Archive for March, 2017

A friend is going through a grueling time with an ailment that required emergency surgery followed by more surgery.

She apologized for “whining” so much on Facebook about the miserable funk she’s in, attributing her “epic whine” to her brain being warped by morphine.

“Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

“I never wanted to be an old lady complaining about her ailments,” she said.

I gently chided her for this, noting that what she dismissed as “whining” is not whining.

Rather than trying to grit her teeth and suffer in silence, she could have done what we all can do when suffering pain and grief of any kind:

Call Grief Busters!

That is, call on your friends and loved ones and let them know you are hurting.

Without actually asking for support, she signaled to Facebook friends who love her and care about her that she needed their help.

But all she had to do was ask.

Other friends gently chided her as well, assuring her that she had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologize for–and good for them! She’s blessed to have such friends.

But this is a typical mindset of caring, giving, unselfish and compassionate people–and my friend is all that and then some. They will be there for you in your time of trouble with their thoughts and prayers and words of support, if not their presence. Just as you will be there for them.

Yet when they’re laid low by illness or injury or depression and grief, they don’t want to trouble anybody. They don’t want to be Wendy Whiner.

My advice as a pastoral-care minister has always been this: when you need help and support, ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and friends and loved ones will open their doors (hearts) wide open to you–just as you would open your door (heart) to them.

That’s not being a whiner. That’s healthy living.

That’s not being selfish. That’s taking care of yourself. That’s loving yourself as much as you love God and others.

You can file this advice under the category of that old folk wisdom that goes:

    “What are friends for?”

If you’re on fire, you’ll going to call 911 for help, right?

You’re going to trigger the siren.

If you’re feeling like you’re on fire, you don’t suffer in silence, not wanting to trouble everybody or come off as a whiner about your woes. No, you sound the alarm, call for help, raise the SOS flag outside your house.

You’re suffering from grief, and a wise old hospital chaplain once shared a wonderful German proverb with me:

    “A grief shared is a grief halved.”

The grief wrought by illness–or grief wrought by everything from marital discord to the teenager in your house who’s had his or her brain kidnapped by aliens–finds relief only through the Friendship and Family Sharing Channel.

Maybe there should be such a TV cable channel devoted to the dynamics of grief and how to process it in healthy ways. God knows we have enough access to mindless Foodie Channels in the TV wasteland, with adults and children alike competing in constant cupcake contests.

A portion of my book is devoted to the many kinds of poverty there are in addition to material poverty. Sickness, for example, catapults us into “emotional poverty,” making us poor and vulnerable and needing a hand up from friends.

I went through an especially hard time last year dealing with a Belizean family that tested (and continues sometimes to test) my faith and patience to no end. They are wonderful people, as Belizeans are all in all. I love this family and care about them all, and they are good to me 98 percent of the time.

But they are also uneducated, poor, and so dysfunctional as to be prone to fits of irrational anger and potential violence when things go terribly wrong in their lives.

One day last year they turned their pain and grief over the death of their 54-year-old mother on me, in the form of blind rage and potential violence.

Folks who grow up in ignorance and poverty aren’t typically sophisticated at processing pain and grief in healthy, rational ways.* (See endnote.)

I had to take this family to court and get a protection order. For a while, I was scared of them. Some of them drink. A lot. And many are the killings in Central America and the Caribbean that involve drunkenness and machetes. You only have to read newspapers down here one day to learn this for yourself. Tourists here in “Paradise” pick up papers and go “What? A brother hacked his sister to death with a machete last night?”

Trust in God’s tender mercies–and friends and loved ones. We’re all vulnerable, especially in the poverty of illness.

Violence is pain and depression turned inward and expressed outward and poverty breeds pain and depression, among other nasty ills.

The only thing that defused my situation was my going to court as a way of showing this family I was serious about putting a couple of them in jail if they didn’t calm down, stop harassing me, and sit down with me and talk things through, which they did.**

But when things were scary and I was feeling like a stranger lost in a lost land (as much as I love Belize and her people I still have those days after five years), I went on Facebook and announced to my friends and loved ones something along the line of this:

    “My friends and loved ones, I’m really in distress this morning and need your prayers and support.”

And with that, I summarized the scary situation I was in, sharing up-front the fact that I was feeling lonely and isolated.

That’s to say that I shared exactly what I was feeling with friends and loved ones.

I stood my ground with the family and we worked things through and I dropped the protection order. But I had to lay down “New Rules for Getting Along With Mr. Paul.”

Sharing my fear and grief with loved ones back in my beloved American homeland, in a pressure-packed situation, was a relief. This liberating relief came from the flood of responses from folks who responded to my pleas for prayer and support–they came through because I asked them to come through for me, because I think they know I’ll come through for them, and have for many of them and will.

“What are friends for?”

But I repeat myself.

Wise words from a United Methodist bishop. What are friends and neighbors for if not to call on when we’re sick and vulnerable and maybe in a pain funk?

Social media, to which I’m undeniably addicted (three days and withdrawals set in)** is shot-through with crap and downsides aplenty.

But so is every communication tool. Television is so entertaining, educational, informative and oh Lord so wonderful and great. TV is one of the best things ever created. We’ve all been addicted to it from childhood, except for the oldest of old timers among us who grew up before it.

Of course, television is also so awful that a sociologist famously dismissed it way back in the 1950s as “a vast wasteland.” It’s awash now in more waste than ever. (Cupcake contests??? Seriously?)

Yet as with TV, I’ll take Facebook’s downsides with the wonderful upsides.

One of the upsides of Facebook, even for the occasional drop-in social media user, is that it’s a wonderful way to speed-dial Grief Busters when you need help and moral support and prayers and encouragement and the assurance that people love you and care about you.

Friends and operators are always standing by to take your call.

* Of course, I’m often astounded at how unsophisticated educated and well-to-do people are in processing grief in healthy ways, preferring to get pissed off at family rather than acknowledge the pain of sorrow. But that’s another story for another day.

**My first-born daughter gave up Facebook for Lent and is alive and well and reports she doesn’t miss it. My youngest born daughter got off Facebook altogether. She grew up on Facebook. She quit cold-turkey. My only son has never been much on Facebook. Gee, what is wrong with these young people today?

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“Paul McKay reminds us that, if we pay attention to life down in Poordom, we will discover responsibilities we too often evade and truths about the layered experience of poverty that we often studiously ignore. But we will also discover unexpected treasures: the gift of friendship, wisdom that cannot be purchased, and the face of God.”

— Frederick W. Schmidt, Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Faith in Hard Times

“To be poor in spirit is to keep up with Christ, not with the Joneses.” — Quote from The View From Down in Poordom about what it means to be poor in spirit.
PICTURED: A spiritually rich Belizean woman on her porch reading the word.

The View From Down in Poordom is available for purchase online at Amazon.Com here, Barnes & Noble.com here, and here at WestBow Press.

The book has two sections, one on Material Poverty and the second titled “The Riches of Spiritual Poverty.”

What follows is an excerpt about spiritual poverty:

    Chapter 12: “To Be Poor in Spirit”
    Scripture: Matthew 5:1–12 (NRSV)
    Key Verse: (3) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    Material poverty is easy enough to understand, especially when it rises to the level of destitution. It’s a terrible and undesirable human condition that stems from a lack of resources to meet basic human needs.

    The notion of spiritual poverty, which unlike material poverty is a desirable state of being, defies easy comprehension. Just as the word “Trinity” is not found or defined in the Bible, the term “spiritual poverty” is absent and never explicitly explained. But, as with the Trinity, it’s embedded in many scriptures. It finds its highest expression in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1–9, where, in verse 3, Jesus says, “Blessed [i.e., “happy”] are those who are poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

    Happy are those, that is, who abide in spiritual poverty.

    I would define spiritual poverty as a state of constant detachment from the things of the world in order to advance God’s will for love, justice, mercy, peace on earth, and good will to all. It involves the continual emptying of our inner beings of cravings for money or power or any treasures that rust. This emptiness within us makes room for God to fill our hearts with love and gladness. It’s the built-in desire—nurtured by all the Christian disciplines we practice such as prayer, worship, Bible study, and fasting—to live in all humility as self-sacrificial servants, not as masters. It’s tied to the emptiness of Jesus as explained by Paul in Philippians 2:5–8 (NRSV):

    “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

    This biblical call to imitate Christ in servanthood and humility, by keeping ourselves emptied of natural desires for things of the corruptive world and open to the love of God and neighbor, is in effect a call to spiritual poverty.

    * * *

    Poverty is a word used so commonly to denote a lack of money and resources that we lose sight of its ambiguity.

    A few years ago, I went through a period when my spiritual life felt so empty and dry that my daily prayers were a drag. Words that typically poured out to God from my heart in prayer wouldn’t come. During this time, I went on a spiritual retreat at a monastery and confided this to a spiritual director, a witty nun who smiled and said to me, “You’re in a prayer slump—it happens to the best of us!”

    This delightful nun said that when she gets in such slumps, she prays these words: “Lord, please accept the poverty of my prayer life.” The acknowledgment of such “prayer poverty” unlocks the guilt and anxiety over what we fear is our failure to somehow communicate perfectly with God. Never mind that God is not grading our prayers with As or Fs anyway. If we only take the time to sit still and lean back in the arms of God, He hears even our poorest attempts at speaking to Him.

    My point is that the concept of poverty can be applied to many and varied conditions. Mother Teresa, for example, lamented what she described as “poverties” of morality and of spirituality itself in affluent Western societies, where people think they are so god-like that they don’t need the true God. She also spoke often of such poverties as loneliness and alienation suffered in wealthy nations.

    Rich or poor, we all go through periods of illness or depression in which we suffer from “emotional poverty.” That kind makes us feel dead inside, disconnected from all the normal things in daily life that have nourished our holistic health and well-being. . .

    . . . I mentioned in the introduction to this book that my beloved Aunt Newell incarnated what it is to be poor in spirit. That’s because, as I noted, she was a servant whose inner being was so thoroughly bent toward pleasing God as to be detached from the corruptive things of the world. She was perhaps the most devout and humble Christian I ever knew….

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And now for some comic and music relief, beginning with James Corden and the former “Little Stevie Wonder.”

We now know how important constant movement is to our health and well being and so, at the 2 minute, 46 second point in this vid, git up and get those Jitterbug legs shakin’.

Wonder – ful.

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For all those suffering from cancer this morning, Lord in your mercy… hear our prayers.

I’ve lost count at this point of the number of my friends and loved ones who have died or been confronted with cancer in the past six months alone.

What an evil disease it is, mysterious in the way it randomly undercuts the health and vibrancy of people of every age and ethnicity.

Our Lord created a glorious world–a living, breathing world that provides us with all we need to sustain life: clean air and water and plants for food and all things wonderful and great we need. (Never mind that we pollute God’s good, green creation to no end.)

Our Lord provides us plant life, by the way, that has given us medicines and cures an relief for many cancers and so many other diseases.

But because we inhabit a living, breathing planet, that planet can be a dangerous place. We have to live with the beauty and glory along with danger and evils that include disease.

God’s created a good, green planet that provides all our needs, and yet because it’s a living, breathing planet it comes with dangers.

Years ago when I was a hospice chaplain I had a young patient who was a rodeo bronc rider with a lot of promise as a pro. He was a wonderful Texas gentleman, as quiet and soft-spoken as he was fearless. Not the cocky, swaggering cowboy type at all, but all cowboy for sure.

Within six months of a cancer diagnosis he was dead at age 27.

He was his mother’s only son and thus the only grandson of a wonderful Florida couple. I became very close to a lot of families of hospice patients. Any pastor or hospice caregiver will tell you that walking with folks at the end of someone’s life tends to create an immediate, intimate bond, even if the folks you’re caring for were strangers to you just last week.

The family of this young cowboy I walked with is one of the few families with whom I’ve remained in constant contact since I was in hospice care in the Northeast Texas Piney Woods, back in 2009-10.

Today, the cowboy’s mother Angela is having her first round of chemo for cancer. Her Floridian parents, Maxine and Red, have been at her side for weeks now, fearful that having lost their beloved grandchild, they’re in danger of losing their beloved daughter.

In an email update this morning the mother asked me to pray because she is scared for Angela.

I’m thinking of Angela and all those struggling through cancer this morning and can share this prayer I sent them.

    Lord God,

    I thank you and praise you for Angela this morning.

    I ask that you be with her and touch her with your healing powers of endless love, extravagant grace and tender mercies.

    Be with her doctors and nurses and caregivers. Work through their hearts, hands and skills to restore her and bring her to wholeness and health.

    I ask that you be with her mother Maxine and father Red. Keep them breathing in the comfort of your loving arms.

    Lord I’m thinking this morning of all those many people everywhere suffering the fear of cancer and cancer treatments today.

    We know that you don’t cause suffering, Lord, but rather that you walk with us through our darkest valleys of fear and pain. For that we thank you and praise you.

    I lift up to you my friend Angela and her family and all those suffering from cancer and fear this morning, asking that you keep them wrapped up in the full measure of your healing, calming love.

    I ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and savior.


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For a couple of years when I was in seminary I was also an associate editor of the now-defunct United Methodist Reporter.

It was there that I became fast friends with another editor named Bill Fentum, and a United Methodist preacher who worked in the communications department named Keith Head.

Chapters From The View From Down in Poordom, available for order online at AmazonBooks.com, Barnes & Noble, and WestBow Press’s Christian bookstore.

I’ve mentioned here before that Keith is a man of multiple gifts and graces who applied his artistic gifts in illustrating my book The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty.

My old friend Bill Fentum has posted a review of the book at AmazonBooks.com, in which he wrote the following user review:

    The View From Down in Poordom is a succinct, passionate book with vivid messages that could apply to any era, but seem especially relevant to our world today.

    Solidly based in scripture, it conveys God’s call to ministry with (not “for”) the poor—to step out of our comfort zones and be not only ministers and advocates but friends to those in need, in and beyond our local communities.

    I’ve known the author, the Rev. Paul McKay, as he moved from a long career as a news reporter to life as a hospital chaplain and ordained United Methodist deacon, now living and writing in Belize.

    Simply put, this book, with fine illustrations by the Rev. Keith Head (also a UM pastor), is like a good conversation with Paul: honest, unfiltered, insightful, and eminently persuasive.


I think that’s a nice way of saying “if you know Paul, you know he can be an ornery, outspoken S.O.B.”

But I’ll own it.

* * * *

A number of people who’ve read the book have pointed out how relevant it is (as Bill mentioned). It is on the market at a time when we’re seeing budgeteers in D.C. proposing what I have to say, with unfiltered emphasis, are cruel, draconian and needless funding cuts.

(And these are proposals at this point by the way. I hope and pray that more level heads will prevail and restore funding for more constructive things like science and research, the humanities, and, of course, funding for the the poor, the sick, the vulnerable.)

I didn’t write this intentionally concise, 108-page book of mine as a polemic; it’s not a political diatribe.

But I don’t shy away from condemning the self-starting hypocrites in Washington who feather their own nests at every turn while thumping 20-pound Bibles and knocking each other over to get filmed and photographed at the National Prayer Breakfast for their spin doctors to send back home.

Then again, I don’t shy away from condemning churches of all or no denominations for their failures to do more to be the church of a Creator and Redeemer who not only urged but commanded that we get to know the poor up-close and personal.

What follows are a few excerpts from the section on material poverty. I’ll be sharing more from that section and the second section of the book, which delves into the meaning of spiritual poverty in its many manifestations.

My hope is that Christians and people from all faiths or no faiths will read and share and discuss the book in Sunday schools, Bible studies or book clubs.

I think there is plenty in it to stimulate lively discussion and reflection among folks no matter what their political, philosophical (Jesus was a philosopher, you know) or theological bents may be.

    From Chapter 1, “Poverty: A Synonym for Suffering”

    It’s still common today to hear people—especially those from what’s come to be known as “the Greatest Generation”—speak sentimentally and fondly of growing up poor and wearing hand-me-down clothes but being perfectly happy because “everybody was poor.” As I noted in the introduction, my mother, who was of that greatest generation of admirable Americans who survived the Great Depression and World War II, never looked back on her days in Poordom with anything approaching fondness. I suppose that each person’s experience of poverty is as different as each person’s experience of wealth—and of whatever lies in between. Without a doubt, some people can grow up in poverty and later find success and well-being in life, as my mother did, with a strength and character that struggle and hardship in fact had a hand in building. Some can look back fondly and sentimentally on their lives in poverty as “the good old days.”

    But it seems to me, from what I’ve observed firsthand as an advocate and activist for justice for the poor, that most poverty in this world today creates misery and suffering that won’t be recalled with any fondness in future generations. For one thing, poor people back in the old days lived in a rural America in which merchants and professionals like doctors and lawyers accepted chickens and eggs and crops in lieu of cash.

    We have to live in the world as it is today. Times and the dynamics of poverty have changed enormously. Poverty in this modern, heavily urbanized world of spiraling income inequality diminishes a person’s holistic health and well-being to such an extent that it causes premature death, crime, escapism into alcohol and drugs, and so many other forms of evil.

    We Christians can accept and shrug off social injustice, poverty, and all the suffering in the world with the attitude that that’s just the way it is. Or we can strive to be like Jesus: refuse to accept the unacceptable, speak up, and speak out.

    From Chapter 2, “To Know God, Know the Poor (A Beggar’s Story)”

    Scripture: Jeremiah 22:13–17 NRSV
    Key Verse (16): “‘He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him. Is not this to know me?’ says the Lord.”

    If you want to know God, you have to know the poor. But don’t take my word for it—take God’s word. God was speaking of the charitable King Josiah in saying that the good king judged the cause of the poor and needy. Other translations say Josiah defended the poor and needy, but the fact remains that Josiah cared about the poor and also cared for them, and for that reason, all was well with him.

    Then, in what is quite a stunning statement from our Lord, God suggests that to know the poor and needy, to care for the poor and needy, is to know Him—to know God Himself! It’s stunning because of our tendency to think of God in such intellectual or emotional terms. We tend to think that to know God we have to have the right beliefs and practice the right spiritual disciplines—such as fervent prayer, Bible study, worship, tithing, meditation, and maybe fasting. Without a doubt, there’s no knowing God in the fullest without the right beliefs and works of piety. But it behooves us to remember that even Satan and the demons believe in God (James 2:19). We can’t know God in the fullest if we exclude works of mercy—if we neglect or shun the poor rather than knowing them.

    * * *

    One Sunday after church in Belize, I was driving home when I saw a homeless invalid, a local beggar that I used to walk or drive past without, most of the time, giving him a second look. Although I occasionally gave him some food or money in passing and always gave a heartfelt “God bless you” greeting—which he seemed to much appreciate—he might as well have been invisible to me and the many motorists and pedestrians who were passing by him as he sat in his wheelchair on a corner sidewalk at one of the busiest intersections in town.

    From Chapter 5, “But Do All the Poor Deserve Our Help?”

    Scripture: Matthew 14:13–21 (NRSV)
    Key Verse (14): “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”

    These are hard times for the poor in America. As if it weren’t hard enough for them to be down and out, the poor are now bashed in unprecedented ways in the political arena and culture war zones. As if it’s not bad enough to be presumed lazy—or blamed for being poor and scapegoated for all of America’s economic woes by politicians and others with agendas and selfish interests to protect—too many Christians find unique ways to dehumanize, demonize, and denigrate the poor.

    Never in anything that Jesus ever did or said did he so much as hint that the poor are to blame for their own plight. Nor, of course, did the Son of God (the Son of Love) ever demean or denigrate anyone living in the margins—the margins being right where he lived and taught and empowered the powerless.

    * * *

    Dorothy Day once opined that the gospel takes away our right, forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor. In support of Day’s opinion, one only has to consider the parable of the Prodigal Son—that rich kid and “good-time Charlie” who made bad choices all the way to a rancid pigpen (see Luke 15:11–32). It seems as obvious to us today as it was to that lost son’s brother—who stayed home with his dad and worked while his brother sinned away his inheritance—that the party-boy-turned-poor-boy didn’t deserve his father’s love. Yet the father literally ran out and greeted the undeserving son with loving, open arms.

    Not all gospel stories are so obvious in showing that Jesus didn’t discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor. When he went ashore and saw the great crowd of 5,000 men, Jesus didn’t separate the deserving from the undeserving and send the undeserving packing. He simply “had compassion for them” and acted on that compassion by healing and feeding them…

    … All that said, there is such a thing as poor people who game the charitable systems of the church and the state, too, which I’ll address later. As long as there are broken, sin-tainted people in need of God’s grace, I’m sure the shady and shiftless poor will be with us as well.

    But there’s also such a thing as greedy, me-first, sin-tainted wealthy people who use their power to game government systems to feather their own nests. These people have overrun Wall Street and D.C. It was their power games, not gaming by the powerless poor, that in 2008 caused the biggest and most painful economic crash in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

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Trump wants to chop down the $20 trillion debt on the backs of the poor and vulnerable while he jets off to his Florida White House every week at an astounding cost to us tax payers. (And then there’s the eye-popping cost of protecting his wife and son back in New York.)

We serve more than 2.4 million seniors each year. For the average cost of a one-month nursing home stay, we provide home-delivered meals 5 days a week [as we have] for approximately 7 years.”

— Response from Meals On Wheels to Donald Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney, who took a cheap shot at Meals On Wheels Thursday

How is it that ultra-conservatives always and forever find enough money for defense spending that continues to give us the likes of the F-35 fighter jet: an epic boondoggle of massively expensive proportions that our tax dollars keep feeding?

With his Slash and Burn Economics, President Trump has proposed an increase of $54 billion in defense spending while drastically cutting funding for, well… everything!

Above all, anything that might benefit low-income seniors like Meals On Wheels, which got trashed by Trump’s budget director Thursday, and at-risk children programs that work (contrary to what the budget director said).

I’m a “yuge” (to use the President’s favorite word) fan of New Yorker magazine’s political satirist Andy Borowitz who tweeted this:

    Donald J. Trump’s budget cuts virtually all funding for the humanities while spending billions on the inhumanities.

And this:

    It doesn’t seem like Donald J. Trump needs to increase the defense budget so much when he’s only declaring war on the poor, the sick and the elderly.

Indeed, this is takes The War on Poverty and transforms it into The War the Most Vulnerable–the people that Jesus stood in radical solidarity with.

As if the poor can afford to save money for their health care as the Obamacare replacement proposal presumes.

So if we have to deal with the nation’s runaway spending and $20 trillion debt–which I agree wholeheartedly has to be dealt with–we don’t have to do it on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable. And this while those who make Trump money will make out, as usual, like bandits from his health-care plan and tax cuts.

Along with the military industrial complex that the prophetic President and war hero Dwight Eisenhower warned of when I was 7 years old.

Navy pilots hate this machine, which has a 20-year history of expensive problems.

Ike’s warning was a lot of years and a tremendous amount of wasted tax dollars ago.

And by the way–here’s some breaking news:

The U.S. already spends more more on its military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, France, India, and Germany — combined.

*I make one passing reference to President Trump in my book The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty.

That single reference is in the context of a few words comparing him to a compassionate billionaire worth multiple billions more than the President.

But the book was written largely, though not entirely, in response to the Trump mentality that leads to bashing and scapegoating the poor for all our economic woes–as I point out in the Introduction.

The good thing about Trump, from where I sit, is that he’s made my book so timely and relevant.

Bookworms who take advantage of Barnes & Noble discounts can order the The View From Down in Poordom online here.

Or at Amazon here.

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What follows is a 1,000-word sampling of my book The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty.

It’s illustrated by my friend the Rev. Keith L. Head.

You can buy the book online at Barnes & Nobles here.

Also, at Amazon or at WestBow Press the online Christian bookstore here.

This sample is only a portion of chapter 6, which addresses that scripture from Paul the Apostle that conservative–and astoundingly hypocritical politicians–cherry-pick in order to scapegoat the poor for our nation’s economic ills. (The scripture is from 2 Thessalonians:3-10-12 here.)

And oh, by the way: I make the point in this chapter that nowhere in the scripture does Paul suggest that it is poor people being lazy and living off the work of the productive Christians.

I make the point in the book that while yes of course a lot of poor are lazy and lacking initiative and living off the sweat of others, so are a lot of rich people and all kinds of people.

    The early Christians that Paul admonished to work for their food weren’t at the mercy of investors who made their livings moving massive amounts of “paper money” around in markets on almost every continent. The government (that is, the Roman dictatorship) wasn’t bailing out banks, mortgage companies, or behemoth corporations to protect the rich and powerful.

    The ostensible purpose of Wall Street is to finance the making of real things in a real economy. But at some point, Wall Street embraced economic instruments called derivatives while banks transformed into giant hedge funds that trade on their own accounts. These dubious developments in modern capitalism have been hard on people living in poverty or close to it and have, in fact, thrown many out of the labor pool and into the poverty pool.

    And consider our so-called “consumerist culture.” The early Christians weren’t caught up in a consumerist culture gone so wild that, in our age, shoppers literally stampede when giant retail stores open their doors on the very day set aside to give thanks to God for our blessings (Happy Thanksgiving, somebody say grace and pass the gravy!). Nor were the early Christians indebted to the hilt to credit card companies that seduced them with offers of easy money at (temporarily) low interest rates.

    What the early Christians in Paul’s time had was each other. They lived and worked and worshiped in direct relation to each other in a spirit of community. There was no room in such a communal society for some to slack off while others put food on the table. (Incidentally-the Thessalonians who weren’t working for their food believed that Jesus was returning in a matter of days or weeks, so many of them must have raised the question, “Why work?”)

    As one who considers himself a genuinely “compassionate conservative,” I’m about to share an opinion in italics in order to emphasize where I stand: Yes and a thousand times yes: of course the able-bodied person in our time and in all times should work and pull his own weight in order to eat. And of course: feeding the hungry should not be the responsibility of faceless bureaucrats overseen by politicians who create dependency by taking money from those who have it and giving it to those who don’t.

    But tell that to the poor person who works his or her fingers to the nubs only to have the electricity cut off in a heat wave because their paycheck was spread too thin to cover the exceptionally high bill. Tell it to the head of a household working two or three jobs who is down to only a chunk of cheese in the refrigerator with payday still three days off. Or tell it to someone stuck in unemployment or a low-wage job because jobs in his or her field or home turf are few and far between in a capitalist society where economic booms and good times are often followed by busts and hard times.

    * * *

    The argument that a worker who hits on hard times “can always move somewhere else and find another job” is easy enough to say if your job is somehow layoff-proof. In 2015, Walmart-the Big Daddy of American employment-announced that it was raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. (Try supporting your family on that kind of income for a month.) Within a year of that announcement, Walmart in January 2016 announced the closing of 269 U.S. stores that threw 16,000 American employees out of work. One of those thousands who were laid off was a friend I grew up with in Texas. He had struggled mightily to support himself and his wife-who also worked a low-income job-and his two aging parents before the job loss. They were in no position to pick up and start over away from home.

    Many of those shuttered Walmart stores, of course, were in American towns and city neighborhoods where a Walmart job was the best opportunity for any kind of employment. To advise one of those anxious and worried workers who lost a job that he or she should promptly pick up and move would be unrealistic advice at best. Low-income workers living hand-to-mouth can’t save enough money to pull up stakes and move any time and to any place they want. What’s worse is that such advice adds condescending insult to the injury for someone whose heart lies in their lifelong home.

    The author and social justice advocate Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a seminal book years ago about the working poor called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. It was about her firsthand experience trying to make ends meet as a Walmart checker.

    I once heard Ehrenreich say in a lecture that if the stock market has shrunk your assets of $500 million to a mere $250 million, you might have to pass on a third or fourth vacation. “If you’ve just lost an $8 an hour job,” she said, “you’re looking at no home at all.”

    * * *

    Paul the Apostle made a virtue of working and earning in order to eat, but he also lived out the virtue of contentment, a virtue that, along with simple living, we’ll consider in the book’s spiritual poverty section and concluding chapter.

    Meanwhile, in the next chapter, let’s consider the cold, hard fact that slackers and those who play the system-including the church and its charitable ministries-do exist.

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Syria’s “White Helmets,” Lord be with them, risk life and limb to save the lives of innocent men, women and children. (Pic from the film “Cries From Syria.”)

My goal was to put it (the Syrian crisis) in perspective and to translate everything that happens — reconstruct the history and to help the people to understand the Syrian refugee puzzle and to express it through their voices.

For me, it was important that they tell the story.”

— Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky on his riveting documentary “Cries From Syria”

A Turkish police officer discovered the body of Alan Kurdi on Sept. 2, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank en route to the Greek island of Kos.
Nilufer Demir/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Having read some of the many reviews and articles about the documentary “Cries From Syria,” I watched its broadcast on HBO last night with much anticipation.

It made me hear the cries of suffering Syrians with a sense of intimacy, empathy and discomfort.

The film had me in the first five minutes, with its fast-moving, concise, educational overview of the history of Syria from biblical times until now.

I was mightily impressed by how enlightening this short history lesson was: simple enough that a seventh-grader would perk up and pay attention and want to learn more.

Cut now to that now famous image of Alan Kurdi, the boy who washed ashore on a Turkish after a boat carrying Syrian refugees sank and a reminder of his story and an overview of the desperation of Syrians fleeing their country’s evil leader.

Then we get up-close and personal stories after more stories of the horrors that have been inflicted on Syrians and resistors to the cruel regime of Syria’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad.

Assad, by the way, is a British-trained physician with that calm, refined demeanor of his. Maybe the world would pay more attention to him and his war crimes if he were out in front of the TV cameras every day with a Hitleresque mustache and military uniform screaming and shouting, like so many high-profile mass killers do.

This is a British-educated doctor who deliberately bombed water sources that cut off water for 5.5 million people in and around Syria’s capital Damascus.

Bashar Al-Assad, a physician who practices the coldest cruelty imaginable.

The documentary gives us portraits of brave and inspiring resistors who stood up to Assad and his blood-thirsty soldiers, like one young man who was a sort of Gandhi who led peaceful protests. These protesters confronted Assad’s killers face-to-face, offering them bottles of water and flowers and shouting: “We are your Syrian brothers! Why do you want to kill us? We are brothers!”

These peacemaking brothers were eventually tortured and killed. (And for the record, a lot of Assad’s former soldiers have joined the armed rebellion against him.)

HBO’s “Cries From Syria” film subject Kholoud Helmi, producer/director Evgeny Afineevsky and SVP of HBO Documentary Films Nancy Abraham attend the HBO Documentary Films Party at Sundance 2017. Helmi is a Syrian journalist who worked underground in Syria, then had to flee to Turkey when her life was in danger.

The film is hard to watch, unflinching as it is in sharing footage of atrocities that make you wonder how in God’s name people can be so cruel. My bedtime prayers were informed by it.

But the film’s power lies in it’s in-your-face approach–the wakeup call that a Western world without much real knowledge of Syria and the refugee crisis needs to see.

Here’s an excerpt of what Foreign Policy Journal says about the doc, including that which the film left out.

Or better yet read the whole piece here for more background and education on “the Syrian puzzle”:

    The final part of the film tells the story of Syrians fleeing the nightmare, being shot at by Turkish soldiers, having to sell everything to pay smugglers to help them get across borders, by land or sea. We again see the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi washed up on the shore.

    By December 2016, an estimated 600,000 people had died in the war; 7 million Syrians became internally displaced; 4.8 million fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq; more than 1 million fled to Europe; and more than 13 million were in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

    Crisis from Syria is an important film. It tells a story that needs telling and emphasizing: the plight of the civilian population of Syria. In explaining how outside powers have intervened in ways that have only increased the suffering of civilians, however, the film is woefully silent about one: the government of the United States.

    While the film propagates the official myth that the Obama administration didn’t get involved in Syria until the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta in 2013, the truth is the US had been intervening in Syria since at least early 2012, with the CIA funneling arms supplied by its regional partners Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebel forces.

    (Also left out is the story of how the US and Russia actually came to cooperate on ridding Syria of its chemical weapons: Obama had declared his intention to start bombing the country and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, ad-libbed a reply to a reporter’s question in which he said the Assad regime could avoid that outcome by disarming; Russian President Vladimir Putin then called on Assad to so disarm, and Assad accepted the deal, cutting the legs out from under the US’s pretext for military intervention.)…

    The US role in the Syrian tragedy is also an important story that needs telling, and it’s unfortunate that the western mainstream media have instead chosen to push a propaganda narrative in which the crisis is blamed on an absence of US intervention in Syria.

    Cries from Syria, whether intentionally or not, similarly whitewashes the US’s role. While this does not detract from the importance of the story it tells about the plight of the civilian population, it does limit its value for assessing what should be done to help them in their plight.

    This is a question the film leaves open. It does not advocate any political—or military—solution. That is not its purpose. Its goal, rather, in Afineevsky’s words, is to show viewers the plight of Syrian civilians “from the inside out, through the eyes of those trapped in-between—many of them children—and experience their suffering, bravery, struggle, survival and hope.”

    At this the film certainly succeeds. It’s at times hard to watch. You might be tempted to look away.


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Snoopy is a mystic dog for sure.

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.
~ Maya Angelou

Another Roadside Attraction from Belize, where they like to dance.

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This being International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on my life.

But then, it so happens that I did a lot of reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on me in writing The View From Down in Poordom.

The book begins and ends with stories about my mother, Goldie McKay, and my Aunt Newell Chasteen, two strong women who were miles apart in their church affiliations and theologies but deeply respectful of one another. (Scroll down for more about the book and a link to the introduction based on their stories.)

Many of the clergy and lay leaders who’ve impacted my life and informed my theology and ministry were women.

Years ago when I was exploring candidacy for ordained ministry, I was active in a small, rural United Methodist Church.

The preacher was a woman and I saw up-close and personal the difficulties women clergy are up against in so many churches.

This pastor, a dear friend and mentor who helped me determine if I was truly being called to the ordained life and graciously allowed me to preach and teach to explore the calling, was once called in by the church’s lay leaders because she had an appointment every Thursday at 3 p.m. for a manicure. They told her that she needed to go to the beauty shop on her day off because she was expected to “work” from 9 to 5 and could use that hour to visit shut-ins and others.

Fortunately, her district superintendent (a sort of supervisor figure over preachers in the United Methodist Church system) came to her defense. He explained to the congregation’s lay leaders–who were never any too happy to have a woman appointed to their little East Texas church–that a preacher is never not working, that a preacher is on duty 24-7.

The preacher, he reminded them, is going to “go to work” and come to your side if you have a death in the family or some such tragedy in the middle of the night.

Being the pastor of a church is the hardest “job” in the world.

And 10 times harder if you’re a woman and never mind that women clergy tend to be just as good–and so often so much better–than men.

I’ll go so far as to assert that women–who are nurturers and therefore are much better listeners than men–are typically much better than male clergy.

I have this Facebook friend named Elaine Heath. She’s the Dean and Professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology at Duke Divinity School, which is only one of the best seminaries in the world is all it is. (See more about her and Duke Divinity here.)

She raised this question on her Facebook page the other day–and got lots and lots of interesting replies from women, some of which I’ve culled to share with you>

    Q.) Okay, women friends, what were you warned about that didn’t stop you? I was warned that seminary was a waste of time and money because no church would want a woman pastor.

A sampling of the mind-boggling reponses:

I was told not to wear my hair too short or people would think I am a lesbian, and not to wear it long because men like it too much. I was told not to allow toe cleavage to show when I preach because men would find it distracting, and oh so many other warnings against my very dangerous embodiment as a woman. I decided it is best to simply be myself and use common sense.

I was warned that God didn’t call women to be ministers.

I was warned to not continue my career until I was done having babies.

When I was in my final year of Divinity school in 1980, I met with my bishop to discuss this evolving, wonder-filled call I had received to ordained ministry. He told me that he thought I should first get married, have and raise my children and then, when they were grown, maybe I could be a part-time children’s director at a church. Many years later, when I was a District Superintendent, during appointment making season, one of my district churches told me that they didn’t want another woman pastor because “we have already had one.” But this is one of my favorites: on my last Sunday in a church I had served for 12 years, a little boy who had only known one pastor (me) asked his mom: “Mommy, can guys be preachers?”

I was warned: not to mention my cultural background, not to speak unless invited (lest I make a fool of myself), not to wear a collar (as it made me look like a try-hard), not to preside at sacraments in ecumenical settings, not to wear earrings when preaching… not to use non-gendered language, as it is off-putting, not to hang my clothes on the Manse clothesline… (I really reckon the last is the best!)

I’ve been warned that because I’m a layperson and a woman, my ministry won’t be taken seriously.

I was warned about going into the military, flight training, ordination, and church planting.

A lay leader in my first field ed placement warned me that pants were inappropriate for a woman to wear when serving communion. Persisted.

The matriarch of a recent church wielded her Bible around like a weapon, shouting at me “if you don’t learn how to read the Bible correctly…” Persisted.

A dear friend warned me that the purchase of a white couch was probably not the best decision with two dogs and a new baby on the way. Should have listened to that one.

I was warned that I don’t look like a pastor and I quote “you will be seen as dangerous for other women around their husbands and boyfriends” so the solution was to dress in suits and more “professional” clothing. I was so shamed. I dress in business casual most days and tend to try to emulate the styles I see my age appropriate friends wearing. The person even pointed out I wore a spaghetti strap dress at annual conference the dress goes down past my knees and is from Ann Taylor lofts summer collection. I would never describe it as “sexy.” I cried for days I’ve never felt more ashamed of the way I look. The amazing thing was that sooooo many people not aware that I had just been told this by a woman and someone I respected said the exact opposite about me “you are so relatable because of the way you look” “I love your style thank goodness you can be you and do this job.” The best part in all of this is I now lead a church that is growing really quickly in the millennial age group (one that everyone says is impossible to grow in) and many people have expressed that part of the reason they felt so comfortable was that the pastor resembles them and they feel safe in the space- guess what- there are lots of young married couple and older married couples and I have been asked to spend time with spouses as they have been struggling theologically- there seems to be no real concern that my femininity is dangerous or that I dress in a manner so as to entice their significant other. I also get complimented on the content of my message way more than the way I look!!! I think what hurt the most is that I have tried to look professional and maintain style because I have seen so many clergy go the opposite route and become “frumpy” in an un-relatable way.

I was told by men and women that I should wear “pumps” instead of sandals; hose instead of bare legs; that a little make-up would be nice; but I was ALSO thanked by men and women, for wearing sandals, jeans and no make-up

I too was warned I would go to hell and was leading my congregation there for being a woman pastor.

I was warned by men that people don’t like to hear women’s voices, especially in the pulpit, something to do with a grating quality. But then, I was told my voice wasn’t too bad……

I was told my earrings were distracting by a woman after a particularly challenging sermon, so I said I was sorry she chose to focus on that instead of what I was saying. I got a puzzled look.

I was told no one would ever take me seriously because of the way I look. I even had a woman pastor tell me to ‘cover myself’ because I was wearing a crew neck top. She thought I should wear a turtleneck. (Btw, turtlenecks don’t diminish womanly curves😂).
I’ve found sadly enough that other woman tend to say those things more than men. They’d rather tear down than build up.

I went before my District Committee when I was about 5 months pregnant. Room full of men. One of them asked me how I expected to be a mother and care for a baby while I also serve a church, or something like that. The Spirit came upon me I believe and I said something like this: “Like all of you I know I will struggle with how to parent my child and serve in the church. I ‘m sure I’ll need to rely on the help of family and friends, and I know it won’t always be easy. I assume all of us struggle with how to give of ourselves to our families and to the church.” Or some such words. The question was not a bad question, and I struggled with it many times for various reasons. But it was a question men should answer as well as women. That was the problem in my opinion. In the end Ken was ordained before me and I got to be on the receiving end of lots of advice about being a “good minister’s wife”. So much advice that I became anxious and worried, until finally a trusted friend (also a minister’s wife) said, “Pam, think about it. Are any of those people a minister’s wife? No? Then what do they really know about being one?” Her advice was to love my husband, find something meaningful to do in the church and be myself. Great advice for a spouse of a minister, or for the pastor when you think of it.

Support your preacher, especially if she’s a she.

*You can read the introduction to The View From Down in Poordom, based on the stories of my mother and aunt, at the Amazon link here and the Barnes and Noble link here.

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