Lover’s Leap

I drove to Kentucky for a class this past weekend.  My drive took me past Lover’s Leap, a well-known overpass in Floyd County, Virginia.  The view this time of year is stunning.  So I thought I’d share a couple of the photos I took with my phone/camera.

Love Wins

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The immorality of the Fed

I used to rant about monetary policy frequently on this blog.  I’ve tried to stop doing that.   But it just blows my mind that while so much energy and angst in spent in this country on every little detail of politics, like how much the President spends on vacation or the latest gossip about Sarah Palin, almost nothing is said about the extraordinary and unprecedented actions of Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve.

We’ve seemingly forgotten that the the principal reason for our current financial disaster is the fact that the Fed artificially cheapened credit by holding overnight interest rates at less than 2% from late 2001 to 2004.  By manipulating the free market the Fed was able to juice borrowing and speculation, creating a towering economic house of cards that collapsed, just as the few right-thinking observers predicted it would.

But rather than learn from the mistake, the Fed (with the complicity of both parties, the executive branch and the legislative branch) has chosen to repeat it, this time on steroids.  Since late 2008 the Fed has kept the overnight interest rates at essentially zero.  Interest rates are now being artificially maintained at the lowest rates ever.  Meanwhile the Fed is flooding the economy with phony money.  The Fed has dumped trillions of dollars of newly-printed money into the economy since late 2008, ballooning its balance sheet in a mind-boggling fashion.

Originally the Fed’s actions were to bail out and prop up financial institutions which made poor loans, transfering the risk of those loans from the institutions which profited from them, to the public.  While that was immoral, outside the legitimate mandate of the Fed and likely fatal to the currency, more recently the Fed has been blatantly monetizing the Federal debt, by buying Treasuries at auction.  It simply creates out of thin air the “money” it uses to buy the bonds, permitting the federal government to spend money it doesn’t have without the trouble of having to worry about finding a true lender.  And of course an intended collateral effect of this policy is to drive interest rates lower. 

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough (and I can’t find words to express how bad it is), now the Fed has unveiled “Operation Twist,” the latest outrage.  With this “operation” the Fed has gone on a massive buying spree of long-term debt, driving long-term interest rates to absurdly low levels. 

Now in a country addicted to borrowing and debt, low interest rates courtesy of the Federal reseve might seem to be a good thing.  But the economic reality is that artificial manipulation of credit and debt creates malinvestment and asset bubbles.  Healthy sustainable investment comes from savings of real wealth actually accumulated by the investors, not from debt and phony money.  And incenting the public to borrow and speculate only sets people up for the kind of economic disaster we’re living through now.  Further, rarely do folks stop and consider the effect of these policies on people who haven’t buried themselves in debt, but who instead have prudently saved money, as almost all Americans used to do.

The interest rate on CDs and savings accounts is now virtually zero.  People who have retired on fixed incomes are having their savings stolen from them by the Fed to finance more borrowing and speculation.  The only way they can hope to get a decent rate of return on their savings is to dive into the stock market (just as the Fed policy makers intend them to do), where they face the very real risk of losing their life savings.

It doesn’t end there.  Propping up a bloated stock market, maintaining a bubble in the real estate market, and incenting insane borrowing and speculation, all at the expense of the prudent and the next generation is, of course, immoral enough.  But dumping all this new “money” into the system also devalues the currency and creates monetary and price inflation, causing the cost of commodities and necessary goods to skyrocket.  Thus, while Grandma is earning virtually nothing on her savings, her cost of fuel, food and health care continue to increase dramatically. 

I see this all as a rape of responsible America by the irresponsible.  It leads inevitably to a collapse of the currency and the irreversible ruin of our economy.

It is immoral.

This post only scratches the surface of the many reasons why it is way past time to end the Fed.

Love Wins

They Might Be Giants

I sometimes wonder what the third world factory workers think when they’re making our clothes. 

The average male adult in the U.S. has a 40 inch waist and the average female’s waist size is 37 inches.  For a point of reference, in the 1950’s the average woman’s waist size was 27 inches–a full ten inches less than today.

But the ballooning of the “average” person is only part of the story.  Many folks today, men and women alike, have waists that are well over 40, 50 or even 60 inches.  Many have girths that exceed their heights. 

This fattening of America (thanks mostly to processed foods and idleness) takes a tremendous toll on our health of course.  The human skeletal system just wasn’t designed to haul around that much weight, especially if it is so inefficiently distributed. 

But back to the poor third world factory workers making our pants.  What must these folks, who couldn’t get enough food to get fat even if they wanted to, think of us?  They must look at the clothes they make and be utterly astonished that anyone could actually be that size.  Certainly the movies, TV shows and ads they see from America don’t show such people.  Ever seen a morbidly obese person in a fast food commercial?  On the other hand, can you get through a single day of life without seeing dozens of them?

Maybe the factory workers think we’re gluttonous freaks.  Maybe they think we’re so rich we can afford to lay around eating every day.

Maybe they think we’re giants.

Love Wins

Our Chapel

As I’ve tried to make the book of Common Prayer (Ordinary Radicals version) part of my daily life, I asked Cherie to help create a little chapel area in our living room.

It’s very simple, as you can see.  We change the color of the cloth depending upon the church season, and the candle has three wicks.

I highly recommend the book, but it’s also possible to follow online at commonprayer.net.

Just a few years ago I could hardly have imagined being drawn to liturgy–something I had completely rejected.  But now I love the feeling that I’m sharing in worship with fellow believers, even when I’m alone.  It has enriched me spiritually and I’m glad to have (re)discovered it.

Love Wins

In Palestine, Love Wins

Here’s a post from Lynne Hybels originally on Red Letter Christians.  We met Lynne at the Wild Goose Festival and now she is one of our heroes for her work promoting peace and justice in Palestine.  I was searching for this photo of Love Wins painted on the wall the Israeli government built to wall out the Palestinians, when I found the article.  It is encouraging to know that amid all the hatred and violence, there are dedicated peacemakers working to end it.  They are blessed.

Love Wins, by Lynne Hybels

No, I am not submitting a belated entry into the heated conversation about Rob Bell’s latest book. I haven’t read Love Wins, so it would be inappropriate for me to enter the conversation. I do know, however, that long before Rob wrote the book he preached a series of sermons by the same title. I didn’t hear the sermons, but my daughter and son-in-law happened to be on the staff of Rob’s church at that time, so I did end up with a “LOVE WINS” sticker, which has long been stuck on a wall in my office.

The photo above shows the sticker flanked by a collection of precious (to me) mementos: a cross carved decades ago by my friend and mentor, Gilbert Bilezikian, while he served as a military medic in the deserts of Algeria.  A paper-covered vase made over 30 years ago by my daughter when she was in preschool; a rock I picked up on a wind-swept beach in Ireland (yeah, I have a thing for rocks and a thing for Ireland); a mug I received in December from a Christian in Cairo who later raised her voice in protest in Tahrir Square; and an olivewood cup from which I drank communion wine in the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

The communion cup is the most recent addition to my collection of artifacts. I was at the Garden Tomb just weeks ago. It is always a moving experience to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the land that was the geographical setting for his incarnation. But on this last trip there was an unexpected poignancy to the experience. While our group of 30 Christian leaders huddled in the rain, preparing to honor the Prince of Peace, someone else was detonating a bomb in Jerusalem. We passed the broken bread and poured the dark wine to a haunting accompaniment of screaming sirens and hovering helicopters. We eventually made it safely back to our hotel in Bethlehem, but snarled traffic and closed checkpoints made the journey slow and frightening.

For nearly two weeks afterwards we visited holy sites that called us to a deeper appreciation of Jesus, and we visited decidedly unholy sites — places of violence and injustice that must break the heart of God. We listened to the brave and peaceful call of Christians, Muslims, and Jews — both Palestinians and Israelis — committed to security and justice for all the people of the Holy Land. And we listened to the disheartening rhetoric of those whose violent words seemed incomprehensible — not to my mind, but to my heart, my spirit, my faith.

I’m still shell-shocked by my recent trip to Israel/Palestine; I’m not ready to reflect on all that I saw and experienced. But four kids from my church, equipped with two cans of paint and four paintbrushes, captured the essence of my thoughts about the future of the place of Jesus’ most dramatic visitation. “LOVE WINS” they painted on the giant wall that divides the people of the Holy Land. A day later a group of Westmont College students repeated the message in Arabic. I didn’t take many photos on my recent trip. I’m so glad one of my friends photographed this message on the wall in Bethlehem, because I really do believe that in the end, love wins.

I’m not making a big, cosmic, eternity-touching statement when I suggest that love wins. I’ll leave the big, cosmic, eternity-touching statements to theologians and biblical scholars and preachers and controversial authors. I’m just saying that the longer I live and the further I travel and the more I see and experience of the brokenness of life, the more I realize that every encounter and every relationship goes better when we approach it from a position of love. I don’t think love means that we have to agree about everything. But I think it means that we listen hard, and that we do our best to understand the fears, the frustrations, the dreams, the worldview, and the experience of “the other.” And while we listen, we pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts and expand the capacity of our minds. And we pray that the Spirit, the passion, and the redemptive work of Jesus will have its way in us and in the world.

So … I’m sitting in my at-home office, looking at the collection of personal artifacts I’ve gathered during (almost) 60 years of life and thousands of miles of travel and countless conversations with people in pain. As I scan the walls and shelves that hold my holy clutter, I set my gaze on the source of my hope and on my steadfast belief. Love wins.

Love Wins

Everyone’s Burden

I want folks to eat better and consume less, because doing so will make them healthier and happier.  But individual decisions to overconsume don’t just lead to the ruined health and finances of those individuals.  In our society we all bear some of the cost.  So if more people eat better and consume less, we’ll all be better off.

People who overconsume food or processed unhealthy products will likely ruin their health and shorten and decrease the quality of their lives.  Of course they have the freedom to make that choice–to balance the benefits of a longer, healthier, happier life against the short-term gratification of Big Macs, candy bars, beer and cigarettes.  But the cost of the decision to overconsume usually isn’t limited to the person who makes the choice.  Folks who become sick and unproductive as a result of their lifestyle choices often become a burden on their families.  And in our society the cost of their health care must be borne by those members of society who did not ruin their health by refusing to resist the urge for self-gratification through overconsumption.  The folks who overconsume then become a weight dragging us all down.

The same is true of overspending.  Excessive borrowing and spending has left our economy in shambles.  Those who were prudent and stayed out of debt are now having to carry the burden of attempting to repair the damage caused by those who were not. 

All across the world people are bearing the economic, political and environmental costs of overconsumption in America.  Our overconsumption destroys local economies, enables dictators and slavemasters and destroys nature and environmental balance.

In economics the term “externality” refers to a cost of an economic transaction which is borne by someone other than the producer or consumer; that is, someone who did not agree to the transaction.  As overconsumers continue to pile their externalities on the innocent, it’s way past time the truth be told.

This is everyone’s buden.

Love Wins