Inward and Outward Work

The outward work will never be puny if the inward work is great.

— Meister Eckhart, German mystic and heretic

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August 24, 2014 is Pentecost 11A

Isaiah 51:1-6
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.

Psalm 138
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.

Romans 12:1-8
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Matthew 16:13-20
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’

Isaiah
This text lays a foundation for both Romans and Matthew. First, look to the rock from which you were hewn; remember your roots.

Look to Abraham your father
   and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
   but I blessed him and made him many.

Here there are echoes of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12,

I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.

 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.

In verses 4 and 5, “the peoples” are rendered in the Septuagint as ἐθνῶν and ἔθνη; the Gentiles; the non-Jews.  I think the key is that being a blessing to all people – inclusion, not exclusion – is in keeping with God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel’s deepest heritage.

Romans
expulsion of JewsWe have now moved into the section of Romans, chapters 12-16, where Paul deals with the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The letter is written from Corinth sometime in the mid-50s, and there had been an expulsion of Jews – and therefore also Jewish Christians – from Rome during the reign of Claudius. (There had also been an expulsion under Tiberius.) They had been allowed to come back to Rome during the reign of Nero. One can imagine the tensions that this may have caused; Jewish Christians returning to their communities only to find that Gentile Christians were now “in charge”. It’s a bit like some congregations were “newcomers” trying to take over too quickly! (And, IMHO, I suspect that the Gentile Christians were always considered newcomers by the Jewish Christians.)

One can sense Paul’s desire to reconcile these differences as he uses the same “body” analogy that he used in an effort to bring unity to the community at Corinth. And prior to that he writes,

 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The Greek word for perfect is telion; that which brings about the perfect result or goal. The transformation (metamorphosis) is from being conformed to the way that the world and the structures of the world work to how the body of Christ functions. It is in sync with what Paul says when he writes, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” All of those were categories of social caste and structure in Roman society; castes and structures that had no place in the Christian community. I am reminded of a piece written on “Pauline Ethics” by Dr. David Fredrickson at Luther Seminary,

“The community of believers is a speaking place, where the future of the community is determined through unhindered conversation. To grasp the radical openness of the Christian congregation, it is important to note who was not granted freedom of speech in ancient democracies: women, slaves, foreigners, and children. Paul tore down the barriers to full participation through his conviction that the Spirit grants free speech to all who belong to Christ.  For the church to be the church, the voices of all must be heard.”

I suspect that many of these tensions and issues still exist within our congregations and communities today. From my experience, I think the hardest barriers for a congregation to break down are the socio-economic castes. It is something that we would do well to examine.

Matthew
TempleCaesarea Philippi had been annexed to Judea during the reign of Herod the Great. In honor of his patron, Herod built a temple to Augustus alongside the existing temple to Pan. His son, Philip changed its name to Caesarea Philippi in honor of Augustus. Following Philip, Agrippa II made it the administrative capital and built an extensive palace there. Vespasian rested and quartered his troops there prior to the siege of Jerusalem. Agrippa II sent some of his own troops to aid in the siege.

In short, the point is that Caesarea Philippi was not a politically neutral venue for Jesus to ask, “Who do people say that I am?” And it was certainly not a neutral atmosphere for Peter to aver, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Those were imperial titles. Caesar was the Christ, the son of the god – the Caesar – that had preceded him.  The confession was treasonous.

In Mark, which I assume that Matthew has before him as he writes, Peter’s confession – coming halfway through Mark’s gospel – serves as a “hinge”.  It is the turning point. Prior to are miracle stories, healings, exorcisms, power over nature, and even a raising from the dead. Then, in the face of all that, the question is asked, “Who do people say…?” After Peter’s confession the rest of Mark’s gospel deals with the fact that Jesus will be crucified at Jerusalem – and what that means for his disciples and discipleship. Mark’s intra-Jewish theological argument is, “What does it mean to follow a crucified Messiah?” In the wake of the thousands that died and/or were crucified in the siege of Jerusalem, what does it mean to follow someone who also wound up crucified outside the city’s walls?

Matthew NarrativeHow then does the confession function in Matthew’s narrative? Certainly Mark’s theology of the cross, the via crucis, still holds; as Jesus says a few verses later, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

It’s insightful how Matthew redacts Mark’s text. Matthew inserts, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” It is not an insignificant insertion.

Of course, it does give Peter preeminence and authority among the disciples and in the early church. The “you” is second person singular. (The question of Petrine succession is another issue; and there is the Paul/Peter confrontation in Galatians.) But then there is also the question, “What does preeminence look like among disciples called to follow the way of the cross?” Certainly the mother of James and John doesn’t quite get it in chapter 20. (In Mark, James and John ask the question for themselves; I’m not sure what Matthew’s “mother redaction” is all about.) Peter doesn’t even get it in the following verses. “Peter, get behind me. Get back in line. I lead; you follow.”

And then there is the matter of “the keys” and “binding and loosing”.  Luther in his Small Catechism reinterprets or expands this to be a power or authority that Christ give to the church to forgive and/or bind. (Heresy alert!?) Maybe so, but even such an interpretation smacks of a type of imperialism when understood apart from a discipleship via crucis; instances of abuse abound.

I think that an interpretation more attuned to Matthew – where Jesus is the “new Moses” reinterpreting the law; creating a new Torah for Jewish Christians – is that it is a caution, a warning, that “what goes around, comes around”. It goes back to Jesus first sermon – teaching section – in Matthew 7.  In short, “Be careful what you bind up, because you will also be bound by the same.” As noted in Matthew 7: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

It would be a good question to explore in a sermon. What does it mean for people of the cross to have authority? How will we as the body of Christ loose the bound? How will we be about the task of forgiveness and reconciliation in a culture that is becoming increasingly polarized?

Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson

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Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Jewish Community

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/lutheran1.html

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Recent hurricanes

Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that, build your house.” — Proverbs 24:27

Although hurricane season runs from June to November, the majority of our recent hurricanes in this part of the world have taken place between the end of August and the end of September, when the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico are at their warmest, so we are in the high season.

Here are some the recent hurricanes, and a very old one as well:

August 28, 2012 – Hurricane Isaac (Louisiana landfall)
September 13, 2008 – Hurricane Ike (Galveston, Texas landfall)
September 1, 2008 – Hurricane Gustav (Cocodrie, Louisiana landfall)
September 24, 2005 – Hurricane Rita (Texas and Louisiana landfall)
August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina (Louisiana and Mississippi landfall)
September 8, 1900 – The 1900 Galveston Hurricane (Galveston, Texas landfall)

Notice that all these hurricanes take place between August 23 and September 24. We are almost in the zone now.

It’s time to prepare if you’re not already. Make sure you have enough supplies to last for 72 hours. It’s very hard to serve others if you aren’t prepared yourself. http://gulfcoastsynod.org/becominga72hourlutheran/

(The photo is Hurricane Katrina, which, as you can see, was nearly as big as the Gulf of Mexico.)

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August 17, 2014 is Pentecost 10A

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer… for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Psalm 67
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
What defiles a person and the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Isaiah
OutsidersThe Outsiders” was a coming of age novel published in 1967 when the author, S.E. Hinton, was 18.  The movie/screen play, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was released in 1983 and contained a who’s who of young actors soon to be stars. The story was about “insiders” and “outsiders” in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1965; about the “have’s” and the “have not’s”.  And I think that all of these texts are also about insiders and outsiders. (And the irony is not lost on me that I’m writing about insiders and outsiders while sitting in the Delta Sky Club at the New Orleans Airport!)

Isaiah 56 begins Trito-Isaiah and the assumed context is that some remnant has returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. It makes perfect sense to me that the question of “insiders” and “outsiders” is a post exilic question or concern. There had been some “benefits” to the exile and, while not being “home”, the Jews were well treated and some became quite wealthy. Being with foreigners had not been a complete disaster. Nevertheless, many interpreted the exile as punishment for their infidelity to Yahweh; an infidelity that was linked to foreigners and foreign deities.

So Trito-Isaiah begins with affirming and accepting references to foreigners. “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people'; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ ” As we heard in last week’s lesson from Romans, “All that call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Bottom line, “us-ness” ought to be defined by Yahweh and one’s relationship to Yahweh, not by one’s ethnicity or nationality.

One should also note that this is the portion of scripture that Jesus quotes while cleaning the temple in Matthew 21: “My house shall be called a house of prayer…” However, Matthew does not finish the line from Isaiah: “…a house of prayer for all people.” I’m not sure why Matthew truncates the quotation (Mark does not), but I think that the point remains the same. The temple, which was supposed to be a welcome place of prayer for all people has become a place where all people are being ripped off; an especially egregious reality among foreigners that had traveled long distances.

Romans
As with last week’s reading, this too is from the unity of Christians and Jews section of Romans; Chapters 9-11. And, here again, Paul underscores – in much the same way he did pointing to the unity shared by Jews and Gentiles in the 3rd Chapter – the fact that in Jesus Christ, God’s mercy includes all: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” All of the world’s categories for who are insiders and outsiders – which usually involve categories of “righteousness” or “rightness” – count for nothing!

And yet, when people start yammering on about “America getting back to being a Christian nation” once again (assuming for a moment that it ever was), they are usually talking about categories of righteousness/rightness. They are usually talking about who ought be in and who ought be out.  They may even be talking about foreigners and foreign religions. They are seldom talking about a God that is merciful to all.

One may recall Portia’s soliloquy from “The Merchant of Venice”.

The Merchant of VeniceThe quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

One may also recall a line from the hymn “Lead On, O King Eternal“:

For not with swords loud clashing,
nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy
the heavenly kingdom comes.

Matthew
RicciI’m sometimes a bit bemused by artistic renderings of Biblical stories; and one of the more bemusing is by Sebastiano Ricci, where the woman has one breast seductively exposed and is holding her little dog in her arms. I’m sure it says more about Ricci than about the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman.

I do think it’s important to read verses 10-28 as the appointed text and not just verses 21-28. I think that verses 10-20 set up the story of the encounter. The encounter with the Canaanite woman “acts out” exactly what is “spelled out” in Jesus’ encounter with the scribes and Pharisees.

Righteousness or cleanliness is not about “outside-in”; it’s about “inside-out”; and that’s what gets recognized and approved in Jesus granting her request. Her status as a Gentile counts for nothing. What’s critical is her faith in Jesus.  It’s all inside-out.

Some other thoughts……

The word “fair” in verse 27, “it is not fair to take the children’s food,” is a horrible translation.  The King James Version got closest when it translated kalon as “meet”.  “For it is not meet to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  But then, what does it mean?

Consider the movie “The Autobiography of Ms. Jean Pittman”. It’s the story of an African-American woman, born into slavery, who lives to be about 100.  In the closing scene, and with everyone watching (including the local sheriff), she does the one thing she has to do before she dies: slow and stopped with age, she makes her way up the sidewalk to the courthouse and drinks from the fountain marked “White”.   Whether what she did was “meet” or not would depend upon whom you asked.

Or, remember “Driving Miss Daisy”?  That’s the story of an aging white woman who cannot drive and so she has a black man – a long time “friend” of the family – as her chauffer.  The movie is a study of how in some ways they got very close over the years; and yet, in some ways they always had to keep their emotional distance.  It simply would not have been “meet”.

When I was a Bible camp counselor my college summers, we had some counselors of staff that were from Kingville and San Angelo.  After camp was over one summer a few of the Minnesota counselors went south for a week to stay with their southern friends and get a taste of Texas.  Now realize that I’m talking 1969 or 1970 here.  Anyway after one day at the home of Colonel George and his wife in San Angelo, Jennifer had to pull her Minnesota friends aside and tell them that, if they wanted to make a good impression, they had better start using “Mame” or “Sir” when they addressed an adult.  Their speech wasn’t “meet”.

Wear a bathing suit at Stewart Beach and no one would think twice.  Wear one in to church on Sunday morning and people would be more than a little uncomfortable. Same garment, on the beach  it’s “meet”; in church it’s not.

So, you have the sense.  “Meet” as an adjective means: proper or acceptable.  Or to use a good Southernism: “fittin’,” as in: “It ain’t kalos!” – “It ain’t fittin’.”

But note that what is “meet” or not is often a social construct.  It depends upon whom you ask.  Is it “kalon” to drink from the fountain?  Is it “meet” to befriend Miss Daisy?  Is it “fittin'” to not use Mame or Sir?   You don’t wear a bathing suit to church.  It’s just not done!  It just ain’t right!  Unless, of course, maybe you have a sunrise service on the beach?  Then what?  Social patterns differ from time to time, place-to-place, person-to-person, and people to people.

Most of us have played a game on a field or a court; between the lines, as it were.  “Out!” the chair calls in tennis.  “Foul ball!” the ump calls in baseball.  Step over the sideline with the ball in football and the whistle is blown and the flag is thrown.  You have got to stay “in bounds” otherwise it doesn’t count!   After all, those are the rules we agreed upon!  In this story Jesus is way out of bounds.  He’s not playing the game “inside the lines” in Galilee.  He’s way up around Tyre in Phoenicia; modern day Lebanon.  And he’s talking to a woman – a woman who is Canaanite.  It just goes from bad to worse!

Of course, the Pharisees had said to Jesus, “Your disciples don’t follow the traditions of the elders, for they eat with defiled (ritually unwashed) hands.  It ain’t fitten’!  That ain’t right!”  In response to them, Jesus had said that it wasn’t what went into people that made them unclean; but what came out of them from their heart.

Of course, the issue never was unclean hands or food.  The issue was unclean people!  Not following the rules, the social/religious constructs, those things, they had agreed, made people unclean!  Unacceptable!  Unfit!  Foul!

Jesus said, “It ain’t fittin’ to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs!”

“Jesus, you got that right.  Now you got game!  In fact, you shouldn’t even be there.  You shouldn’t be there talking to her!  And, for God’s sake, you shouldn’t be doing anything for her!  It wouldn’t be kalon; meet!”

“Yes, Jesus, but even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs!  Even the dogs know when something’s fit to eat, even if the children are unwilling to eat it!  The children that catch the foul ball may use it to start a brand new game.”  And Jesus said, “For speaking this truth it shall be as you have said!”

James wrote, “If you say to the one who is poor, ‘Stand there,’ or to the person in dirty clothes, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves?”

“Well, duh!  Of course we’ve made distinctions!  That’s how the game is played!  Life is about distinctions; otherwise, how would we know where the lines are?  How will we know who’s distinguished if we don’t make distinctions?  It is meet, right, and salutary!”

But, as usual, it depends upon whom you ask. “Do you, with your acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”

We live in a culture, nation, and world where the lines are being ever more clearly drawn.  Polarization!  It doesn’t matter if it’s nations, religions, genders, political parties, races, orientations, nationalities, classes, or whatever.  Someone is always saying to or about someone else, “It ain’t right to take the bread and throw it to the likes of them.”  Some people even say the words in Jesus’ name.

But those words weren’t Jesus’ last word.  “For this, go – what you ask is yours.”  He broke the rules.  But then, maybe not.  After all, Lords can do that.  Rulers make new rules.  “Do we, with our acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”

Do we believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  Maybe the answer depends upon whom we ask, and how we act.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson

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Christians in Iraq

With persecution of Christians (and others) going on in Iraq, a few have asked about the nature of the Christian Church in Iraq.

IMG_1938.JPGPrior to the Iraq war, there were 1,500,000 Christians in Iraq. Today there are about 500,000. Most have fled into Syria and Jordan.

Tradition holds that Thomas (Doubting Thomas) and Thaddeus brought the Gospel to Iraq in the first century. Iraqi Christians are the oldest Christian community in the world. Baghdad is about 400 miles ENE from Jerusalem.

The largest group are Chaldean Catholics, which are most prevalent in Iraq, but also present in Turkey, Syria and Iran in lesser numbers. These were originally Assyrian Orthodox Christians who entered into fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church around the time of the Reformation. Their headquarters are in Baghdad, though the Patriarch resides in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

IMG_1937.JPGChaldean Christians have a liturgical language of Syriac, which descends from Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. Here is a 2008 BBC report on Chaldean Christians: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7271828.stm

Other Christians in Iraq:
Syriac Orthodox Church
Syriac Catholic Church
Ancient Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Catholic Church
Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine rite)
Roman Catholic Church (Latin rite)
Evangelical Church in Iraq (Presbyterian and Congregational)
There is a Seventh Day Adventist a Church in Baghdad
There is one Anglican Church in Iraq (in Baghdad)
There may be more Protestant churches, but these are the ones of which I am currently aware.

Extremist Sunni Muslims and ISIS (successor of Al Qaeda) are not just targeting Christians. They are also targeting Yazidi (Zoroastrians), Shia, Sunnis, Sufis and others. While many will unfortunately suffer from ISIS brutality, its violent ideology and brutality makes its endurance over the long-term unlikely. They are sectarian and violent. Even Osama bin Laden found them to be excessive. ISIS seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq. The group has aggressively targeted Iraqi minority religious groups.

ISIS has many enemies in the Arab and Muslim worlds. In addition to al-Assad and al-Maliki, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, see it as a terrorist organization committed to their destruction. As it has done in Syria, and contrary to its grandiose claims of restoring the dignity of Muslims, ISIS has systematically terrorized anyone who stands in its way. http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/06/opinion/nazer-west-isis/index.html

Persecution of Christians increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Christians have been kidnapped and churches have been bombed. In March 2008, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped. The kidnappers demanded $3M, which Rahho had told them not to pay. He was found dead two weeks later. He was a vocal opponent of making Sharia Law part of the Iraqi constitution.

The Patriarch issued an urgent appeal. http://theorthodoxchurch.info/blog/news/2014/07/isis-in-mosul-marks-christian-homes-patriarch-issues-urgent-appeal/. See also: Chaldean Catholic Patriarch says ISIS is worse than Ghengis Khan. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/21/isis-genghis-khan-iraq-chaldean_n_5603939.html

Last year over 2,000 people lost their lives for their Christian faith, up from 1,200 the year before. The five most dangerous countries for Christians are North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in that order. https://bishopmike.com/2014/07/29/persecution-of-christians/

Sadly, this could drive many of the remaining Christians out of Iraq, just as most Christians have now been driven out of Jerusalem. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Iraq

IMG_1936.JPG

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Just a Little Bit More

IMG_1931.JPG

Just A Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and The Fate of the Common Good is a book by Pastor Tim Carlos Anderson, who serves St. John/San Juan Lutheran Church in Austin Texas, and formerly served Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Houston.

This book is chock-full of statistics and information about history, economics and ethics. Reminiscent of my college textbooks, it took me a little while to get through this, as I needed to take it piece by piece and digest it.

Tim engages in a critique of the god of mammon, age old yet revitalized with the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. He laments that the concept of “the common good,” so central to American history, has fallen out of favor. Citing the great father of modern economics Adam Smith: “Those who live by profit” are “an order of men whose interest is never the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.” 

Anderson agrees that capitalism is the economic system that has provided more wealth to more people, however he points out the obvious: in capitalism, wealth flows upward to the rich and powerful, leaving disadvantaged and disabled populations marginalized if there is no social accountability or conscience.

Beginning with a fascinating look at John D. Rockefeller who retired from Standard Oil in 1913 with a net worth of $1 billion, the richest person the world had ever seen, Anderson points out Rockefeller was asked, “How much is enough?” He reputedly responded with the now famous answer, “Just a little bit more,” hence the name of Anderson’s book. 

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “I regard this contest as one to determine who shall rule this free country — the people through their governmental agents, or a few ruthless and domineering men whose wealth makes them peculiarily formidable because they hide behind the breastworks of corporate organization.”

Anderson goes on to talk about greed, which, while it has some evolutionary advantage, can be destructive if taken to the extreme. He gives examples of Bernie Madoff, Enron, Arthur Andersen and others.

The book then takes a look at the once-revered concept of egalitarianism. During World War II, personal income of more than $200,000 was taxed at a rate of 93%. After the war, through the 1950s, that rate remained at 91%. It was commonly understood that those with greater resources had a greater responsibility.

What follows is a very theological look at the God of money. Paul Tillich defined religion as “ultimate concern.” Theologian Philip Goodchild, in his intriguing work “Theology of Money,” argues that in today’s world money has replaced God as Supreme Being and object of ultimate importance. Money talks. Money delivers. Monet posits itself is the universal supreme value. It promises the world. Commerce then becomes paramount. The mall is the holy place, where santa resides, the embodiment of consumption. His belly is the symbol of self-indulgence. Our malls are cathedrals of consumption. 

The book constituted a (well-deserved) rant on capitalism gone out of control, consumerism, excess, entitlement, the lucrative war industry, unregulated corporate greed, that have led us to obesity, plastic surgery, steroids, spiraling debt and more.

Capitalism provides much, but it leaves a lot of people out of the equation, because it does not provide equitably. How is it that one of the wealthiest countries in the world can have one of the highest child poverty rates in the world? (23.1% child poverty rate.) How is it that coffee farmers in Nicaragua, cultivating one of the richest crops in the world, live in poverty? Is this not a byproduct of an unregulated multinational corporation bent on receiving profits at all costs?

Think of corporations as plantations. A few living in in obscene wealth because the many are living in slavery. Maybe not slavery like before, but sweatshops, economic exploitation, predatory lending and other practices that keep people in economic slavery in order to maximize profits for multinational corporations. (For more on coffee growers in Nicaragua, my trip there, and Lutheran World Relief’s response to the situation, read here: https://bishopmike.com/2012/08/22/lwr-delegation-in-nicaragua-full-article-www-bishopmike-com/)

So, what is Anderson’s solution? The majority of the book is focused on defining the problem. The last chapter suggest some ways forward.

“All we are saying is give egalitarianism a chance.” Imagine a different economic system than the one we have now. 

Japan has one of the most egalitatian societies among the developed nations. It’s people have the highest life expectancy rate of industrialized nations, the smallest gap between its richest and poorest, and a median net worth for individuals three times greater than the level for Americans. Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland are also highly egalitarian in terms of income.

Anderson borrows from economist Robert Dahl to lift up five characteristics of economic democracy. I’ll list them here, but not go into detail. I encourage you to get his book if you want to know more.

1. Set limits.

2. Balance. “America’s inequality is the result of market distortions with incentives directed not it creating new wealth but it taking it from others.” Economist Joseph Stiglitz

3. Development. Corporations, the power of people working together, can do great good. It can also donmuch exploitation. Cut spending and raise revenues to battle unsustainable long term national debt. 

4. Sustainability. Balance present needs with the needs of those who will come after us. 

5. Common good: place a higher value on social capital, duty, honesty.

Anderson believes liberty and egalitarianism need not fight with one another. They can coexist in such a way that all can have enough.

You can read Tim’s blog, and purchase his book at http://justalittlebitmorebook.com.

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