Build a Budget, Don’t Cut One

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

As a Christian and as faith leader for the United Church of Christ in New Mexico, I know that the moral solution to New Mexico’s financial crisis is adopting a state budget that includes spending levels and increased revenue streams sufficient to assure the wellbeing of all New Mexico residents.

New Mexico’s financial crisis was not caused by wasteful spending; it was caused by not replacing lost revenues while repeatedly cutting taxes, resulting in an inadequate revenue stream. New Mexico’s budget no longer needs to be balanced on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

So where have state leaders’ previous efforts to cut their way to a balanced budget led?

New Mexico has the highest child poverty rate in the nation.[1]

  • 2 in 10 New Mexicans don’t have enough food;[2] 70,000 New Mexicans are helped with food each week.  That is equivalent of feeding the entire city of Santa Fe weekly.
  • New Mexico’s high school graduation rate is 47th in the nation; 40% of New Mexico high schools graduate less than 67% of their students.[3]
  • Our crime rate is 43% higher than the national average (and the highest in the country per 100K people)[4]
  • 44% of New Mexico’s released inmates are re-incarcerated
  • CRN Magazine ranks New Mexico 50th in quality of life;[5] while CNBC ranks NM 39th in its list of top states for business.

New Mexico’s elected leaders have under-spent New Mexico into being one of the bleakest places to live in America.

This is a solvable problem! Instead of considering only budget cuts in the search for a solution, we must consider every option. Eliminate previously passed tax cuts and adopt fair and adequate tax increases. And don’t take “veto” for answer!

To do otherwise is

to steal meals from the bellies of hungry ones
to wring dry already thirsty ones
to force families from their beds into homelessness
to close shivering ones out in the cold
to abandon sick ones and confined ones in their despair

Jesus told a story about times like ours. It’s a warning story foreshadowing a judgement day.

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all [peoples] will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to [one side] and goats to [the other].[6]

41–43         [The One doing the sorting] “will turn to the ‘goats,’… and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44   “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45   “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’[7]

Nov. 8 is a judgement day too. When New Mexico voters fill read their ballots, they’ll ask themselves, “Which name here has made it easier to keep food on my table? Which candidate will quench my thirst for a better future? Which name is most likely to help me keep a roof over our heads, and have some left over to give the kids a nice Christmas? Who is most likely to remember I am a person – not a statistic or an issue – and will govern with real people like me in mind?

We will know the feeling that budgets balanced only with cuts, stab at the heart of our values. We will remember how long Governor Martinez plays politics with our well-being before she calls the legislature into special session to engage the crisis. We will recall if the members of the round house built a budget or simply cut one. We will ask ourselves, “How long before my family’s well-being is jeopardized -or further jeopardized – by business or politics as usual? And then we’ll make our judgments and mark our ballots.

There is yet hope! The words recorded in the Book of Isaiah point us to a new path if we will dare to take it:

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

You’ll be known as [ones] who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

make the community livable again.[8]

[1] http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/new-study-finds-new-mexico-has-the-highest-rate-of/article_a81c6cd6-bc2b-55f5-a96a-7a90742d2379.html

[2] http://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2014/overall/new-mexico

[3] http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/2016-05-24/see-which-states-have-the-highest-high-school-graduation-rates

[4] http://nicic.gov/statestats/?st=NM

[5] http://www.crn.com/slide-shows/channel-programs/300074347/the-best-and-worst-states-for-quality-of-life-personal-cost-of-living.htm/pgno/0/10

[6] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:31–33). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[7] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:41–46). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[8] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 58:9–12). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

“Don’t Look at the Romanians!” How We Broke the Rules and the Tension at the 1984 Summer Olympics

guest post by Paul Whitlock, senior pastor at Church of the Palms, Sun City

The Olympics come to town in the summer every four years. This year, Rio de Janeiro is the town for the 2016 Summer Olympic games. With much of the world talking about the games, I wanted to share with you some of my memories of the Olympics.

Wendy and I were both fortunate enough to sing in the 1000-voice Olympic Choir that performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 games in Los Angeles. I remember that time so vividly. There were long practices and even longer lectures about appropriate behavior—that even a joke, if deemed inappropriate, would put us in trouble with security. In 1984, the Romanians had broken through the proverbial wall and didn’t follow Moscow’s lead to boycott the games. So, we were sternly lectured by security to leave the Romanians alone: “Don’t talk with, point at, or even look at the Romanians!” The organizers feared the worse during that Cold War era. And yes, told us that our actions could lead to WWIII!

On the day of the Opening Ceremonies, all of the athletes from around the world, including the Romanians, and the performers for the Opening Ceremonies were packed into the L.A. Sports Arena (which was a fairly small basketball arena). The tension right before ceremonies started was intense! There was an eerie silence. Here were twelve thousand or so people utterly quiet.

Then suddenly, one of the American athletes pulled out a beach ball, blew it up, and the Americans began hitting it up into the air. Security tried to confiscate it but as soon as they would catch up to it, another beach ball came out and then another and another. The organizers had thought of a lot of scenarios, but the silliness of the American spirit was not one of them!

Amazingly, one of the beach balls kept bouncing around the arena—going from country to country. Soon, it was an unstated goal to get that beach ball around the world. The American athletes were on the ground floor of the arena and they hit it up to the next level. That group sent it flying to the next country. With every flight of the ball, people erupted into laughter and “oooohs” and “ahhhhs”. As the beach ball would reach the next country, that group would come alive with excitement. The silence that had been palpable was replaced with sheer joy. And one beach ball made it around the free world despite the organizers’ attempts to stop it.

The Romanian athletes were sheltered far away from all the others and were the only group on the top level of the arena. While their athletes smiled—I had been a rebel and looked at them— the joy was restrained. The Romanian coaches and officials accompanying the athletes sat, for the most part, with their arms crossed, lips pressed together, and their faces reflecting their disgust at all the events.

Making the beach ball travel around the free world was clearly not enough for all of us assembled that day. That beach ball had to make it through the wall of ideology, past the security forces, and reach the Romanians. Anything else would be disastrous. It came close several times, but it kept falling short. It seemed impossible for anyone, even the best athletes the world could offer, to hit the ball high enough to penetrate the citadel erected around the Romanians.

When hope was almost lost, one athlete from a country of unknown origin, in the section right below the Romanians, hit the beach ball high and far. “This one,” I thought, “has a chance.” The long arms of security reached up from the walkway between sections and appeared to intercept it. Just then, one of the athletes from Romania reach down and tipped the beach ball away from security into the section where the Romanians sat. The whole arena stood and a thunderous applause erupted as the Romanians bounced the ball back and forth. Once security realized the futility of trying to stop the wave of emotion, the ball bounced to the Romanians several more times.

Later, during the actual Opening Ceremonies, with a few other rebels, I ran past the security guards, leapt a fence, and ran on to the field and danced with the athletes assembled. I danced with the people from Iraq and Italy. We celebrated the spirit of oneness that we had. Because, at that moment, it didn’t matter what politicians from our respective homelands did or didn’t do. We knew the world was one.

Fast-forward 32 years and now I am troubled by the expense of the Olympics; each host country builds massive stadiums which soon will be abandoned while the poor remain hungry. Indeed, recent history indicates that the International Olympic Committee, known for receiving bribes, favors countries with dictators because they can get what they want: a smoothly run competition where any dissenting voice is locked up or simply disappears never to return. Olympic spirit has been replaced with greed and scandal, all at the expense of the poor. And, for the first time in my life, I ask, is it time to end the charade? Have the Olympics run their course? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the poor in Rio de Janeiro cry out. Who will hear them as the world leaves town?

End Poverty, Protect the Planet

by Donald Fausel

On September 25, 2015, world leaders at the United Nations agreed on 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals. Here are those 17 Goals.

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages.

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

From those 17 goals, today’s blog will focus on Goal 1, ending poverty, and on Goal 13, taking urgent action to combat climate change. It will also include moral issues from Yale Climate Connection. If you want to read the entire article on Sustainable Development 17 Goals, when you get there, click on Goals.  

The forward of the document begins with a statement that is no secret, that it is the poor countries and people who tend to be particularly vulnerable to the difficult effects of climate change and there “…are already evident, natural disasters are more frequent and more devastating and developing countries are more vulnerable…they are more vulnerable because of their high dependence on natural resources and their limited capacity to cope with climate variability and extremes.”

Can We End Poverty?

According to the Sustainable Development goals, more than “…700 million people live in extreme poverty and are struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation.” That’s a lot of people, and sadly Children Suffer the Most… Even in developed countries there are 30 million children growing up poor in some of the world’s richest countries. Any discussion based on the thesis of “ending poverty” couldn’t evade the question: Can it be done? If you don’t ever listen to another TED Talk give yourself a big treat and listen to a 16 minute Alex Thier’s TED Talk on The End of Extreme Poverty . Thier explains how it can happen and how you can help solve humanity’s greatest challenge. He leads policy development, strategic planning, learning and evaluation at the United States Agency for International Development—the lead development agency for the US government and the world’s largest bi-lateral donor. Enough of his background, except to say this Talk is dynamite.

Science and Mortality

“The absence of certainty is not an excuse to do nothing.” This is a caution that Christine Todd Whitman, President George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made. Whether we’re talking about poverty or climate change, we can apply her wisdom to almost any situation. However, recently there’s been a shift in the conversation from scientific and technical issues to mortality and ethics. According to the Vatican Radio, April 28, 2015, a meeting of world leaders issued a final statement declaring “…human-induced climate change is a scientific reality…and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” Basically, the statement says that humans have the technological and financial means, and the know-how, to combat human-induced climate change, while at the same time eliminating global poverty.

Fighting Poverty and Climage Change Must be Done Together is a twelve-minute interview with Isabella Lovin, the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, who explains why goals must not be dealt with separately.

Science and Values

Douglas Allchin opens his essay Values in Science: An Introduction, by writing, “A fundamental feature of science, as conceived by most scientists, is that it deals with facts, not values. Further, science is objective, while values are not.” Later he acknowledges that this value-free notion has been challenged by sociologists of science about the authority of science, and its methods are “overstated and misleading”. Many of us might say that science can only provide data to inform our decisions but cannot tell us what we should do, that we should leave our values up to religion. If you read Sam Harris’ latest book The Moral Landscapeyou might not agree.

But for the present time lets us see what some of our religious values are that will help us end poverty and combat climate change. Since this blog is mainly for the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, it seems appropriate to start there. Here is an article from the Yale Climate Connection website by Christine Woodside on April 4, 2012, The United Church of Christ on Climate Change .

I like the first phase of the article; Humans carry responsibility—and should take action. I also was impressed by the Rev. Jim Antal, the head of the Massachusetts United Church of Christ conference, spending three days in jail last August for refusing to leave the park across from the White House. It’s also very motivating to see how the synods have moved forward from 2005 despite  “…all the resistance we met…”. And how about the “Not Waiting for Someone Else to Do It” activity. And how Pastor Susanna Griefen gave a sermon about the climate titled “Slouching Towards Crisis” a play on William Butler Yeats poem, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”. And don’t miss Politics Aside… ‘Everyone Wants to Take Care of the Earth’ I believe we can all learn these.

Below are a list of other religious groups and what they are doing for the poor and climate change. All of these are worthwhile. I want to end this blog with paragraph from the ‘Preach-In’:

“All people of faith share a moral obligation to care for the poor and vulnerable. These are the people who are least able to adapt and who are most affected by the climate crisis. We must not turn our backs on the future generations.”

I’ll focus on other goals in future blogs!

Also see, as part of this continuing series on faith-based groups:
Nationwide Climate ‘Preach-In’ To Target Broad Faith-Group Congregations
The Catholic Church and Climate Change
Judaism and Climate Change
Episcopalians Confronting Climate Change
Baptists and Climate Change
‘Green Muslims,’ Eco-Islam and Evolving Climate Change Consciousness
Presbyterians and Climate Change
Preachable Moments: Evangelical Christians and Climate Change
Mormon Silence on Climate Change: Why, and What Might It Mean?

Jesus’ Solidarity with the Least of These

by Amos Smith

Jesus’ solidarity with “the least of these” plants him among the prophets. Jeremiah and Isaiah said the measure of a society is how it treats its least powerful. How would America measure up?

How do we treat those without adequate health care? How do we treat the elderly who can’t afford their medicine? How do we treat our poor neighboring countries? What are our priorities? Are they as George Herbert Walker Bush put it, to be a “kinder and gentler nation?” Do we send neighboring countries the food and medicine they need or do we send them fighter planes and guns? Our obligation to the poor and powerless has deep Biblical roots, echoing through the generations of prophets leading up to Jesus.

In the fullness of time, God entered the messiness of history. God entered into solidarity with the human family to show us the way. Jesus walked the dusty streets of Palestine in sandals. Jesus entered into solidarity with the poor and suffering. Authentic Christianity continues to enter into the fray of poverty and affliction. This is Christianity’s legacy—to show God’s love through service to “the least of these.”