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The following excerpt from my book — The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty — is another in my series of posts to keep up your awareness of the poor during the holidays.

The excerpt, in the book’s section on Spiritual Poverty, is from a chapter titled “Aiming to be More Poor.” The chapter is based on Philippians 4:10-13, in which the Apostle Paul says:

    In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

    My book, available at Amazon books and Barnes & Noble online, is divided into two sections: One on Material Poverty and the other on Spiritual Poverty. I note in the book that we all, rich and poor alike, tend to suffer from various forms of spiritual poverty.

    We shower our children and grandchildren with all kinds of dazzling, high-dollar toys for Christmas, birthdays, and special events: dolls that actually cry and wet themselves (and Lord only knows what else) and toy assault rifles the size of sofas that (oh boy!) light up when “fired.”

    Yet little ones all over the world, rich and poor alike, still attach themselves to humble rag dolls and teddy bears, rubber balls and wooden blocks, tiny toy cars and fire trucks, and rubber duckies that quack. You may have noticed how content a child in diapers is to have pots and pans to bang on with a wooden spoon.

    In the mountainous part of Belize where I live, I’ll often see some child, who might have toes sticking out of worn-out, hand-me-down shoes, tying a long string around the neck of a big, plastic Coke bottle with a few pebbles he dropped in it for rattling. Then he’ll go running up or down a hill with string in hand and the bottle bouncing and rattling behind him.

    I see a lot of older boys outside their homes after school playing marbles, that simplest of games, or girls playing hopscotch. And I see lots of tots entertaining themselves by banging on pots and pans with sticks.

    Maybe the compelling simplicity of these toys and games says something about how less is more in terms of happiness and contentment, even for us adults who love all our electronic games and the latest “toys” from the mall, Apple Store, Best Buy, Walmart, or (Lord help us!) gun shows. Our purpose in parenting and role modeling is to teach our children well, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also learn from our children.

    Living in a state of free and easy contentment of the sort that enabled Paul to sing in a cheerless prison comes naturally to children. That’s why Jesus admonished his disciples to let go of the little ones who approached him, saying, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17 NRSV).

    But where can we turn for contentment in a culture of such massive commercialism and consumerism that leads to such mass discontent? We know that contentment can’t be bought at a cut-rate price in the form of a new and wider-screen TV, and yet the forces of retail sales know our weak spots—especially during, of all times, the Christmas season.

    Practicing more “Enoughism” and less consumerism leads to inner peace and contentment.

    I’m as weak as anyone else. Nothing would make me happier than to walk out of a Best Buy or some other big-box store with the most dazzling TV the store has to offer on Black Friday. I’d be happy not only with such an electronic jewel, but also happy to have bought it at a heavily reduced price. Buying an expensive new toy like that makes me feel good.
    
 

    Being the capitalist that I am—being the beneficiary of capitalism that produced the wonder of this computer I’m writing on — I love and desire better and more comforting creature comforts as much as anybody. We all want lots of stuff to make our lives as easy and convenient as can be. We want lots of money and things that make us happy and enhance our quality of life and give us a sense of security. It’s only natural. (And I’m a natural man in that regard.)

    The beauty of capitalism —- practiced ethically and justly -— is that it gives us the incentive to work hard and improve our lot in life and buy great stuff in the process.
    But the coolest stuff on Earth can’t fill up what’s known in traditional theology as “the God-shaped hole” within us. Only God can fill that void. Contentment lies in the life of the spirit, fulfilled by God and things money can’t buy.

    Buying and accumulating possessions is fine as long as we acknowledge that we’re all plagued by varying degrees of stress, anxiety, worry, and insecurity that those possessions can’t relieve. And by the way, acknowledging our flaws and weaknesses in honest-to-God self awareness instead of ignoring or denying them can go a long way in diminishing our stresses and insecurities that lead to our cravings for everything “new and improved.”

    Jesus, who knew and understood the human condition better than any merchant of mass merchandizing or anyone else ever will, also understood that we’re all plagued by anxiety and insecurities that we try so hard to deny—and to hide from others. But if we can’t be content with the love and peace and grace and harmony that Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Season represent, nothing we can buy during that hyper time of the year will give us the relief of contentment.

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This is another in my series of posts to keep up your awareness of the poor during the holidays. The bottom line in this post is that if Socialism doesn’t work, Capitalism ain’t doing so hot itself.

Today’s Big Amen of the Day!

Many people — including many of my friends and loved ones — live in mortal fear of Democrats because they say the Democrats are all a bunch of red communist socialists.

They verily scream, “SOCIALISM DOESN’T WORK!”

I can’t argue with the idea that pure, unadulterated socialism doesn’t work, although I will contend that not all Democrats are red communists/socialists — not by a long shot.

And as I contend in my book The View From Down in Poordom,* I’m a full-blooded capitalist because of the whole incentive-slash-reward thing.

If you work hard and save and manage and invest your income reasonably well, you’ll make a very comfortable living and have a shot at the American Dream. You’ll have two nice cars in your garage and if you work really hard and play it smart, you’ll have multiple houses with multiple garages!

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

But me, I believe in capitalism that is fair and equitable — capitalism in which everybody gets a good shot at the proverbial piece of the American apple pie.

Today’s capitalism doesn’t even come close to being fair and equitable. It is rewarding mostly the fabulously rich and powerful among us while its uncritical advocates trash and scapegoat the poor and powerless for whatever economic ills come along.

And economic ills come along quite frequently.

So I contend that if Socialism doesn’t work, Capitalism ain’t doing so good itself.

Yeah! Yeah! I know! I know!

The Great Trump Economy is the greatest thing since the Roaring Twenties. But I hope you know enough history to know how the Roaring Twenties crashed into the Miserable, Catastrophic Thirties.

And by the way, as I’m always prone to remind readers, it’s never, ever the poor and powerless who crash the economy! It’s the rich and powerful!

I’ve contended from the start of Donald Trump’s “great economy” that it is doomed to be the Greatest Failure since the Greatest Depression.

And speaking of the fabulously wealthy ……

Here in two words is one of many big reasons the Trump Economy will crash hard and create yet more American poverty: Health Care.

Donald Trump was going to give us great health care. Every American was promised day after campaign day that no American would have to worry about it. Obamacare was going to be scrapped and replaced by insurance as great as Donald Trump Himself.

He was going to hammer the health insurance behemoths that for decades have found unique ways to put insurance clients into bankruptcy into submission.

So here’s just one story out of rural Texas that shows how one behemoth health insurance company is giving rural Texas hospitals (i.e., patients) the shaft: read it and weep, here.

By the way, the stock market is crashing hard again today, thanks largely to the Great President’s mouth and twitter account and disastrous economic leadership.

If things get as bad as they did in the more recent economic catastrophe of 2007-08, in a crash under a very Republican administration, a rich family might have to give up one of their vacay homes on some swell island.

“Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.” — Dorothy Day

But many hard working Americans might be out of a house. And the food banks and Church pantries won’t be able to keep up with the demand from the formerly employed Americans who will find themselves poor and possibly homeless.

As Saint Dorothy Day famously said in the famous 1930s crash, “The system is Rotten.” Dorothy Day was a card-carrying communist who gave up communism for Catholicism and was not speaking about socialism.

Happy Holidays and please be generous and hospitable to the poor this season.

I’m pretty sure that’s the way our Lord wants his birthday to be honored.

——
*The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty, is available in hard copy, soft cover and Kindle editions on Amazon Books and Barnes&Noble online. See here.

Practice Christian generosity and hospitality over Capitalism and Socialism.

(This is the first of regular blog posts I’ll be publishing the rest of the holiday season focusing on the poor and how we respond to them.)

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? — Isaiah 58:6-7

In early Christianity, Christians were all about radical hospitality. Every Christian house maintained a spare room — called “the strangers’ room” — for anyone in need of shelter.

I agree with Pope Francis who said this during a visit with the homeless at St Patrick’s Parish in Washington, D.C.:

    I want to be very clear. There is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.*

In super-wealthy San Francisco — home of so many famous liberal politicians being shuffled around in limos when they’re home from D.C., by they way — the homeless sleep outside the offices of Uber, Microsoft and Twitter day and night.

Almost half of the 7,500 homeless people in San Francisco live near those wealthy enclaves.

In a United States that increasingly claims to be “a Christian nation,” what possible justification can there be for the millions upon millions of Americans who have no shelter?

And by the way: what justification can there be for an American Christian bashing and scapegoating the homeless when hurricanes, floods and wildfires — along with the huge problems of income inequality and veterans coping with PTSD from stupid, endless wars — keep the homeless numbers spiraling?

Being a warrior to keep the ultimately meaningless “Merry Christmas” greeting alive is a convenient way for a Christian to avoid the true meaning of Christmas. Yet it happens every December, this outrage over “The War on Christmas.”

(See an old George Carlin video below for why there has never been a “War on Homelessness.” Hint: There’s no money to be made in it!)

The true meaning of Christmas is to see the face of Christ in the poor stranger and welcome him or her into your heart — if not a “strangers’ room” in your own home.

The true meaning of Christmas stems from the story of a homeless child born in the muck and mire of a stable, to homeless refugees.

Happy holidays.
————–
*See more about the Pope’s talk here.


The iconic skylight at Thanksgiving Square Chapel in Dallas.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

— Edward Winslow, Colony leader

Happy Thanksgiving!

SOURCE: Thanks-giving Square Foundation, Dallas, Texas.
Read more about it and the beautiful, world-famous Thanksgiving Square here.


Paradise burning. (AFP/Getty Images)

The latest numbers from California are 72 dead and more than 1,000 people missing.

“Missing,” by the way, is a euphemism for “probably dead.” With those kinds of numbers, it’s a certainty that entire families and extended families have been killed.

Hundreds of thousands of survivors in California are displaced and homeless.

Ground zero, if you will, is a once dynamic “village” of 26,000 people, a town called “Paradise,” that is no more. Paradise, a community that had a long and colorful history, is literally an ash heap. (More on that interesting history here.)

Because of the smoke, millions of Californians far from the tongues of fire are having to wear masks, suffering from smoke-and-ash unfit for breathing. Hospitals and clinics in The San Francisco region are overwhelmed, and will be for a long time to come.

The “golden sun” of beautiful San Francisco before the wildfire disaster.

Oddly, if this had been a hurricane, we’d be subjected to wall-to-wall news coverage. We would all be moved by the endless, feel-good stories of Americans uniting to rescue and render aid to fellow Californians. American volunteers would be pouring into California.

Disasters like 911 and the many crushing hurricanes we’ve endured in the States have touched our hearts and brought out the mettle in us. The unimaginable suffering wrought by such disasters had a way of uniting Americans in grief, in spite of divisive, political blame games.

It’s been politically fashionable in recent years to make a political caricature out of California, to condemn it as a flaky, liberal Lala land.

Years ago when I was doing hospital chaplaincy, I was visiting a patient who had requested a pastoral-care visit from me. When I walked into the room, the TV was blaring with some kind of political news out of California. The first thing the patient quite angrily said to me was, “I’ll be glad when California falls in the sea!”

I promptly turned off the TV. I always muted or turned off the TV if there was news blaring in a patient’s room (or any other program at high volume). I would routinely ask a patient how he or she was feeling, opening the door to meaningful, spiritual conversation about that person’s health and well being.

If I was going to fully engage the sick or injured person in front of me with a serious talk and perhaps a prayer (if they accepted my offer of prayer), I wasn’t about to compete with the crap on television. Especially the kind of bad news that is never, every conducive to a sick or injured person’s healing and well being in any way whatsoever.

News overload can literally make a sick person sicker, an injured person weaker.

Pardon the digression here, because this is what I want to say today:

California is one of the most beautiful, enchanting and unique places on earth, with some of the friendliest people I’ve met anywhere in my travels from coast to coast.

Hopefully, the California bashers and haters, starting with our political leaders in high places, will be chastened by one of the most hellacious disasters America has ever seen.

Californians — the good Americans in The Golden State — need our prayers and donations and above all, our love.

Read some up-close and personal stories from a somewhat dated article by The United Methodist Church’s great Methodist reporter Sam Hodges.

A once-thriving community of 14,000 Californians, a place named Paradise, is gone forever. (AP photo by John Locher)

The Gospel for this Sunday’s worship tells the story of a desperately poor widow, one who may have starved to death in dropping the last two copper pennies she had in the Temple kitty.

Jesus was not so impressed by the giving of the religious powers-that-be. And Jesus, importantly, did NOT praise the poor widow for giving her last two pennies to the Temple kitty.

As told in Mark 12:38-44, the story of the so-called “Widow’s Mite” is the story of a destitute widow who desperately wanted to do right in the eyes of God.

Her sacrifice is presented in contrast to the powerful and wealthy powers-that-be. Lurking around in their long, fancy robes, they made a public show of dropping a few shiny gold and silver pieces — actually a small percentage of their wealth — into the treasury. This was done to impress the lowly folk, and their wealthy peers, with how generous they were.

Jesus, being the sometimes not-so-nice guy that he was, had harsh words for the bastards:

    As he taught, [Jesus] said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

    They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

    He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

    A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. (Mark 12: 38-42)

Let’s pause here to consider exactly what the widow sacrificed.

In those days, a small copper coin was the smallest coinage (i.e., a mite), like our modern American pennies. It took 64 such coins to make a denarius, and a denarius was a day’s wage.

That is, enough to live on for one day. The woman had only a fraction — 1/32 — of what it took to eat and live another day. Yet she gave it up to leaders who were robbing her.

She was willing to starve to death — and it’s possible she did starve to death — to give up her last coin for what she probably thought of as a sacrifice to God.

The fact is, she was a victim of the kind of robbers known today as televangelists and “prosperity gospel” preachers. And, for that matter, many of today’s pious political leaders. (See yesterday’s blog post for more about them and the political power they wield.)

The Bible clearly teaches that God had a special place in God’s heart for widows. They were among the poorest and most vulnerable in biblical times.

In the New Testament alone, chera — the Greek word for widow — shows up 25 times.

There is a reason the rich and powerful are frequently condemned in the Bible, while widows and other poor and vulnerable people are never, ever condemned. The Bible shows us that God’s will for widows and all the other have-nots trampled by the haves is for them to be loved, protected and cared for.

Here’s the rest of the story as told in Mark 12:43-44

    Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

It’s important to realize that the poor widow’s story has all too often been misused as an example of how we should give generously to the church and thus give to God.

Back in the day, even good, well-intentioned preachers commonly used the story of the poor woman in the Temple to raise money for building projects or stewardship fund drives.

Some still do.

Prosperity gospel crooks and televangelists increase their wealth every day by appealing to the poor and gullible people who eat pet food in order to send money to those corrupt preachers for their books and tapes and special gifts.

Whether good preachers with good intentions or robber preachers use the story as an example of how we are to give, the fact is that nowhere in the story of The Widow’s Mite does Jesus praise the poor woman for her generosity.

Jesus doesn’t hold her up as an example for us to follow in our giving.

The story is about how the powerful religious leaders are so rotten that they, in the blistering words of Jesus, “devour the houses of widows.”

Mind you, widows in that time would sell their houses to the same wealthy jerks who would rob their last two pennies from them! That’s how brainwashed the rich had the poor, as so many rich religious leaders do today.

I like to think that Jesus didn’t allow this poor widow to starve to death. I’m thinking Jesus, a short time after this, saw to it that she and other widows in the Temple were taken care of, perhaps by the well-to-do women who walked with Jesus and financed his ministry.

I can’t imagine that Jesus or his disciples would have left her to starve after giving the last two copper coins she had to a corrupt religious system.

I wonder, how many widows with children are fleeing violence and poverty from Central America today? (Art by L.V. Dia in The Houston Catholic Worker.)

In the context of these American times, I’m sure of this: many of the widows fleeing violence and poverty under the leadership of corrupt leaders in their Central American homelands are widows who will arrive at the gate to freedom in the U.S. Once at the Texas border to seek asylum, they will no doubt be shunned and politically exploited by religious and political leaders who wear fine threads and pray with booming voices in public places for American freedom.

The abuse and exploitation of poor widows and other vulnerable people is an old, old story that gets repeated time and again.

May the good Lord watch over the weary widows and children and all the vulnerable wherever they are on their hard life journeys.


IT BEING A BRIEF LESSON IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY, AS FOLLOWS:

Celsus was a 2nd-century Greek Platonist who wrote an extremely anti-Christian screed.

Televangelist Paula White of Florida (what’s up with Florida???) is one of Donald J. Trump’s favorite “spiritual advisors.” (Orange-headed gentlemen prefer blonds?) She’s part of a symposium of loud-mouth frogs who have helped Trump create a Swamp full of slimy money-grubbers.

In fact, the famous Christian apologist Origen made his fame by refuting Celsus’s anti-Christian rant in a document called “Against Celsus.” Origen picked apart Celsus’s flawed, wrongheaded assumptions about Christianity.

And Christians owe a debt to the influential Origen to this day for sharpening what we Christians believe about all things God, and why we believe it.

But you have to give Celsus credit for being a far more colorful writer than Origen. Celsus described Christians as “a swarm of bats,” “ants creeping out of their nest,” “frogs holding a symposium round a swamp,” and my favorite — “worms in conventicle in a corner of the mud.”

You also have to give Celsus credit for what was a perfectly prophetic, predictive description of Jerry Falwell Jr., Paula White, James Dobson, Robert Jeffrees, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins and all the other loud-mouth frogs “holding symposiums round the Swamp” that lying, crooked Donald J. Trump and all the aforementioned have created.