The Essential Truth

1 the Lord and our Lady-1We’re living in the midst of what some folks believe is the worst disaster in history: the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers in “non-essential” businesses are at home, schools and churches are closed, unemployment is soaring, and the government is handling out trillions of dollars to keep things afloat.

Yes, it is a difficult time and tens of thousands of people around the world are sick and dying. But as is usually the case, those suffering in the present forget the suffering of the past.

World War I was worse. World War II was worse. Plagues in the Middle Ages were worse.  Plagues in Ancient Greece were worse. We could debate for hours about what was the worst of the worse.

Like most folks, after more than a month under quarantine, I’m a bit weary. I want to walk in the park, fish, and sit in a neighborhood restaurant and enjoy a meal served by a happy and employed person.

This brings me to what is really eating me today; how do we define “essential”. Essential businesses can stay open. Non-essential business must close. And there are some that seem to fall partly into both categories.

Essential enterprises include grocery stores, gas stations, and cannabis dispensaries.

Non-essential businesses include hair salons, book stores, and health clubs.

There are hybrids. Restaurants can’t seat customers but can offer carryout or delivery. Big box department stores can stay open if they offer groceries.

Of course, this means that if you own an essential business you still have income and can pay your employees.

If you have a non-essential business you may face total failure despite government assistance programs.

What I consider to be essential may be different than what you deem essential. I’m sure we could agree grocery stores are essential. Perhaps you are grateful that you can still buy cannabis; I don’t care if those shops close and stay closed – forever.

This situation makes me think about what really is essential in life. We can start with the basest of basics: air, water, food. Then we progress through shelter, companionship, the ability to create art and music, to our spiritual relationship with God.

All these things are essential; some are more urgent than others. For example, air is so urgent a need that without it you die in a matter of minutes. The ability to create art and music may not be urgent but it is essential to what makes us human.

Who am you or I do judge what is essential or non-essential? Today, my urgent needs are being met but the truly essential needs are difficult to obtain.

Being with my children and grandchildren is essential… and that essential need is beginning to feel urgent. When the quarantine lifts — supposedly in about a month — there will many beautiful reunions.

I need confession and the Eucharist. I need the community of the faithful, live and in-person as opposed to on a computer screen.

I need to be human again.

Billions and Trillions and Money, Oh My

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money… Everett McKinley Dirkson

Everett Dirkson was an Illinois politician who served many years in the United States Senate. He was an eloquent speaker and as Republican Minority Leader played a key role in gaining passage of national civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

His most famous quote (above) expressed his concern that government spent too much money. There is some evidence he never actually said those precise words… and less evidence he did much to prevent the growth of big government.

Dirkson, who died in 1969, would likely have a difficult time processing the size of the $2-trillion economic stimulus bill enacted by the federal government in March of 2020 in response to the coronavirus. It certainly is real money.

Let me stipulate right now that I don’t deny the good intentions of the legislation to help people facing medical and economic crises during the pandemic. Neither do I suggest that there isn’t a role for government in times of crisis and the need to spend large sums of money for those in need.

However, I was disgusted by the attempts during the creation of the legislation to throw every politician’s pet fantasy into the bill. Voter registration, bans on fossil fuels, support for art projects, a bailout for the post office, forgiveness of student loans, more money for public broadcasting.  Some of these things slouched into the final legislation.

The appalling debate brought two of the 10 Commandments to mind:

  1. Thou shalt not steal.
  2. Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods.

There is much in the stimulus bill that is about caring for people and helping others. There also is much about income redistribution, which tends to spring from the violation of the 10th Commandment.

And to achieve this redistribution it is required that the 7th Commandment be violated on a massive, national scale. The government takes money from some people and gives it to other people. The politicians doing this stealing like to think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

The problem is, they need to better understand the story of the famous thief.  What he did was seize tax money unjustly taken by the government and return it to the people.

Our politicians do just the opposite; they take from the poor, via taxes, and pay for the pet projects of the rich and well-connected. The farmer struggling to keep the family farm in Iowa and the small-town grocer trying to make ends meet in Omaha are paying taxes to the government so politicians can give grants to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Robin Hood would be disgusted.

Everett Dirkson would have to change his quote: A trillion, a trilling there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.