wealthy

Subversive Little Crumbs

Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com

Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com

I stood at the bread shelf in the neighborhood grocery store, trying to decide which loaf I should buy. Tough decision. I looked at all the types of bread and went back and forth many times.

Which one would be best for communion? I didn’t know. I’d never had to make this choice.

Our pastor was at a conference for the weekend. As the associate minister, I would be presiding over the Sunday service for the first time. Before he left, we went over the details of all that had to be prepared.

He reminded me that I needed to buy the bread for communion.

Uh, I hadn’t thought about that. Where do you get it?

“The grocery store will do just fine.”

So there I was, looking over the loaves, wondering which one looked the most, well, communion-y. Maybe that pretty, round Tuscan loaf. Wait, maybe the nice Jewish rye over there. My wry sense of humor kicked in. Jesus would smile over that, right? Being Jewish and all.

No, better not …

I finally picked an Italian loaf — mainly because it was big and it looked pretty and it was on sale. I put it in my basket and headed for the self-checkout line.

When I scanned the loaf, the automated voice asked: “Do you have any coupons?” No, no communion coupons. Not today.

I swiped my credit card and was reminded that my purchase would earn me a few cents off my next gasoline purchase. How’s that for transubstantiation — bread transformed into bonus points?

Who's in Control?

Peerayot / Shutterstock.com

Peerayot / Shutterstock.com

I just returned from Davos, Switzerland, where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is held each year. Leaders from business, government, and civil society all gather here to engage each other, make connections, and, hopefully, make progress on the mission statement of the WEF: “Committed to Improving the State of the World.”

I reflected on that mission statement last year in my remarks to all the attendees at the event’s closing session. I said the deeper meaning of leadership is sacrifice and not just skills — and that the most included people on the planet who were sitting in that famous Congress Hall will be morally evaluated by their relationship to the most excluded, who, of course, are never in that grand auditorium. Many individual leaders in attendance wanted to discuss that challenge further, and those conversations continued this year.

One session this year that drew many people off site was called “Struggle for Survival” — an intense simulation of how 3 billion people in our world actually live each day. Half of the global population exists on less than $2 per day. Run by the Crossroads Foundation, Struggle for Survival was a much more emotional experience than the rest of the sessions at Davos.

My wife, Joy, and I participated in this simulation, and the people running it told us that several CEOs seemed quite affected by the very powerful dramatization of real-world injustice and poverty. It took people out of their heads into stunning revelations of how the excluded really live, prompting feelings of guilt, pain, anger, empathy, and compassion — and then a call to commitment.

COMMENTARY: More Christian Influence? Be Careful What You Wish For

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.

I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.

Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.

God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.

Is Wealth a Sin?

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com

A recent report by OXFAM offered some sobering data about both the concentration and flow of wealth in the world today. A few key points, also summarized by a new business article on The Atlantic website , include:

  • The richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest 3,000,000,000 people;
  • Nineteen out of 20 “G20” countries are experiencing growing income inequality between rich and poor;
  • In the United States in particular, 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis capital growth has been amassed by the richest 1 percent of Americans;
  • While domestic income inequality continues to grow, the income tax rates for wealthiest Americans have steadily dropped.

My first reaction to seemingly immoral concentrations of wealth, and the systems that enable it, is anger and a compulsion to call them out, to change them and to distribute the world’s treasures evenly among all of God’s people.

But what if we need the insanely wealthy to realize a kingdom-inspired vision for our world?

The $588 Million I (Thankfully) Didn’t Win

Photo: Lottery ticket, © Sean Gladwell / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Lottery ticket, © Sean Gladwell / Shutterstock.com

I played the New York lottery for the first time last week.

My $2 ticket didn't win the $588 million payout – surprise, surprise – but it did buy me several minutes of musing, most of it instructive, some of it enjoyable.

I quickly ran out of spending ideas – slightly larger apartment, new computer, clothes for my wife, a car to replace the two we sold when moving to Manhattan. I realized I couldn't even spend the income on a lottery bonanza, unless I started buying things I don't need or particularly want.

...

In the end, I liked the idea of financial security, but saw little to be gained from sudden wealth. In fact, given the misery that tends to befall lottery winners, I might have dodged a bullet by not winning.

After this brief fantasy, I wondered more than ever why the wealthy work so hard to avoid taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Even though their effective taxes are lower than they were during the Reagan years and far lower than during the great prosperity of the post-World War II era, the wealthy are lobbying fiercely to pay even less in taxes. Once again, they seem willing to crash the government for everyone, rather than pay their share of its support.

I Have Seen the Problem, And It Is Us

Photo: Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — It's a short walk from Ground Zero to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

If you're a dedicated tourist, you can see where a terrorist attack occurred on 9/11 and then hop a ferry to see where Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island's oceanfront last month.

Sad to say, but that's exactly what many tourists are doing. Instead of going to Staten Island to help traumatized residents, they go to gawk. Then they go back to Manhattan for lunch and holiday shopping.

This is what happens when people lose a basic sense of obligation to one another. It no longer seems sane or necessary to be charitable. Instead, people feel justified in looking away from need. They feel disconnected from neighbors who are suffering. When the storms of life hit, they call themselves “makers” and dismiss the “takers” as lazy.

George Harrison: From 'Taxman' to 'I Me Mine'

The taxman, © maximma / Shutterstock.com

The taxman, © maximma / Shutterstock.com

Winston Churchill famously said, “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Churchill was out of power by the time his countrymen, George Harrison and the Beatles, released “Taxman” on their Revolver album in 1966. New Prime Minister Harold Wilson had introduced a 95-percent supertax on the wealthiest Brits, including the Beatles. Harrison’s song was and remains a perfect Right-wing caricature of the Left. I can almost hear Bill O’Reilly singing an attack on President Obama’s plan to “ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.”

Praying for (and Engaging with) the One Percent

There has been a lot of anger levied at the very wealthy since the Occupy movement began back in September. There is no doubt that much of this anger is justified – righteous indignation, if you will.

The ways that people have become extremely wealthy have often been corrupt or immoral, whether or not they are technically "legal." Part of the reason that the Occupy movement sprang up was because people felt that there were different rules for "us and them." People who lost millions of dollars in what was effectively high-stakes gambling were pardoned with little more than a slap on the wrist, while regular families lost everything in a crisis they had no hand in.

As I say, there has been, and still is, much anger. But out of that anger must come something new, something tangible and real.

This is our Watch: Circle Up!

Human Circles of Protection

Human Circles of Protection

Do we want to be the kind of America that faces an historic deficit and chooses to extend $690 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens while cutting $650 billion in aid to children who need special education, student aid, and additional resources for low-income schools?

Do we want to be the kind of America that protects $44 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies while cutting $47 billion in energy grants to help poor families heat their homes in the winter?

Right now the wealthiest Americans are wealthier than they’ve ever been and people living beneath the poverty line make up a larger slice of the American pie than they have since the Great Depression.

Is that really what we want? Really?

The Gospel Should Be Offensive

kibera1

Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.

If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations ... If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.

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