Archive for December, 2018

What you have here is my favorite all-time Christmas song, in what I would argue is the greatest version of it ever.

Merry Christmas and thanks for following http://www.jitterbuggingforjesus.com, the blog that is saving the world with its wit, wisdom, provocations and stimulations while possibly (probably!) alienating whole towns, nations, cities and states.

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Bishop Romero: a meek-and-mild clergyman who avoided controversy by hanging with the rich and powerful of El Salvador, became a fearless social justice warrior when a close friend and priest who spoke out against the powers-that-be was assassinated. St. Romero, of course, was assassinated while serving the Eucharist.

I invite you this week, in this hour when our country seems to have no place for joy, to listen to St. Paul repeat to us:

    “Be always joyful.
    Be constant in prayer.
    In every circumstance give thanks.
    This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–17.)

The Christian, the Christian community, must not despair.

If someone dies in the family,
we must not weep like people without hope.

If the skies have darkened in our nation’s history,
let us not lose hope.

We are a community of hope,
and like the Israelites in Babylon,
let us hope for the hour of liberation.

It will come.

Because we live in hope, we’re children of the light.

It will come because God is faithful, says St. Paul.

This joy must be like a prayer.

    “He who called you is faithful,”
    and he will keep his promises. (1 Thessalonians 5:24.)

— St. Oscar Romero, December 17, 1978

*Learn more about the martyr Romero, who for all his fearless fighting against terribly evil forces backed by the U.S. government was a joy-filled priest of the people, here.

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“It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

— Jesus

A Courts and Ports team member with a Guatemalan mother.

And so this is Christmas, which is all about a homeless child born in a cave in a barnyard.

Christmas for children is not supposed to be a bleak time. It is supposed to be joy-filled.

What follows are more reports from members of First United Methodist Church in McKinney, TX, who recently witnessed the situation for migrants and the people serving them on the Texas border through the “Courts and Ports” program. See my previous post for more.

A team member who is a mom wrote about the Guatemalan mom and son pictured above as follows:

    What an experience. I sat at a camp on the Mexican side of the border and talked with a mom, Jessica, and her 2-year old son, Daniel, from Guatemala who were seeking asylum.

    Art by Angel Valdez for The Houston Catholic Worker at http://www.cjd.org

    She had been separated from her husband and their other child (5 year old) and didn’t know where they were or how to contact them.

    Daniel had caught a cold, has asthma, and Jessica was very worried because she hadn’t been able to bathe him in a long time.

    The volunteers we were assisting were delivering her supplies to take care of him. Still, Daniel was happily prancing around on his caballo (stick horse), which was a simple broom.

    I felt such a connection with this mom, just trying to care for her child who was sick, in a strange place without her husband and other child.

Another team member wrote:

    Friends, what weighs particularly heavily from our trip to the border — the children…so many children.

    We saw them under bridges and tarps, in tents and shelters, and on the plane home to Dallas being transported to other states after discharge from detention centers.

    In the true spirit of Christmas, reaching out to the homeless children and families on the border.

    These are children, families, refugees, fleeing horrific escalating violence in their home countries. They want to work and be safe. In fear for their children’s lives, parents weigh difficult decisions to leave everything behind and come to the border to navigate the ever-tightening, narrowing, and confusing immigration system.

    They wait for weeks camped outside with little or no shelter, hoping for permission to access a port of entry. Or they cross any way they can and then present themselves to US border authorities to request asylum.

    Crossing back over to the US at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, we left behind men, women, and children who had been waiting outside for weeks to access the bridge while we walked past the empty waiting room for asylum seekers inside the quiet border station.

So your thought for the day from yours truly is:

How are Christians supposed to respond to the immigration crisis on the U.S. borders?

I’m thinking we respond, first of all, with all the compassion and sensitivity we can muster. We also respond by educating ourselves about the facts on the ground, which aren’t always the facts as presented in proper or full context by the news media — and certainly not by political leaders with distinctly anti-Christ agendas.

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A “Courts and Ports” team of church members from First United Methodist Church of McKinney, an upscale city just north of Dallas, visited weary asylum seekers down on on the U.S. Mexico border in South Texas recently. My friend Lisa Poulsen Applegate if pictured 5th from the left. I’ll be sharing observations from some of the team members here in the days ahead.

Earlier this month, a friend of mine who’s a member of First United Methodist Church in McKinney, Texas, saw up-close and personal what life is like for refugees seeking asylum on the Texas border.

Lisa Poulsen Applegate and other members of the McKinney church (and one volunteer from First UMC in Richardson, Texas) were part of a “Courts & Ports” team of church volunteers who met with immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.

Through an “immersion experience” program called Texas Impact — connected to The Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy — Lisa and the church members also engaged all sorts of people involved in service to the asylum seekers through legal and spiritual means.

These are Christians from a well-to-do Texas community who ventured out of their comfort zones to hear the stories of migrants and to learn what they can do to advance the cause of desperately needed immigration reform.

According to the Texas Impact Web site which you can see here, participants in a “Courts and Ports” get to the do the following five things:

1. Observe first-hand the operation of the U.S. immigration system and current policies related to border security

2. Interact directly with individuals who are seeking asylum in the U.S.

3. Participate in theological and policy discussions with grassroots and faith leaders

4. Practice storytelling and communication with skilled trainers so they can share their experiences effectively with their home communities

5. Become part of a facilitated online “Courts and Ports Alumni” community that will work to change the nature of the immigration debate in local congregations and neighborhoods.

Upon her return home, Lisa said:

    “Today I feel humbled. Exhausted. Raw. Coming home to my very comfortable house has left me feeling decidedly … uncomfortable.
    I will have more to share about this trip when I have had more time to process what we witnessed there and I look forward to answering any questions that I can.

    Pictured is Lisa Poulsen Applegate: she and other members of her Untied Methodist Church ventured out of their comfort zones to hear the stories of the poor and powerless refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

    “For now, I will say that I don’t pretend to know what the solution to this situation is, but it was very clear to me that the processes currently in place are unsustainable.”

What follows are a few observations shared on Facebook by another team member — and I’ll be posting more in the days ahead:

    1. We met a father who had fled his home because those who could not pay rent were executed. As the rent continued to rise, he knew he must flee with his family to save their lives.

    2. The families we met gathered in tents at the end of the bridge on the Mexican side are trying to enter legally. One woman had been living in the small tent compound for 15 days trying to legally apply for asylum in the United States.

    The US Government is the one breaking the law by not allowing these families access to the Port of Entry.

    3. As the father of a 3-year-old boy myself, I couldn’t help but look into the eyes of a 3-year-old boy we met who had fled with his family and wonder what choice I would make if the lives of my family were in danger.

    And my heart was filled with both joy and sadness as our eyes met and he gave me a high five with a giant smile because of the small gift of rice and beans my kids might complain about.

    4. We have work to do. We need to stop spewing cable news/political talking points, start learning about the actual stories/issues and demand that our leaders find a solution.

Now here is your thought for the day, dear reader, from yours truly:

If you were a father whose entire family faced sure death because you couldn’t pay rent, would you stay in the house or head north to the U.S. border for an opportunity to obtain asylum and a shot at supporting yourself, your wife and kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Big Amen of the Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And economic ills come along quite frequently.

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

Yeah! Yeah! I know! I know!

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

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

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

And speaking of the fabulously wealthy ……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice Christian generosity and hospitality over Capitalism and Socialism.

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