WAIT FOR PERSONAL AND NATIONAL RENEWAL

By Jim Jordal

Haven't you known? Haven't you heard? The everlasting God, Yahweh, The Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn't faint. He isn't weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of him who has no might. Even the youths faint and get weary,  and the young men utterly fall; but those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint.  Isa. 40:28-31 WEB

The underlined sentences of this well-known passage from Isaiah form a sort of mantra that some endurance athletes use to enhance strength and staying power during marathons and ultra-distance events of all kinds.

If you’ve ever done a marathon you’ll know that at certain phases of the contest you’ll come to hurt almost everywhere it’s possible to hurt. Those at the front of the race are faster than those further back, and probably hurt as much, although they’ve learned to accept the pain and “run through it” as they say. And if you’re not hurting, some will say you’re just not trying hard enough.

What does it mean to “wait” upon the Lord? Obviously, waiting requires a certain level of patience and an even bigger portion of expectation. We wait upon the Lord when we bring a problem or situation to him and then in faith wait for some sort of instruction, discovery, or resolution. Sometimes the way out of a situation requires God to work miraculously in our behalf. Other times the situation requires action by us. But however we approach something, it must be in faithful expectation that God hears us and will act according to his word and our need.

Waiting for the Lord has both individual and national applications. On the personal side we often wait in prayer and expectation for the Lord to act on some familial and business situation. Sometimes he keeps us waiting for a while so as to build our character and perseverance. Sometimes the answer never comes because what we seek is outside of God’s plan for ourselves or others. But whatever the answer, God is there and can use our reactions to build further faith and expectation.

On the national side it’s somewhat different. The problems we pray about are so large and many-sided as to defy human reason. As patriotic citizens we become concerned at the disastrous weather with almost continuous bad news of fires, floods, mud slides, hurricanes, tornadoes. We hear that the costs to governments to pay for these events runs into hundreds of billions over the past several years. And we now have small oceanic countries asking for relief as their entire nations lie under threat of total engulfment by rising sea levels.

When we ponder the scriptures telling us that the earth is the Lord’s, and that we were commanded in the Garden of Eden to nourish and care for the earth, we face a difficult prayer task. We believe in prayer, and we know we are told to pray for our nation and its leaders; but how do we begin when we know that some of the highest national leaders are also the people most damaging to the environment through their business practices of placing profits before people.

How do we pray for the nation without “praying on both sides” of a problem or issue? What if both sides of a question seem to be in violation of Divine will? Under these circumstances it becomes easier to just back away and let God’s will be done.
When it seems hopeless to pray effectively for some situation, that’s when God can really take over our faith and consequent action. Think of the times in Bible history when people like Moses, David, and Daniel had to simply admit their powerlessness and inability to do what their faith indicates and continuously remind God of his promises of deliverance and eventual blessing.

The great giants of Bible history had to “stand in the gap” for God’s people by constantly reminding God of his promises. You can also do this as you seek a path for your devotions and faith in what God has said and done.

DOES FIDEL CASTRO KNOW SOMETHING WE DON’T?

By Jim Jordal

 Remember these things, Jacob, and Israel; for you are my servant: I have formed you; you are my servant: Israel, you shall not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: return to me; for I have redeemed you.                                                             Isaiah 44:21-22, WEB

This Bible passage sets forth the role of God’s people in responding to the gift of their forgiveness by returning Divine forgiveness, mercy, justice, and truth to less-fortunate peoples of the earth. We hear often that this means the sending of missionaries and medical and food aid, but seldom do we hear that it also means deliverance from oppressive political, social, and economic systems that for centuries have inhibited progress and have in fact enslaved entire nations.

With President Obama’s recent visit to Cuba still in the news, it might be well for Americans to peruse several comments made by former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in reply to parts of Obama’s speech, as reported by Granma, the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper.

Defending Cuba’s ability to make its own way in the world economy, Castro cited Cuba’s “noble and generous people,” the “spiritual wealth of our educational, scientific and cultural achievements,” and their capability of producing what the country needs regarding food and material needs. To this he added the challenge, “We don’t need any gifts from the empire.” The empire is of course the U.S., the gifts most likely being American material aid in the form of newly established hospitality businesses and development activities like trade agreements, with the very questionable NAFTA being the closest example.

Perhaps Castro remembers all-too-well life under dictator Fulgencio Batista, a former army sergeant and self-anointed colonel who essentially ran the government under a series of puppets from 1933 until he seized full power in a military coup in 1952.  Upon assuming power he began a series of “reforms” consisting of ending political rights guaranteed by the constitution, aligning with wealthy land owners and sugar producers against the people, allowing the economy to stagnate resulting in a wider income gap between rich and poor, allowing the American Mafia to penetrate the Cuban hospitality industry, and cooperating with American-based multinational corporations in lucrative contracts to further despoil the economy. To quiet growing unrest, demonstrations, and riots, Batista censored the media and formed a Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities that ultimately killed from 1,000 to 20,000 people through violence, torture and public executions. And, perhaps worst of all, until it ended on Jan. 1, 1959, Batista’s repressive government received financial, military, and logistical support from the United States (information from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

If Castro fears “gifts from the empire,” perhaps he should. He no doubt remembers other gifts from the empire during the 1970’s and 80’s bestowed against their wishes upon the defenseless and innocent people of San Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras  by American dominators eager to extract oil and agricultural wealth from indigenous peoples desiring nothing but opportunity to make their way as best they could. The sad history of poor, helpless people being dominated and subjugated by American corporations backed by the military is a sordid memory at best, but deserves retelling as fears of possible new oppressions become known.

We have a dominant culture, evidence by the ease at which American entertainments, materialism, and commercial strategies become adopted upon contact by formerly “backward” societies. Could this also happen in a resurgent Cuba? Will Communist dominators be replaced by global Capitalist dominators? It will be surprising if it doesn’t happen.

God’s people (and nations) are to be freedom-bearing servants, not oppressive, flinty-eyed dominators. We are to be deliverers, not oppressors. We are to give rather than take. And we are to save rather than destroy. And our responsibility goes further than political deliverance from dictators; it extends to the breaking of social bonds like discrimination and lack of opportunity; and finally to care for the earth, that in some ways has been our greatest failing.

What we should wish for Cuba is not more secular “gifts from the empire,” but gifts of the spirit like justice, mercy, righteousness, truth, and sharing.

JUSTICE IN THE WORK PLACE

By Jim Jordal

 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming on you.  Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten….Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of those who reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Armies. You have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure….                                                                                      James 5:1-5a WEB

Justice in the work place takes back seat to the mad international corporate dash for increased efficiency, return on investment, and profits, no matter how they can be had. Who cares about wage slavery, unpaid overtime, bad working conditions, oppression of minorities including women and children, unemployment, family collapse and all the other outcomes of a world gone mad over money. It’s the mammon of Bible times reincarnated.

One hears much these days about minimum wages and their impact on businesses and families. Some cities recently raised the wage for full-time workers to $15 per hour, and speak of going even higher. But we don’t hear much about what God says concerning labor and wages.

God says “a laborer is worthy of his hire.” In modern society this could mean a wage sufficient for an adult full-time worker to support a family, have a little for pleasure, and to even save a small amount. During our early years as a nation such wages were generally determined by small employers who worked and lived with their employee in a local community, thus giving them a good understanding of what workers needed and employers expected. But this ethic of fairness seems mostly lost in today’s market-driven economic system that openly admits that morality has no place in their decision-making process, including the way wages are determined.

A just wage is a moral issue because it follows universal principles of justice and right conduct by matching human need with availability of income. There was once a time when this process actually existed in America before the major impact of the Industrial Revolution after the Civil War.

But today wages are determined, not by moral principles of human decency and need, but by the morally-obtuse market for labor in a virtual race-for-the-bottom. Decency no longer counts—just employ all the factors of production, including labor, as cheaply as possible.

Recently Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan posted on the internet his views concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that just gained “fast-track” approval from Congress. This means that when it comes before Congress for final passage it will proceed toward an up or down vote with no discussion, amendments, or hindering procedures.

According to Nolan, this new trade agreement between 12 Pacific-rim nations is a “job-killing debacle certain to inflict terrible economic damage on middle class Americans.” Nolan goes on to say that “In every case, the TPP would force Americans to compete against foreign operations that provide little or none of the wages, benefits, health, safety, environmental and human rights protections that have helped us build the strongest middle class in history. In order to complete we would have to give up much of the progress we have made in becoming a great nation, and that’s not an option….We will leave no stone unturned to send it to the scrap heap of history’s worst ideas.”

And that’s not even the worst of it: Hidden away in the so-far mostly uncontested recesses of the bill is the provision that for example, if a corporation in one of the signing nations finds its profits threatened by some environmental consideration in another country, the “damaged” company can sue before an insider court for damages that, in the case of a small, poor country, could lead to loss of sovereignty and even independence. In other words, corporations can become more powerful than nations.

How’s that for justice in the work place?

A PLEA FOR JUSTICE

By Jim Jordal

God presides in the great assembly. He judges among the gods. "How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked?" Selah. "Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy. Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked." They don't know, neither do they understand. They walk back and forth in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken.                                                 Psalm 82:1-5 WEB

You could call this Scripture God’s indictment of world political/social/economic systems that now appear to be in various states of disarray or collapse. And nobody seems to know what to do about the very threatening situation except to complain loudly and offer already-failed panaceas as solutions.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the present political blathering and mud-slinging took up some topic more vital than e-mail usage, campaign financing, or the organization of Congress? This passage from the Psalms gives strong indication as to what God’s values are for political discourse and nation-building.

How a nation treats the “least of these” among its citizens gives evidence as to its national values and moral behavior. God has a “preferential option” for the poor and needy, and this option when ignored or excessively politicized can break entire nations or empires.

The metaphor of God presiding in a great assembly of spiritual powers, challenging them to do justice, has great power because it specifically names the evil acts being done under their rule. According to God’s indictment they have “judged unjustly,” and “shown partiality to the wicked,” even as they failed to “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” They haven’t acted to “rescue the poor and needy,” or “deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” Because of their malfeasance the world leaders don’t know or understand the pervasive anger being revealed on every hand by those who have been oppressed for centuries, but are now beginning to perceive the true sources of their suffering. They suffer because the purveyors of power and money pay only lip service to their angst, but are unwilling to make the changes necessary because they would then lose control of the nations they supposedly care for. So, as God says, the world truly does “walk back and forth in darkness,” as the “foundations of the earth are shaken.”

And why do our leaders so continuously fail to perceive what is now happening as the world order is shaken by natural disaster, endemic violence, political upheaval, endless war, and the breakdown of the social glue that formerly held society together? They don’t understand because they have discounted God and his word in their deliberations as to who will ascend the thrones of power.

Supposedly the religious establishment is the source of moral values and ethical behavior for national leaders and their people. And early in our history it was. But something slipped over the years as the generic church gradually lost its way by surrendering its moral mandate to the modern culture and the power of mammon, or the worship of money. Now mammon reigns supreme as the only true value of mega corporations and their earth-destroying policies. It’s evident in the oft-cited claims of business supporters that the only fiduciary duty of a corporation is to create as much financial return for its shareholders as possible.

What happened to the welfare of workers, or consumers, or the earth itself? It got lost in the struggle for more, more, more growth, profits, and economic freedom. Nothing else really matters in the long run.

The earth and its people cannot forever endure the depredations of giant corporations in their search for ever-more profits. But God won’t let it last forever, but only as long as we fail to heed his words of justice and deliverance.

AWAKENING FROM THE AMERICAN DREAM

By Jim Jordal

The long-venerated “American Dream” is dead---at least for half of our people. For these unfortunates the stairway to success is blocked, and the lowest rungs of the upward ladder are unreachable. It’s as if a giant hand drags them back as they attempt to climb. They become the statistics of inter-generational poverty and the invisible dwellers on the “other side of the tracks,” or deep in the high rise ghetto, where “decent” people never go.

The American Dream consists of the bedrock belief held by lower classes---often composed of immigrants--- that through hard work, education, and perseverance they can climb the economic ladder to middle-class comfort and security. And if they were also a bit lucky or uniquely talented they might even rise to considerable wealth and social status (the Carnegie, Rockefeller syndrome).

The American Dream was forged from our heritage of Old Testament Divine law, Greek democracy and the Roman republic, the British Magna Charta and natural law, and our own frontier experience. It makes us unique among nations as having strong limitations of executive power and a heritage of responsible freedom that has been emulated, but seldom successfully, by emerging nations.

But the American Dream is under attack as never before in our history. The changes are taking place quietly, like being “under the radar,” but they are here nonetheless. The threatening privatization of social security, ostensibly to “protect” our retirements, would accomplish the exact opposite, since it would transfer our retirement accounts to Wall Street supervision and the threat of massive losses due to greed and irresponsibility of people and institutions that have already trashed the economy once.

Another example is the impending Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), creating a new trade agreement among 12 nations of the Pacific rim. According to political commentator Jim Hightower’s report, this agreement is so dangerous to national sovereignty that the negotiations setting it up have remained secret, even from our Congress through which it must pass. The online People’s Encyclopedia (Wikipedia) reports great concern over this secrecy as well as the fear that member nations would be “obligated to conform all domestic laws and regulations to TPP rules, even to the extent of how governments could spend tax dollars.” Such requirements would, if instituted, greatly threaten the ability of sovereign governments to make environmental improvements, expand human rights, and to pass public welfare legislation. The result would be that corporations could bring suit against governments for damages resulting from their attempts to protect their own people.

Folks, this is too much power to give to massive corporations desiring to benefit themselves and their stockholders at the expense of the public. It fits with views of the Psalmist, who speaks these very appropriate words:  “Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with Thee [God]?” (Ps. 94:20). Among the many attempts by the existing “throne of iniquity” to “devise evil by law,”  this one stands out in its lack of public transparency, threats to indigenous peoples, ecological damage, and even the continued existence of sovereign governments.

The vast majority of the American public does not wish to hear or accept truth concerning these issues involving the poor suffering at the hands of exploiters. Why? Because accepting truth may force us to act against evil, with the consequent disturbing of our complacency and Illusions of just what a good society is.

Biblical prophets did not only predict the future; they also expounded God’s law, explaining how the moral concepts of natural law never change, and how we as citizens and societies only succeed in breaking ourselves upon the absolute verities of God.

It’s like the apostle Paul said to those Corinthians fearful of truth: “Am I your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Are prophets our enemies because they attempt to “speak truth to power”?

These attempts of create evil by law are one reason why the American Dream” is so elusive for vast numbers of our people.  God can end it, if we pray and obey.