Posts tagged: America

The Struggle Continues

By , April 14, 2014 5:42 am

The other day, I commented on how wonderful it was to see four former presidents joining President Barack Obama in celebrating the great civil rights progress that was made in the 1960’s. America was changed, the United States is a better country but the struggle for true equality regretfully is far from being over.

I was delighted to see a statement in the Austin American Statesman on the fact that the struggle needs to continue. An article was coauthored by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus and they touched briefly on very serious issues that still must be addressed. They state that as Texans:

“We rightly demand a fair system that provides meaningful freedom and opportunity for each of us….

“Instead we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle class working Texans. We still a school finance system that is so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts are compelled to sue the state over it.”

“We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewashing the record and ignoring the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.”

“And in clear echoes of 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.”

The senators are very correct in pointing out that so much still needs to be done. I certainly hope and pray that Texans will continue to work for a more just and equitable society.

Onward through the fog.

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Old Country Expressions

By , March 31, 2014 5:58 am

When I was a kid, the population of the United States of America was already well over half urbanized, but for millions of adults living in the city their roots and memories were back on the farm. I can remember many expressions back then that were sort of meaningless unless you could see the world through a farmer’s eyes. One of those expressions was “hold your horses!” and another one was “good fences make good neighbors.” That first expression merely was a way of saying “slow down and get control of yourself.” The line about fences was referring to the fact that well-maintained fences kept livestock from getting mixed up with your neighbors or his mixed up with yours. Good fences avoided unnecessary and sometimes dangerous arguments.

What was true in rural America is still true in the world today as far as natural boundaries are concerned. Look at Spain and France. You never hear of a conflict between them because the Pyrenees Mountains are a marvelous divide that keeps these two nationalities not only physically but psychologically separated and divided.

About two weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that there are so many divided countries in the world and that this almost always leads to tension. One of those divisions, and it is dominating the news stories today, is the Ukraine. Russia has already gobbled up the Black Sea Peninsula and the West is concerned that it may go for more of Ukraine proper.

Ukraine is very divided. The western half is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In the east, the Orthodox Church is dominant. Secondly, the west is composed to a very great extent, as you would expect, of ethnic Ukrainians. While there are plenty of them in the east, there is also the problem of a very large Russian population. These are double dividers and when you have those factors present, there is very real risks of conflict.

Russia seems to be interested in having neat boundaries and there is a real threat that she might occupy eastern Ukraine. At present the tension is very serious but actions like that will remind the West of September 1939. There is a boundary problem but let’s pray that it does not lead to tragedy.

Let’s pray that this conflict passes over and peace will reign supreme.

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Pete Seeger and the Bishop!

By , February 5, 2014 5:14 am

Yes, I once was young! I was very touched the other day when the evening news conveyed to all of us that Pete Seeger, a banjo picking troubadour, had left us. For fifty years Pete Seeger and his co-workers had been around providing music, encouragement and other forms of support to many causes of people who are vulnerable. This included union members, migrant workers, college students and, most especially, minorities in the black community. He was wonderful. Gradually, the wistful, hope-filled words of “We Shall Overcome” became a theme song for all of these groups.

I was in my 30’s throughout all of the ‘60’s and if you are old enough, you remember that this was one wild decade. Cesar Chavez and the farm workers, the Vietnam War, urban riots and, most of all, the struggle for blacks for equality. Remember that in their struggle for equality they were bringing others with them, working side by side with Hispanics and other people who had been marginalized.

Those were difficult days. There were times when, quite frankly, I was physically afraid that somebody who did not know how important and dignified I was would slam me across the head with a baseball bat. It had happened to others. When that occurred I was almost always with others who were experiencing the same fear and then all of a sudden, the voice of Peter, Paul and Mary would come out of nowhere working along with Pete Seeger to give us courage, hope and confidence. It could be a profoundly moving experience.

On the evening news I heard those songs again and I admit frankly that I was covered with goose bumps. I was glad that I was safely in my kitchen on my 5:30 p.m. schedule but emotionally I was back there in that tough decade.
I am glad that it is over. America is glad that it is over. However, let’s remember the people who realized the importance of music, the importance of unity, the importance of hope, confidence and trust in God.
May God bless you, Pete. You were a great gift.

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More Legal Thefts

By , November 14, 2013 5:58 am

Two weeks ago, I cautioned my readers to be very careful when giving to so-called “charities” that are making use of an attractive name usually connected with health issues. Thanks be to God, the American people are extraordinarily generous and there are many organizations providing care to tens of thousands of people and doing it in a very honest and generous manner. Regretfully, however, there are groups and organizations that grab on to one of these appealing names, set up a fund raising mechanism and do very well for themselves financially. These operations are legal! There really is a program! The problem is that the vast majority of the funds that are raised do not go to service the need that is advertised. Usually only 5% actually goes into the work that is connected with the name that is being used.

I referred to the fact that, despicable though it is, these almost legal organizations report to you as to how they are helping to solve the problem at hand, but all they are really doing is using the name to generate money for themselves. I specifically referred to Heart Support of America and the National Cancer Research Center. Aren’t heart and cancer major issues? Aren’t those nice names?
The sad fact about this is that these legal but unethical operations are operating within the confines of the law. They actually do work on the issue but they are using the sensitivity of their fellow Americans to fill their pockets with money. Only about 5% goes to the work whose name they are using. The other is eaten up by fund raising costs and, of course, profits. The people conducting the drive are the ones who decide how much they are to pay themselves!

Today I have another example. I was contacted by phone and urged to give to the Hospice Fund of America. I have tremendous respect for the hospice movement and have been on the board of Hospice Austin for many years. Hospice is a movement that developed about fifty years ago in England and thankfully has moved into this country very effectively. The hospice is a special need for our times because so many families are scattered across the entire country and when death is approaching, it is harder for younger members of the family to provide proper care to those who are approaching death. I asked the promoters to send me a financial report as to how their funds are allocated. Thankfully, they have to do this in order to remain legal or the government would be able to move against them unless they fulfill the letter of the law. Hospice Fund of America sent me their report. They were very proud of the fact that 5% of the money that they raise went to hospice care. They didn’t tell me how they decided who got that little 5%.

Most charitable programs are honest but fund raising is awfully difficult and these technically legal efforts to raise money, touching the hearts of generous Americans, are actually making honest fund raising more difficult because people want to help but are justifiably suspicious. We should all reach out to do all the help that we can. As President Reagan said, “Trust but verify.”

EDITOR’s NOTE- There is a fully legitimate, wonderful organization called the Hospice FOUNDATION of America, who’s name can be so easily confused with the organization noted above (the Hospice FUND of America) that we initially had posted the Foundation’s logo on this page- and for that, we profoundly apologize.

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Does Life Have Meaning? If Yes, What Is It?

By , August 6, 2013 4:55 am

The next time you drive around a good sized city in America you quickly become aware of religious differences among the Christians. Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant churches would probably account for 90% of the believers in Jesus. There are dozens of smaller groups popping up all the time.
Let’s push Christianity aside for just a moment and think about the other great religious traditions that exist across the planet. We consider the many forms that Christianity has taken over the centuries. We must always be very conscious of the Jews, the faith in which Christianity was originally rooted. First of all, there are the Muslims. They are hard to forget. Then there are the Buddhists, Hindus, Animists and many other religious traditions.
Despite their amazing diversity, without exception, all of these religious groups have one thing in common – to answer the question, what is the purpose of life and how should it be lived and structured. To see this commonality in religious faith, we ought to try to be more patient and understanding with religious diversity which marks our planet. It is tragic that this diversity has resulted in so much misunderstanding, pain and suffering.
In the 21st century, the Christians of this planet put aside the hatred and religious wars of the past and see that their common faith in Jesus Christ is a source of strength not only for themselves but for the human family. Regretfully, some groups of Muslims and a few others still find religious diversity to be a cause of hatred and killing. Christian communities across the planet ought to be doing everything they can to bring about peace and acceptance rather than divisiveness and murder. Regretfully, the Muslims are not only hostile to non-Muslims but even to diversity within their common faith. The Shiites and the Sunnis are on the verge of war in several Middle Eastern countries.
Let’s remind ourselves of our own faith. We believe in a very special way that God has stepped into the human story and brought a message to the human family. It is beautiful and it gives humans an opportunity to take part in God’s salvific plan for all. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and gradually revealed his nature and purpose and a message of great joy and encouragement to the human family. Does life have meaning? Yes, it does but it requires faith, deep faith.

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Why Unhappiness Abounds

By , May 10, 2013 4:11 am

Have you ever noticed that we Americans are often involved in conversations with each other and how
unhappy we are as a nation? We are coming out of deep recession and tremendous suffering was
generated but only for 10% to 15% of the population. That other 85% could easily be more helpful
to those who are suffering but little is being done about it. We all know the litany as these problems
manifest themselves in divorce, drug addiction, acute depression, political divides, anger and bitterness,
widespread discouragement flowing especially today from joblessness, etc., etc. We all know the list.

Well, there are countless complex problems that are facing us. There are an even greater number of
complex causes and the list of solutions seems to be on the weaker side. I recently read reviews of an
excellent book by Eckhart Tolle entitled, Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. The author writes effectively
and covers many aspects of our lives but I lifted one particular quote that I think is important for many
of us. Tolle is talking about ego needs that disrupt our lives and even when they seem to be fulfilled
create disappointment and unhappiness. Listen to this one.

“The absurd overvaluation of fame is just one of the many manifestations of egoic madness
in our world. Some famous people fall into the same error and identify with the collective
fiction, the image of people and the media have created of them, and they begin to actually see
themselves as superior to ordinary mortals. As a result, they become more and more alienated
from themselves and others, more and more unhappy, more and more dependent on their
continuing popularity. Surrounded only by people who feed their inflated self-image, they
become incapable of genuine relationships.”

Regretfully, this very destructive weakness is common and flows directly from our wounded nature and
Original Sin. Hitler had a bad case of it and 50 million people lost their lives and most of Europe was
flattened. Happily, most of us who live in inordinate appreciation of our virtues, real or imagined, do
not cause damage on that scale, but an exaggerated ego is present in enormous percentage of conflicts
within the family, in the business world and even can affect the international community.

It is very seldom that you see a humble man who is not well liked and deeply appreciated.

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The Greatness of Lincoln

By , March 4, 2013 5:15 am

From time to time, a new motion picture comes out that can have a very powerful influence on the American psyche. Most movies are produced for a combination of entertainment and profit. There is nothing essentially wrong with either one of those goals but it does result in a lot of lackluster cinematic production. I remember when Dr. Zhivago first came out about thirty years ago that I was happy because so many Americans probably saw for the first time how terrible the living conditions of workers and farm labor was under the Russian Czars. Most people clearly understood that Communism was a failure but they didn’t know what the forces were that generated this disastrous economic attempt to establish a new economic system.
Now comes Lincoln. I find in so many ways that the movie is truly a wonderful production but I think that its approach may have startled or confused many American viewers. The movie is not a biography. It is a crisp, clear presentation of one of Lincoln’s many fights. It tells of one of Lincoln’s most important struggles and covers only a few months at the end of his life. The struggle was to adopt the 13th Amendment which would guarantee the elimination of slavery from American life. The Emancipation Proclamation was wonderful but it could not guarantee that a later Congress would nullify the document. Lincoln certainly saw this danger and fought for an Amendment in the Constitution. Some were scandalized that the movie seemed to show Lincoln as a tough political wheeler dealer willing to make deals and cut corners in order to achieve his goal. How blessed we are that he was able to do that. A weaker man might have dropped the ball.
February 18th was President’s Day and although I failed to mention Lincoln on the 12th, I am motivated by this particular holiday to think how blessed we have been many times in the presidents. I have my favorite half dozen or so. Most of us do but we need to be thankful and in many different times of crisis in our nation’s story, those with the office of president have time after time risen to the occasion. Lincoln and Washington were the best. For Bishop John McCarthy Harry Truman is also right up there at the top.

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The Bible As Literature

By , January 30, 2013 4:29 am

For most of the last century, the American people and its government have been struggling to resolve a pressing need and an apparent conflict. The need is a very real one and it casts a shadow over life in the United States. The conflict flow from the natural responsibility of a people, whether it be family, tribe or nation, to convey its value system to each new generation and our current inability to do that. Throughout history, all groups have learned to do this and thus preserve their values, traditions and mode of living. The United States does not know how to do that.
All true values are ultimately based on a moral foundation. On reviewing the relationship between religion and public education, the Supreme Court has slipped back and forth several times occasionally creating a small opening for more action, but usually making it ever more difficult. Back in 2007, Texas attempted to deal with this issue by enacting a law allowing public schools to teach bible courses as a separate elective but the law demanded that the courses are required to be fair and unbiased. This is not an impossible goal. The bible is the most important book in the history of much of the world. The bible has had tremendous influence not only in millions and billions of individual lives, but in the flow of history in the public area. The bible has been powerful and often involved conflict and even hatred. This means that since it is such an important book, it would be possible to teach where it came from, what culture influences affected the bible and, in reverse order, what the bible has affected in the flow of history.
The educators had good intensions but their efforts have not been completely successful as yet. Last week, the Texas Freedom Network released a study showing that among the 60 school districts that have taken advantage of this new state law there was widespread failure to comply with the law requiring courses to be fair and unbiased. I am not surprised. It would take a very disciplined teacher to utilize a book that primarily reflects God’s activity in history and not let his or her faith show through in the classroom. In other words, the professor is not to reveal that he or she actually believes the bible, actually holds to the idea that the events recorded in it are really true. I understand that the State of Texas doesn’t want Baptist teachers clearly teaching the Baptist faith or Roman Catholic teachers endeavoring to instruct their public school students in Catholicism. However, I don’t think that the personal faith of the teacher should be a reason for making that person ineligible as a teacher or professor.
Much has been written over the last two generations about the fact that the state cannot endorse teachers supporting one particular faith and I think that most Americans solidly agree with that. On the other hand, is there not a valid question as to whether or not atheism or at least agnosticism have become the established religion of the United States of America. I wonder.

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The Fire and the Seamstresses

By , December 28, 2012 4:18 am

All thoughtful Americans and citizens across the world were horrified a few weeks ago by that tragic fire in the clothing factory over in Bangladesh. There were no fire exits, no escape plans and hundreds of the employees died in agony and unnecessarily. Those clothes – blouses, shirts, socks, etc. – were being manufactured by near slave labor to be marketed in the United States of America. First the fire, then the sense of shock and now silence. We have heard nothing from the national and international associations of clothing manufacturers. Since their needs and their demand for low wages is at least an indirect cause of the tragedy, shouldn’t they be leading the efforts to make sure that this type of tragedy is avoided in the future? To date, they have been quiet – very, very quiet.
Tragedies like that used to occur in the 19th century in the United States, England and other European countries and mistakes can still occur and tragically kill innocent workers; for example, the explosion of the oil well in the Gulf operated by British Petroleum. However, happily, the developed world began to recognize the need for supervision and regulation, and the number of such tragedies has been greatly lessened. Nevertheless, there is a group in this country that is constantly howling and complaining about regulation. Regulation does increase the cost of production but nothing compared to the cost and damage that can be done by producers and manufacturers if they are not being supervised within proper limits. We would frequently find ourselves in serious trouble and pain if the various supervisory entities were suppressed or eliminated. You would be afraid to go into a drug store if it were not for the Center for Disease Control.

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A Nation Weeps

By , December 19, 2012 5:05 am

“Goodbye. Be sure to study hard.”
Every morning all across the country millions of parents send their small children off to elementary school. The parents may drive them. They may go by bus. They may be close enough to walk. Whatever the case, the parents relax and know that their children are well cared for and will be home in the middle of the afternoon when they return to their routine established for the latter part of the day.
That routine is so common, so well established that the vast majority of parents hardly give it a thought. “Hi Billie…Here is a cup of hot chocolate. What did you learn today?”
Last week, however, that routine was tragically, catastrophically interrupted for several dozen families. In addition, millions of other families, as President Obama said, hold their children more tightly as they return from school. Millions of words have already been written about the agonizing, horrifying event in Newtown and I would not foolishly attempt to add anything to the conversation.
There is no meaning in this! It is just raw tragedy and humans have learned to live through and survive tragedy since Adam and Eve got on the wrong side of their Creator. However, last Friday’s situation grabs at the heartstrings of everyone. My guess is that more than half of the country’s population, and I certainly hope that I am right, actually broke out into tears as they received the agonizing information (you can’t call that news). We cry and cry, some crying hysterically. We try to pull meaning out of it but no meaning is there. Eventually our sobbing settles down and we attempt to move forward all the while holding on to each other in a desperate hope that the whole thing is a bad dream. It was not a bad dream!
Let’s pray together for all the families whose lives have been upended by this situation. Let’s pray in thanksgiving for all of us who live our lives rather safely on a day by day basis. Finally, let’s pray that our country will attempt to confront a terribly destructive situation that other developed nations do not seem to experience to the extent that the United States of America does. Should we begin to question ourselves?

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