Morality

A Spiritual Glossary of Debt

Business man underwater, Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com

Business man underwater, Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com

Debt, multitudes think, is bad. It could be good, by helping more people manage the energy of money. The Lord’s Prayer helps the confusion along: some pray to be forgiven debts, others to be forgiven trespasses. Good debt does not trespass. Bad debt is most often done by banks, and trespasses inside people, insidiously, and shames them. Religious institutions help the shame along by mispraying the Lord’s Prayer.

Debt might be good. In his book on Debt: The First 5000 years, David Graeber opens with a story. The story is paradigmatic. A woman tells a man the story about a person who is “under water.”  “But, shouldn’t she have to pay her debt?”  Should. Have. Pay. Debt. Those four words go together. They mispray the Lord’s prayer. Instead we might pray, “forgive the banks their trespasses into our souls first and then our pocketbooks.”   

Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees, Part 3

Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we've been taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

In today's final installment, we turn our attention to Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Changing Poverty Into Opportunity: A Moral Cause To Bring Us Together

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.

Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.

It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.

And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.

Let’s break it down.

Drones Are Corroding Our Nation's Soul

Drone aircraft, Paul Fleet / Shutterstock.com

Drone aircraft, Paul Fleet / Shutterstock.com

The drone operators sit at consoles on military bases around the U.S. They track their targets and when the moment is right, they send the command to fire. And then people die.

Drones have been in the news a lot over the past month as Congress has considered the nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Brennan has been the chief architect of the drone policies of the Obama administration.

The constitutional questions have gotten quite a public airing, but drones raise deeper moral questions about what constraints there are on weapons of war.

Yes, drones are efficient, effective, and economical. But what do they do to the soul of this nation, to the psyches of those who push the buttons from half a world away? If they are moral for the U.S. to use at will in any nation of the world, are they moral for other nations to use against us?

On Scripture: How to Vote like a Christian

Voting illustration, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com

Voting illustration, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? Love God. Love your neighbor. The two greatest commandments encapsulate the core of faith and could — if we really were to trust God — transform the world.

Similarly then and with election day looming, voting should be an easy affair: people of faith should vote for the candidates whose policies would most embody a love of God and neighbor.

It seems so easy, but it isn’t if we are honest with ourselves and gracious towards those who disagree with our political persuasions. No single party or candidate has a monopoly on loving God and neighbor. Moreover, people of passionate faith and commitment to the values Jesus commends in Mark 12:28-34 so often can’t even agree on what these seemingly simple commandments mean.

Such disagreements about what it means to love God and neighbor are at the very center of so many of our political debates.

Some Christians will vote for President Obama, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is to build a stronger social net. Some Christians will vote for Mr. Romney, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is let loose the power of the market to create good-paying jobs for all. Some Christians will cast a ballot for Mr. Romney in support of his stance on abortion. Some Christians will cast a ballot for President Obama, noting that the availability and affordability of basic health care is a pro-life position.

All of us, if we are honest, will vote for a flawed candidate.

Disenfranchisement Is the Biggest Threat of All

Of all the ugliness in Election 2012, nothing is more disturbing than attempts to prevent people from voting. Voter suppression strikes at the very heart of American democracy.

The flood of money into this year's campaigns has been bad enough, as wealth has sought to do what wealth usually seeks to do: gain control and preference.

The shouting of lies – not just shading the truth, but outright lies – has cheapened the liars and insulted the public.

Demagogic attacks grounded in religion, phony patriotism and race have undermined public trust in all politicians. It will take years to dig out from under the rot of such scorched-earth tactics.

But denying the basic right of citizenship to millions of voters is an offense we should all be protesting. For if the powerful can deny the vote to their opponents – especially the poor and people of color – they can deny the vote to anyone.

Woman Crusades to Save Sister’s Life, End the Death Penalty

Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall

Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- They stood in front of a shopping mall, shackled together, heads down, nameplates dangling around their necks, bearing the names of men and women who have died on America’s death row.

Cal Brown.

Teresa Lewis.

Cameron Todd Willingham.

Behind them, stood Victoria Ann Thorpe, dark makeup painted on her cheeks and a sign painted to look like blood stains waving above her head: “Their blood is on our hands.”

Somehow, despite Thorpe’s gory exterior, she’s approachable.

“Would you like information on the death penalty?” she asks shoppers as they exit the mall, unable to avert their eyes from the scene in front of them. She hands them a clipboard and one by one, they fill out postcards showing their support to abolish the death penalty in Washington. The cards will later be sent to state lawmakers. The group has also protested at Gonzaga University and so far has collected more than 200 signatures.

Thorpe, along with the Safe and Just Alternatives organization and The Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group, is seeking to pass a state law to replace the death penalty in Washington state with life without parole.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.

Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eric and Ruth Brown believe nothing about daughter Pearl Joy's life is a mistake.

They say God gave Pearl her bright red hair and wide blue eyes, as well as the genetic disorder that created a cleft in her upper lip and caused her brain's development to stall in the first weeks in the womb.

"Things didn't go wrong," Eric Brown said. "God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good."

That belief has sustained the Browns during the past six months, ever since a routine ultrasound revealed that the couple's third child has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that's almost always fatal. A specialist told the Browns she would probably die in the womb and advised them to end the pregnancy early.

It's one thing to talk about God's will when life is good. It's another when a doctor is saying your baby won't live.

The Browns were forced to consider religious, medical and ethical issues most parents never will. And nobody could make their decision for them.

The Browns never considered abortion. They believe that Pearl is "fearfully and wonderfully made," as Psalm 139 puts it, and God alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.

Seeing Pearl's beating heart on the ultrasound also persuaded them to continue the pregnancy, even if the odds were stacked against her.

"If there is a chance, you say yes to that chance," Eric Brown said. "The only thing I know about parenting is that you say yes."

So far, Pearl has beaten the odds.

Few babies with Pearl's disorder make it to term, and of those who do, only 3 percent survive birth, according to the Dallas-based Carter Centers for Brain Research in Holoprosencephaly and Related Malformations. Pearl has a particularly severe form of the condition, which means her brain never divided into two hemispheres.

She turned 11 weeks old Oct. 12, a milestone that the Browns celebrated by lighting 11 candles and singing "Happy Birthday."

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