Bow Down! Bow Down!

February 15, 2001 - Leave a Response

“The buck stops here.” Who hasn’t heard of the legendary sign said to have adorned the Oval Office desk of American president Harry S. Truman? Who has reckoned the harm this renowned slogan has inflicted on us?

We believe it. We want to believe it. It gives us cheap absolution for so many wrongs we can’t face up to. “I’m not responsible.” “Someone else is responsible.” “It’s the government’s fault.” The buck goes somewhere else. In Canada it never really stops anywhere if the federal and provincial players can keep it in the air between them.

Perhaps in a dictatorship or an old-fashioned monarchy the buck might stop at the sequestered desk of the person who holds power by force of heredity or violence. But not in a democracy. In a democracy it really comes right back to us.

It’s such an easy cop-out, to blame everything on the government. But in a democracy the government is us. It’s all done in our name. If we don’t like it, why don’t we stop it?

Yeah, right!

Cynicism, it seems, has replaced patriotism as our predominant civic attitude. “Politician” is practically an insult, and “politics” has come to be synonymous with cover-up, graft, favoritism and double dealing. To a great extent it’s because we are content to let the buck stop “there.” We can’t be bothered supervising the people we have hired to manage our business. So now, we don’t know who is actually in control. We keep paying their salaries (and complain about it) but we aren’t really sure who is giving them their instructions.

It’s not necessarily an evil conspiracy (although it might be – who knows?). Our culture and society have become so complex we feel overwhelmed. Who can blame us for feeling the need to leave it all to experts? But whose experts can we trust? Are they working for us or for someone else whose interests are not necessarily ours?
Again, we are such a diverse people that we don’t easily agree on many things. We aren’t concerned enough with consensus building. We don’t have the time or energy for real dialogue, mutual understanding, discerning what is truly the common good. We are usually looking out for our own desires, preferences, and profits, our short-term gain. We leave ourselves open to the “divide and conquer” ploy and eventually pay the price of our selfishness and apathy.

We need statesmen, real leaders, people who can challenge us to learn and grow, encourage us to strive for higher ideals. All too often we get only bean counters. Our minds reverberate wit echoing mantras: TSE, Dow-Jones, Nasdaq, AMEX, NYSE, etc., etc., etc., until we are lulled into the insidious trance that leaves us prostrate before the most powerful of false gods.

Jesus is unequivocal about it: You cannot serve both God and Mammon. He doesn’t say it is hard, or that it is possible for God. No camels or needles enter the equation. It’s impossible.
We don’t think about Mammon, never hear about Mammon. We might think Mammon is non-existent. But explore at You’ll learn that mammonism is alive and well, and in the temple library you’ll even find documentation from the Vatican archives.

Our confusion arises from the cleverness of Mammon’s devotees, who almost exclusively use Mammon’s modern alias, “The Economy.” The Economy does not really exist anywhere. It is an abstraction that can stand for anything whatsoever and exclude anything that makes mammonists uncomfortable. But make no mistake, more human sacrifices are made to this false god than have been offered in appeasement to any other idol in human history. There is no indication whatsoever that it will cease. Indeed, its domination continues to expand daily.

We read in the scriptures that in biblical times people attributed overwhelming power to various superhuman forces. St. Paul, for example, talks about them, but they don’t mean much to us, and when we hear them named on a Sunday we pay no heed.

Principalities, powers, and such. All that arcane language we feel we can safely ignore. But I suggest that all that power and more is now diverted to Mammon, a.k.a. The Economy.

This is a serious matter. Jesus took it seriously. Will we at least take him seriously?

Pay attention to the “theology” of Mammon that is constantly marinating our minds and senses. Mammonologist doctrine and morality is gradually accepted as “common sense,” until we completely discount the Lord’s “you cannot.”

Until we recognize our real plight we will remain enslaved, and his truth will not be able to set us free. We will never be able to share his dream of the kingdom, hear his words in terms of our own daily lives, or rally our energies to his cause. We will continue to stumble on in the lethargy and helplessness of despair, unwitting minions of injustice.

A bumper sticker I have seen in Ucluelet says, “Money is an addiction. Free the spirit.” The buck will never stop until we decide to stop the buck.

© 2001, Phil Smith, Box 64, Ucluelet, B.C. Canada, VOR 3A0. Permission for non-profit use is hereby granted, provided no substantive changes are made and this information is included. I’d appreciate knowing how you may have used my musings!  Any typos? Read the rest of this entry »


Anchors Aweigh!

January 15, 2001 - Leave a Response

2001 will be better than 2000. I told someone that a few days ago, in my best pontifical manner. Since then I have been wondering why I said that.

As far as I can tell, it has something to do with hope. That, of course, is more than unfounded optimism or wishful thinking.
I recently read an explanation of why the traditional symbol for hope is an anchor. The idea is that an anchor was dropped when a ship had safely arrived at the harbour which was its goal. So the symbol marked graves to indicate a safe homecoming.

The New Testament urges us to “give honour to Christ in your hearts as your Lord; and be ready at any time when you are questioned about the hope which is in you, to give an answer in the fear of the Lord and without pride” [1Pe 3:15 BBE]. I need to examine more closely, then, the hope which broke out in what probably seemed like a thoughtless assurance.

A footnote in the Bishops’ Pastoral Message to the Native Peoples tells us that in his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 46, Pope John Paul II identifies signs of hope, not as isolated events or phenomena but as part of a cosmic tension leading to new birth. He encourages the Church to prepare for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 by seeking these signs of hope. He gives examples there of such signs of hope. In the Church, he says, “they include a greater attention to the voice of the Spirit through the acceptance of charisms and the promotion of the laity, a deeper commitment to the cause of Christian unity and the increased interest in dialogue with other religions and with contemporary culture.” In society in general he lists “scientific, technological and especially medical progress in the service of human life, a greater awareness of our responsibility for the environment, efforts to restore peace and justice wherever they have been violated, a desire for reconciliation and solidarity among different peoples…”

The Island Catholic News has a special concern with “Signs of Hope.” I find it interesting that there is frequent coverage of the very topics which Pope John Paul calls “Signs of Hope”. These are also topics which tend to be controversial. “Cosmic tension leading to new birth” is how the Bishops characterized what the Apostle Paul writing to the Romans sees as cosmic labour pains (8,22-24).Jesus also tells us to take the same attitude (Jn 16, 20-22).

Examining my own hope, I find that it pretty well measures up–is see that the “tensions” which upset many people are really evidence of new birth.

Pope John Paul tells us that hope encourages us to keep our hearts fixed on the ultimate coming of the kingdom and also to “transform reality in order to make it correspond to God’s plan.” The “tension’ calls for greater effort (guided, as always, by the Spirit) not less. There will be new birth, but we have to keep pushing.

Why, then, do I think this year will be better than the last? Ultimately, because I know God’s grace is flooding creation and so many people are responding with their best. There is so much prayer, so much loving self-sacrifice, and yes, so much healing and reconciliation taking place that, to the eyes of faith, the risen Lord is plainly with us. He is the reason for our hope.

He is also our greatest role model when it comes to hope. He experienced “tension,” constantly, within himself and all around him. It’s almost a constant in the gospels, reaching it’s climax on Calvary. But it never causes him to give up, on his ministry, on his flawed disciples, his people or, most importantly, his Father. “Come on, let’s go,” must have been frequently on his lips and in his heart.

So, has he dropped anchor at last? I really don’t think so. As long as our own pilgrimage continues he stays in his characteristic place, out front, knowing that if he stops, we will too, and that would be to betray the hope that is in us.

© 2001, Phil Smith, Box 64, Ucluelet, B.C. Canada, VOR 3A0. Permission for non-profit use is hereby granted, provided no substantive changes are made and this information is included. I’d appreciate knowing how you may have used my musings! Any typos?