Stay peaceful, my friends.
Archive for June, 2013
This is the fourth in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on scriptures on the poor and poverty.
SCRIPTURE: James 2: 1-13
KEY VERSE: (5, 6) “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in their world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you?”
This is the fourth in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on the poor and poverty.
“Do not confine your conversation to gentle and elegant people. I should like [to do that] as well as you do. But I cannot discover a precedent for it in the life of our Lord, or any of his Apostles.
“Creep in among these, in spite of dirt, and a hundred disgusting circumstances.”
— From a letter from John Wesley to an “elegant woman”
Being materially poor and wealthy doesn’t automatically make a fellow child of God more noble, more virtuous or more saintly than any fellow child of God who happens to be materially wealthy and powerful.
The poor, the homeless, the needy, can be just as ignoble, obnoxious, manipulative, god-awful and hard to like, much less to love, as the rich are, as you are, as I am, as any child of God is.
“Let he who is without sin [rich or poor, powerful or powerless], cast the first stone.’
Be that as it may, Jesus reminded us at every turn that God cares about and for the poor and the powerless because the poor are vulnerable to those who got the mammon. Because those who got the mammon wield all the power, like a hammer, over the poor and vulnerable. And the love of mammon and the power that goes with mammon leads to so much of the world’s evil.
John Wesley, that lifelong Anglican priest and co-founder of the Methodist Movement that morphed into the socially conscious Methodist Church, was a workaholic. He worked obsessively not only crafting all those sermons and the tracts that made him, by today’s money, a multi-millionaire, but also worked at pouring money into alleviating the horrendous poverty in his British homeland.
At the end of his long, happy and productive life–a life that reformed the whole of Christianity–he’d given away all that money he’d made in service, largely, to the poor people that he loved as Christ loved the poor and the living Christ loves the poor. We’re called to love the poor no less.
Wesley and most of the others of what I always describe as my faith heroes–Dorothy Day, St. Francis, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, MLK Jr., Albert Schweitzer and others–kept the entire focus of their lives on loving, lifting up and fighting for justice for the poor and powerless.
These “heroes” and saints helped and advocated for the poor with the same intensity with which Jesus kept his face pointed and his legs moving toward Jerusalem. It was the same kind of intense determination that gave Paul and the Apostles the drive and determination to help the poor at every turn.
But loving the poor wasn’t especially easy even for my heroes. Dorothy Day was constantly quoting Father Zosima from the great literary work “The Grand Inquisitor.” The Russian Orthodox priest was talking to a woman who feared that if she got down and dirty in helping the poor, the poor would just be ungrateful.
Dostoevsky’s fictional Father Zosima conceded that many of the poor in fact would be ungrateful. “Love in reality,” he told her in a quote that Day related to every day in her life with the poor,”is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
One of Day’s spiritual heroes was John Wesley. She read and absorbed Wesley’s sermons upon her conversion to Christianity and the Catholic Church.
Now, I don’t know that Day read or mulled on some of the other written works of the prolific writer and speaker Wesley, but seeing as how much she liked and related to the quote from Father Zosima, she would have loved this letter that Wesley wrote to a woman about serving the poor:
“Do not confine your conversation to gentle and elegant people.
“I should like this as well as you do. But I cannot discover a precedent for it in the life of our Lord, or any of his Apostles.
“My dear friend, let you and I walk as he walked … I want you to converse more, abundantly more, with the poorest of the people, who, if they have not taste, have souls, which you may forward on their way to heaven.
“And they have (many of them) faith, and the love of God in a larger measure than any persons I know.
“Creep in among these, in spite of dirt, and a hundred disgusting circumstances; and thus put off the gentlewoman.
— From John Wesley’s “Letter to ‘A Member of the Society,’ February 7, 1776, Works 12: 301.
This is the third in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on what the bible says about the poor. (In memory of Goldie McKay, R.I.P.)
Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-46
Key Verses: (40-43) And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
for I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing,
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
I’ve never been poor and hungry, or adrift in a sense of hopelessness to the point of despair, in my much-blessed life. And yet poverty has always felt personal to me.
I’ve noted here before that my mother, born a mere 16 years into the 20th century, was a child when she was abandoned–along with my aunt, uncle and grandmother–by my grandfather.
This tragedy, which scarred my mother for life, occurred in a dusty, rough-and-tumble Texas town when times were hard and life was extremely hard for a single, barely educated mother like my grandmother.
She’d married and had a baby at 16 to escape the hardship of life on a farm operated by a typical farming man, my great-grandfather, who–as was common in those times in our nation’s history–wanted lots of children for farm labor.
So my mother knew first-hand what it was like to be sleep deprived and exhausted from going to bed hungry and malnourished. She always told me that just as bad as the hunger itself was the indignity of begging for leftovers at back doors of the townspeople at mealtimes.
After all, other kids from school were at those mealtime tables, and well-to-do kids can be brutal to poor kids.
“I would go to school some days and feel like putting a bag on my head,” my mother told me once. “I suffered a lot of shame.”
To make matters worse, my grandmother’s church was quite fundamentalist–all about the hellfire and not so much about the service to the poor. That church–my mother always pointed out with no small amount of lifelong bitterness–“gave us fire and brimstone.” She became a lifelong Methodist Christian because “the Methodists gave us something to eat.” The Methodists also gave my grandmother a sewing machine, materials and enough jobs as a seamstress for her and her brood to survive.
Now, let me be perfectly clear. By no means am I suggesting that no fundamentalist Christians and churches ever or ever have lifted up and served the poor with the compassion of Christ.
My mother’s brother, in fact, married a wonderful, Pentecostal, non-judgmental fundamentalist Christian–my beloved Aunt Newell–who lived an extremely simple and humble life, largely so that she could serve the poor. And the diligence with which she fed the poor from her garden, with which she visited took turns with people from her church visiting prisoners in the local jail and taking food to their families, with which she visited and prayed for the sick–continues to inspire me in my own ministry every day. She was a fundamentalist who had a huge, lasting impact on my life and my own ministry and she always will.
And, for the record, she and my mother loved and respected each other despite my mother’s far more liberal theology and a streak of the general anti-fundamentalist hostility in her. And it was my uncle and fundamentalist Aunt Newell who took my grandfather into their home and nursed him in his slow, year-long descent into death by cancer in 1963. My mother refused to see him when he was dying and turned him over to God for the forgiveness she could never muster up for him. (Forgiveness is whole other series for another day.)
My Mother, whom you should know went on to have a long and happy and, for the most part, a happy life in spite of some deep wounds caused by some toxic theology and preaching–and there is such a thing– might have been eaten up with more bitterness had she never seen the witness to Christ that my fundamentalist aunt was.
Proving once again that God indeed works in some strange, mysterious ways in this poor, broken and ever sin-sick world.
This is the second in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on scriptures regarding poverty and the poor.
SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4: 25-32
KEY VERSE: (28) “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians lays out a set rules for Christian living for those who have found new life in Christ. In the key verse cited above, he makes that interesting statement about thieves, saying that they “must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”
What’s so striking is Paul’s reason why a thief must go straight. He could have said it’s because God clearly commands that “Thou shall not steal.” Or, he might have noted that honest labor is simply good and moral, or that it’s the channel to self-respect and a sense of dignity–all that, of course, being so very so true.
But, curiously, Paul says that a thief-turned-worker, in earning an honest day’s pay, will have something “to share with the needy.” Like scores upon scores of scriptures on almost every page of the bible, Paul’s words underscore the duty of Christians to share and care for the needy.
Mind you, God himself was a worker, having worked for six days and taking that famous day of rest. And I believe that our two hands are given us largely for labor, if we’re at all able. And I also believe that nothing good, for anyone, can come from someone’s laziness or slacking, as pointed out quite pointedly in Proverbs:
“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14: 23).
“The craving of the lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor” (Proverbs 21: 25).
There’s some truth in the pearl of wisdom that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Laziness can lead to trouble or crime, and hardship and the crush of poverty on helpless children and other, vulnerable dependents in a family.
Jesus in his youth was a working man and a working man’s son, of course, and Paul a tent maker. And for all of Paul’s concern about providing for those unable to help themselves, Paul didn’t mince words about the Christian duty to work and provide for the family if possible. In I Timothy 5: 8 he wrote, “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Ouch!
Still, the poor matter to God, and they matter big-time, as they mattered to Christ and yes, to Paul. Whatever condemnation Paul had for slackers and sluggards–and undoubtedly even for the thieves that he so wanted to get straight–he was as much on fire for helping and lifting up and sharing with the poor as his Lord and our Lord Jesus.
(This is the first in a week’s worth of “Noon Wine” postings concerning the biblical poor.)
KEY VERSES: (Luke: 13-14) “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
(Matthew 14: 14) “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
My frequent home-away-from-home church, St. Andrew’s Anglican–which I featured a bit in Sunday’s posting–shares breakfast with the area’s homeless folks on the last Wednesday of every month.
Father Juan always makes it a point in the Sunday worship announcements to emphasize that the breakfast isn’t only about the food we cook and share. Just as important as the meal is being in communion with the homeless–meeting their emotional and spiritual needs as well as the food and material needs–and learning what other needs they may have.
“We sit down and eat breakfast with them and listen to them,” Father Juan reminded congregants last Sunday morning, as he always reminds them. “The homeless are hungry for someone to talk to. They are lonely and we need to know them.”
Handing over a plate of hot food and chatting a bit with a homeless person might make a church member feel good about himself, but it’s half-discipleship. Just giving someone a free breakfast is doing a sort of drive-by ministry for the poor. Complete discipleship is ministry with the poor–giving real time and attention to the homeless one that you cook for, eat with and spend time with.
The fullness of discipleship requires that the giver validate the humanity–the very personhood–of one in need.
Serving the poor or homeless requires nothing less, really, than honoring the one who has no place to lay his head and no guarantee of another hot meal any time soon. And never mind, as Jesus said, that “they cannot repay you,” because “you will be blessed” and “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
And never mind the issue of whether the poor or homeless one is deserving of free food and your time.
In healing and feeding the 5,000, Jesus didn’t feel compassion for those “deserving” of healing or feeding. In fact, the puffed-up religious elites that Jesus rebelled against believed that the “lowly” people that Christ stooped down to be with deserved nothing.
Things I like, with respect to her greatness the late Susan Sontag, she who was a great list keeper who listed lots of the simple things in life that she simply liked a lot (as well as things she didn’t like but let’s have a positive Sunday and think about stuff we just like a lot):
And a few more things I like, and like a lot, in the stream of consciousness manner of Sontag: Floppy bibles, St. Francis, Shiner Bock, barefoot women, libraries, wooden pews that creak, watching football, full moons, dark bars, taking photographs, Pope Francis, shrimp, long walks, Thomas Merton, hot sun, shade, history, tradition, rock n roll, indie movies, running, Mark Twain, water from a hose, barns, architecture, cows, target shooting, riversides, real tomatoes, going barefoot, small towns, big cities, the Lord’s Supper, Dorothy Day, candlelight, Spanish, dark-bar music, Wesleyan hymns, “The Letter From Birmingham Jail,” city life, country life, authentic people, “Hotel California,” St. Theresa of Avila, large full moons, Catholic sanctuaries, Oscar Romero, President Eisenhower, pubs, Letterman.
And still more things I like, and like a good bit: Walking barefoot, Rabbi Heschel, deep breathing, classic theology, country people, campfire, green grass, Dickens, stand-up comedy, Larry McMurtry, Sgt. Pepper, pipe organs, C.S. Lewis, country churches, “The Simpsons,” “Taps,” the Dalai Lama, St. John of the Cross, sometimes some Mozart and sometimes some mean ol’ Mick Jagger song.
And there’s still more I like that I could list, and I probably will list.
So try pouring out your own simple pleasures at times, occasionally stopping to reflect on why you like something you like something. It can help to get clarity in defining yourself, finding the authentic you and being who you are in this world. And Lord knows there’s enough control freaks or conformists in the world who want to define us, to diminish us with labels they think are fitting for us, to make us fit into their own image of themselves.
They will, if we let them, rob us of that personal quality that Jesus insisted on–that quality of authenticity, the true me, the true you too, that God created.
And granted, God created us in God’s own (moral) image, but also gave us the freedom to find our own, honest-to-God hearts and passions in order to receive the gift of “the life more abundant” of which Jesus spoke.
I also love dogs, cats and even sometimes bugs, I also like the earth I mean if trees can grow back limbs and stuff then why can’t the earth have a few secrets? It would only be fair if it did.
— From a 12 year old Belizean,
on wanting to be an “Eco Kid”
at Chaa Creek Lodge & Resort
Chaa Creek Lodge is one of Belize’s first-class eco resorts, located deep in an Eden-like rainforest setting a few miles down the road from home here in San Ignacio/Santa Elena.
Belize has been good to Chaa Creek and its owners Mick and Lucy Fleming, but Chaa Creek and the Flemings are very good to Belize. As noted on its web site (click here), ten percent of all its room revenue goes directly into environmental, educational and community programs, and in supporting worthy groups and causes.
“This and other initiatives under our long running Chaa Creek Cares program ensure that your stay provides tangible benefits to Belize and Belizeans.”
The resort’s giving back includes giving scholarships to kids from around the country for some fun-filled stays at the resort’s summer eco camp. Applicants for the scholarships submit essays on “Why I Want to be an Eco Kid.”
What follows is an excerpt from one of the 300-word Eco Kid essays that got Lillian Aguirre, who attends a Methodist school in Stann Creek District in southern Belize, an Eco Kid scholarship. (So yeah, we’re little partial to anything or anyone Methodist here.)
(Hat Tip: http://www.bestofcayo.com, which keeps me informed on all the news and calendar events I need here in “Cayo,” as locals call San Ig and the twin across the river Santa Elena–a great Belizean web site.)
“I want to be an eco-kid because I love nature and would like to help to protect the rainforest. When I visit the rainforest, the shade from the canopy of tree refreshes me. The smell of green trees relaxes me and the singing of the birds inspires me. I hope and pray that I might find and fallow a jaguar’s paw prints on a trail or I may look up high above and see an owl staring at me. If I am lucky I hope to see soldier ants carrying leave [leaves] to build their homes [,] wild pigs [,] grunting by howler monkeys hanging on trees branches like thunder.”
Here’s a full essay from Jonathan Daniel Ludwig, 12 years old:
I have almost always wanted to grow something. It did not matter what when I was younger I would plant a lot of seeds that I found. I also would like going around and asking my mom if she could spare a carrot top or a potato’s eye or a sweet peppers seed. I would plant everything that I got and I would check them every morning, I would water the small plants but most all of my attempts failed. I still want to grow plants. Another thing is trees I mean if you look at a tree closely there are so many different ants and bugs on it and almost every single one has a home in that same tree.
One other cool thing about trees is that trees can be cut in half and the tree can grow right back.
Another thing I love is birds although some black birds can be annoying. Sometimes I look for them but I mainly find parrots. Another thing that I have been finding is toucans, the point is I like to watch birds.
I also love dogs, cats and even sometimes bugs, I also like the earth I mean if trees can grow back limbs and stuff then why can’t the earth have a few secrets? It would only be fair if it did.
I would love to know some stuff about plants, bug’s, animals, and of course the cool brown earth and all that good stuff.
I also like flowers and all their colors and all the variety that Belize has is… well it’s super cool.
And nature makes me wonder, what is nature? what does it really actually mean?
Do humans even know or do I know? I am pretty sure I don’t but I sure would like to know more.
All of the things that happen all over the earth it’s not just in certain places that are interesting it is everywhere.