Monday, July 07, 2008

Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and prominent social problems in US

I consider these two landmarks to be very unique part of Boston University: a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Marsh Chapel.

The building on the left of the memorial is my school, the School of Theology, which is the founding school of Boston University. The tall building behind my school is the law faculty.

On the opposite side of School of Theology is the College of Arts and Social Science.

As you stand in front of the memorial, you will see these words inscribed: "To the memory of MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., 1929-1968, Distinguished Alumnus, Nobel Laureate For Peace." MLK graduated from Boston University in 1955.

On the left hand side of the memorial: "We must come to see that the end we seek is a society of peace. That will be the day not of the white man, not of the black man, that will be the day of man as man."

This is the dream of MLK, and I think US has made a significant progress in granting full civil rights of all races constitutionally. However, I think the colored people, esp. the blacks are not benefiting much from the system at the moment.

SOCIAL PROBLEM: Health Care System
One out of three black men has a prison record. The poor and homeless people are more likely to be the blacks. Once you are poor, you can't afford the education system, and eventually, couldn't get a well-paid job. That puts you on the street. When you are unemployed, you could not afford the health insurance. If you are admitted to hospital without health insurance, you will be bankrupt. The US system props up prices of health care and insurance. The US citizens are paying way too much for the health care benefits, compared to other developed countries like UK, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Watch PBS Frontline's Sick Around the World, for more information. This is something the US must look into.

SOCIAL PROBLEM: Mortgage Loan Crisis
The recent mortgage loan crisis affects the blacks more than the whites. Why is there a mortgage loan crisis in the first place? To put it short, there are banks or institutions who do not require a minimum sum of down payment for the mortgage loan, and they do not bother to counter-check the credit history of their borrowers. Hence, this type of loan has higher accrual interest (and is also called sub-prime loan), but the monthly installment tends to look less intimidating once the loan period is stretched over a long term, as high as 30-year. Those without adequate education might not see the danger implied or their agents did not explain the inherent risk involved. They are in fact paying twice the amount they are borrowing.

Once the borrower is out of job, he/she could not afford to pay for the high-interest loan anymore, and will default on their loan. Either they sell off their mortgage or borrow from another institution at an even higher interest, probably from the credit card companies. Once significant number of people are caught up in this cycle and if they are out of job, it creates a social problem. This problem is escalated if the housing price is inflated to an artificial level, esp. in 2005-6.

When the bubble burst, in 2007, most houses bought in the 2005-6 cost much less than its original sales price, and the owners are still paying for the interest plus the price of the inflated sales price. They might have to sell off their house at a loss or continue to pay for the mortgage loan at a loss. And in some cases, some just vacate the house and abandon their loans. A number of loans have been re-packaged and sold to other foreign financial institutions. As a result, US sub-prime mortgage loan implicates many countries as well.

In a report from Singapore Investor, SIAS eMagazine, Mar 2008 issue, it is reported that
"There are a handful of financial institutions with relatively significant exposures, namely Bank of China Ltd. (A-/Stable/A-2), Mega International Commercial Bank Co. Ltd. (Mega Bank; foreign currency A/Stable/A-1), and DBS Bank Ltd. (AA-/Stable/A-1+). "
DBS Bank Ltd is considered the Singapore national bank. As you can see, even my own country is not spared. I pray and hope that the affected countries could make up the losses from their gains in investment from other sectors, and learn from their mistakes.

A phenomenon but unsure whether to classify it as a social problem: Christians focused on personal salvation and neglect social dimension of the gospel
I have recently read that there are six basic values enshrined in the American culture: individual freedom, self-reliance, equality of opportunity, competition, material wealth, and hard work (Datesman, Maryanne Kearny. The American Ways: An Introduction to American Culture, 2nd ed. Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1997. pp. 29).

No doubt, these values are generally espoused by the Americans, I am not sure whether it sufficiently explains why most evangelical white Christians tend to turn a blind eye towards the plights of the blacks. If everyone truly espouses these values, do we recognize that those of us from less privileged families or environment do not have equality of opportunity in the first place? Even if we claim to understand Jesus Christ's imperatives to love one's neighbor, or to feed the hungry or clothe the homeless, why do we seldom react to the plights of the poor regardless of their race? Aren't all of us made in the image of God? Shouldn't the cries of any human for mercy, justice, or equality of opportunity sear the conscience of everyone of us, esp. if we claim to have a relationship with God the Creator and Savior? Why are there so much outcry against homosexuality in the name of God's justice, and yet so little whimper against the unjust and for the poor in the society?

I have also visited a number of Chinese churches in the Boston area. So far, none has addressed social issues in the American society. Most American-born Chinese (ABC) Christians are focused on evangelism, discipleship training, fellowship, Bible study, just like the paradigm I have been exposed to back in Singapore. Eventually, the ABC Christians must ask who their neighbors are. They can't just focus on education for the Chinese or social benefits for their own race and turn a blind eye towards the more needy in the society. Christ-love is "trans-racial".

On the right hand side, you will see: "I submit that an individual who breaks a law, that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment, in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

Finally, these are written behind: "Far from being the pious injunction of autopian dreamer, the command to love one's enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival.
-This sculpture by Sergio Castillo was dedicated on behalf of the Boston University Community. John R. Silber, President, May 16, 1975."

I believe "the dreamer" John Silber refers to is Jesus Christ. I absolutely agree that loving our enemies is essential for the well-being of our society, whether it is in US or in Singapore. But, there is so much pride within me to learn to love others (even my enemies) as I love myself. "God, have mercy on me and increase my capacity to encompass love for others." Whatever changes we anticipate in others, we have to start off within ourselves, i.e. we have to start with the "man in the mirror" (an echo of Michael Jackson).

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