Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wyoming Interfaith Network welcomes Muslims, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, those who practice Native American traditions, and other non-Christian participants.

Kahlil Gibran said, “I love it when you bow in your Mosque, kneel in your temple, or pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is of the Spirit.”

The Wyoming Association of Churches has made an historic decision. During its annual meeting this coming weekend in Cheyenne, it will become the Wyoming Interfaith Network.

The group has long been an ecumenical Christian voice in Wyoming. Its membership has included Presbyterians, United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, American Baptists, the Friends, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of North America, the United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, and others from time to time.

Now, as the Wyoming Interfaith Network, it will welcome Muslims, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, those who practice Native American traditions, and other non-Christian participants.

The organization began as the Wyoming Church Council in the 1960s. In 1976, it became the Wyoming Church Coalition. They called themselves the Wyoming Association of Churches (WAC) in 2003.

The group’s website says that membership is “based on a commitment to come together with others, putting aside our differences to advance our mission.” The “others” will now include those of our friends and neighbors who worship different from Christians. Together, they will all pursue a mission that includes the promotion of spiritual growth, responsible stewardship of God’s creation, and social justice.

The decision to open its uniquely Christian voice to the voices of non-Christians is a matter of significance. There are people in our community who call themselves Christians who will not be a part of anything that includes Muslims, Jews or others. The Wyoming Interfaith Network will offer testimony that exclusionary practices do not serve God’s hopes for the world.

The WAC decision is a recognition that the world’s great religions have in common far more than that which divides them. The fundamental belief shared by each is expressed by Christians as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The Quran of the Muslims says, “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The great Rabbi Hillel taught in the Talmud of Judaism that, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This, Rabbi Hillel exclaimed, “is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”

The same theological thread runs through Hinduism, Confucianism, the Baha’i Faith, Taoism, and Sikhism, which teaches, “I am a stranger to no one and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.”

We live in times when the failure to understand the way in which others come to understand the divine threatens the well-being of the world and the security of our fellow human-beings. While covering one of the hundreds of international crises on which Walter Cronkite reported, the iconic anchorman said interfaith dialogue and respect were necessary for the survival of democracy. He said “never before has the need for interfaith commitment been nearly as great as it is at this very moment.” The same is perhaps more urgent in our troubled times.

The world needs to grow quickly beyond employing varying perspectives on God to justify hatred. Replacing fears about the religion of others with facts and understanding is the best chance the world has to save itself from the sort of violence currently engulfing much of it.

Theologian David Smock has studied interfaith dialogue and has written extensively on the subject. Smock says, “It is only when participants have a deep understanding of their own religious traditions and are willing to learn and recognize the richness of other religious traditions that constructive cooperation can take place between those of different faiths.”

An interfaith encounter should not be seen as an opportunity to convert the other person to your religion. Neither does it require that you relinquish your own beliefs. It simply demands an openness and a curiosity about what sustains someone who worships and serves the divine in a manner with which you might not be familiar.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The "death tax" hoax

In coming years, the savings and assets of middle-class baby-boomers will be transferred, not to their children as they hoped, but to nursing homes. If tax reform supported by Senators Enzi and Barrasso, are enacted, the wealthiest Americans will be the only ones able to transfer their enormous wealth to their children.

These people amassed unimaginable fortunes selling products and services to consumers at inflated prices while underpaying employees. Now they want to transfer all that ill-gotten wealth to their children while the middle class transfers theirs to nursing homes.

This heist is perpetrated by those who hijacked American politics with political contributions. The contributions came with an IOU. The politicians are paying off the debt.

The payoff is a tax reform bill the non-partisan Tax Policy Council finds gives 80% of its benefits to the top one-percent, while adding a couple of trillion to the debt. At the same time, Enzi, the Budget Committee chairman, proposes Medicare cuts of $450 Billion. He and Barrasso believe the national debt is reason to cut Medicaid and Medicare but not to deny tax cuts to the rich.

While they are spending billions to give their wealthy benefactors a huge tax cut, they’re coming after your healthcare.

Here’s why that matters to middle-class baby boomers.

As you age and require nursing home care, your children will watch helplessly as their inheritance is shoveled into the coffers of nursing home owners. Median cost for semi-private rooms in Wyoming is $6,692 per month according to the Genworth 2015 Cost of Care Survey.

Studies indicate middle-class Americans have saved only $20,000 for retirement. Even if your savings is 10 or 20 times that amount, it won’t survive long-term care. Your assets will be liquidated to pay that bill until you have nothing left for your children except perhaps a beat up old car.

Then you'll be relying on Medicaid. You may have thought that was only for the poor. Before Medicaid pays a nickel toward your nursing home care, you’ll be poor, actually destitute. Your U.S. Senators want to cap the growth of Medicaid and turn it over to the states to administer at a time when they know the trajectory for Alzheimer’s diagnoses alone are about to skyrocket.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates the costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s will exceed $20 trillion by 2050, by which time the numbers of Alzheimer’s patients will increase from today’s 5.1 million to 13.5 million. And, of course, Alzheimer’s won’t be the only thing landing us in nursing homes beds.

With the prospects for the aging middle class this dire, Enzi and Barrasso are intent on repealing the Estate Tax. While they employ talking points crafted to scare you into believing this is a tax on you, the truth is that it is only a tax on couples with estates valued at more than $11 million, the richest people in America, who are unwilling to share what they have with charities or family members during their lifetime.

They can pass $11 million to their children with no tax. Estates valued above that are taxed with 40% going to the people of the country that made them wealthy.

These rich folks who want to avoid sharing their great wealth with this great nation are “taking a knee” during the National Anthem. They didn’t create wealth on their own. They succeeded, in significant part, because the nation’s infrastructure, public works and other programs, paid for by the taxpayers, and a business-friendly tax code, enabled them to amass the wealth they seek to squirrel away from the national good, which ought to include healthcare for seniors and others.

They are greedy, not patriotic.

There’s an old joke about the cattleman asked what he’d do if he won the lottery. “I guess I’d just keep ranchin’ till it was all gone.” Voting for politicians like Mike Enzi and John Barrasso is like that. You all can just keep voting for them until everything you have is gone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

If anyone disrespects the American flag, it is Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence, not Colin Kaepernkik or the other NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem.

Kaepernik and the other players are affording the flag the kind of patriotic respect the simple minds of demagogues refuse to understand. The players who take a knee while the national anthem plays are taking the sort of risks the founders knew would be necessary to achieve justice.

Trump and Pence, on the other hand, are the kind of despotic rulers the First Amendment predicted would always challenge the exercise of freedoms, and from whom the Constitution was designed to protect us.

Last weekend, Pence and Trump orchestrated some cynical political theater. Costing taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars, Pence flew to Indianapolis for an NFL game between the Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. It didn’t take a soothsayer to predict the players would take a knee during the playing of the anthem. Trump knew that would happen and dispatched his Veep to the game with orders to depart dramatically when it happened.

Pence’s entourage arrived along with a van filled with reporters. According to CNN, who Trump has conditioned his base to believe is “fake news,” the reporters were told it was not necessary for them to leave the van because Pence would not be in the stadium very long.

When the inevitable knee-taking occurred, Pence took off in a pretend huff, announcing that he and the man the U.S. Secretary of State calls “a moron,” would “not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."

Immediately, the Make America Great Again Committee used the contrivance to raise campaign cash. Trump Tweeted his reliable donors saying, “your Vice President REFUSED to dignify their disrespect for our anthem, our flag, and the many brave soldiers who have died for their freedoms," Trump requested campaign donations to support the move.

His so-called “base” loved it and America became more divided than it was the day before this stunt.

It is all a reality TV show. This one is more like the old Jerry Springer Show than it is like the Apprentice. Jerry Springer’s MO was to pit guests against one another, to create anger and chaos, which more than occasionally culminated in fisticuffs on stage.

For the President and this Vice President, the whole world, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is a Jerry Springer stage. One of the props is the American flag.  

Pence and his boss, Donald Trump have turned the nation’s symbols into cheap political gimmicks. They have done far worse than to take a knee. They are using the flag to create anger and chaos and to divide Americans for their own political gains.

The Trump-Pence gang aren’t the first Republicans to do so. I am old enough to remember how Richard Nixon and his crooked Vice President Spiro Agnew did it. They adopted the U.S. flag lapel pin as a symbol of division in order to provide them with cover as they waged an illegal and immoral war in Vietnam. The ploy divided American then as this one does today.

So, this sort of patriotism-based demagoguery is nothing new. That fact doesn’t make it any less disgusting.

The flag doesn’t belong to Trump and Pence. It isn’t a tool to achieve their political goals. But neither is it the exclusive symbol of what Trump calls “the many brave soldiers who have died for their freedoms." It is typical Trump-buffoonery to suggest that Americans should not exercise the freedoms for which our military veterans fought.  

The U.S. flag does not represent veterans to the exclusion of the rest of us. Yes, it is a symbol of the freedoms for which they fought and died. But it is more than that. As a symbol, it reminds us not only that we are free but that we are obliged to use those freedoms to strive for justice and equality.