What makes for peace: The way of Christ
As violence in the Holy Land continues, without an end in sight, our hearts are heavy.
Vengeance and retribution rule the day. Even the place where the Prince of Peace was born is mired down in war. It recalls the moving scene from the Gospel of Luke: "As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If this day you only knew what makes for peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes.'"
Those who have been privileged to visit the site where this reportedly took place, with its panoramic view of the holy city, know how it takes one's breath away. We weep with him today for Jerusalem and all the Holy Land. We pray for peace there, and in the hearts of all people, everywhere.
Not judgmentalism or anger
Such tears parents shed as they see their children make morally wrong choices. Such tears friends shed for those caught up in addictive behaviors they are unable or unwilling to let go.
Such tears we all shed for the victims of abuse in all its evil forms. Such tears the Body of Christ sheds, when differences of opinion in the Church are hijacked by a judgmentalism that leads to anger and the tart violence of the tongue. If only they knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from their eyes. The truth is, only God satisfies.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to a high standard of conduct. We are to live in ways that reflect the love of Christ, to recognize and control our human passions, to own up and seek forgiveness when we fail. We are to forgive others as we would have them forgive us, and to seek justice. Core to our belief is that sinners can change, can be redeemed.
Jesus taught us the standard. Vengeance and retribution are to be replaced by humble love of God, where recognition of human weakness, everyone's need for forgiveness, and the absence of pride guide how we respond to hurts large and small. We are to consider our motives, why we say or do what we say and do.
Not striking out or striking back
It is hard. Striking out or striking back is a powerful lure, and may seem to feel good, for a while. But Jesus teaches that love builds upon love and will ultimately lead to peace. We must not sacrifice our souls for mortal satisfaction. God alone is to judge. His ways are not our ways.
This whimsical poem, the source of which is unknown, makes the point:
I dreamed death came the other night and heaven's gate swung wide.
With kindly grace an angel ushered me inside.
And there to my astonishment stood folks I'd known on earth.
Some I'd judged and labeled unfit, of little worth.
Indignant words rose to my lips, but never were set free,
For every face showed stunned surprise. Not one expected me.
Judgmentalism and anger lead to ever more vengeance and retribution, in the Holy Land today, and in our lives. Only the way of Christ will lead to peace.
State aid to schools: How much is enough?
In a previous column, I observed that the funding of education is intertwined with the challenge of keeping Wisconsin's budget in balance.
And the question of whether this commitment is adequate is hotly debated.
In a recent opinion piece, the director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities illustrated quite clearly how the cost of keeping a promise to pay two-thirds of the costs related to elementary and secondary public education drives spending decisions throughout the state.
He noted the funding for K-12 education consumes fully 44 percent of the state's general-purpose revenues or about $5.27 billion a year. He also pointed out that the cost of keeping this promise goes up by about $200 million a year.
This last point is significant because while the state is paying most of the bills, the decisions regarding how much to spend are made by local school boards.
The legislature was well aware that promising to pay for two-thirds of someone else's spending is not a recipe for frugality. As a result, at the same time it made the commitment to pay for two-thirds of the costs, the legislature also took two steps to control school spending.
One approach was to impose "revenue controls" that limit the ability of school boards to boost spending above a specified amount. Only by obtaining voter approval in referendum may a school district exceed these limits.
The other mechanism was to limit increases in employee compensation packages. Given that personnel costs account for 75 to 80 percent of school budgets, such limits are logical if you are serious about restraining school-related spending.
To achieve this fiscal restraint, the legislature determined that when any school board offered a compensation package increase of 3.8 percent in salaries and fringe benefits, that package was a "qualified economic offer" or QEO. School employees may not appeal a QEO to an arbitrator.
Concerns of teachers, school boards, voters
As one might expect, the revenue controls and QEOs are not popular with public school teachers. Getting rid of them is a top priority for teachers and this does much to explain why their political action committee spends so much on legislative campaigns.
The revenue controls and the QEOs no doubt limit the flexibility of local school boards in managing school districts. But, as taxpayers seem to endorse the idea that state revenues and not local property taxes should fund schools to this point, they also seem comfortable with the proposition that state laws and policies should have more to say about how much money is spent.
One can also argue the merits of whether the revenue controls and the percentage increase permitted by the QEO are just. Teachers may argue that their salaries have increased less relative to those of their peers in other states or other professions.
A 3.8 percent increase may seem paltry to some. But many Catholic Charities agencies and other human service providers would welcome such increases from counties and other funding sources. It is also likely that city and county governments who have seen little, if any, growth in their state shared revenue payments recently would welcome 3.8 percent annual increases.
The goal of providing our children with equal access to good schools is a matter of social justice. The decision as to "how much is enough" to meet this goal is a matter of prudential judgment.
In the election campaign to come, the debate over both questions will be a major focus. It should be. For we all have a stake in how the debate is resolved.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.