Infrastructure is the basic, underlying foundation that supports any system or organization. There is a lot of conversation in our nation right now about what infrastructure is.
Let's go back to the roots, our founding documents. The first three words of the Constitution define our nation as "We the people ... ." And the Declaration of Independence declares our reason for becoming a nation: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
So what is the infrastructure that provides the basic, underlying support for "the people?" What allows us all to enjoy "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?"
It starts with the basics. Shelter, food, safety, clean air and water, access to medical care. It includes roads, affordable transportation and emergency services. It also includes the basic structures that allow us to live into our God-given potential: education (now including broadband access), workforce training, jobs with a living wage, equal opportunity for all. It includes special provision for the vulnerable: children, the elderly and disabled.
An ideal infrastructure would be one in which every child in this nation begins life with security and opportunity for the fullness of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." An ideal infrastructure would allow every young person to grow up with the resources and support to dream their best dream. An ideal infrastructure would offer a safety net to protect us from avoidable threats and to help us heal and recover from the misfortunes and tragedies that happen to us.
Infrastructure is what undergirds access to the American Dream. Infrastructure is a big word. It's a lot more than roads and bridges.
Right now we are in a conversation about what kind of basic, underlying support structures we will have for the American people. As usual, it comes down to a conversation about money.
Here's where Christian theology might have something to offer. And it just so happens that the Christian ethical heritage aligns with every other enduring religious and moral system except the explicitly hedonistic and those that glorify power.
In Christian theology money is a means, not an end. Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and Mammon." Mammon was a word meaning money, wealth, possessions, or maybe "that in which one trusts." Mammon was often used in reference to the greedy pursuit of gain.
Jesus told a lot of stories about money. Most of them had a warning theme, like the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus honored the generosity of the good Samaritan. And he was buried in a tomb given to him by a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea. Money is both a temptation and a means for doing good. The use of our money is intimately connected to our moral life.
All of Scripture holds up an imperative that we have a special obligation toward the vulnerable among us, in Biblical language, "the widow, orphan, and alien." Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats imagines all of the nations at the throne of judgment. The good nations were those that fed the hungry, refreshed the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the needy, cared for the sick and befriended those in prison. The bad nations failed in these ethical duties.
Infrastructure that enables "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all, especially for the vulnerable among us, is the foundation for a strong and healthy nation. But as the good Samaritan and Joseph of Arimathea could tell us, it's not free and it's not cheap.
It is interesting to read the recent reports of how little in taxes the ultra-rich among us pay and how many corporations avoid taxes. Our leaders need to restructure the tax code so that those who can most afford to pay taxes pay more proportionately. And the IRS needs the resources to enforce those rules.
If we are to live into the American dream of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," we need to underwrite the infrastructure that supports our dream.
Postscript: A friend asked me to pray for his 11-year old grandchild who lives with terrible long-term symptoms from a covid infection. Adults, we need to protect the kids and others who aren't vaccinated. It is now clear that the vaccines are very safe and remarkably effective, even against the new developing variants. Those variants are making the virus more dangerous, more contagious and more deadly. Children cannot yet take the shots. Please! If you haven't done so, get the shots.
Protect your neighbor as yourself.