Tag Archives: poverty

Wellsprings of Hope

Epiphany
February 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? –1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Because Abraham Lincoln quoted the phrase “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, many think it originated with him. Jesus initiated the saying as reported in both Matthew 12:22-28 and Mark 3:24. I am glad that President Lincoln used it as philosophical glue to hold our country together during the Civil War. I fear politicians today thrive on division. Paul realized the harm in taking sides, one follower of Christ against another, and strongly urged the new communities of faith to avoid such behavior. I firmly believed that God created diversity because no individual or single group has all the answers to life’s challenges. We all must work together to make the Kingdom of God reality.

Ruby Payne* in her work addressing poverty, particularly as it impacts education, points out that people at various income levels have markedly differing life views. I was surprised when I took the tests included in her work to realize I knew little if anything about surviving in poverty (even though I had worked with poverty programs for years at the time) and knew even less about being wealthy. I scored well on being middle class.

Robert Kennedy, raised in wealth, advocated eloquently for the poor. How did he gain the insights needed to champion the cause of the poor? He dwelt among them. He traveled through the worst impoverished areas in the USA, played with the children, talked with the parents, and got a gut full of the horrors of malnutrition and hopelessness.

It takes effort, persistence, and patience to work with diverse opinions, but unity, oneness is the only thing that does work.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the beauty in all your children, make us wellsprings of hope as we work to be one in your love. Amen.

*See A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach by Ruby Payne and Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby Payne and others with information at http://www.ahaprocess.com/solutions/community/

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Poor in Spirit

statueoflibertyLiving in the Spirit
September 11, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-10

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ –Luke 15:8-10

The poor have always been with me as Jesus predicted. (Mark 4:7) My mother always held the poor close to her heart. She helped them in any way she could. Her empathy played a part in my becoming a social worker and an advocate for justice. So, I understand the message Jesus brings in his story of the woman with ten silver coins. The loss of one coin could mean disaster for her family. Jesus also said to provide food and clothing for those in need. (Matthew 25:35-40) and Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20) Matthew quotes a similar speech saying poor in spirit, which probably has a broader scope, but I guess the woman who lost the coin felt both poor and poor in spirit from the loss.

We do not pay much attention to the poor of any kind. Our society cares more about wealth. The difference in being poor in spirit because you do not know where your evening meal will come from and have no food for your children, and being poor in spirit because your stocks lost ground are not the same. The promised kingdom of God assures enough for everyone, and calls us to partner in its realization.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!“*

Prayer: Lord, make your priorities our priorities as we week to make your vision a reality. Amen.

*Lines from the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus engraved on the Statue of Liberty. See at http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How to Succeed at Being Poor

poor-kidsLiving in the Spirit
September 7, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 14

There they shall be in great terror,
   for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
   but the Lord is their refuge.  

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
   When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
   Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. –Psalm 14:5-7

Apparently, someone needs to write a self-help book, How to Succeed at Being Poor in the Wealthiest Nation in the World. At least the subject of such a book seems to be the intent of our nation. Producing such a book might be a waste of time, however, for we are no longer even willing to teach our children how to read unless it can happen very cheaply or it provides profit for a private enterprise. Wealth is finite. The earth and all that is in it has limited space and limited resources. For some to have more, some must have less. For some to have a lot more, many more must have less.

The USA unemployment rate is very low. Most able-bodied adults work or are looking for work. We need those undocumented immigrants just to get required work done. Many people work at two or more jobs and still do not make ends meet. Some businesses only schedule staff to work less than a 40-hour week, so the business does not have to provide benefits. Tax-payers subsidize businesses that pay low wages by providing SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and Child Care Subsidy. There virtually no longer exists a cash payment welfare program for families with their own children. Yet, we continue to hear about and belittle the welfare mooches and the lazy good-for-nothings receiving food stamps etc.

God makes it clear that when we seek God we probably should start looking among the folks, we disparage the most.

Prayer: God, help us to see that you created enough for everyone and that we have the task of sharing your bounty. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Effect and Cause

JesusBentWomanPainting%20better%20color%20(1000x750)Living in the Spirit
August 20, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. –Luke 13:10-13

Cause and effect impact our lives far more than we might image and sometimes our assumptions are wrong. In the first century, illness was associated with spirit or demon possession. Today illnesses are named related to scientific discoveries of cause and effect removing the idea of external forces overtaking us. We still may not know what causes gene mutations or whether our patterns of behavior program our minds to dysfunction. Our treatments remain focused primarily on fixing effects.

Jesus practiced preventive intervention. Yes, he did remove barriers to wholeness, but he taught how to live once freed from such constraints. He saw the effects, but he focused on the causes. He understood the connection between justice and wholeness.

Is poverty the result of being fundamentally unable to support oneself or is the cause of poverty more related to failures in our education and economic systems? Is poverty the result of a vicious circle of both making cause and effect, effect and cause?

The USA practices cyclical poverty. Our over indulgences of the 1920’s combined with natural disasters to bring about the Great Depression. The economic recovery following World War II left too many people behind, and we found ourselves picking up the pieces from riots in the mid-1960’s. We find ourselves once again in a lopsided society of a few haves, and many have-nots. I am constantly struck by how this pattern emulates so well the history of the people of Israel in their relationship with God. They too had prophets sounding warnings about the causes to no avail as Jesus did in the first century.

Jesus’ way still works today, and we can still impact effects of lost wholeness by practicing God’s justice.

Prayer: Lord, make us whole and make us just. Make us just and make us whole. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Reading the Signs of the Time

StormLiving in the Spirit
August 14, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:49-56

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? –Luke 12:54-56

Growing up in Oklahoma, one becomes accustomed to weather’s sometimes randomness. We apparently live in a spot on the earth where various weather phenomena converge creating the unpredictable. Our forecasts come in percentages of likelihood. The first year I lived in Denver, I did not know how to react to weather forecasts. The reporters, often not meteorologists but attractive young women who read a national weather report, would state an absolute that most often happened. I particularly remember one such report that said it would rain at 8:00 pm and it did. Our scripture today is centered in a place more like the weather forecasts outcomes in Denver than Oklahoma City.

Of course here Luke talks more about the storms of life than the weather. Much like we treat climate change today, the people of Galilee and Judea chose not to see what was right in front of them. Living in oppression ala the peace of Rome they survived rather than thrived. Jesus called them to claim an abundant life not vested in money or power but love.

Poverty in the world today is related to oppression ala the peace of Rome, and it does not need to be. Those of us not living in poverty must realize that our worth does not result from class distinctions. Much of the working class and middle class through one major medical event could find themselves in poverty. Ben Franklin, one of the USA’s founders, in talking about forming our government said, we must all hang together, or we’ll surely hang separately. He meant that literally, but I think it is food for thought regarding our economy today. When we divide by classism or racism or any other ism, we lose the power of our common need to have an economy for all not just a few.

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to be one in mutual love as you called us to be, as we work toward the full realization of your kingdom. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Preventing Poverty

Dust bowlLiving in the Spirit
June 4, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. –Luke 7:11-17

Jesus was probably acutely aware of how very important it was that his widowed mother had sons who could support and care for her. His brothers’* very existence freed Jesus to go about his ministry. A widow losing her only son was not only one experiencing painful grief, but also one facing destitution.

My paternal grandmother was widowed in 1928 with the death of my grandfather, leaving her with a houseful of older children from both their previous marriages and three younger children of their own. The year of his death is important. The great financial crash happened the next year and in just a few more years this family was living in the throes of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. My dad was ten when his father died. He dropped out of school after finishing the eighth grade to work the farm; what was left to work. I heard his stories about the dust and the failed crops but I don’t think I fully understood the situation until cleaning out my parent’s home, we found my grandmother’s purse. In it were several five dollar mortgages with differing dates from the bank where she had mortgaged cattle to get enough money to buy groceries. Social Security was created to assure that such devastation never occurred again. We have very short memories.

Jesus did what he could to help the grieving widow who had lost her son. We are called to do what we can to prevent poverty. What is the old saying of Benjamin Franklin’s: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

Prayer: Lord protect us from our own greed that cannot see the need to plan for the future, not just ours by all of your children’s futures. Amen.

*My musings about Jesus’ brothers caring for their mother does not mesh with the story of Jesus, from the cross, asking John to care for her. I have learned from my own genealogical explorations that weaving together the bits and pieces of one’s history does not always result in a satisfactory whole, but it does usually contain a kernel of truth. Perhaps Mary out lived all her sons just as John outlived all the other disciples.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Refugee

refugees4Living in the Spirit
October 26, 2015

Scripture Reading: Ruth 1:1-18

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband. –Ruth 1:1-5

It is an ancient story told many times in the Bible, leaving one’s homeland to survive. In the story above a family became refugees because of drought. Today refugees are created from war, various climate change events, oppression, and poverty. Our great challenge is to determine the best way to help people dealing with the issues that force them from their homelands. There are no easy answers. Is it better to help people remain closer to home in refugee camps with the hope that they well be able to return home soon or to move them from their culture to a strange land?

We non-native Americans in the United States are the descendants of immigrants some of whom were refugees although they may not have been formally recognized as such. Refugees are people by definitions who must leave their home area for their own safety or survival.* One of my ancestors came in 1630 as a pilgrim escaping religious persecution so technically he could have been considered a refugee, I suppose. I am not sure but one might have come to the US as a result of the potato famine in Ireland. That was the reason many of my hometown German neighbors traveled to the US in the late 1800’s. I don’t really know why my other ancestors came. I assume they were at least looking for a better life.

With refugees pouring out of the Middle East and Africa escaping war and oppression, it might be a good time to come to terms with the ideas of refugees for they are our neighbors and we are called to love them as we love ourselves.

Prayer: Lord, according to the book of Matthew you were a refugee in a foreign land when your parents escape with you to Egypt to save you from the terror of Herod. Help us to see you in each of the refugees we have an opportunity to serve whether near to their homeland or here in ours. Amen.

*http://education.nationalgeographic.com/encyclopedia/refugee/

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

On Being Poor

School_Lunch_ProgramsLiving in the Spirit
August 31, 2015

Scripture Reading: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common the Lord is the maker of them all.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them. –Proverbs 22:1-2, 22-23

My mother was a life-long champion of the poor. Even in her dementia when she was 95+ she kept wanting me to do something about the little boys who lived “back there” who had no one caring for them and were hungry. I always assumed it was a family with which she had worked in West Virginia during the depression whose desperation still haunted her. I finally had to tell her the children were being fed to set her heart at peace. It should come as no surprise having been raised by my mother, I learned to recognize the poor as just people like everyone else. It is an important realization for it alters one’s perception of people trying to see the Christ in everyone.

Because I worked primarily with poor women, I had a relative who would go out of her way to find me at every family gathering to tell me bad things about women who were having babies just to get welfare. I truly doubt if she really knew any of them. Watching and condemning someone with several children paying for her groceries with food stamps is not knowing them. Did you know that many of the members of our armed services who have families must supplement their incomes with food stamps?

No one who works full time at any job should earn less than a living wage—no one. No child should advance through our public school system without the education he or she needs to support themselves—no child.

Prayer: Lord open our eyes to see you in everyone. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Raw Talent/Marketable Skills

r-SINGLE-MOTHER-large570Living in the Spirit
August 15, 2015

Scripture Reading: John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. –John 6:51

My Spanish class in college was assigned the task of writing a poem. This was the beginning class so none of us were very proficient at the use of the Spanish language. I fancied myself a bit of a poet, in English, so I wrote a poem in Spanish using the sun as a metaphor for God. When we turned in our poems the professor simply passed them out randomly to the other class members and our assignment for the next day was to translate them into English. The poor guy that got my poem could make no sense of it. I am not sure the professor could either based on my limited Spanish skills. The student was so new at the language he was not ready yet for its abstract use.

Obviously the Jews in the conversation of our scripture today were not ready for Jesus’ metaphor. They most likely were a little insulted this man was speaking with authority when he was just a carpenter’s son, simply educated. I have seen that attitude in working with the poor. Employers want diplomas and degrees. They cannot see the potential in someone who dropped out of high school to have a baby, but spoke eloquent English, and managed well a minimum wage job and a home with small children with a come and go father on an income that most likely would not pay the employer’s utility bills. How do we find the way to channel raw talent into marketable skills?

Jesus understood the common people. They knew the importance of bread. They linked the sharing of food with the love at a meal in a family where the breadwinner and the bread baker had worked hard for what they were eating. They comprehended sacrifice.

Prayer: Lord, make us seers of raw talent and show us the ways to convert it to marketable skills as we move among your children seeking survival. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Measure of Wellbeing

Hungry ChildEastertide
April 29, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:25-31

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
   my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
   those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
   May your hearts live for ever! –Psalm 22:25-26

It is a theme that runs throughout the Bible: the wellbeing of God’s people is measured by whether the poor have enough to eat. One would assume that those of us who profess to follow the one true God would hold the wellbeing of his people as one of our highest priorities. The reality of the situation is that we have made a dent in world hunger but there is much left to do.

Bread for the World reports that:
Worldwide, the number of hungry people has dropped significantly over the past two decades, but 805 million people continue to struggle with hunger every day.

  • 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty — on less than $1.25 per day.
  • Each year, 2.6 million children die as a result of hunger-related causes.
  • But progress has been made. There has been a reduction of more than 34 percent in global hunger since 1990.
  • The target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger by 2015 is possible.
  • However, there are still an estimated 868 million people who are undernourished and more than 100 million children under age five who are undernourished and underweight.*

While all our efforts at meeting both world hunger and hunger right here at home must continue until all are fed, it is important that we attack the root causes of hunger. The biggest is most likely inequities in our economic systems including a living wage for all and equal pay for equal work. We now have several years of evidence that the richer getting richer does not address the needs of the low income. In fact, more people are getting poorer as our middle class shrinks.

Prayer: Lord, reorder our lives so that greed does not supplant wellbeing as our primary life focus. Help us develop and implement economic systems that offer the opportunity for all to thrive. Amen.

*http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.