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Archive for December, 2017

There was also a prophet, Anna. … She was of great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer day and night. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

— From Luke 2:22-36

Read it here at the Lectionary site. …

This is one of Rembrandt’s earliest known works. Mary and Joseph seem surprised when Simeon told them that their son’s actions would lead to the fall and rise of many in Israel. Like Simeon, Anna was so devout that she had the spiritual eyes to recognize the Messiah they had been so, so patiently awaiting.

I’ve always been intrigued by the devotion of the two old folks, Simeon and Anna, who are briefly mentioned in Luke 2. They had the honor of meeting Mary and Joseph in the temple.

More importantly, they were so devout that they instantly recognized the baby Jesus as the one they had been waiting for.

And I mean, waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for.

Most of us get antsy waiting to see the doctor an hour or more after our 10 o’clock appointment. I’ve always loved the old Prayer for Patience: Lord gimme patience and give it to me NOW!”

Simeon and Anna waited patiently to see the savior of the world by staying in constant communion with God. For most of us, that kind of patience requires a lot of spiritual practice and discipline, and most of us will still have lapses now and then as we inevitably go back to our impatient ways.

The Hebrew verb “to wait (for)” is derived from two words meaning tension and endurance. If we are waiting for something as momentous as the arrival of our Lord, we live in a tension as great as our endurance is long.

To wait, in scripture, is to wait knowing that we don’t wait alone, that God also waits. God waits for us to come to Him/Her, or to come back around to Him/Her.

Here are some questions adapted from a profile of Anna in The Life With God Bible — a wonderful study Bible I commend to you:

— How often during the day are you attentive to God’s presence with you? Is your prayer limited to mealtimes or formal devotional times, or do you often stop and turn to God in all the burley-burley of a day?

— Have you ever tried fasting from food or something else that takes your focus off of God (the Internet, TV, the news)?

— Think of the most mundane activity of your daily life and think of a way you could be attuned to the presence of God in that time.

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All in all my 2017 has been good, if only because my book finally saw the light of day.

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

I sometimes wondered if The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty would ever get published at all. It’s hatching was delayed by one setback after another beyond my control.

But then in early February, the slim volume that I had worked so many hours perfecting and cutting down to a concise number of pages finally went on sale online.

I never expected The View From Down in Poordom to reach a reading audience of Stephen King-ish or John Grisham-ish proportions in terms of sales. But sales of it have actually exceeded that which I expected.

Marty Jones, a longtime friend of mine, told me this week that she bought four copies of the book that she gave as Christmas presents.

Click on the picture to enlarge and see the Table of Contents of The View From Down in Poordom.

A lot of friends and other readers out there in the wide world of spiritual readers have told me that they bought multiple copies for Bible study classes or Sunday school lessons. That gratifies me to no end because I always believed the little book could be a big conversation starter for group discussion on poverty-and-wealth, which can be such a hot-button topic these days.

I’m proud of The View From Down in Poordom and believe it couldn’t have hit the market at a more relevant time. People, sometimes Christians more than anyone, continue to blame and scapegoat the poor and powerless in society for all our economic and social woes.

In fact, it seems that the denigration of the poor — and the exploitation of the working poor who can’t possibly get a fair piece of the economic pie working two or even three low-wage jobs — is getting far worse.

This in spite of what our political leaders — who in all their brazen cynicism never let us forget how Christian they are while giving comfort and succor to those as rich as they are — keep promising.

I’ve often said that the book isn’t a partisan political book or a polemical tract, and from all the reviews of it, readers agree.

Nor is the book a blistering critique of capitalism, even though it’s hard on the mindless, unbridled capitalism that I believe is leading American society — and the Christian faith tradition, for that matter — down the tubes. (See news of all the cynical Christian faith leaders jumping on the unbridled capitalism wagon with cynical political leaders to enrich themselves beyond belief.)

All that said, I’ll let you the could-be reader be the judge of The View From Down in Poordom, which is available in hardcover, soft cover or on your Kindle or Nook.

While you’re stocking up on books for the new year give the book, with illustrations by my friend the retired Rev. Keith L. Head, a read.

It’s available here at Amazon.com (and check out the reviews!).

Also available at Barnes & Noble here.

And also at the publisher’s online bookstore here.

The most in-depth review of the book can be found here at that might good book review site goodreads.com. Or you can read the review by Jim Barlow — an atheist who liked the book! — as follows:

    Diving into a book centered on Bible scriptures and commentary on the poor and poverty today was intimidating. While I learned a lot about right and wrong from my childhood exposure to religion, as an adult I have chosen atheism, but with the understanding that religion for many is truly a worthy guiding light.

    That said up front, I read and received a spiritual lift from Paul McKay’s thought-provoking book “The View from Down in Poordom.”

    A disclaimer: McKay is a friend. At one time we were journalists with the same employer. He turned into a Methodist minister.

    How do Christians today respond to the poor?

    That’s the big question of McKay’s book, which runs just 83 pages. The way McKay presented his chosen scriptures and translated them to fit today’s world was superb and intellectually educational. However, I read the book with a broader view.

    This book need not apply only to Christians. In this world of growing income inequality in the aftermath of the Great Recession, McKay is asking us to re-evaluate who we are.

    McKay tells of his own background and how family experiences shaped his thinking and led him into the ministry. He gives us a framework for considering suffering and poverty, especially in Belize, where he now lives.

    In Chapter Two, we meet Francisco, whose story became known because McKay took the time to talk with him. Once a hard-working man, Francisco was left destitute and on the streets because of an accident that wasn’t his fault and cost him both legs and livelihood. His ultimate fate was heart-breaking.

    Later, we meet Chanzy, who McKay stopped to help when he saw him resting against a broken-down car, crying. McKay calls upon the Bob Dylan song “Everything is Broken” to shape his story about both Chanzy’s life, which was one of poverty and strong spirituality, and similar situations confronting all of us.

    As I read about Francisco and Chanzy, I could hear the voice of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia singing in “Wharf Rat” to a down-and-out man: “I got no dime, but I got some time to hear your story.”

    Chapters Six and Seven deliver the punch of McKay’s message.

    Chapter Six tackles the notion, often used by politicians, put forth by the apostle Paul: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” McKay addresses the “troubling aspect of acrimony over who should provide for the poor and struggling people,” taking on politicians, corporations and Christians, as well. He hits on our consumer-oriented culture and political and religious scapegoating.

    Chapter Seven addresses personal responsibility and calls for honesty about how some poor seem to take comfort in their poverty. McKay tells the story of a minister who struggled with a decision to refuse monetary help to an angry, young woman. Was the minister’s decision wrong, or did it plant a seed? Can we, should we, help everyone?

    Both chapters should be required reading, regardless of anyone’s religious affiliation, and, especially, for politicians, both liberal and conservative.

    McKay provides thought-provoking nuggets about poverty (material and spiritual), about individuals and families living poor, and about the dangers and pitfalls of greed and wealth.

    In closing, McKay asks, “So What?” Do we as individuals give money directly to the poor, donate to food banks or shelters, minister to them or ignore them and walk away?

    McKay hits us on the head with the issue of poordom, but he also provides intelligent perspective that might just provide us a roadmap.

    McKay’s overall message, in my view, emerged in a paragraph early in the book.

    “When it comes down to it, the poor aren’t ‘the poor,’” McKay writes. “The poor are people, and people need loving, caring friends. Poor people are people who want and need the same thing that you and everyone else, including the rich, want and need — and that’s love.”

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Santa was good to Stephanie on Christmas Day as she got this piece of jewelry, a beautiful new watch, a mirror, and various and assorted other goodies.

It’s time for another update on Stephanie’s Education Fund and her progress at St. Ignatius High School.

First, if you’re not familiar with Stephanie and the fund, I’d suggest you check out the GoFundMe page I started for her this year. Here is the link.

https://www.gofundme.com/stephanies-education-fund

Secondly, as you will see if you go to the fund, I have to give a great big shoutout to two friends of mine for their generation donations during the holiday month of December — which turned out to be a most expensive month for Steph in her freshman year!

Janis Beck and family donated $200 US and Babe Watts donated $100US.

I had seriously underestimated my budget for this first year and now have some breathing room for the costs until Steph’s first year ends in June.

Also, as I’m finding that some donors — especially those who know me personally — aren’t too keen on GoFundMe because of its fees. So I have reactivated my PayPal account to take direct donations to my bank account, which ensures that every dollar goes to Steph’s education expense.

Ongoing donations are ALWAYS accepted, welcomed, and much appreciated in advance.

At any rate, a Merry Christmas Day was had by Steph, her sister Miss Belize (Paulita McKay) and their brother Felix and mom Lourdes!

Happy New Year from BZ and come see us!

Felix, Stephanie, my daughter Paulita McKay and mom Lourdes at their home on Christmas morn. Santa was very good to all this year!

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Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet places to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

— Henri J. M. Nouwen
——————–
More on the gentle little priest and prolific spiritual writer Henri Nouwen here.

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James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, NC, doubles as a great teacher of preachers at Duke Divinity School.

Rev. Howell advises preachers that a Christmas Eve service is as good a time as any to “quite gently” take on popular atheism in the sermon.

Says Howell:

    Among the many anti-Christian bestsellers was God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens (may God rest his soul…).

    I’d play on that and say, Correct, God is not great. God, rather, is quite small, vulnerable, a God who doesn’t conquer everything but gets defeated in the most profound embodiment of suffering love ever.

    Jesus did not rise up miraculously in the manger and denounce his foes. Jesus has a tender place in his heart for Christopher Hitchens.

The greatness and power of Jesus was his strength in weakness and vulnerability. And a tender, vulnerable Jesus was definitely not the Jesus people were expecting to come along and liberate them.

They were fully expecting a larger-than-life warrior God to come galloping in on his trusty white steed from out of nowhere, miraculously taking out legions of Roman soldiers with a blazing sword before he took down Caesar himself.

There weren’t looking for God to come down in the form of baby Jesus meek and mild, born in cave in a livestock yard behind an inn.

They sure didn’t expect their great savior to grow up hammering nails under the tutelage of a nobody of a father in a backwater town like Bethlehem.

So much for Great Expectations. They were looking for a Rambo. They got a Gandhi.

God is not static. God has always done new things. It can typically take hundreds of years for people to grasp the fact that God through the Holy Spirit has in fact done something new thing.

But the new thing God did in sending down Jesus only took about 30 years for people to understand. It took a relatively short time for people to grasp that their savior was like nothing like what they expected.

When Jesus walked, Caesar held all the dangerous power and a lot of Caesars have held lethal power in the world ever since. This is as true at the end of 2017 as it was in the 30 years that Jesus walked.

But God has always had the power of sovereignty. That’s a power that no Caesar will ever match.

And that is Good News for a world desperately in need of Good News.

Tell it.

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The meaning of Christmas has been described a million ways to Sunday.

One of the key points I make in my book is that everyone is starving for someone to listen to them, validate their humanity and very existence, and above all, love them and embrace them without condition or judgement. That kind of love came down at Christmas.

But it all boils down to three mere words:

“Love came down.”

Love is the one thing that every breathing human being on earth wants, needs, yearns for, and craves.

I’m of the belief that the most hard-shell bully and cynic who embraces hate and anger, even one who will resort to violence to get what he or she thinks he or she needs, is starving for love within — craving the love that perhaps has been missing since infancy.

That’s not to deny the science of the mind and the body’s wiring that science (which is totally compatible with and necessary to Christianity) has taught us. Science has taught us that some people will be born too sick to ever be able to know or care about love or the health and well being of anyone else.

But by and large . . .

The good and bad alike who are feeling lonely, abandoned, isolated, forgotten — the shut-ins, the panhandlers, the refugees, and yes, even the hardcore criminals and prisoners who aren’t certifiably insane — my God how they yearn for someone just to acknowledge their humanity and very existence in the world.

How desperately they yearn for someone to hold them and squeeze them and love them without judgement or condition. Somewhere along the way their link to the love-chain connection broke loose. Then they were left to fend for themselves in a world that is broken up with sin-sickness and so in need of God’s healing power.

Love is as vital to survival and whole health and well being as oxygen, food, and water.

The good news is, the kind of radical love we all crave, and all feel is missing to some degree great or small, came down in the form of an innocent child. A child who needed nurturing love like any other baby child on earth. A child who received it from a most humble, powerless couple who were homeless refugees, no less, and so down on their luck that they couldn’t even get a room at an inn.

Pure, unadultered love is God’s gift to the world and ours for the taking and the sharing.

So by all means, in this Christmas season and throughout 2018 and beyond, let’s take what’s our share from God who sent love down, and then let’s make a habit of sharing it generously with someone who perhaps never had it or has missed it for a long, long time.

* My book has been for sale online since February at Amazon Books and Barnes&Noble.

What follows is a great review from my friend Jim Barlow, who absolutely got what I was trying to say in The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty. It is published here at GoodReads.com.

But other reviewers “got” my meaning and message and wrote briefer but equally flattering reviews here at Amazon.com.

So I hope you’ll check out the reviews (and more at Barnes & Noble.com) and hope you’ll read and get something meaningful out my take on the love needs of the poor and powerless — and the rest of us, too.

    Diving into a book centered on Bible scriptures and commentary on the poor and poverty today was intimidating. While I learned a lot about right and wrong from my childhood exposure to religion, as an adult I have chosen atheism, but with the understanding that religion for many is truly a worthy guiding light.

    That said up front, I read and received a spiritual lift from Paul McKay’s thought-provoking book “The View from Down in Poordom.”

    A disclaimer: McKay is a friend. At one time we were journalists with the same employer. He turned into a Methodist minister.

    How do Christians today respond to the poor?

    That’s the big question of McKay’s book, which runs just 83 pages. The way McKay presented his chosen scriptures and translated them to fit today’s world was superb and intellectually educational. However, I read the book with a broader view.

    This book need not apply only to Christians. In this world of growing income inequality in the aftermath of the Great Recession, McKay is asking us to re-evaluate who we are.

    McKay tells of his own background and how family experiences shaped his thinking and led him into the ministry. He gives us a framework for considering suffering and poverty, especially in Belize, where he now lives.

    In Chapter Two, we meet Francisco, whose story became known because McKay took the time to talk with him. Once a hard-working man, Francisco was left destitute and on the streets because of an accident that wasn’t his fault and cost him both legs and livelihood. His ultimate fate was heart-breaking.

    Later, we meet Chanzy, who McKay stopped to help when he saw him resting against a broken-down car, crying. McKay calls upon the Bob Dylan song “Everything is Broken” to shape his story about both Chanzy’s life, which was one of poverty and strong spirituality, and similar situations confronting all of us.

    As I read about Francisco and Chanzy, I could hear the voice of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia singing in “Wharf Rat” to a down-and-out man: “I got no dime, but I got some time to hear your story.”

    Chapters Six and Seven deliver the punch of McKay’s message.

    Chapter Six tackles the notion, often used by politicians, put forth by the apostle Paul: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” McKay addresses the “troubling aspect of acrimony over who should provide for the poor and struggling people,” taking on politicians, corporations and Christians, as well. He hits on our consumer-oriented culture and political and religious scapegoating.

    Chapter Seven addresses personal responsibility and calls for honesty about how some poor seem to take comfort in their poverty. McKay tells the story of a minister who struggled with a decision to refuse monetary help to an angry, young woman. Was the minister’s decision wrong, or did it plant a seed? Can we, should we, help everyone?

    Both chapters should be required reading, regardless of anyone’s religious affiliation, and, especially, for politicians, both liberal and conservative.

    McKay provides thought-provoking nuggets about poverty (material and spiritual), about individuals and families living poor, and about the dangers and pitfalls of greed and wealth.

    In closing, McKay asks, “So What?” Do we as individuals give money directly to the poor, donate to food banks or shelters, minister to them or ignore them and walk away?

    McKay hits us on the head with the issue of poordom, but he also provides intelligent perspective that might just provide us a roadmap.

    McKay’s overall message, in my view, emerged in a paragraph early in the book.

    “When it comes down to it, the poor aren’t ‘the poor,’” McKay writes. “The poor are people, and people need loving, caring friends. Poor people are people who want and need the same thing that you and everyone else, including the rich, want and need — and that’s love.”

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