Squeezing the K


How to Bridge the Gap of Inequality and Justice in a Post COVID-19 World.

When the stock market crashed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of people hoped it would be short lived and the economy would recover quickly and strongly to the benefit of all.  And if you could measure the strength of the economy with just one metric you could make a strong case that is exactly what happened. 

Stock markets all around the world hit record highs in late February, lost approximately 40% of their value by mid March and had recovered about 90% of their February highs by mid April.  A classic V-shape that proponents and cheerleaders have been pointing to as evidence that the worst is over, and life will soon be back to “normal”. 

But the economy is not just one number.  Deeper thinking economists are increasingly pointing to a widening gap between the classes.  Those who could take advantage and buy while prices were low are reaping the rewards those that those who couldn’t, the ones who lost their jobs, even for just a few weeks, are still struggling and will continue to struggle for months and maybe even years to come. 

And it’s not just the uber-wealthy who took advantage.  The upper side of the middle class has made out like bandits too.   Owing to lock down restrictions on when and were to spend, savings rates and investments in home improvements have gone way up.  According to this article from The Huffington Post, (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/debt-insolvency-canada-wealth_ca_5f870abec5b6c4bb5471e28c) when you’re stuck at home but still working and earning an income, one of the only things you can do is work on your house.  Home ownership was already a stretch for many younger workers and those in the service sector, now with all the renovations being done, prices across the country have increased by 8.6% on the year.  The greatest gateway to lifelong financial security, personal real-estate, is almost certainly out of reach for large swaths of the population. 

Large wealth disparities between the classes is a recipe for social unrest and economic collapse.  It’s what spawned revolutions in France and Russia, coups in Iran and Chile, and the civil rights movement in the United States.  Even peaceful revolutions like the ones that ended Apartheid in South Africa or triggered the reunification of Germany had roots in economic inequality. 

In the spring of 1969 NBC aired Season 3, Episode 21 of Star Trek (The Original Series) called “The Cloud Minders”.  The plot was progressive for it’s time but has become a familiar one in dystopian literature and film since.  While on a diplomatic mission to a new planet, Kirk and Spock are caught up in a revolution in a society where intellectuals and artists live in a utopian city in the sky while the rest of the population toils in mines on the barren surface below.  At one point, after being attacked by rebels on the plant’s surface Spock muses,

“This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts.  Those who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership.”

Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 21, Gene Roddenberry, NBC

One of the things that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront is that the people who support the vast majority, the so-called front lines in health care, food service and consumer goods are grossly undervalued.  Revolution may not be imminent like it was in the days of the Czars or the fictional world of The Cloud Minders, but revolutions rarely start quickly, they simmer and grow over time.  COVID-19 is a wakeup call.  With the right kind of leadership, the K-shaped recovery could be the beginning of a revolution in the way we value certain types of work.  The question is, will it be a peaceful revolution or a violent one?

The way I see it we need at least three things to help the revolution evolve along the most peaceful path possible. 

First off, we each need to re-evaluate our place in society.  Back in June my father, best known to my loyal readers as Pastor Dad, wrote an op-ed for an influential Christian Magazine called “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.”  In it he asserted that the way of love, or more specifically the way we show love for our neighbours, is to wear a mask.  Meekness or mutual submission to authority is not a sheepish game of follow the leader, it is a powerful assertion of collective strength in protection of the weak and vulnerable.

Second, we need to invest in the infrastructure of justice.  Let me be quick to point out here that justice is not shorthand for law and order.  Law and order without peace and justice leads to violence and oppression.  A just society is one that values each person’s contribution with equity and compassion and provides access for those without resources.  A just society closes the gap of the K with things like free health care, public education, housing, laws that are applied equally and punishments that fit the crime. 

Third, we need to exercise patience and grace.  Regardless of where you find yourself on the K, a return to “normal” will be long and far from smooth.  Some people will come out of this recovery stronger than before, but many more will struggle with new realities that the post COVID world will bring.  As a collective society we must recognize that while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.  Some, those with the most resources and the best access are sailing through on luxury cruise liners, while more are clinging to life rafts and praying for a break.  Grace can take many forms, it can be as simple as following Pastor Dad’s lead and wearing a mask, staying clear of large gatherings, and supporting local businesses.  But for those with more resources it should also be active support of hospitals and charities that help the poor and vulnerable. 

At the beginning of the pandemic we were all encouraged to do our part to flatten the curve.  As a second waive moves around the world we need to remain vigilant in that regard and as we move forward into a post COVID world we need to be mindful of those on the lower rungs of society. 

Keep flattening the curve and work diligently to squeeze the K. 

The Only Thing That There’s Just Too Little Of


In the spring of 1965 singer Jackie De Shannon released the single “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  By mid-July the song, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, had worked its way up the Billboard Hot 100 to peak at number seven in the US and number one in Canada.  Written during the Vietnam War it is a folk anthem originally intended to bring people together regardless of their political views.

The song popped into my head recently while I was flipping through some journal notes.   A few months back I wrote, “every community of love can love more”.  As I read those words, quite unbidding into my head popped the lyric:

It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of.

We live in anxious times.  Back in February I heard that over a quarter of Canadians surveyed said they would be fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness.  I get it, mental illness has a unique capacity to make us all feel helpless.  If you have ever spent time with someone suffering from anxiety or depression you know that it doesn’t take long before you are feeling completely inadequate to help.  At that point it’s just easier to walk away and leave the afflicted to the “professionals” but the fact is that people suffering from mental illness need community more than they need clinical intervention.

And that was also before COVID, before we all started dealing with enough severe stress and anxiety to be classified as mentally ill ourselves.

It’s true that perfect love drives out fear, but repeated exposure just desensitizes us.  So the best way to manage fear and anxiety is to suck the drama out of it and just admit that it is part of being human.  Draw together, do not run in fear from one another.  We are designed to bring healing and wholeness through one another.

In addition to love at times like this we could also use a bit more justice and a bit more hope.

“Lady Justice” – there is a reason she’s always blindfolded

Justice has been a big topic lately, ever since race relations successfully bumped COVID19 off the front pages of newspapers around the world.  But we don’t want just any justice, we want the kind that puts people and things into right relationships with one another and justice that doesn’t add burdens to the already over-burdened.

And we need hope, the kind that is tied up with honesty.  We need the kind of hope that says we believe things can get better while acknowledging that things aren’t right at the present moment.

So, I guess there is more than one thing that there is just too little of, Love, Justice and Hope to name a few.  But that wouldn’t make for a very good song.

 

 

 

 

A Man Without a Country


The light of joy and strange light of Christ is a light whose source lies always and everywhere in another country.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country

Charles Marsh; Strange Glory, A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

The four main political parties in Canada; none of them reflect my values.

I’m a man without a country.

Watching the political turmoil of the last few years I’ve increasingly felt as though I have no real political home.  And the more I feel that way, the more I’m okay with it.

During the last provincial election cycle here in Ontario our choices were between an incumbent government that had spent huge amounts of money on an ill-conceived plan to move the province toward renewable energy, an opposition party with a loud and flamboyant leader who promised to roll back the most progressive sex education program in North America and said he would “respect the tax-payers” but never really explained what that meant, and a third party that promised free prescription drugs but confessed that would mean even higher taxes and still more debt. 

There were other minor issues too but those all tended to get lost in the fray.  What it came down to for me, and many other voters, was a choice between more debt and higher taxes versus, a regressive set of social policies that fly in the face of history.  Most people chose to vote against debt and taxes without considering what that might mean for the many social programs we have come to rely on.  Today we have a government that is hellbent on lowering taxes with little to no regard for what that money is actually needed for.      

We can’t roll back the clock.  Gays get married, climate change is real and we’re deep in debt, all facts.  But it seems to me that no one in politics can successfully navigate these changing times without resorting to fear and division or spending all our money in the process.

Luckily, I don’t have to feel like I’m stuck here.  My citizenship lies in another country.  A country that doesn’t technically exist but one that we can easily see and promote if we know where to look. 

The Apostle Paul likened the life of a Christ follower as that of an ambassador, (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Ambassadors are not citizens of the country in which they live.  They are representatives of somewhere else.  Somewhere with different values, different interests and different ways of expressing themselves.  Ambassadors are representatives of a different kind of society and a different culture.  But because the Christian country that I represent doesn’t exist, I am still a man without a country. 

The country I represent, and the country I seek is a country defined by love.  It’s a country where the sad are comforted, the poor receive dignity, the sick receive healing and people willingly reduce their own comfort and security to make it all happen (Micah 6:8, Matthew 5).  But that county doesn’t exist and no one, politicians and citizens alike seem willing to make the hard choices that will bring it into being. 

So I’m a man without a country, and an ambassador of non-existent kingdom. 

Quote of the Day – 12/5/2016


Some have even called communism a Christian heresy because of its emphasis on equality, sharing, justice, and racial harmony. Communism speaks of a “New Socialist Man”; Christianity speaks of a born-again person.   A primary difference between the two, however, lies in their use of power. Communism tends to enforce its beliefs from the top down, at the point of a gun. Jesus described a movement that grows from the bottom up, with changes taking place internally rather than externally. Whenever his followers have strayed from that principle they’ve duplicated the errors of the Marxists. – Philip Yancey; What Good is God?