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Archive for the ‘audio’ Category

Did the massive increase in the theology known as the prosperity Gospel help cause the economic collapse?

That was the question on the NPR show “Here and Now” yesterday.  The basic premise is that the prosperity Gospel teaches that you should go ahead and buy the fancy things (i.e. car, house, cell phones, clothes, etc…) that you can’t really afford because “God will give you the money to pay for it”.  The thinking is that this mentality then led people to do things like take out loans for houses that they couldn’t afford (sound familiar yet) on the “faith” that God would miraculously send them a check to pay the monthly payment.  The guest even goes so far as to compare the regional data that suggests the pockets of highest foreclosure rates coincide with pockets where the prosperity Gospel is very prevalent.

It’s an interesting premise.  I don’t know what I think yet but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Click here to listen to the program.

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Believe it or not but Mennonites are….wait for it….actually….get ready……leading the way and boldly innovative.

For a bunch of people who have historically simply kept to themselves and haven’t really worried about engaging the hot topics of the day, when it comes to health care, Mennonites are actually leading by example.  I’ve recently come across two concrete examples of this.

Example 1 – The Corinthian Plan

As a pastor in the Mennonite church who has had conference provided health insurance, I can vouch for the fact that it has not been exactly stellar in the past.  Part of this is due to the fact that the job of “Pastor” is a sedentary, high stress job that has a quickly aging population.  Translation: we’re old, fat and have high blood pressure.  Not exactly an easy group to insure.

With the new plan, there isn’t necessarily a profound change in the kind of coverage that the insured pastors are getting.  What is profoundly new and important is that within the insurance dues is contained a plan for extending coverage to pastors who are working in low income churches.  The Mennonite church actually does have a lot of churches that are growing and who are in need of good pastoral leadership but whose members are simply not in financial situations to provide for the high costs of health care for their pastor.  The goal of the Corinthian Plan is to close this gap and make it possible for pastors to take those jobs.

And we’re getting some larger attention.  Christian Century even wrote a story on us.  Click Here for the story.

Example 2 – Maple City Health Clinic

As someone on the Blog Young Anabaptist Radicals, wrote, ” The award for Anabaptist Health Clinic of the year goes to them.”  Maple City Health Clinic is a community clinic in Goshen, In. that has been intentional about meeting the needs of it’s relatively low income and highly hispanic neighborhood.  They’ve done all kinds of innovative things for years, like having community members on the board and conducting all business and meetings in both English and Spanish.  They’ve also worked to lower the massive income gap between doctors and employees in some astounding ways.

But here’s the real kicker.  They have a sliding scale of billing for their patients.  The base is something like $10 for an office visit.  In the tanking economy, it appears that many people can’t even come up with that.  So they set up a plan where their patients can get $10 toward medical care at the clinic for every hour that they volunteer at another non-profit agency in the area.  How’s that for innovative!

Again, they got national attention.  Check out the NPR story here.

Moral of the story

When many people here these kinds of stories there is a temptation that many of us have.  It’s really easy to sit back and think, “hey, they’re Mennonite, I’m Mennonite, we did something really cool.  Now I can feel better about not doing anything where I’m living.”  It’s easy to take the credit for what MCUSA or Maple City Health Clinic are doing, as if we were somehow involved.

Yes it is good to be happy that other people who we’re affiliated with are doing cutting edge things.  The ultimate reaction that we need to have is not satisfaction but rather inspiration.  As Christians, we’re supposed to be able to use our imaginations to envision new ways for God’s kingdom of wholeness and reconciliation to happen.  My hope is that these stories provide concrete examples of where that vision has come to bear fruit.

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Currently there is a one to one ratio of U.S. soldiers to private contractors in active war zones.  That’s right, half of our military in Iraq and Afghanistan is now made up of mercenaries working for private contractors.  250,000 U.S. Soldiers, 250,000 hired guns.

One of the biggest contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq is called Blackwater.  While there is an entire industry of private contractors, Blackwater is one of the most notorious security companies that is employed by the U.S. government.  A couple of years back they gunned downed a number of innocent civilians in Nisour Square.  Besides the numerous criminal lawsuits that have followed the company, they officially had their license to work in Iraq revoked.  Currently they are only, officially, contracted to provide air support.  In spite of this there are state department officials confirming that there are still armed Blackwater agents still on the ground.  (As a site note, this should come as a bit of a surprise to the Iraqi government.  Most recently the Obama administration said that by Sept. 3 Blackwater should be completely out of Iraq.  That might be questionable, however)

While it’s true that many of the services provided by these contractors are as benign as providing meals, or cleaning bathrooms.  This week, however, it has also been reported that the CIA hired Blackwater to engage in covert missions to hunt down high ranking Al-Queida members.  The U.S. government said a few years back that there wouldn’t be any need for a draft to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The reason there isn’t a need for a draft is because we are paying private contractors staggering amounts of money to do the same jobs as our regular military.  This is a fact that is not lost on the enlisted men and women (making as little as $18,000 a year) who risk their lives next to private soldiers (making upwards of $150,000).

Why is this a problem?

For starters, the entire industry operates outside of military law.  While one can question the moral existence of a military, there is still something called the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as the Army Field Manual that does lay out what soldiers can and can’t do and particular ways for holding those in the military accountable.  Things like the Geneva Convention and rules of engagement are all taken into account.  (Incidentally, it is the Army Field Manual that prohibits waterboarding and other forms of torture.  The existence of these laws are also the reason that Guantanamo Bay was crated was to get around this code)  Blackwater, and other contractors are not bound by these same rules of engagement and ethical codes.  Because of this, they have committed acts that would have been cause for court marshals had they been committed by enlisted soldiers.

On a more philosophical level, private contractors make more money the worse the conflict gets.  This is an entire industry that has a vested interest in the conflicts getting worse, not better.  At least, theoretically, the U.S. Military is in the business of winning wars, not simply continually fighting them.  Contractors, on the other hand, ultimately want the war to never end.

More specifically to the Blackwater company, is it’s founder and leader, Erik Prince.  New allegations have surfaced this week accusing Erik Prince of committing murders or directly ordering murders against people, among may others, who were trying to investigate the company.  Most disturbing, however, is the allegation that one of the motivating factors for Erik Prince is that he sees himself as waging a holy war against Muslims.  Prince has been known to visit his personal army in the battlefield and give them speeches that border on sermons, explaining their divine calling.  Some career soldiers have even left Blackwater because they were disturbed by Princes holy war, rather than their patriotism.

Not only is this disturbing because Erik Prince has found himself in a position to command a government funded private army, with access to easy targets in two Muslim countries, but it’s even more disturbing because of who Erik Prince is connected with.  According to Jeremy Scahill (the guy who literally wrote the book on Blackwater) Erik Prince is part of conservative Christian royalty.  Princes father was one of the principle bankrollers the Family Research Council (one of the major conservative political think tanks) and Focus on the Family.  He is well connected with and supported by James Dobson, Chuck Colson and Gary Bauer.  About the time that the Religious Right began to ramp up campaigns against what they deemed “secularism”, Erik Prince founded Blackwater.  There is a link between Prince and some of the biggest players in the conservative Christian world that is very disturbing.

I consider myself first and foremost Christ-centered in my politics.  There are certain things that I agree with Republicans about and certain things that I agree with Democrats about.  This transcends both political parties.  Even Obama’s administration is keeping Blackwater on they payroll, along with all of the other companies who make up the entire industry.  This is a huge problem.  What’s worse is that it appears that the ideological and theological fuel behind Eirk Prince is coming from people who call themselves Christians.

I highly recommend listening to the 15 minute segment below.  If you care what the U.S. government does in your name, this should keep you up at night.  If you care what people do in the name of Jesus and in the name of all Christians, this should make you furious.

Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater on the NPR program, Here and Now

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So I heard about this one NPR the other day.  Seems interesting.  Basically it has to do with 1) teaching our kids how to actually be kids that can interact with the world around them and 2) combating the distorted images of violence that are fed to us through the media which ultimately distort parents perceptions of how “safe” the world is, or is not.  The NPR story is definitely worth the listen.

Here and Now Story

Free Range Kids website

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