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Jeremiah 18:1-12; Psalm 139 "What Does it Take to Shape a Human?"

I once tried to make a clay pot and it was a disaster.  The clay spun so rapidly on the wheel that each little wrong move I made created a weird imperfection.  First, I made one side higher than the other, so I molded the clay into a ball and started again.  I made the edges too thick, then too thin.  When I finally made a rounded object, my thumb slipped and created a lip I didn’t want.  I finally gave up and said that I made an ashtray.  I watched the teacher mold the spinning clay, rounding it out, bringing up the sides and fluting the edges into a flower vase.  It looked marvelous, beautiful, easy – but I knew better.  Clay may be supple and stretchy, but that doesn’t mean you can make what your mind envisions without a great deal of skill and practice.  


Jeremiah watched a potter at work and saw this analogy to God’s work with humans.  Sometimes the pot gets marred on the wheel; and sometimes humans, who are created to do good, go astray and do evil.  With clay, you can roll it back into a ball and start again, but with humans, we are more challenging.  When I worked briefly with clay it felt like the clay had a mind of its own, and this is the issue with humans- we do have a mind of our own.   So while we may be easily shaped, we don’t necessarily stay that way.  Think back to the creation story in Genesis 2, where God forms the first human from the dust of the ground, perhaps alluding to the way an expert potter forms the clay, and then breathes into the nostrils of this earthen vessel and makes it-us- alive.  Here is where we differ from a clay pot.  Pots get fired and then they are set.  A beautiful vase will sit there and look marvelous-flower after flower.  But we had free will breathed into our nostrils, so we are always be molded and changed.  We sometimes talk of humans being set in our ways, but even our habits lead us down a path towards change.  It may not be the change we like or anticipate, but one thing we can count on is change.  When humans are set and immovable, we are actually dead.  Our success as a species is our remarkable adaptability.  We can live in many climates, make tools, tell stories and share knowledge in ways that make our lives ever changing – except apparently in the US Senate. 


Unfortunately we sometimes use our remarkable adaptability and God-given freedom in destructive ways.  This issue creates great anguish for Jeremiah.  He sees Israel on the wrong track, acting in ways that are evil and unjust, oppressing the poor and forgetting God’s commandments.  They act as if they are a marred pot that can’t properly hold or pour water, not like the beautiful vessels God created in Genesis.  Can God start again and mold humanity once more?   This is an important question, one we all ask, especially on a bad day when we see human evil, stupidity or just flat out apathy.  Can we become less selfish, turn away from greed, war and prejudice?  Can we overcome our addictions, apathy and anxiety?  Sometimes our maladaptive misbehavior seems determined and fixed, the human pot is already fired and set beyond all hope of change.


Jeremiah was stern and blunt.  While he may have been saying things that are hard to hear, he firmly believed in the possibility of repentance and change.  His message in chapter 18 is that God is not done with us yet.  That can be good news or bad news, depending upon your point of view.  If you want to change, that is the most hopeful thing you can hear.  If you are comfortable with the way things are, perhaps even benefitting from evil things, then look out ahead.  As Dante warned, “Hell is truth seen too late.”   Jeremiah makes it clear that the nation of Israel, and all of us who come afterword, that they are still like clay in God’s hands.  He warns of disaster ahead if they do not change, but if the people repent of their ways, God will not bring about the planned destruction of Judah.  There is a choice to make.  As it is written in Dueteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Chose whether you are going to be flexible and supple like clay in God’s hands, or if you are already fired in the kiln and set and beyond God’s help. 


I am struck by the answer Jeremiah anticipates in verse 12.  People say, “It’s no use.  We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.”  This statement aptly sums the predicament. The first human problem is hopelessness.  “It’s no use!” people say, “Change isn’t possible for me.  I’ve already been to therapy but it didn’t help.  I tried every diet and it didn’t work.  The problems of the world are too big, so what can I do?  Other people may be able to change, but not me.  I’m a special case.  I can screw anything up!”  The national mood is so negative right now that we are skeptical of hopeful people.  I learned a valuable lesson catching crabs on vacation.  Every day we would throw a cage and bait off the dock to catch crabs.  There is a big hole for the crabs to crawl in to get the food, but they don’t crawl out because other crabs in the cage will pull down any optimist attempting a jail break.  Only a few strong and brave crabs will escape.  Most will succumb to their peers, sink to the bottom and pull down any other crab trying to get out.  That puts a new twist on saying people are “crabby”, doesn’t it?  Negative, crabby people have a tendency to pull everyone else down with them.     


Humans are generally more subtle than crabs.  Hopelessness is an easily learned behavior, because we can get so much affirmation for it.  I think for every person that says, “You can do it,” there are five others who will say, “Giving up?  Great come down here and join me on the couch.  And before you settle would you turn up the volume and pass the cheese whiz?!”  Most people are not seeking to do the evil that Jeremiah warns against, we are just succumbing to the banal, armed with a cynical wit, a channel changer and a bag of Doritos.  Don’t get me wrong about evil, since I have worked with ex-drug dealers and murders.  There are a few really evil people out there, but I believe the true road to Hell passes through a Lazy Boy.  But it is hopelessness that precedes the laziness.  So how do we fight hopelessness?


Listen to some selected verses from Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me….You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely….


Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 


Let me repeat, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  This is where hope begins.  If you know that, then you know that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.  If you know you are wonderfully and fearfully made by God, then you will shake of the crabs clawing at your mind and climb out of the trap towards true freedom and hope.  If you trust that God created your inmost being and knit you together in your mother’s womb, then you know you are made of the right stuff and can set your path towards abundant life.  There is no place you can go, no situation you can encounter, where God is not there. 


Is it hard to believe that God made you, knows you, loves you and is always there?  It may be easier to believe nothing ever changes, because you already know the outcome of this self-fulfilling prophecy.  That is like being a fired pot, already hardened.  You don’t have to fear death, because you are dead already.  Jeremiah announced to Israel, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”  The path toward hope is believing that God is not done with you yet.  You are still like supple, moist clay; ready to be molded; waiting for the expert potter to create something amazing. You weren’t just fearfully and wonderfully made at your birth- for God’s creative spirit is always at work throughout your whole life. 


Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! 
        Thou art the potter, I am the clay. 
        Mold me and make me after thy will, 
        while I am waiting, yielded and still.


(If you have the song, “Have thine own way, Lord” in your hymnal, that is a good place to end.)

Questions Jeremiah Asks


Throughout the summer I preached the Gospel Lessons, and as Fall comes (or is that called Octoberfest here at First Lutheran?) I feel the need for a change. As I read the lectionary I became intrigued with Jeremiah. My Old Testament professor, Bill Holliday, who spent over 30 years writing a commentary on Jeremiah, called him the weeping prophet. Jeremiah asks hard questions and we live in times where hard questions should be asked. As I looked more closely at the lectionary, Jeremiah raises questions and the Psalm for the week seems to provide the answer. So that is the format I will take each week, creating a dialogue between Jeremiah’s tough questions and the Psalm’s hopeful answers. The questions and the scripture lessons for each week are listed below.

Sept 5. – “What Does it Take to Shape a Human?

Jeremiah 18:1-11 
Psalm 139 

Sept. 12 - “How Long Will People Be Wicked?”

Jeremiah 4:11-28
Psalm 51 

Sept. 19 - “Is There no Balm in Gilead?”

Jeremiah 8:18 
Psalm 113 

Sept. 26 - “Are You Ready to Buy the Farm?”

Jeremiah 32: 1-15
Psalm 146 

Luke 14:1, 7-14 "Great Banquets Are Never Easy"

It is very hard for human beings to move out of our comfort zones of people we know and trust.  A group of psychologists conducted an experiment with 150 people on a weekend retreat.  They told everyone to move into 8 breakout rooms with no more than 20 people in each group.  Those were the only directions given.  Even though there was clearly enough room for everyone to be in a group, everyone reacted with great anxiety to the directions.  In each room people quickly moved to a room, elected or appointed a leader, counted out 20 people and then shut the door to close anyone else out.  They did this even though no one told them to elect leaders or shut the doors.  As much as we think we are free individuals, we come pre-programmed to have a herd mentality where we are quick to define who is part of our group and who is not welcome.  Human being will act with great compassion to those who are defined as “in the group” and yet we will often be irrationally spiteful and destructive to people we define as “outsiders.” 


Religion and theology is a major way we define insiders and outsiders.  We will fight and divide over almost anything.  Christians can create schism over one word in a creed, the type of communion wafer, the songs in the hymnal or even over shoes.  In the 16th century St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, two of the greatest spiritual writers I have ever read, began to reform their Carmelite Order.  They didn’t believe the order took a vow of poverty seriously enough, so they decided to go without shoes to strengthen their vow.  This quickly created a split between the Decalced (shoeless) and the Calced (shoe-wearing) Carmelites.  The Calced Carmelites actually arrested and imprisoned St. John of the Cross for not wearing shoes and scourged him to get him to recant and wear shoes.  During this time he wrote poems that became the basis of his wonderful mystical theology.  Finally five years later the Holy See created a second order of Decalced Carmelites. 


Jesus pushes us towards a different pole, towards crossing the boundaries we have made between one and another, and having compassion.  He does this even when invited into a banquet of the supposed most pious people of his day, the Pharisees.  He exposes their hypocrisy of being an elite clique who don’t interact with or take seriously anyone but their own group.  As I listen to Jesus’ words, I hear not just a criticism of the Pharisees, but of the tendency we all feel to cling to who and what we know and marginalize those whom we don’t know and understand. 


How do we envision the banquet Jesus describes?  It isn’t hard for me to imagine the banquet of the poor, lame and blind, because it happens every night around 9:00 PM where I work at the Hillcrest House Emergency Shelter.  On a typical night, nearly 30 people arrive by van and a church group swings into action serving lasagna and garlic bread they made in the church kitchen.  The lively chatter among the regulars rehashes the days events and compares the food to how things were at the noon meal at the Lunch Box on Hamilton Street. 


You notice a man in a light jacket, which is odd since the temperature hit 90 degrees in the afternoon.  He slips several pieces of garlic bread into his pockets for a snack later on, to be washed down with a flask of Wild Turkey he has smuggled in. 


A man in work boots with paint all over his clothes has shoveled in his first helping and looking for more after a long day painting houses.  He is friendly enough with the others, but not really engaged since he doesn’t plan to be here long.  After a couple more pay checks he will get his own place. 


Jackie, an older retired woman, happily chats with her table.  We have helped her get her own apartment before, but she prefers the company of the shelter.  She will stay in a one bedroom for a couple of months, not pay the rent, and come back home to Hillcrest when they evict her.  The man she is talking to is not paying attention.  He warily eyes the crowd for danger, since he has been upstate in prison doing a 6 to 10 year sentence for Robbery 3 and aggravated assault.  He feels claustrophobic and unprotected without his own cell.  Likewise, everyone is secretly watching him too, to see if he poses a threat.  Parole has mandated him here and until he finds his own place, and with a felony count, you can imagine how his job search in going.  By winter time, he may break a shop window and wait for the police to pick him up and take him back to jail just to escape the anxiety of living among the free.


Joel is over in the corner talking with the supervisor, complaining that bed bugs are biting him.  She looks at his mosquito bites and assures him he will be fine, but tells him to visit the clinic just in case.  Really he is angling to get Social Services to put him up in a hotel so he can have TV and air conditioning.  He thinks up a new excuse to get out every week.  His best was showing up at DSS and telling them he was banned for throwing cookies.  They actually called me to complain about our draconian policies and I assured them that while we take our cookies very seriously, we do not ban people from the shelter for throwing them, unless they use the F-word and threaten to kill someone while in the midst of the food fight.  Tomorrow Joel will call the Health Department and I will have my monthly conversation with the inspector, who knows the drill and knows he can walk in to our shelter any day and find it sparkling.


Typical nights run smoothly and everyone heads to the showers while the next 30 people come for supper.  Fights are rare, knock on wood, but they do happen.  Usually it is a lot of name calling and threats and the staff ask the aggrieved parties to leave for the night and cool off.  A few nights a week we have to turn someone away at the screening site because they are too intoxicated.  Everyone knows the rules.  No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no weapons, no bags.  We will let someone on the van who has alcohol on their breath, but if they have trouble getting into the van, staff will ask them if they would like a ride to detox.  Usually they will chose to sleep it off somewhere instead.  There are 30 volunteer groups, mostly churches, who come in monthly to cook and serve food.  We could probably raise the money to do the meals with paid staff, but it is worth it to coordinate volunteers.  Where else do homeless people mix with the middle class?  It is the closest thing I have seen to the great banquet Jesus envisions in Luke’s Gospel.  These nightly meals give me hope that we can create more inclusive fest as Jesus envisions.


But as you can see it is complicated, difficult and messy to do this.  It is a controlled environment, with plastic utensils that cannot be stolen, security close by and even we have to ban some people because they just can’t get along.  Jesus said to invite the poor, blind, and lame to our banquets.  In our day, we may be hard pressed to take this literally.  We are more likely to take it as a metaphor to be mindful of people at the margins of society, but in practice we will keep them at a safe distance, for those that chose to reach out at all.  But Jesus did say this, so therefore we must take it seriously. 


In what ways does this passage challenge us to move out of our comfort zones and close the distances between people?  Jesus says we need to start inviting new people to dinner.  Does this passage call us to think differently about issues such as immigration or where mosques are built?  Behind these complex issues, is the old human tendency at work to count out 20 people in a room and close the door?  Shouldn’t this also mean we need to invite new people to the communion table?  This church took a great step of welcoming a diversity of children and family into vacation Bible school.  What is the next step? 



Luke 13:10-17 "Following the Unwritten Rules"

Theological controversies are seldom about the issue creating all the drama onstage, but about unspoken agendas that remain offstage.  The real issue stays in the shadows because if it would look ugly under brighter lights.  Here is Exhibit A where the leader of the Synagogue attacks Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  Do you really think he is trying to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath?  The natural reaction to this act, as we see in verse 17, is to rejoice that this woman is no longer afflicted.  Something has to be seriously wrong with the old aorta to not feel compassion for her.  The real issue, now lost under the sediment of history, is never spoken.  Perhaps the synagogue leader had other issues with Jesus’ teachings and saw this as an opportunity to trip him.  He may have felt threatened by a rival with more wisdom and power than he had.  Whatever the unspoken agenda, the strategy is to put up an issue that he hopes people will get upset about to accomplish his real agenda, which is to discredit Jesus. 


This Sabbath healing controversy came to my mind during an excruciating Deacons meeting.  The proposal on the agenda was to have a baby shower for a 16 year-old girl who was pregnant.  Alice (not her real name) had been through a series of mishaps in her young life, and her family was barely making ends meet.  The father of the baby dumped her and she was going to live at home with her parents.  The start up costs for having a baby were daunting for them.  To make the issue really complicated her mother was the chair of the Board of Deacons.    As the planning for the shower unfolded, the Deacons were divided by where to have the shower.  One group felt strongly that the event should not take place at church.  Their rational was that if it was in the building it was an official church event and then they would be obligated to hold a shower for everyone who was going to have a baby.  (You can imagine the flood of pregnancies in a congregation where two-thirds of the women are over 50.  If the baby shower thing takes off, soon everyone will be having babies, right?  This baby shower thing sounded like a good church growth strategy to me.) 


Of course, the real issue was never spoken.  Some Deacons were concerned that having the shower at church would send “the wrong message” to the young girls in the youth group that the church condoned out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  As the debate ground on into the night I could see the chair of the board gradually shrinking away in shame.  I felt that if the “non-church shower crowd” were to win out, we were going to lose our very able and dedicated chair from the church.  I began to feel angry and said, “This reminds me of the controversy of healing on the Sabbath.  It’s OK to heal, just make sure you don’t due it during the church service and get prior approval from the Board of Deacons and Church Council.  So in this case we need to decide if we want to publicly bless this family or do it quietly somewhere else so no one gets upset.”  Fortunately the motion then passed unanimously that we have the shower at the church, the Head Deacon stayed with the church and I did not get fired.  (I met with the “off-site” advocates the next day and we mended fences and I agreed that we should start a sex education program with the youth group.) 


I’m not preaching this week, but here are several other examples of controversies from the news where the real issue is in the shadows:


Gail Collins has an excellent article in last Saturday’s NY Times about the final success of the suffrage movement.  The constitutional amendment came down to a vote in the Tennessee legislature.  The money behind the “nah” votes was coming from liquor industry because they feared that if women were allowed to vote they would pass prohibition.  Of course no one would stand up and say we must defend Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.  They had to try undermining women’s intelligence instead.


I think the anti-immigrant rumblings in Congress are a similar issue.  The number of illegal immigrants is actually going down during the recession.  (They can’t get jobs here either.)  This is creating scapegoats for our real economic problems.  Its a way to mobilize fearful people to vote so that other agendas can be carried out in the shadows.  Why are members of Congress attacking the 14th Amendment that protected the rights of formerly enslaved Americans?  Phil Davis of Phil’s Stock World has an idea about the real agenda:


According to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (oh that thing),  right there in section 4, is the statement that: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."  So we’re stuck with those Social Security obligations (the ones people put money into their whole lives on the good faith that the US Government would take care of it for them and pay them back when they retire) unless we can figure out a way to get that 14th Amendment repealed so we can default on that obligation. 


Well thank goodness once again for our Conservative cousins because House Minority Leader, John Boehner, is already on the case and has suggested repealing the 14th amendment under the guise of blocking citizenship for children born in the US to immigrant parents….It is now becoming clear that the ENTIRE anti-immigration mania, from the day Bush first suggested a fence between Texas and Mexico, has really been about mounting a back-door attack on Social Security - the true enemy of the right since it’s founding in 1935. 


Watch out for the voices of those who don’t want healing to be done on the Sabbath.  What is the real agenda?  Jesus calls us to unmask the hard-hearted agendas and realize the essence of the Gospel and the Law is compassion.  All theological controversies must pass the test of the Great Commandment-to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 




Luke 12:49-56 "Not Peace but a Sword"

My normal tendency is to be a peacemaker, not a rabble rouser, so while this passage causes me some difficulty, I’m glad it is in the Bible.  I learned a hard lesson when on study leave in 2002.  I used a sabbatical grant to study conflict transformation and mediation at Eastern Mennonite University and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  After an enlightening summer I was eager to use my new knowledge and skills in my church and community.  I had always struggled with ways to deal with conflict and church squabbles frayed my nerves, causing many sleepless nights.  In envisioned that my new skills would allow my to reduce my stress and increase the congregation’s satisfaction as we moved through conflict and spent less time bickering and more time being about God’s work.  I know, I’m a dreamer.


Imagine my shock when my new skill set and insights actually lead to more conflict, not less.  Previously I had spent enormous energy keeping everyone happy.  I soothed frayed nerves.  I acted as a go between and a buffer so people with long standing grudges didn’t have to deal with each other.  My worst trait in conflict is that I would often try to distract people by showing them how good tings were in the church.  I would try to preach a great sermon or start a new program or point out how well the pledge campaign or youth group was going.  In effect, I would say to the congregation, “Look how well things are going.  Stop fighting or you are going to mess it up.”  Like the Wizard of Oz, I was dealing with conflict by saying, “Don’t look at that man behind the curtain.”  Ignore the conflict because I’m being such a great pastor!


After mediation training I had learned that my style involved a lot of triangulation, meaning I was always in the middle so the issues between people were never really resolved.  When I stopped doing this it was uncomfortable for the church.  Instead of fixing problems, I would say things like, “It sounds like you need to speak to Mary about that…. Let’s get this issue out in the open so we can hear all sides before making a decision. I sense there are strong feelings in the room-let’s try to understand where they are coming from.”  After a few weeks of this new behavior, our Sunday School Superintendent said, “I liked it better when you fixed everything for us.”  For the next few months I experienced more conflict in my life-at church and at home-than I had before the training.  While this may seem baffling, it is what happens when is dealt with rather than soothed and allowed to slide underground and wait for another moment to break out. 


About that time, our church organist resigned in a huff.  He had made an embarrassing scene at a joint worship service and I told him in private I thought he was out of line and should consider apologizing to the choir.  The next morning his keys were on the front office desk and he resigned to protest his “terrible” treatment.  Early in my ministry I probably would have pocketed the resignation, said that maybe I was a little hasty and persuaded him to stay.  As I pondered what to do, I thought of the many complaints I heard that the organist was inflexible, he played the same old music over and over, that he was lackadaisical at rehearsals.  Perhaps after 30 years enough was enough.  I talked to the head of the Board of Deacons and we agreed that we should accept the resignation and hold a special meeting after church where people could talk about how they felt. 


I braced myself for a firestorm of criticism.  My phone started ringing off the hook and I gently told everyone that we would discuss this together as a congregation after church.  We should all be heard together.  (Pastors know how exhausting it is to spend hours listening to every person who is trying to persuade them about what should be done.)  On Sunday we all sat around in a big circle and the head deacon said we would go around the circle and everyone would have a chance to speak in turn before engaging in any debate.  There were strong supporters who said it was a travesty to “fire” a 30 year employee of the church who had given so much to the church.  Others noted that he had quit, and that didn’t seem like the thing a dedicated employee would do.  Several members of the choir, and a couple of ex-members, were able to voice their dissatisfaction with rehearsals and repetitive anthems for the first time.  Near the end a long-term member with great respect in the congregation said, “I have sung in the choir for 25 years and the organist is my friend.  But right now he is holding back the growth of the church and it is time for him to go.  It is sad to say and hard for me, but we need to move on.”  No one else had anything to say after that. 


As with any big church conflict there is no simple and happy ending to this conflict.  Two long-term families were very upset and stopped speaking to several other members who had supported letting the organist leave.  They often expressed their dissatisfaction with other aspects of the church.  Our music program sputtered for a time until we found a new organist.  But a few months later I heard through the grapevine that the organist was enjoying his retirement and relieved to not have the weekly pressure.  He hadn’t realized how burnt out he was and leaving was a real blessing.  The congregation learned they could be honest about conflict and survive.  There reality was that conflict had existed for years and was underground because people were afraid to speak.  Sometimes trying to live in the “beloved community” may bring not peace but a sword.  We must learn the difference between peace and just another cease fire that allows those in power to keep the status quo for their own interests.  True peace seldom comes without a painful process of being honest about the real issues.  Peace can only be built if there is truth, justice, equality and respect. 



I’m not preaching this week but have many ideas if you are looking for more material.  Jeremiah 6:14 “They cry peace, peace when there is no peace,” is a great companion scripture.  Jeremiah says of the false prophets, “They dress the wounds of the people as if they were not serious.”  This passage makes me think of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for Our Time” speech in 1938 after the Munich agreement that allowed Hitler to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.  It certainly was not peace for the Sudetenland and its Jewish population who were quickly deprived of their rights as citizens.  Wikipedia gives some good info here.

Here are some links you might find helpful: 

Here is a current example of false peace.  Congress will soon be taking up the issue of either extending the Bush tax cuts or to let them expire.  Whenever issue’s of inequality are raised, some conservative politicians are quick to say liberals are stirring up “class warfare.”  This is crying “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”  America has been becoming less equal by the month and the wealthy are gaining while the poor and middle class are drowning.  Now even Allen Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, agrees that inequality is dangerous to the health of the nation.  

Here is the link from Meet the Press.

The Financial Times had an interesting article this week that notes America has less equality than any other developed economy and people can no longer move up through hard work:


"Nowadays in America," says the Times, "you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.  Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse." 

 See the full article here entitled "The Crisis of Middle Class America."


Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg are jumping on the bandwagon too, urging billionaires to give away at least 51 percent of their wealth.  Buffett noted last year that he pays 17 percent of his income in taxes (which is less than I pay in payroll taxes!)  He did the research and found that his employees paid over 30 percent of their income in taxes.