While I stand by my last post regarding my concerns about the church helping people tackle real challenges in their life, I also recognize that underneath that concern is a broader frustration with systems.
Corporate systems. Financial systems. Social systems. Governmental systems. Church/religious systems.
I'm 10 years into my career and have worked for public and private companies,, big and small, and have had roles ranging from the line level to managerial level to executive level.
One consistent theme is that most people come to work sincerely wanting to do a good job. And most companies have policies and procedures that complicate or even hinder the people's ability to do those jobs.
Most of my best work in companies has been when I operate slightly outside the system, and treat people as priceless souls of God. I expect that to continue, and that when/if I retire I will look back on those moments as some of my favorites.
I look at our country and see the prosperity gap growing ever bigger. Even though I have the potential to be on the higher end of that scale, it sickens me. The number of poor continues to grow, the middle class is dissolving, and the rich have never been richer in the history of our world.
Within that, I specifically see the banking industry being a cause of some of this, and an apathetic bystander to some of it as well. My education and experience has given me quite a bit of insight into what is happening, and prevents me from pursuing some possible careers in that field. I could not sleep well at night getting wealthy while not creating true value, and watch as other hard workers go jobless as a cost savings that funds my luxury.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill -- capitalism is a terrible economic system, the worst of all actually, except for all those other ones that have been tried so far.
Our family spent MLK day at the local Children's Museum, where we took part in a re-enactment of the 1963 march on Washington, complete with an excellent actor's peformance of the speech and uplifting spiritual songs peformed by a young black chorale.
My very-white kids loved every moment and have really shown interest in learning about our country's legacy of racism, from outright slavery to withheld rights to subtle prejudice. To put it bluntly, for a long time our social systems in America sucked.
But in 2011, living in a huge city with amazing diversity, many of my kids' friends are black, most of their teachers have been black, and they will surely do a far better job than I have at seeing the eternal soul in people, not the color of the packaging.
I hope our social systems, both formal and subconscious, will be a positive contribution to the ongoing progress.
Enough's been written about this one elsewhere, no doubt. In a nutshell, I don't care too much about Republican/Democrat nonsense. I just want problem-solvers in Washington who are willing to take on tough issues and work on extremely complicated problems, often with imperfect data and no precedent to lean on.
And I don't see that, neither in the incumbents nor any of the hopeful people campaigning for the next round of elections. Such a small number of people in Washington influence an amazing amount of our lives.
For a start, I'd just like that small group of representatives to agree on this: we can't keep up these deficits, so we're spending less on programs/benefits and increasing taxes and everybody needs to get ready for it.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised how much this area feeds off the other systems above. Many churches are organized like companies these days, with expansive financial systems and a seeming inability to face the facts about obvious trends (for example, my denomination has been consistently shrinking for 40 years but we don't talk about that).
I'm especially frustrated lately by the finances of our church. This isn't a gossipy thing or a personal issue I need to take up with the elders yet -- it's a big-picture issue I'm trying to think through.
We have an annual budget in excess of a million dollars. Starting in 2008 our church leaders made a huge effort to raise special contributions to pay off the mortgage on our building, even though the payment was only 8% of our monthly budget. I'd like to see how many members at church have a mortgage payment that's 8% of their budget.
But we responded and paid off the church building's note in 2009, several years early. I don't know what the money has gone to. Last week was our "one sermon a year" on church finances.
We were told that almost 85% of that annual budget goes to minister salaries, which leaves us nothing to fund many of the programs that are really taking off (hispanic church plant that baptized 20 people last year, a new ministry to reach out to people in crisis, an orphanage, the food bank, etc...). That's right, these programs right now will get nothing even though all signs point to them being outstanding and needed in our community.
But we were also told that it could all be funded... if we could increase giving another 8%. Yet the $850,000 in minister salaries is untouchable, and I guess we'll keep the utilities on even if the homeless don't get fed.
I will try hard to remember that none of these systems are perfect, and the people within these systems are worthy of my respect and love.
Yet as a Christian I am not called to always be compliant.
A corporate system gives me no right to treat people as less just because I am their manager on an organizational charts.
A financial system gives me no right to make millions at others' expense -- it is not a zero-sum game.
A social system gives me no right to separate my world into "us" and "them" because of skin color or gender.
A governmental system gives me no right to ask for benefits that I can't fund.
A religious system gives me no right to write checks to church and let the professional minsters take full responsibility for being the hands of Christ.
I give up these rights because I saw Jesus do the same, and his example inspires me to a higher path than letting all these systems tell me what to do.
I screw this up a lot. I need a lot of help. But I try!