spiritual costs of both our actions and inactions.

I conclude today’s entry by pointing to a recently published article that further explores and exposes the issues about which I have written:

Consortium News article by Robert Parry, entitled We’re Headed for a Major Battle with the Tea Party Crowd over the Constitution Itself, published December 31, 2010 and re-distributed by Alternet.