Monday, August 01, 2011

Thoughts On Wealth in America

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King 1967

As Washington battles to cut spending and politicians babble about the “nanny state” I am thinking today about the reality of our top heavy society. Is the “Jericho Road” far worse than it was in 1967?

Relevant to the time frame of Dr. King’s words the minimum wage had its highest buying power in 1968. The minimum wage in 1968 was $1.60 per hour. Using an online inflation calculator we find that it would take $10.38 to equal the buying power of the 1968 minimum wage. Our current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. IF an individual can find one or more employers to accumulate 40 hours a week the minimum wage would only earn $290 per week before taxes. Since the trend with employers is to keep the number of full time workers to a minimum by employing more part time people getting 40 hours a week often requires multiple jobs and the difficulty of coordinating transportation and child care to do so.

A few decades ago it was possible for a person with a high school diploma and a good work ethic to make a decent living, to provide a reasonable home and the basics of life. The work might be hard in a textile mill or some other manufacturing facility but it provided a living wage, health benefits, and self respect. Unfortunately so many in society still view the poor (which is not limited to those below the poverty line) as being solely responsible for their hardships.

The table (left) shows the US Census poverty line for a family of four. With FICA tax deducted you have $1,717 per month. How do you begin to provide a safe place to live, utilities, clothing, food, transportation, and health care for four people on just $399 per week? Yet 19 million people in the US live in extreme poverty, HALF of this.

I have seen many wonderful efforts geared toward meeting the desperate needs of people struggling to survive in our midst. People with big hearts and tireless energy invest their time, money, and talents to address these hardships. But as Dr. King pointed out, these efforts don’t correct the social and corporate priorities that created the suffering. Unfortunately it seems to be getting much worse.

“The income gap in the United States has ballooned: It's wider than any time since 1928, in the days before the stock market crash triggered the Great Depression. The numbers are startling: Top CEO salaries were up 23 percent last year, according to the New York Times; the average worker's pay was up only .5 percent. Meanwhile, the top 0.1 percent of American earners now take in more than 10 percent of the nation's collective income. That puts the U.S. in the same inequality ballpark as developing countries like Cameroon and Ivory Coast.” ~ NPR

How is it supposed to work? Those pushing to cut government entitlements are the very people kicking the supports out from under average Americans that just want to work and take care of their families. How can Americans be self sufficient when the “job creators” are creating jobs in India? How can Americans reach for a better future when cuts are made to education on all levels and higher education is still a luxury and not a right?

In the 1960s CEOs made 30 times the average worker’s wage. In 2011 they average over 300 times the average worker’s wage. More and more employers are cutting medical benefits as insurance companies hand out double digit increases year after year. Oil companies post record profits as most of us struggle to fill our tanks to get to work.

Nothing that is top heavy can stand indefinitely. It will topple. As more and more Americans are broken, discouraged, and disenfranchised the very fabric of our society will continue to weaken.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cowering In a Rut

Being stuck in a rut is like reading everyday but never turning the page. Ruts are easy to get into and hard to get out of. First we have to realize we're stuck. You can use the word 'security' and 'rut' to describe the same situation sometimes. Security has a price.

I've been working on a project for a couple of years and it's still terribly fragmented. There are exciting components, challenging chapters, and life changing concepts typed into documents, scribbled onto hundreds of pieces of paper. What is lacking in the equation? My willingness to turn the page in my life.

Albert Einstein ~ “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I suppose I'm not insane by that standard. I don't expect different results. I am well aware of my hesitation to start a new chapter. I am also well aware that I'm not getting any younger.

I've heard people say that change is slow, two steps forward and one step back. I suppose that's true but I still think there is a demarcation line, a day when you changed your mind, changed your expectations.

Humanity is like a puzzle, all the pieces are there but they aren't in the right place to produce the picture it is capable of. I wrote in my journal one morning “pain and defeat accepted for yourself is accepted for humanity”. In that vein it would seem that cowering in a rut short changes humanity and not just yourself.

Marianne Williamson wrote ~ “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

This morning there are no doubt millions “playing small”, cowering in a rut. What would the world be like if today that began to change?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Regret

Forgiveness is rarely easy but never harder than forgiving yourself.

Something brought to mind a particular guilt I carry this morning. It is the guilt over the suffering and death of my cat Hannah 10 years ago. Until she died I had no idea how serious her condition was. I tell her I’m sorry every day of my life but it isn’t her forgiveness I’m lacking, it’s my own. My knowledge of cat nutrition, health, and diseases today would have completely changed what I did for her. In light of the knowledge I have today I was negligent in caring for Hannah. I remind myself that guilt is the process of judging my actions in the past with the knowledge I have in the present. On an intellectual level I understand that, but it’s hard.

When I look back on being a young mother I shudder at the mistakes I made. In the world I grew up in people relied more on hand me down advice and superstition than they did on education and research. People didn’t go to college or read non-fiction. I remember a neighbor giving me a book for my birthday when I was 10 and it surprised me. I had never received a book as a gift before. So, with no formal education and no realization that I lacked knowledge, I began the most important role of my life extremely unequipped. It astounds me today to think of all the mistakes I made but no amount of regret can allow me to start over.

I fed my babies solid food when they were less than a month old. I had always heard that babies cried a lot when milk wasn’t satisfying them and you gave them cereal. Thank goodness I had read that rice cereal was better in some doctor’s office magazine or they would possibly have allergies now to contend with. I poured Diet Soda for my kids instead of water. I allowed some guy without an exterminator’s license to spray chemicals in my house without even thinking to ask what that chemical was or if it was approved for residential use. I didn’t know.

Sometimes I ask myself “how could you have been so ignorant”? My ignorance no doubt handicapped my two little girls in many ways but at least I gave them the belief that you aren’t defined by where you came from but instead by where you’re going.

10 years from now I will look back on the things I’m doing today and hopefully say “how could you have been so ignorant”? That will mean that I’m learning, growing.

Today I will again say "I’m sorry" to the ones that were in my care throughout the years. For your sake I wish I had learned a lot of things sooner. I suppose its progress to learn enough to have regrets.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Cat Shelter

We were outside filling bird feeders this afternoon when we heard a cat crying in the woods behind our house. A few seconds later a tabby came running toward us begging. She appears to be about 10 months old and she was very hungry. We fed her and gave her water. We decided we had to make her a shelter before the storm got here. We couldn't bring her inside because our cats had allergic reactions to vaccines when they were little and couldn't be vaccinated for feline leukemia. While Jim was gone to get the supplies I looked outside to see another stray curled up under a bush outside my window. I told Jim to buy supplies to make 2 shelter boxes.

Below you will see our shelter box made out of 2 plastic storage containers. It's an inexpensive way to provide some help for unfortunate cats that are outside.

You will need a medium size plastic storage container and a larger one so one will fit inside the other with some space to put an insulator of some kind, we used pine pet bedding but straw is often used. Cut openings big enough for a cat to get through but not too big. Allow for an inch or so of pet bedding or straw to go in the bottom of the large container for insulation before the medium one is placed inside.



Next use duct tape to tape the gap between the two boxes around the opening (so the bedding doesn't come out). Pour pine bedding or straw in the gap between the two boxes to act as insulation. Put some of the bedding/straw into the interior box for the cat to snuggle into.



Put the lid on the interior box securely (duct tape if necessary).



Cover the top of the interior box with more bedding as added insulation.



Put the lid on the large box and tape it securely with duct tape. Place the box in a dry location out of the wind. We put ours on the porch. It is best to put cardboard under them or sit them up on bricks off of the cold concrete.

I wish I could bring all the animals inside and out of the harsh weather but I can't. Jim and I feel better knowing they have somewhere to curl up out of the weather.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Heal the World

Jim and I were talking about the rut we’re in the other night. During the conversation he asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My answer was… “I want to heal the world”. After some jokes (a reference to Pinky and the Brain) and some well played, righteous indignation on my part we talked seriously about my statement.

Heal the world? Who in their right mind would presume such a task could be undertaken? Read the news for 15 minutes, read history… look around you. Evil, greed, suffering, and pain abound. How can anyone say their goal is to heal the world?

While writing about discovering your life purpose a few months ago I realized we all have the same purpose. We are here to love. We are here to remember our essence, the spirit at the core of creation. We are here to heal the world. The particular task we undertake may be different but at the heart of it our purpose is the same.

"Who am I?" we ask. "Look at my limitations." We, as fragments of creation, doubt our ability to affect the whole. We believe in our smallness.

“Your playing small does not serve the world.” Marianne Williamson wrote.

In a journal entry recently I admonished myself ~ “what you accept for yourself you accept for humanity”.

So what does healing the world look like? I’ve come to believe division is like a gash in the flesh. Giving power to what divides us is deepening that wound in humanity and prevents healing. The trend is to focus on differences, to paint those not like us with a negative brush.

Darkness is the absence of light. Fear and hate is the absence of love. We are called to heal the world. The light that removes the illusion of darkness is the love that removes the illusion of division.

Matthew 5: 14-15
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

On Memorial Day we are reminded of those that paid a terrible price for the wounds of division in humanity. If we expand our focus to include the effects of war on the whole of creation the suffering we pause to remember would be magnified immeasurably.

A song written by Kerry Livgren for the band Kansas called Icarus II is about a dogfight, planes in battle. Excerpt from the lyrics…

And my enemies wait in the dark sky
Do they fear the same fear,
Do they dream like us
Do they long for the day when it's over
And they're safe

Now we're cruising above the horizon
Never knowing if we will return
In a moment we'll rain down destruction
And we'll justify all that we burn


“All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.” ~François Fénelon

That is a very powerful truth. It is an uneasy truth because it won’t allow us to forget that at the core of all creation is the essence of the Creator.

I believe there are universal truths woven through religions. Those are…
Love the divine source - God
Love your fellow beings (because God is within all of creation)
Live with honor (living in covenant with all of creation)

We are all called to heal the world.

Do we rid the world of darkness by thinking our light is small? Do we foster peace without being peace? Do we heal the wounds in humanity by gouging deeper the gash of division? Can you ever serve the divine at the core of your being with anything less than love?

Friday, May 28, 2010

RAM

When I begin to accumulate too many worries in my life I start to slow down. I find myself unable to be effective in any area since I’m concerned with all of them at once.

With a computer the operating memory is called RAM (Random Access Memory). If you run too many programs at once things will slow down. Since adding RAM to my brain isn’t possible I’m faced with utilizing what I have more efficiently.

Several times in my life I’ve bought outside storage for my brain. I call them worry books. The idea is to get these concerns/worries onto paper and out of my minute by minute thoughts. I dedicate a few pages of the worry book to each worry or problem like this:

• What is the worry/problem? (Details)
• How important is it? Will there be serious consequences if it isn’t fixed this week, this month?
• Is it really something I’m responsible for? Am I the one that will ultimately have to handle it?
• What can I do about it today? What can I do about it in the next 2 weeks? What can I do about it in the next few months?
• If I can’t solve the entire problem, what small steps can I make toward that goal?

I may put a problem in the worry book and determine that it is not my place to fix it. I may determine that the only thing I can do is support and pray for the person that will be dealing with it. I may decide that my plan of action is to put a prayer stone on the mantel and commit the person and the situation to the highest good. I may decide that I can do a few small things to be supportive and add them to my calendar or task list.

I may put a problem in the worry book that is more than I can handle at this time but is relatively important, a large house repair for example. I don’t have the resources now but it can’t be ignored indefinitely. In the worry book I come to terms with the actual urgency of the situation. Can the roof last 6 months? What can I do in 6 months to put me in a better position to address this major repair?

The important thing is that everything is in the book. Instead of being a nagging worry in my mind 24/7 it has been addressed. It has been prioritized. A plan of action has been put in place. It is dealt with.

Today I bought a new “worry book” and over the next few days I will be putting all my worries in it. Hopefully I’ll free up some RAM in this tired old brain and be functioning better before too long.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Behind the Brand

There was a time when a 'Brand' stood for an expectation of quality. We believed we could trust the companies that manufactured our products to produce high quality, safe products. The name on the package was our way of knowing the product inside was something we could trust. We have lost that innocence.

Corporations no longer care about the actual quality of their products. They care about your 'perception' of their quality. It doesn't matter what the product is, they care about what you think it is.

The 2007 Pet Food Contamination is a good example of how little we can trust brands. The name brand pet foods were made in the same factories with the same contaminated, poor quality, China sourced, wheat gluten as the cheep stuff. This heartbreaking incident pulled the curtain back and showed us that the product is incidental to these companies. They wrap their name and feel good message around that can and cash in.

The examples go on and on... lead paint in Fisher Price Toys, Mattel Barbie Accessories, and Disney Store sleeping bags. Those precious little girls shoes sold at high end Nordstroms (March 09) - made in China and recalled for high lead content. You can't determine quality or safety by the price or the reputation of the retailer.

Protecting your family requires a lot of effort. I contact companies regularly to get more information about where their products are manufactured and where they source ingredients. When asked to put the facts in writing they usually reveal things their misleading packaging doesn't tell you. Where applicable I request the Material Safety Data Sheets. Any service provider (carpet cleaners, exterminators, landscapers, etc.) should not be trusted if they can't provide you with the MSDS for any products they propose to use at your home. Unfortunately you often find yourself having to choose between bad and worse.

Corporations have gobbled up quality food producers like a pacman game. News stories about acquisitions usually read something like this - “Conagra's Acquisition of (Family Owned Organics) Expands Brand Portfolio”. Notice the focus on brand. The value is in the “brand” they added to their portfolio not the products they produce. They are in the business to make money not quality, safe products for our families.

Consumers want to know they can trust something, a company name, a symbol on the package, or the information on the label. Currently that isn't possible. The corporations have marketing geniuses working full time to keep shoppers confused and misled. They have lobbyist fighting every attempt to regulate and protect consumers.

Until consumer outrage begins to affect the pockets of stock holders quality will continue to drift further down the priority list for corporations. They will continue to sell us hollow “Brands”.