A Few Thoughts on the Obama Jobs Bill and I’ll get around to theology again soon

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally read the summary of each title and section in the Obama jobs bill.  On the whole it’s not bad.  It relies perhaps too much on the only real tool the federal government has, and that’s money.  The intent of proposed tax cuts and grants is to stimulate private sector hiring in ways that will trigger additional job growth in important sectors of industry as well as better prepare some people for the more technologically demanding job market of our present times.  We need that, and it could work.
So far so good.  The problem with all such plans is in the inefficiency of implementation.  The policy initiatives and associated cash have to pass through successive funnels of bureaucratic approvals that begin at the federal level and continue on down the food chain to the very recipients themselves.  The process of implementation gets slowed down at each stage as the desired benefits are jumbled in with all the other matters that must be handled until, at last, it is their turn to flow out of the funnel into the next one.  Lest anyone think I am accusing government of being overloaded with inefficient bureaucracy, I will argue that every complex organization is loaded with inefficient bureaucracy because that is the nature of complex organizations.  Moreover, you don’t have to be big to be complex.  My own city hall is a case in point.  We are not a large city, our staff is relatively small, and no one dawdles around wasting time.  Just the same, the complexity of local interests competing for municipal favor within the context of local, state and federal laws and regulations means that our little city hall is a complex organization.
In like manner, so is our local tractor dealer, fiberglass manufacturing plant and YWCA.  They are all complex organizations, and even though they might each be the recipients of some of the bill’s money, they are also funnels through which everything must flow in it’s own time along with a myriad of other things that have to flow through it.
What can be done about it?  President Truman assembled the Hoover (Herbert) Commission in the late 1940s to ask that question and find some answers.  They did, and they did it well, but politics pretty much sank their boat.  It turns out that legislators have little interest, beyond complaining in front of the camera, about streamlining government at any level.  They are fond of merging and then spinning off departments and agencies, just as corporations merge and then spin off divisions and companies, but that has nothing to do with improving efficiencies.  Nor are they willing to allow the executive to have the authority to do it without their approval.  For what it’s worth, large corporations are not different and insurance companies are the worst.
Obviously the fewer layers of management the better. The fewer funnels through which something must pass the better.  The number and complexity of administrative regulations also matters.  Those who complain about over regulation and desire to eliminate regulation seem to me to be naive, ignorant or both.  I’m not one to give up regulations that help insure our health and safety, but simplifying them, writing them in plain ordinary English, and paying a little attention to duplications and conflicts would go far toward improving efficiency.  It only makes sense, but where would the motivation come from to do that?  My guess is that it can only come from a strong executive with the authority to make and enforce a new way of doing things.
It can but doesn’t often happen in large corporations.  It can and sometimes happens in smaller companies and local not for profits.  It can and sometimes happens in local and even state governments.  I imagine that it could happen at the federal level, but it would be very hard to accomplish, especially in today’s environment with the idiocy of Tea Partiers screaming for the dismantling of government and liberals defending the bulwarks.  I’ll side with the liberals on this one, but only until sanity returns to the national scene.  May it please God that happens in my lifetime.

Who is the Investor?

The stock market took another plunge today.  A volatile market, so they say.  Reliable news sources were full of the usual patter about how investors dumped stock.  Not so long ago the same reliable news sources reported on investors in feeding frenzies.  It’s not true.  Those dumpy sellers and frenzied feeders are not investors.  They are merely managers of other peoples’ money.  I am an investor, along with hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of others whose retirement funds and savings are invested in the stock market.  We pay the money managers to be good stewards of our investments, but good stewards are hard to find.  There is too much distance between my money and their trades.  My money is hidden within huge funds so that the funds appear to be owned by no one in particular.  They are just big piles of money that money managers get to play with as they bet this way and that on rumors, unverified information, the mood of the market or whether Vladimir Putin’s Full Monty photo made it onto a campaign poster in some obscure Siberian town.
Who can blame them?  They don’t make any money for themselves off the performance of my investments.  They make it, like any gambler, off lucky winning streaks, both long and short, abetted by some skill and good timing, accidental or otherwise.  They make it off fees for trading, fees for managing, fees for packaging and fees for things that are hidden somewhere in their statements.  I’d like to have some respect for them, but just can’t bring myself to it.
I’m luckier than most.  My investments are being managed by a middle man of sorts, a local trust department that works hard to find and stick with funds and fund managers focussed on company performance with products and services in markets that have been well analyzed.  The net result is fewer wild bets, a little less on the upside and a lot less on the downside.  But that does not keep me, or others like me, from suffering fools not gladly.

A National Consensus on being American

Somewhere back in the early ‘80s, I wrote an essay asserting that the cultural disequilibrium caused by the civil war was not finally worked out until the voting rights act of a hundred years later.  At the same time, I opined that the cultural upheaval of the Vietnam Era might take almost as long to work itself out.  It was during that period when long trusted symbols and institutions of American cultural stability were challenged by all and rejected by many, but nothing was offered in their place.  
The roles of the church, women, sex, marriage, fraternal organizations, business and government were called into question.  If no one over thirty could be trusted, then no one could be trusted.  Almost forty years have gone by, and I don’t think we’ve got it worked out yet.  The current media driven popularity of Tea Party type politics and the hard right wing turn in Congress, is, in my opinion, the death throes of a time gone by, a time recalled in heavily filtered memories of the 1950s.  They accuse the president of having no new ideas, but all of theirs are relics of a former age that have never been successful in promoting economic or social well being.  Their only achievement has been to make the rich richer, the middle class poorer, and the poor locked in the prison of their poverty.  The Horatio Alger rags to riches yardstick for what anyone can do with a little pluck and hard work is true mostly in romantic fiction, seeing reality in a few well known cases where pluck and hard work were aided by extraordinary circumstances of good luck frequently abetted by ethically challenged cunning.
However, the current dominance of that kind of so called conservatism raises an interesting question. What happened to all the hippie radicals of former decades?  There weren’t that many of them to begin with. They just made a lot of noise, not unlike the hard right wingers of today.  Moreover, someone once said that today’s radicals are tomorrow’s stuffed shirts.  So who knows?  What about all the ordinary liberals?  The left wing, hard nosed community organizer Saul Alinsky (Rules for Radicals) had no love for rank and file liberals whom he considered to be weak kneed, bumbling, incompetent do-gooders lacking the courage to do the hard work of political change.  Maybe he was right.  In any case, it is today’s right wingers who have learned how to apply Alinsky’s methods to their brand of politics.
The point is that the national consciousness, if there is such a thing, has not yet figured out what it means to be an American in a way that the country can more or less agree to.  Anxiety surrounding the aftermath of 9/11 has not helped.  It has only fertilized the ground for seeds of unwarranted fear and xenophobic hysteria aided and abetted by the worst of yellow journalism.  One possible outcome could be the election of a right wing government in 2012.  That would drive the nation into the nether world of an even deeper recession accompanied by attempts to restrict civil liberties while unleashing opportunities for greater domestic violence and environmental degradation.  If elected, it would be the government we deserve.   It might also be the bitter medicine we need to swallow so that we can come to more stable national consensus of who we want to be as classically liberal Americans.

The Right Direction or Wrong? Wrong of course!

I’ve been getting solicitation mailings for years from various Republican organizations.  Most often they include a survey purporting to show how responsive they are to what the public really wants.  The questions are of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety.  It’s been great sport responding to them, especially if they include a self addressed stamped envelop.  I get plenty of fund solicitations from the Democrats but fewer surveys, and the ones they do send tend to be less obviously tilted toward the preferred answers.  There is one question on every one, regardless of party: Do you think the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction?
I hear that same inane question almost daily on radio and television.  Newspaper polls often report on it, and today a League of Women Voters survey arrived with the very same question embedded.  What, pray tell, is a direction as it applies to the policies, current conditions and possible future conditions of a nation?  Is it north, east, west or south?  Is it left or right, up or down?  Is it this way or that?
My own guess is that it’s a measure of fear and anxiety that may have no basis in fact and little likelihood of a future reality.  Moreover, we can all claim that the nation is going in the wrong direction for many, different and opposite reasons.  So knowing that some percentage of us believe we are headed in the wrong direction tells us exactly nothing, except, perhaps, as a rough measure of undifferentiated public anxiety.  Parenthetically, we hardly ever report that the nation is going in the right direction.  What fun is that?  
For instance, my conservative friend Don is fearful that we are headed toward European style socialism.  He’s been sure of that for decades, and it’s the wrong direction.  I, however, am fearful that we are headed toward corporate driven plutocracy masquerading as democracy, and it is also the wrong direction.  We’re probably both wrong, but that doesn’t keep us from giving the same answer to those idiotic surveys.   We are joined in our answer by those fearful of being overrun by Sharia law, illegal immigrants, ecological disaster, gay marriage, the EPA, whale hunting and the Rapture.
The whole thing is capped off by semi-hysterical television newscasters breathlessly reporting on the latest numbers.  If it wasn’t such a serious matter it would make a great Saturday Night Live routine.  

The Dreaded ‘E’ Word

Pentecost Sunday.  The overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit to lift up drooping hands and strengthen weak knees to go out in the public square and proclaim the good news of God in Christ in ordinary everyday language.  That was then.  What about now?  
This morning I was asked why Episcopalians seem to be so scared of the dreaded ‘E’ word.  For one thing, I don’t think it’s an Episcopalian illness but one that affects all mainline churches, including the Catholics.  We got used to the idea that everyone in America was either Protestant or Catholic with a few Jews tossed in.  As for Protestants, the primary question was what flavor one liked best without much thought given to dogma.  If youngsters left the church shortly after confirmation, so what?  They would be back when married with children of their own.  That was never true, but it’s taken two or three generations for it to sink in.  In the meantime, why would one even think about neighborhood evangelizing?  Missionaries to the heathen, yes, by all means, and what a treat to hear their stories of far off exotic places!  But me in my own community?  Not a chance!  That’s for those odd ball doorbell ringers, and we certainly Do Not want to be confused with one of them.
That’s one part of the problem.  The second is more serious.  Our faithful members don’t know the story well enough to tell it in plain, ordinary, everyday language.  I filled in for a friend at another rural church this morning.  One long time member leaned over to my wife just before the service began to ask what Pentecost was.  She knew it meant wearing something red, but what else?  She remembered learning something about it in Sunday School, but that was fifty years ago.  Our wonderful people, the faithful ones who show up every Sunday (Saturday if you’re SDA), not only do not know the story well enough to tell it, they do not know why their particular Church worships the way it does and teaches what it teaches.  Most important, they don’t know their own story well enough to tell it.  
I’m not sure what to do about that.  How do you inspire in an aging congregation the love of life long learning about God as we Christians have come to know and understand God?  Maybe one way is to challenge the assumption that they don’t want to learn and are unwilling to try.  I don’t buy that.  I believe that new and youthful life in Christian discipleship is not just possible but would be highly desired and sought after if presented in the right way.  Why let a few grumpy old men and women stand in the way?  Ignore them and get on with teaching the story so that it can be told.

A Few Thoughts on Gangs, Drugs and Politics

Our valley, like most others areas, has a growing gang problem.  Compared to other places ours is minor, an irritant to the community rather than a serious danger.  Gang members seem more interested in preying on each other than anyone else.  They are minor traffickers in drugs, and, I suspect, moving into loan sharking in the wake of departing unprofitable payday loan operations.  That’s just a guess, but if I was a gang leader it would look like easy money to me and a racket mostly out of sight of the good citizens of the town.
I’ve only had prolonged conversations with one gang member, and he seems not simply unaware but ignorant of the parasitic nature of the beast.  I think that’s partly because he is also ignorant of what makes a community healthy.  The ordinary lessons of high school civics did not take root.  Like any parasite, gangs need a host on which to feed.  It can give nothing of value to the host.  It can only suck the life out of it until both it and the host are dead.  The host does not need to be all that healthy, although it needs to exist in an environment where health is possible.  Parasites such as gangs seem to thrive best on hosts that are marginalized elements of the greater community.  More sophisticated gangs try to sell the idea to themselves and others that they are able to live in a symbiotic relationship with the community of the marginalized.  It’s a cruel charade, but it can be persuasive for some. 
Where the greater community is most closely linked to our local gangs is through drugs.    Local drug users, especially teens and young adults, seem oblivious to the connection between their drug use, their local sources and the violence that is snuffing out lives throughout Mexico, and, increasingly, farther south.  I wonder if it would help if there was something like a Surgeon General’s warning on each packet of marijuana or cocaine?  “WARNING, you paid for two assassinations, five rapes and three persons tortured when you bought this packet.”  I suppose it’s a naive idea, but the naivete of several young people I know who have used “recreational” drugs is overwhelming.
We’ve tried preaching and teaching against drug use from the health angle (“This is your brain on drugs”).  It was ignored or sneeringly laughed off.  I wonder if making it clear that drug use makes one an accomplice to murder, rape and torture would make a difference?  Maybe.  But I’ll suggest yet another possibility, and it goes back to the question of high school civics.  If young people and adults alike do not understand what makes for a healthy community, how are they to be held accountable for creating and sustaining one?  Schools, churches and local governments are the only sources I know of where that can be taught.  But what good would even the best teaching do if all one ever witnesses of politics is the carnage of extremist political rhetoric punctuated by blatant hypocrisy and scandal?
You can see where this train of thought is going.  What began with some observations about local gang activity has ended up in the lap of national political commentators and leaders.  Moreover, I will be bold enough to assert that it is not a balanced problem – the left is as bad as the right and they should both clean up their acts.  No, whatever the faults on the so called left may be, and they are legion, they do not compare to the outrage being perpetrated on the public from the so called right.

What’s the answer?  I think you know, at least if you are willing to think about it a little.  What’s the outlook?  Not all that promising from where I sit.

Federally Underwritten Rugged Individualism

Eastern Washington has a reputation as politically conservative, a repository of hard core small government types who are thrilled at the prospect of slashing the federal government and its “creeping socialism.”  Congressional Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers reigns with an attractive smile, bland platitudes about veterans and farmers, and floor votes as instructed by Cantor and Boehner.  
What I find curious about this mythology of prideful, self reliant individualism is the amount of federal investment that created and sustains the way of life in the intermountain Pacific Northwest.  The Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads opened the region to large scale commerce.  Neither of them could have been built without enormous federal land grants, subsidies and armed protection.  Paved highways and rural electrification were financed mostly by eastern taxpayers.  The taming of the Columbia and Snake rivers with scores of locks and dams provided water to turn desert into cropland, barging for grain shipments to the coast, and an overabundance of relatively inexpensive hydropower.  Recent half hearted thoughts about taking down some of the dams to improve fish habitat have been met with outrage, and signs posted on buildings declaring “SAVE OUR DAMS” along side posters for ultra conservative political candidates.
Farmers, proud of their rugged individualism, are suspended above the roughest market forces by crop insurance, set asides, subsidies, conversion of cropland to prairie grass, expert counsel from county agents, research funded through land grant universities, and dozens of other programs all financed through the federal government.  Most of our grain crops are marketed overseas helped, in part, by aggressive trade negotiating at the federal level.  It doesn’t keep farming from being a risky business, physically and emotionally demanding in every way.  There is nothing easy about making one’s living on the farm or ranch.  Yet the farm community is the strongest supporter of small government thinking.  I don’t understand how one can be both dependent on the work of an active federal government and dismissive of it.  
What else do we depend on?  A big Air Force base near Spokane just happens to use many Boeing made products, each the result of a government contract.  Boeing, of course, is on the other side of the mountains, the wet side, where all the liberals live, but we like the money, airplanes and software that come from over there, and we don’t complain about them paying most of the taxes.   Speaking of planes, air transportation is important to us, so we fight hard for funding of rural air service subsidies.  Our paved highways are wearing out.  They need to be replaced.
You get the point.  I would not call any of this hypocrisy because I don’t think it is intentional.  On the contrary, the work of an active federal government has been so tightly woven into the fabric of daily life that I think it has become invisible.  The very real need to manage our public spending in a more responsible way is well known and vigorously supported.  What is not known, or remotely understood, is that some of the cost, the pain, will have to be borne by those who do not even know how dependent and indebted they have become on the largesse of federal spending.

Deserving and Desiring

I’ve been thinking about the question of deserving for some time now, but it came to a head with the pundits falling all over each other asserting that Americans deserve to know the details of the raid on Osama bin Laden, that they deserve to see the photos of his body.  That’s only the latest take on what Americans deserve.  It comes up as everything from deserving to pay lower taxes to deserving to own a flat screen TV.  Not long ago a young newly minted real estate agent complained that he worked so hard for his license, he deserved to make some sales.  Apparently there is nothing we cannot or do not deserve.  We deserve slim bodies, great sex, more money, better education, healthier lives, and exotic trips.  Corporate mouthpieces can be heard muttering about how business deserves tax breaks, tax funded investment incentives, nonunion shops, lower pay for workers, and reduced pension costs.
What a world we live in with so much deserving.  At funerals we hear the bereaved explain how their late beloved deserves heaven even though he/she neither believed in nor observed any known religion.  Apparently deserving flows into eternity with ease.
Deserve is a word commonly used by almost every one about almost everything, but on what can the assertion of deserving be based?  What does it mean to deserve something?  Apart from its dictionary definition, it seems to fall into two categories.  One has to do with the idea of contract.  I agree to do something for you in exchange for some kind of payment.  If I perform as promised then I deserve my payment; I’ve earned it.  The Enlightenment expanded the concept of personal contracts and gave us the idea of social contracts.  Government is said to be a contract between the people and the government in which each side deserves to be well served by the terms and conditions of that contract.  Moreover, the theory holds that the social contract is derived from the people, not from the government.  We deserve our civil rights only because they are the part of the social contract that is recognized, granted and guaranteed by law.  From time to time various societies will rewrite a portion of the social contract to recognize new civil rights, but those rights do not exist outside of the law that recognizes them.
There are rights that all people deserve, and that exist whether a law recognizes them or not.  The other category of what it means to deserve falls under the idea of human rights.  Human rights are a fungible commodity.  The definition of them is always changing, and again, in their modern form they spring from the Enlightenment.  Our Declaration of Independence used Enlightenment thinking to declare that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These human rights are not defined by contract but are what persons deserve simply because they are persons.  What those human rights are have been debated and the list expanded century by century.  It’s always changing, and it differs widely from culture to culture.  The result is that anyone can claim anything on behalf of an individual, group of people or an entire nation as being something they deserve because it is their human right.
In an odd twist, I think we Americans have added a verb to the definition.  We have rights that are ours not simply because we are human, or even American humans, but because we are human consumers.
It is exactly at this point that critical thinking needs to step in.  The question must be, do we mean deserve in any classical way, or do we mean desire?  My niece, for instance, recently got her drivers license and has been heard to say that she deserves a car.  What she really meant was that she desires a car, and there is a huge difference between desiring something and deserving it.  Therein lies the heart of the issue.  It is not only that we Americans often say that we deserve something when we mean that we desire it, I think we really believe that desiring leads to deserving.  What we desire to consume we deserve to consume as a human right.
As for the news pundits, when they assert that the American public deserves to see the photos or know the details, what they really mean is that they desire to see and know those things and are projecting their desires onto a vaguely defined public under the guise that a public of news consumers deserves to consume whatever they desire to consume.  
Desiring and deserving.  Two ‘D’ words with enormous differences in meaning, yet sometimes they can merge.  What do you think about that?  What do you desire as opposed to what you deserve?  Where do deserving and desiring come together for you?  What has led to the uncritical conflation of deserving and desiring?  I demand an answer.  I deserve to know!

Repent and be Baptized. You have been Ransomed!

This Sunday some of us will hear a portion of Peter’s first sermon from Acts calling on his listeners to repent and be baptized, followed by a portion from 1st Peter saying that Christians have been ransomed with the precious blood of Christ.  
Repent, be baptized, you have been ransomed by the blood of Christ.  That’s the call, but I think it falls short.  There is a ‘so that’ attached to it.  “[S]o that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”  It is this heartfelt, deep, mutual love for one another that must be the intention of our repentance and the sign of our Christian fellowship that is displayed to the entire world.
My experience is that the Church, writ however large or small you want, pays little more than lip service to the commandment to love and the importance of displaying that love as a sign to the world.  Most of us are not unaware of that even if we don’t want to admit it.  It’s why contemporary figures such as Tutu, Teresa, Nouwen, Merton and others are revered as the ones to whom we can point while generally rejecting their example as having any practical application in our own daily lives.  Few of us are called to become a Tutu, Teresa, Nouwen or Merton.  We are neither monk, nun nor bishop, we don’t want to become one, and we wouldn’t be good at it if we were.  Nevertheless, every Christian is called to a life of discipleship, not at the margins but at the core.
Since formation for discipleship is among the highest priorities across all denominations, I suggest that deep mutual love for one another must be an essential ingredient of it.  Without it there is no true repentance, baptism loses its meaning, and the ransoming blood of Christ is trivialized.  The problem, at least for me, is that deep mutual love for one another is an abstraction without clear definition.  It sounds great – just exactly what a good Christian should exhibit.  But how does that get worked out in real life?  The kind of life most people actually live?
There’s the rub.  Learning to follow Christ through love is the hardest thing any of us will ever attempt.  Yet I believe that it is only through one’s own personal commitment to the discipline of Christlike love that we can truly claim formation as believers.  It would please me to make that claim for myself, but I can’t.  I’ve been working on it a long time with only marginal success.  I can forcefully assert that I know what needs to be done, but I am not the one others should aspire to emulate.  What bothers me is that too many leaders appear to ignore the love commandment altogether, or dare to claim that their narrow minded, bigoted teaching is a fulfillment of it. 
Scripture offers many places to begin.  One of them is the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans:   
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  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. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Is Life Planned by a Heavenly TripTik?

A portion of Isaiah’s 30th chapter reads, “…your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
I once dealt with a young man who was so convinced of a particular meaning of the literal truth in these words that he would wait for holy inspiration to tell him which way to walk to work.  Oddly enough, he went on to a successful career in a field rife with ethical ambiguity.  More common is the assertion that God is in control of everything that happens, and that God’s plan for one’s personal life is something like a heavenly AAA TripTik complete with turn-by-turn directions to a final destination, including all the stops along the way.  For those of you unfamiliar with the ancient technology of an AAA TripTik, it’s something like a paper version of a talking GPS guiding you from point A to point B with many stops in between.  The main difference is that the Triptik also describes all the details of points of interest along the way.  
That view of what it means to say that God has a plan for your life, it seems to me, misses the whole point of everything God had to say through the prophets.  The holy voice that says, “This is the way; walk in it,” is not talking about sidewalks or roadways.  It is talking about the moral choices one makes in one’s life.  God’s plan, both personal and corporate, is all about what it means to live together ethically.  The prophets, illuminated by Christ’s teaching, provide challenging standards for what that means.
One of the temptations we embrace is how much easier t is to ignore God’s moral imperatives while pestering God for detailed instructions on important life decisions as well as on the minutia of daily life.  It’s so much easier to assert that God is in control of everything while we go about the business of screwing things up with our ego driven selfishness.  It’s a win-win for us.  We can avoid taking responsibility for ourselves and our communities while boldly asserting that whatever crackpot idea we’ve come up with is a part of God’s plan.  We can confidently rest in the blessed assurance that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior while ignoring most of what he, and all of scripture, have to say about the ethics of life together.  Moreover, we can arrogantly assert that our culturally formed way of life is from God himself, and, therefore, is the way of life everybody else should adopt.
It must drive God crazy to have to put up with us.  Frankly, I’m amazed that God can love us so much that he would send his only begotten Son.  That his plan for salvation somehow includes the whole of creation is what gives me hope.  It certainly won’t come from our end.