Today’s post is a guest post from our good friend, James R. Dennis, O.P. James is a Dominican brother who practices law in San Antonio and is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio.. He frequently teaches and writes on spirituality, church history and Christianity in the world today.
A number of recent events competed for headline space, and we should at least mention them. In Libya, the civil unrest has reached unprecedented levels of violence. The civilian dead have now exceeded 2,000, and both protestors and Col. Gadhafi’s troops are reported to be armed with machine guns and automatic weapons. Unlike Egypt, there are reports of a serious threat that a power struggle could result in significant gains for Al-Qaida, which has allied itself with the protestors there.
The struggle in Libya, which is responsible for as much as 10% of world oil production, has led to a sharp rise in the price of oil and the price of a gallon of gasoline. Some economists have projected that continued hostilities in that country could lead to gas prices approaching $5.00 per gallon, and that would almost certainly spell doom for our economic recovery.
A little closer to home, last week the FBI arrested Khalid Aldawsari in Lubbock on charges of attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. Aldawsari is a Saudi national, and had studied at Texas Tech and South Plains College. He had purchased explosive chemicals online and had targeted dams, nuclear power plants and the home of George Bush.
That story hardly exhausts the troubles we face in Texas, particularly as the legislature begins grappling with a projected 27 billion dollar deficit. The proposed cuts include slashing the state’s education budget by 13%, cutting funding for pre-K programs, the CHIPS program, Medicaid and assistance to disabled children.
I worry that we are going to try and solve our budget problems on the backs of our children, the poor and those who have the least voice in our legislature. A recent poll suggested something remarkable, and maybe a little predictable about Texans. “Overwhelming majorities of respondents also reject a laundry list of possible cuts, including 82 percent who oppose reducing the state’s share of public education funding and 87 percent who oppose ending funding for the children’s health insurance program.” On the other hand, “when asked about specific tax proposals, 94 percent said they oppose implementing a state income tax, 85 percent oppose raising the sales tax and 61 percent oppose eliminating the state’s August sales tax holiday.” In other words, we want to live in a just society, we just don’t want to pay for it.
In the Gospel, we hear Jesus tell the crowd: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” That seems to me to be exactly what we are trying to do and it concerns me greatly.
When I’m being charitable about myself, I call myself a strategic thinker. What that means, when I’m a bit more candid, is that I worry…a lot. Some of the things I chose to worry about never come to pass. With many of them, there’s nothing I can do to change the situation.
I wanted to make a suggestion as we approach the Holy Season of Lent. For some of us, like me, it’s unlikely that I’ll give up worrying despite the good advice of our Savior: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” I’m wondering whether, when we catch ourselves worrying about politics, or money, we could devote an equal amount of time to our spiritual lives, or to considering how these matters will impact the poor.
For example, if gas goes up to $5.00 a gallon, that’s a real inconvenience for me. But for someone who makes 352 dollars a week (and that’s the poverty level for a family of three), that rise in gas prices is devastating.
So, I’m wondering whether, as a Lenten discipline, I can spend my time worrying about them rather than myself. Or perhaps, rather than worrying about terrorists in Lubbock, I might look at the state of my own heart and how I can be a peacemaker in the world.
And while it’s of value to spend our time thinking about the poor or our relationship with the Living God, we haven’t reached the final step until we then do something about it. I won’t presume to tell you what that might be, but if we only substitute one concern for another, without it compelling us to some sort of action, I’m not sure we’ve accomplished much.
So, Lent only lasts 40 days. Can we give up our worries, refusing to serve two masters, or at least vowing to restore balance to our spiritual lives?
I will if you will.