Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ruminating about cemeteries


While traveling in the United States this year, I have seen many cemeteries. Some were old, small, and looked unloved and almost abandoned. Some were large, filled with expensive looking stones, and obviously well-tended. Still others were at best non-descript, seemed to permit only artificial flowers, and looked sad if not embarrassing for the families with loved ones buried there.

Researchers estimate that there are approximately 100,000 cemeteries in the United States, ranging from a low of 30 in Hawaii to more than 12,000 in Tennessee. Size varies enormously, with small cemeteries containing just a few graves to large cemeteries having tens of thousands. As more Baby Boomers enter their seventies and die in growing numbers, the nation will need to dispose of another 76 million bodies.

I suspect that I somewhat unusual in knowing where the graves of more than five generations of my paternal ancestors are buried. More typically, I suspect, I do not know where even one generation of my maternal ancestors are buried.

Against that backdrop, I have found myself ruminating recently about cemeteries and funeral practices.

On the one hand, respecting the body is important. A human is her/his body. Post-death rituals enable some (most?) people to bring healthy closure to their relationship with the deceased. These rituals indirectly exert a positive influence against involuntary euthanasia.

Burying the body in a biodegradable casket returns the body to the earth, echoing the liturgical expression customary at funerals, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” Burial probably represents a smaller expenditure of scarce resources than does cremation, because of the energy required to power the incinerator.

On the other hand, some people expend excessive amounts on funerals. In 2010, the average cost of a funeral and burial in the United States, according to the national association of funeral home directors, was $7755. Many families could have spent that money in ways that would have greatly benefitted the living. For example, placing an expensive casket in a non-biodegradable vault – sometimes required by law – does nothing to benefit the deceased or bereaved.

Many contemporary funeral practices, such as the use of padded coffins and vaults, benefit only the funeral industry and reflect mistaken ideas about life after death. Whatever life may follow this one, that new life does not depend upon nor entail reusing this physical body. Nor does a deceased person feel physical pain. So padded, pillowed coffins are, at worse, an opportunity for profit by the funeral industry and, at best, a belated wish by loved ones that the deceased not feel any more pain.

What about the land used for cemeteries? In areas with ample fallow land, using some of it for cemeteries seems perfectly rationale. In areas without ample fallow land, especially in densely populated urban areas, tying up significant amounts of land for gravesites seems to reflect the wrong priorities. For example, parkland is arguably more important than cemetery land. Historically, urbanization led to a growing acceptance and reliance upon cremation.

In England, since cemeteries were often coterminous with churchyards, urbanization also led to “reusing” gravesites, burying the dead from the current century on top of the graves of those who died in previous centuries. Incidentally, locating columbariums in or adjacent to houses of worship continues the ancient practice of burying the dead in or near the church, believed to symbolize the portal to eternal life.

Ironically, given my knowledge of family graves, I never met my paternal grandfather and do not remember my paternal grandmother who died when I was five. I do remember both of my maternal grandparents who died after I had left home and married. What happened is that I spent my childhood in the town where my father’s family had lived for over two hundred years; my mother’s family lived more than a thousand miles away.

To some extent, cemeteries, columbariums, and other markers preserve the memory of deceased persons. But from the scarcity of visitors I observe at those sites, the effect is minimal. Perhaps the most remembered are persons interred with brass markers in English cathedrals and churches that actively promote the sale of rubbings of those markers. In those situations, people really pay attention to the marker and not to the deceased.

For better or worse, knowledge of most individuals rarely survives the death of those who knew the person (friends, children, perhaps grandchildren, and other family members). The very rare exceptions to that generalization are people about whom historians write, artists painted, or authors recorded stories.

Christianity emphasizes care for the living, not for the dead. Therefore, Christian burial practices will emphasize sanitary, respectful disposal of deceased bodies at a reasonable cost and in ways that make good use of land, energy, and other natural resources.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Discerning God's will

Some weeks I dread the thought of preaching. I examine the readings and hear only silence. Other times, the Propers, like those for today, teem with intriguing preaching opportunities (Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20). The gospel provides the basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that it is the one true Church with its Pope, alleged successor to Peter as Bishop of Rome, the rightful head of the Church on earth. Needless to say, we Anglicans have a somewhat different interpretation of that passage. The epistle reading speaks both to the need to care for our bodies by cultivating good health habits (diet, exercise, adequate rest, and so forth) and to the Church as an institution dependent upon mutual ministry. The clergy educate and enable the ministry of all baptized believers, each of whom has vital gifts for ministry.

But, as many of you know, I’m a former naval chaplain and enjoy a good sea story. This morning’s first lesson describes the only Biblical account of Moses afloat. Admittedly, a papyrus basket is not much of a ship, not even a boat really. And floating a few yards down river is hardly a journey that merits description as being underway. But sadly, that is all we know about Moses’ life afloat.

If, like me, you have watched Cecile B. DeMille’s movie classic, “The Ten Commandments,” I suspect it has shaped the visual images you associate with today’s first lesson. Moses’ actual birth was probably very prosaic: an ordinary birth of an ordinary child – if Moses even existed.

Historians generally divide into two camps regarding the entire exodus narrative. Some contend the whole story is apocryphal, a myth Jews devised to create a common history and identity for themselves. Other historians argue that the exodus narrative, like most myths, has a historical basis that over time acquired detail, broader scope, and expanded significance. Regardless of which theory is correct, we rightly regard the entire exodus narrative with considerable historical skepticism. For example, prices for male and female slaves have frequently been similar, males valued for outdoor labor and females for indoor work and breeding. No slave owner with any economic sense would order, as Pharaoh purportedly did, all newborn male slaves summarily killed.

So what do we make of this morning’s reading? Is it simply an entertaining story to tell our children? Or, is it a window through which God's light can shine into the darkened corners of our lives and world? The story of Moses’ birth, biblical scholars suggest, provides a type or pattern for other birth narratives and stories in the Bible, especially the births of Samuel and of Jesus. In particular, I see three overlapping themes, each of which is a sign of God at work in the world.

First, the story describes respect for life. The baby Moses, cast adrift on the Nile, is quickly rescued before he becomes a crocodile’s snack. One criterion that many scholars use in analyzing the historicity of both biblical and non-biblical stories about Jesus is whether the story expresses respect for life. For example, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the boy Jesus kills a child who irritated him and blinds people who accuse him of doing evil. Although Jesus subsequently restores all whom he injured to health, the stories obviously portray a narcissistic Jesus rather than a Jesus who respects life. Scholars are confident these stories have no historical foundation. (Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 204-205. For an English translation, cf. Infancy Gospel of Thomas, II-V at http://www.gnosis.org/library/inftoma.htm.)

Second, the story of Moses’ birth depicts radical love. Moses’ mother loves her child more than she loves herself. She sets him adrift to preserve his life; she may hope but cannot know that she will become the child’s wet nurse. Painful though it might be to hear her son call another woman “Mother,” at least she saw her son and knew that he was okay. In the biblical story of Hannah, she desires a child so strongly that she promises to give the child to God if God will fulfill her desire. Mary, in the biblical narrative, experiences condemnation and rejection as the price of her pregnancy, flees to Egypt to preserve her child’s life, and then, with broken heart, watches his execution. Moses’ mother, Hannah, and Mary all model radical love.

Third, the story of Moses’ birth depicts the restoration of liberty. The baby Moses once set adrift instantly becomes a free person rather than a slave. This sets the narrative stage for Moses to lead the Israelite slaves to freedom. Hannah’s child, Samuel, is similarly instrumental in preserving Israel’s freedom in the Promised Land. The story of Jesus is the quintessential story of freedom restored.

Most of us at least occasionally want to know God's will. We believe God speaks in various ways. These include doors opening or closing, a strong feeling, an idea that suddenly and unexpectedly captures the imagination, a comment from another person, and a fresh, compelling message in reading a familiar scripture passage. All of those methods, like the story of Moses’ birth, are more myth than fact. Nobody understands the mystery of how God speaks.

However, the story of Moses’ birth provides three reliable markers for recognizing God's voice. God invariably commands us to respect life, embody radical love, and restore liberty to those in bondage. When our perception of God's will aligns well with all three – respect for life, radical love, and the restoration of liberty – then we very likely may have accurately discerned God's will.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God at work in the world


(Sermon preached at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC, on August 14, 2011, the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Some years ago, a priest in Appalachia dined at the home of new converts. All but the family’s young daughter received him cordially. She stared at him unblinkingly throughout the meal.

The priest, somewhat uncomfortable, tried to put the little girl at ease. "Is it my collar you are staring at?" he asked, taking it off and holding it up. When he did so he saw the cleaning instructions on the inside of the collar, and to make conversation, he asked, "Do you know what it says here?"

"Yes," responded the girl. "It says, 'Kills fleas for six months.’"

Sometimes, I feel that Christians and Christianity are, like the young girl, blind to the real significance of things. Today’s readings (Genesis 45:1-15, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28), however, speak directly to several current events.

First, Israel has authorized construction of 1500 new housing units on the West Bank for Israeli settlers, land that the United Nations designated for Palestinians when establishing Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians are organizing demonstrations in support of their claim to statehood to take place during upcoming U.N. hearings on establishing a Palestinian state and Israeli police are preparing to respond should the demonstrations turn violent.

Second, famine in Somalia has become so severe that parents have to choose which of their children to leave to die and which to try to save. Violent political and religious divisions between Muslims and Christians have greatly exacerbated the problems of extended drought. Cholera has now broken out. A cynic might suggest that wealthy nations have made Somalia a low priority for aid because of its lack of natural resources and black populace.

Third, wild stock market fluctuations underscore a growing economic divide and economic pessimism in the U.S. Although the U.S. managed to avoid default two weeks ago by raising the federal debt ceiling, Standard & Poor’s dropped the U.S.’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. Unemployment is down, but many fewer people are looking for work, indicating a growing pessimism about finding work.

Perhaps you wonder what these events have to do with the readings. Social division sets the context for each reading. In Genesis, the narrative contrasts the wealthy Egyptians with the indigent sons of Israel. The epistle reading juxtaposes Jew and Gentile based on religious differences; the gospel reading juxtaposes them based on ethnic differences.

One theme in all three readings is that God lovingly welcomes and embraces everyone. Twentieth century comedian Will Rogers once said that he had never met a person he didn’t like. It is safe to say that God never created a person God doesn’t love.

We Christians are not to draw distinctions between people based on gender, race, nationality, religion, gender orientation, or economic circumstances. We welcome everyone at this altar, symbolizing that we more broadly welcome all into this community and into God's family. No group, no person, is excluded. This includes Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim and Christian Somali, wealthy and poor.

Second, God acts to deliver people in distress. Our feelings of discouragement (how will I feed my family?), dejection (where is my place at the table, my homeland?) and despair (how can I heal my loved one?) may seem overwhelming. But God remains undefeated. We hope because God stands with us, confident that God is acting. Without hope, progress is impossible.

Third, God acts in mysterious, unexpected ways but always through people. In the Genesis story, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery; he becomes a felon on death row; and then, incredibly, he becomes the second most powerful person in Egypt, managing Egypt’s prosperity in the midst of a global food crisis. Saul the infamous and aggressive persecutor becomes Paul the Apostle. When the Church splits into warring religious camps, Paul bridges that gap, declaring himself both Jew and Gentile, insisting the Church include both. A man from Galilee – Galilee, of all places – wanders the Palestinian landscape, teaching and healing. A desperate foreign woman, boldly breaking the gender, nationality, and religious barriers that separate them, relentlessly insists Jesus heal her daughter. These incidents may resemble movie plots, but they reveal God's mysterious and unexpected acts.

In the early twentieth century, women could not visit Sing Sing prison, not even Catherine Lowe, the warden's wife. But she was a strong-willed woman. When inmates played their first basketball game, Catherine Lowe risked harsh disciplinary action by taking her two girls and sitting in the bleachers to watch. Much to her amazement, nobody chastised her. So, she took bolder steps. She wanted to help the prisoners, believing love could change anyone's life.

A blind African American, Jack, was a tough murderer, the victim of cruel racial injustices. Catherine felt drawn to this hardened criminal. "Hi, Jack," she introduced herself one day. There was no response. The scarred, battered face stared back with icy, unseeing eyes. "What books do you read?" she asked him.

The silence was broken. He spit out the words, "I'm blind, lady! I can't read!"

This was her opportunity. "Oh, what about Braille?" she asked. No one had ever told Jack about Braille, let alone taught him. "You can read with your fingers!" Catherine explained. "Please," she said, "let me see your fingers." She touched his fingertips and said, "You can read with these. I'll teach you." And she did.

Then she found another inmate and discovered that he was deaf and unable to talk. Catherine learned sign language so she could communicate with him. She opened doors to worlds of love for one convict after another. The inmates of Sing Sing called her, "The Lady in whom Jesus Christ lives."

A deaf man learns to communicate. A blind man learns to read. A Canaanite girl is healed. Nomads eat. The Church makes room for those not like us. People are people whatever label they wear. Love always finds a way. Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The deficit debates


As a Christian priest and ethicist, I found the recent U.S. Congressional debates over raising the debt ceiling deeply disturbing for two reasons. First, the deficit debates revealed the disturbingly rapid pace at which self-interest appears to be supplanting concern for the least among us in American churches.

The Christian path that I understand and try to travel encourages disciples to emulate Jesus’ example and teaching by putting others on a par with self, if not ahead of self. This especially connotes caring for the most vulnerable among us.

I’m thankful that I live in a secular, pluralistic nation. However, many of our elected politicians self identify as Christian and a growing number of them try to capitalize upon their personal faith declarations when campaigning for election. Voters reasonably expect these individuals, if elected, to express their Christian values in their speeches and votes – at least some of the time.

Collectively, these politicians failed to stand vocally and firmly against legislative actions that might endanger the well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable residents. Instead, some of them adhered to campaign rhetoric and promises that are contrary to my understanding of Christianity. Others, who had voiced more compatible campaign rhetoric and promises, were publicly silent or attracted little media attention to their defense of the most vulnerable.

A cynic might suggest that the gospel of self-help draws bigger crowds than does emphasizing Matthew 25 and costly love. This perversion of Jesus quite probably represents a greater threat to Christianity’s future than secularism does. The deficit debates are a telling milestone of how far religion in America has moved in that direction.

Second, the deficit debates exposed the fragile and perilous condition of community in America. The tone of public discourse frequently lacked civility. More importantly, during the debates, I heard much dishonesty about important issues at stake, widespread advocacy of fiscal policies that would have had the unintended (or so I want to hope) consequences of further fracturing the foundations of our communal life, and explicit attacks on the integrity and good faith efforts of the vast majority of government employees. Demagoguery commonly masqueraded as reason, evoking too few objections. Individualism was ascendant and community on the wane. Mutual respect and trust yielded to mutual suspicion and animosity. These fault lines, unless healed, bode ill for the communal mutual interdependence to which God calls us and that best enables human flourishing.

Balancing the federal budget without increased revenues would require eliminating 40 cents of every dollar the government now spends. Thankfully, the U.S. government is not corrupt or ineffectual on that scale, even according to its harshest critics. In other words, eliminating the federal deficit without any tax increases will require substantial cuts or wholesale elimination of multiple programs. The Defense Department, Social Security, and three health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program) each account for approximately 20% of the federal budget. Social safety net programs (14%) and debt interest payments (6%) are another 20% of federal spending. The other 20% funds the remainder of government operations (transportation, education, government retiree benefits, foreign aid, etc.).

One oft-heard sound bite during the debates asked, “Can you or the government do a better job of spending your money?” The speaker left the question unanswered, presuming that everybody agrees she/he can spend her/his money better than the government. I vehemently disagree. The federal government spends my tax dollars much better than I could. With my taxes, I buy, in no particular order of priority:

·         One of the best, if not the best, highway systems in the world;

·         Most healthcare for everybody in this country over age 65 and much of the healthcare for the poorest Americans;

·         Pensions for the elderly;

·         The assurance of generally safe food, drugs, consumer goods, air transport, etc.;

·         The closest approximation to the rule of law, justice, and civil rights for all in the history of the world (not perfect by any means, but far better than in most countries);

·         About 10% of the cost of educating children in the U.S.;

·         More defense than I want or need.

You might list other goods and services the federal government provides that you especially value, no matter how imperfect they are. Whatever your list, if it’s honest, is well beyond what you could afford as an individual – unless perhaps you are a billionaire. Even then, I’m willing to bet that you get a decent bargain in return for the taxes you pay.

Can the United States federal government achieve a greater degree of fiscal responsibility? Absolutely. Is some government spending fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive? Without a doubt. Is every government program important for sustaining our communal life? No. We rightly debate those questions. Identifying optimal government policies, programs, and funding priorities – even if all citizens shared common values – is impossible because nobody has a crystal ball with which to predict future outcomes.

However, reductions in government spending will reduce employment when unemployment remains above 9.1% of the workforce and much, much higher for certain segments of the workforce (e.g., young black males). Underemployment remains a significant but unquantifiable problem. Indeed, a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed that voters disapprove of Congress’ job performance at an all-time high, rate job creation more important than deficit reduction, advocate raising taxes to balance the federal budget, and believe politicians must compromise to make government work.

As Christians, we bring to public discourse about public finances a concern for the well-being of the least among us and for the strength of our community. The Eucharistic readings for Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome (August 10, 258), in Holy Women, Holy Men speak to the federal budget battles that will continue in upcoming months and years:

"He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." (II Corinthians 9:9)

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26a)

Before executing Laurence, the prefect demanded that the archdeacon Laurence, responsible for the Church’s welfare programs, reveal where to find the Church’s treasures. According to legend, Laurence responded by assembling the poor and the sick and then telling the prefect, “These are the treasures of the Church.” The prefect then supposedly ordered Laurence roasted alive. The Greek root of the English word “martyr” means witness. The deficit debates make me think that we need a new generation of witnesses, holy women and holy men who will witness to the way of Jesus regardless of the cost to their pocketbooks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Politics and religion


The Chinese government has recently moved to close churches that defy the government. Tens of millions of Chinese Protestant Christians worship in thousands of banned underground churches. By some estimates, the thirty to sixty million Protestants are approaching the size of the Communist Party’s membership of eighty million.

The message heard in many of the illegal Protestant congregations contrasts starkly with the ideology of the Communist Party. Pastors encourage their flocks to become politically active, pointing to Joseph and Daniel as role models, and call for religious freedom. Organizationally, the church also appears to pose a threat to the Party. Hundreds of students study in church operated schools. Pastors are braving jail and work camps to continue their ministries. Pastors and members both find strength in a new unity among the underground churches. (Brian Spegele, “China’s Banned Churches Defy Regime,” Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2011)

Probably more than anything, the Chinese government fears that the churches pose a threat to government power. Scholars believe that the growing popularity of the Falun Gong movement prompted the government crackdown on it several years ago.

In the United States, skeptics tend to focus on the negative contribution of religion to public discourse. Religion is certainly responsible for some terrible prejudices and events. However, religion is also responsible for tremendous positive changes in attitudes and history. In this country, the most dramatic of these is the great progress toward establishing civil rights for all regardless of race, gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, or gender orientation. We’ve not yet arrived, but we’re closer to the mountaintop than when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the 1963 March on Washington.

In a pluralistic secular society like the United States, religion should not dominate public discourse. Religious people, however, remain citizens. They are therefore entitled to express their opinions, even if those opinions include religious ideas or ideas shaped by religious belief. Banning religious people from speaking about their beliefs or how their beliefs shape their ideas is to establish atheism as a de facto religion, similar to what now exists in China.

The strength of the underground churches in China is a sign of hope that forces within China are moving it toward democracy and greater freedom. Christians, and others, from around the world should applaud and support Chinese Christians in this effort. Support can constructively encompass publicizing the challenges that Chinese Christians face, praying for Chinese Christians, and seeking to include Chinese Christians in international ecumenical gatherings. I find it exciting that Christianity can still function as a powerful revolutionary force for positive social change.

More often, my observation of Christianity in the West is that Christians want the power and status associated with being, formally or informally, an accepted part of the established order. Instead, Christianity belongs on the margin: in society but not of society. The Church’s ethic is one of transformation rather than capitulation. I hope that we someday will recapture the revolutionary potential and excitement for Christianity in the United States and Europe that the banned churches have in China. For all of the rights and progress that people have made in the West, we still fall far short of the ideas Jesus lived and taught.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Refreshing political behavior


The need last week for Congress to pass legislation raising the debt ceiling plunged the United States into a political and economic crisis likely to have repercussions in the next election cycle and to complicate recovery from our current economic woes. At least one factor in creating this crisis was a campaign sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform to have members of the federal House of Representatives sign a pledge not to vote for a net tax increase under any circumstance. Two Democrats and all but six of the 240 Republicans in the House have signed the pledge.

Kevin Yoder, a freshman Republican from Kansas, refused to sign the pledge. Yoder is a self-avowed fiscal conservative. He gives two reasons for refusing to sign the pledge: his responsibility is to his constituents not to Americans for Tax Reform and nobody can foresee every possible eventuality.

Although I disagree with Yoder’s political and economic views, I find his refusal to sign the pledge refreshing and applicable in many contexts. First, Yoder has the courage of his convictions. He recognizes that his oath of office imposes a duty upon him on behalf of his constituents. Second, admitting to not know the future embodies an estimable humility and self-confidence in the face of ambiguity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Musing about spending and values


Some readers may find the recent emphasis on economics at Ethical Musings tiresome. However, how a person/group/nation manages their finances and spends those funds generally reveals their true values.

David Leonhardt has covered economics for the New York Times for the last eleven years. He is leaving that job to become the head of the Times’ Washington office. In his last column on the economics beat, “Lessons from Malaise” (New York Times, July 26, 2011), he made a number of important observations:

·         When it comes to economics, we know that a market economy with a significant government role is the only proven model of success. The United States has outgrown Europe partly because of our greater comfort with market forces. China and India boomed after allowing more of a market economy. On the other hand, unencumbered market forces often lead to disaster, as 1929 and 2008 made clear.

·         We also know that ever-rising levels of education are crucial to a country’s success. Not only is the evidence all around us — the college wage premium has been higher than ever lately — but careful studies have found that, on the margin, education itself tends to make people wealthier, healthier and happier. The next time you hear naysayers poormouth college, ask them if they plan to send their own children.

·         We know that the federal government has promised more benefits than it can currently afford. The only way out of this problem involves some combination of tax increases and cuts to Medicare, Social Security and the military. Anyone who won’t get specific about which ones they favor is not a fiscal conservative.

·         We know this country spends vastly more on health care than any other country — about 75 percent more per person than other rich countries — without getting vastly better results. The waste in our medical system offers the best chance to reduce the deficit without harming our living standards.

·         We know the planet is getting hotter. Last year tied for the warmest on record, and the 10 hottest have all occurred since 1998. The resulting risks, economic and otherwise, may be even more serious than the risks from the deficit, but receive far less attention in Washington. (And climate worriers do not need to be so skittish about making the connection between heat waves and the larger trend. The thing about global warming is that it warms the globe.)


·         The bottom 50 percent of households, based on pretax income, make less combined than the top 1 percent. Only three decades ago, the bottom half made more than twice as much. The middle class has also received a much smaller tax cut in recent decades than the affluent.

Leonhardt also comments that anyone who refuses to explain how they would balance the federal budget, given the opportunity to do so, by delineating specific spending cuts and tax increases is not a true conservative. I would add that an apt term for such a person is a demagogue. Unfortunately, all of the evidence suggests that Washington currently has a deficit of conservatives and a surplus of demagogues.

Additionally, the evidence sadly suggests that politicians have more interest in winning their next election than in attempting to do what is right for the nation. If that were not correct, the battle to raise the debt ceiling would have ended long ago and been waged on a radically different basis. People of faith will find some of Leonhardt’s observations especially troubling, e.g., that the top 1% of households earns more than the bottom 50% and that we spend 75% more on healthcare than do other wealthy nations with worse results.

What do your earning, spending, saving, and investing habits say about your values?