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I’ve never been poor, hungry, or adrift in a sense of hopelessness in my entire, blessed life. Yet poverty has always felt personal to me.”

— Opening paragraph from that wayward book I wrote, The View from Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty.

Her Greatness Annie Dillard said:

“Some days it feels like all the forces of the universe are arrayed against us.”

That’s how I felt a couple of weeks ago when my book on poverty, which I recently announced was due for almost immediate publication, went kaput–along with the publishing company that was to print it.

From where I sit, the company picked a most unfortunate time to cut its losses by going out of business.

My wayward little book's Table of Contents. It was ready for print and then . . . lo . . .  God laughed at my plans.

My wayward little book’s Table of Contents. It was ready for print and then . . . lo, God laughed at my plans.

I was planning to be in Texas by now, promoting the book’s concise, 103 pages of personalized reflections on God’s aversion to poverty and our Lord’s commands that we remember the poor.

I was planning to announce any day here, and on social media, that the book was now available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and the usual means, in both print and e-book editions.

I was prepared to promote it with frequent excerpts here, as well as with hosannas it’s received from two prominent seminary professors who’ve read it and endorsed it, one at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and another at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Northwestern University).

I was preparing to line up book signings and talks to Texas churches and related faith groups about the book and its value as a study-and-discussion guide.

Then came the email informing me that the publisher was going out of business, immediately, leaving me at the goal line with no way to cross over and score publication.

I think I went through about seven stages of disappointment–including a day or two of irrational bitterness and anger.

Even for the most spiritually mature Christian, reactionary reactions can bubble up. I’ve grown enough in my spiritual walk over the years, though, that I refuse to stay stuck in any kind of negative, stewing, emotional funk–especially a stew that tastes of bitterness.

Business failures happen. That’s how business goes. I can accept that, and my being angry or bitter about a business over which I have no control won’t change anything. It certainly won’t enhance my health and well being.

And yet . . . when you come oh-so-close to attaining a goal you worked so hard to accomplish, only to have such a setback: it felt for a few days like “all the forces of the universe” had conspired against poor, pitiful me.

A big disappointment genuinely aches.

* * *

Well, I’m not ready to declare The View from Poordom dead yet, in spite of two prompt, terse rejections from traditional Christian book publishers I promptly sent out. Breaking into the book world isn’t easy in a day and time when publishers are hard pressed financially and are extremely selective about what they publish.

And then there’s this: a book about the theology of poverty, from a first-time author, ain’t exactly the kind that’ll fly off the shelves–especially in a day and age when book shelves are loaded with the likes of Joel Olsteen’s happy-face, feel-good, “prosperity theology.”

It’s not as if I wrote such a book for fame or fortune anyway. If I were in it for that, I’d sell my soul to the Devil and write Why God Wants You to be Filthy Rich & Pretty!”

I wrote it because as one called to pastoral-care ministry to care for, and advocate for, people laid low by the grief of illness, injury, poverty, homelessness, or injustice in all its oppressive forms, I have something to say about the theology of poverty.

As a writer as well as a pastor, I want what I have to say to be read, if only by 100 or 500 people (though 15,000 would be OK), who might be challenged, inspired, motivated, or illuminated by my thought on God’s (many!) biblical commands that we love the poor and marginalized and affirm their dignity.

And so, because the book addresses a number of timely topics related to all the bashing and scapegoating of the poor that I see among even Christians today,* I’ve decided to raise funds to get the it printed and marketed by a high-quality self publishing house (WestBow Publishers). It’s a reputable publisher that can get the print-ready manuscript into circulation pronto. (**See below.)

As much as I hate raising money for self purposes, which I’ve never done before now, I’m hoping to raise funds from individual and/or church or faith-group benefactors to give me donations to defray at least some of the $2,000 expense I need to self publish.

That’s not the kind of cash I have sitting around. In return for a donation of at least $25, the best I can give back is an acknowledgement on the Acknowledgements Page and my eternal gratitude.

Contact me at revpaulmckay@gmail.com if you’re interested in helping me get this book I believe in so strongly into the market.

* * *

And now I’ll leave you with a thought or two more about processing disappointments, which find us all in life.

1) It helped in my processing this particular disappointment that I routinely start out every day of my life reading “A General Thanksgiving”– the wonderful prayer in The Book of Common Prayer.

It reads in part:

    We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
    efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
    and delight us.

    We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
    that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

So I thank God even for this disappointment that led me “to acknowledge (my) dependence on God alone.”

2) And then there’s this . . .

Whatever disappointment I’ve had is small compared to all the disappointments and heartaches that the poor and homeless and powerless among us deal with day in and day out as they struggle to survive in today’s Hard Times.

I thank God every day for the privilege of walking with the poor, pushing for the poor, affirming the dignity of the poor, and loving the poor as our Lord did. Check out

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*Two clergy friends of mine who’ve self published books through WestBow reached sizable numbers of readers and tell me their experience with the publisher was entirely good. Check out their books here . . . and also here. . . .
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**I note in the Introduction that I wrote this book as an answer to all the bashing and scapegoating of the poor in these hard times.


Disrespect for "Old Glory" has been going on for a long, long time, America.

Disrespect for “Old Glory” has been going on for a long, long time, America.

Here’s an actual quote (I am not making this up!) from Jerry Jones, owner of “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys, yapping about his injured quarterback and team star Tony Romo:

    “You don’t have to spend a lot of time going over and kind of circumcising the mosquito.”

That the owner of “America’s Team” would say something so bizarre, so incomprehensible, so lunatical, says everything about the state of modern America.

Oh well: He’s a great salesman; he’s built a great business; and he gives America football in all its glorious excess.

And that’s all in America that matters.

Rather than criminalizing homelessness and panhandling, this Republican mayor came up with a creative solution. That's how authentic, pragmatic, principled conservatism is supposed to work.

Rather than criminalizing homelessness and panhandling, this Republican mayor came up with a creative solution. That’s how authentic, pragmatic, principled conservatism is supposed to work.

I’ve maintained for a long time that authentic conservatism as practiced by today’s Republican Party isn’t authentic conservatism.

Authentic conservatives let nothing go to waste. They seek efficiency and resourcefulness.

And in the spirit of “compassionate conservatism,” they strive to leave no humans behind.

My idea of a good, sound, pragmatic and principled conservative is Richard Berry, the Republican mayor of Albuquerque.

* * *

Mayor Berry took the time to go to his city’s panhandlers and engage them, to hear their stories. By listening to them and showing them common respect rather than treating them like nuisances (or worse, criminalizing homelessness as so many cities do), the major uncovered their wants and needs).

He learned what so many people in street ministries and social services know: that most people don’t want to be on the streets begging for money. They just don’t have much choice.

In good, rock-rib, conservative fashion, the mayor came up with an idea for a solution to the problem of homelessness. This according to an article from The Washington Post.

Here’s an excerpt:

    Through a program called “There’s a Better Way,” the city now hires panhandlers for day jobs cleaning up and beautifying the city.

    Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed.

    In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment.

    “You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Berry said in an interview. ”They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.”

Indeed, nothing satisfies the soul like the dignity of work.

But as I said, the trend in cities in recent years–in cities led by mayors and city councils of both parties–has been to criminalize panhandling. Nobody wins if some poor Joe or Jane in the street takes up jail space and burns up tax dollars for the “crime” of being poor or homeless.

That’s not to say that a number of cities haven’t come up with solutions like building “mini houses” on city properties designated to give shelter to the poor.

At any rate, Mayor Berry of Albuquerque is my kind of conservative Republican–my kind of political officeholder, period: one who leaves no human resource behind.

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Here’s a link to the whole story.

Here’s a story from Dallas about another problem the homeless face.


An “Open Letter to America” from the good folks at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) contains timely theology with lines like this:

    “A serious reckoning with the ministry of Jesus compels us to embrace not a politics of left or right or Democratic or Republican parties, but to further God’s politics as best we can determine it . . . Sisters and brothers, it matters how we talk about these things. Our words and tone will resonate beyond this particular political season.”

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There is also this:

    “The truth must still be told. We challenge every sitting politician and candidate for public office, and we challenge ourselves: this is not about party politics. It is about redeeming the soul of our two nations.”

With everything under the sun being evermore politicized the past 30 or 40 years, we American Christians have increasingly been guilty of trying to create God in our political images (myself included).

Our Lord would no doubt accuse us all of trying to fit his square pegs into little holes of our own making.

Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, leaving us to advance the Kingdom until his return. He left us to discern to the best of our ability what squares with him, he who alone has the power to pick up the our broken pieces and make us healthy and whole in our individual lives and our community living, too.

My faith hero Thomas Merton wrote this on the eve of Independence Day, 48 summers ago:

    “One has to remain pretty critical and independent about all ideas . . . Both the conservatives and the progressives seem to me to be full of the same kind of intolerance, arrogance, empty-headedness, and to be dominated by different guides of conformism: in either case the dread of being left out of their reference group.”

    — Journal entry from July 3, 1968

Jesus was the ultimate non-conformist, beholden to nobody’s political reference group. Siding with one party or one candidate is fine — as long as we can maintain enough integrity and independence, that is, to call B.S. on our party or candidate when they lie, distort, and misrepresent.

May the truth set us free.

* * *

Here’s the aforementioned “Open Letter to America” (and here’s a link to it and the church’s Web site):

    Dear Sisters and Brothers,

    In this contentious campaign season, we write as leaders who have witnessed firsthand the prophecy of our Lord that “five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;” (Luke 12:52 NRSV). In a week when we have gathered to confer about the spiritual health of our church, both sides of America’s divided family have called one another racist. As a body that has claimed a pro-reconciliation, anti-racist priority for two decades, we the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada write to offer a word of hope from our experience.

    First we offer reflections on some of the more difficult learnings of these past two decades.

    As faith leaders, we look back on the history of the United States and Canada, and we see that we have too often been on the wrong side of history with regard to public policy. Too many of us were wrong on slavery. Too many were wrong on Jim Crow. Too many were wrong on residential schools for indigenous children, and too often we have turned our backs on treaties with indigenous brothers and sisters. When we said nothing about such policies, we supported the status quo by default. Then and now, however, the voice of God calls us to bring our faith to participate actively in shaping public policy, “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!” (Isaiah 10:1-2 NRSV) Our faith has political implications.

    A serious reckoning with the ministry of Jesus compels us to embrace not a politics of left or right or Democratic or Republican parties, but to further God’s politics as best we can determine it. Jesus directed us to pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus gave us our public policy directive in his first address, as told in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (NRSV)

    Our experience has shown us that racism is embedded in public policies and systems, favoring some people and discriminating against others. This “institutional racism” creates inequities between the poor and rich, those with health care and those without, those who are welcome in our country and those who are not, those who face disparity in the criminal justice system and those who do not, those with access to good education and those who lack it. In health care, voting rights, education, criminal justice, immigration policy, and housing, we have a responsibility to name structural inequities, to join with others in the public square who are seeking the good of the whole, and to work for moral policy that roots out racism from our common life.

    Jesus not only endorsed policies that would ensure liberty and justice for all. He also moved among the people who were made poor by systemic inequality, offering healing and value to all. Jesus broke bread with people from all walks of life and intentionally developed relationships across the dividing lines of race, gender and nationality. Jesus invited people into diverse, beloved community where they could learn to face their own implicit bias and heal from the hatred that had been sown in their own hearts.

    To follow Jesus in North America today is to both advocate for anti-racist public policy and actively seek to build community across the dividing lines of race and class in our communities. Our call as people of faith is to pave the way for public justice by becoming the kind of community we pray and work for in society. The values that undergird this two-fold ministry of public witness and life together include love, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, hospitality to strangers and prophetic challenge in the face of injustice. Jesus called these things the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt.23:23 NRSV).

    As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said half a century ago, “we as a nation need to undergo a radical revolution of values.” Rev. King insisted then that it was time to break the silence about the injustices in society. The truth must be told, he said.

    The truth must still be told. We challenge every sitting politician and candidate for public office, and we challenge ourselves: this is not about party politics. It is about redeeming the soul of our two nations.

    Sisters and brothers, it matters how we talk about these things. Our words and tone will resonate beyond this particular political season. We choose today whether we will speak from a place of mutual respect and care for each other and value for the establishment of justice, the common good and equal protection under the law in our life together, or whether we will choose to side with likeminded friends and family, “three against two and two against three” in a fight to societal devastation.

    Two ways are laid out before us: one that leads to destruction and another that leads to life. For two decades, our church has tried to walk the narrow way of anti-racist community building and public witness. It has not been easy, and we are still striving to go deeper and become more just in our own church life, but we write to testify from our experience that this way leads to life. We pray in these difficult days that we will continue to have the courage to walk together in the way toward liberty and justice for all.

    In Christ,

    Regional Ministers and Moderators of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, meeting in Indianapolis, August 25-26, 2016.


And then there was that thing in Flint.

And then there was that thing in Flint.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

— Amos 5:24

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“I pray that the powers-that-be hear our prayers because all this behavior we are exhibiting is a prayer on our part.

“Thank you for listening and enjoy your families, your children, and grandchildren.”

–Dave Archambault, II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

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Photo courtesy of Dallas Parker, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (via United Methodist News Service). Tribal people from several nations gather daily at the protest campsite to pray for an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Parker, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (via United Methodist News Service).
Tribal people from several nations gather daily at the protest campsite to pray for an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction.

If you haven’t followed the stand that Native-American tribes have taken against the pipeline–if you don’t understand why the tribes are so upset about it–this quote from a United Methodist News Service article tells you all you need to know (with my italics for emphasis):

    The route of the Dakota Access Pipeline originally crossed under the Missouri River near Bismarck. Due to documented concerns over water contamination, the route was moved to cross near the reservation. The pipeline is designed to carry a half-million barrels of oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

    “They could just have easily put this pipeline under the river at Bismarck. Well, guess what? That’s where the white people live,” [protester] Charles Hunter said.

Get it? The original route was moved so that the issue became a potential Native-American problem.

So the tribes aren’t concerned only about their sacred land being desecrated, but also concerned about the source of all life: clean water.

(More from the church perspective here.)

This brought to my mind the horror story that erupted out of Flint, Mich., in January, when e-mails released by Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder showed his office dismissed or played down legitimate concerns about the poisonous water in Flint for months on end.

You’ll recall that finally, after African-American kids were poisoned by the lead contaminated-water supply, state officials conceded that Flint had a major public health emergency because of poisonous tap water.

That whole, horrifying disaster began because the Scrooge of a Republican leader wanted to cut expense and thus went on the cheap in supplying water, at risk to powerless people. (And to be fair, there turned out to be plenty of political blame to go around, as usual: some Democrats came out of it with rotten eggs on their faces, too.)

This kind of injustice happens every day–and never in the back yard of people who live near high-dollar country clubs or suburban McMansions.

It’s always in the back yards of powerless and poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, and now (as usual) the nation’s original Americans.

“Justice denied anywhere,” King said, “is justice denied everywhere.”

God bless the justice fighters in North Dakota, Flint, and everywhere.

May their tribes increase.

Poverty can literally be a bloody Hell.

You’re extremely poor, you net a few hundred dollars a month of income, and you’ve had an unanticipated expense of $30 or $40 come up.

What do you do?

You donate blood–maybe for the second time this week–for a quick $30.

For more than a million of the poor people among us, giving blood is a survival strategy.blood-chart-s

In 2014, 32.6 million people donated plasma, a three-fold increase over the donations 10 years prior.

Blood donation centers have mushroomed across the country since “The Great Recession,” mostly in poor areas. These centers have special promotions, complete with bonus payouts and rewards programs.

Never mind that it may be harmful to your health, which probably isn’t great when you’re stuck down in Poordom.

Oh well. Supplying blood is very profitable and that’s all that matters in the minds of so many.

Remember the poor, somebody.

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Here’s an interesting take from a physician.
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More for your edification here.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

— John: 14:1-2

Because I’m a former hospice chaplain and a night-shift hospital chaplain, this quote from a fascinating New Yorker Magazine profile* of a hospice nurse resonated with me:

    “Some hospice workers believe that working with the dying is the closest you can get on earth to the presence of God.”

I’ve often said I never feel closer to God than when I’m pastoring someone at the end of life. And I believe there is no greater privilege than to walk with a dying person and the loved ones.

PHOTOGRAPH BY EUGENE RICHARDS FOR THE NEW YORKER

photo by Eugene Richards for New Yorker Magazine)

It so happened happened that shortly after I read the aforementioned article last month, a friend of many years emailed me to inform me that her mom had died. She told me about her experience with hospice care, with which she and her family were pleased.

She told me that weeks and days before her mother died peacefully in her home, her mom told the family she was ready to “go home.”

As in home to God, which the family members didn’t understand at first. Not until a hospice chaplain explained that dying people often speak of going “home” in the spiritual sense. (*See note about a chaplain’s role at bottom.)

My friend’s mom was 83. My friend said she and the family had a hard time letting go, of course, initially resisting doctors’ suggestions they sign up for hospice visits in the home.

Letting go of anyone dying–even someone who’s had a long and good life–is as hard as it gets. But honoring the expressed desire to “go home” is a way of honoring the dying one’s personhood. It’s best to affirm the dying wish by saying something like, “We know you’re ready to go but we’ll miss you.”

There is a time to live and a time to die: the elderly at the end of life see that with such clarity they no longer have any fear of death, if they ever did. It’s typically some of the family survivors who can’t bear to hear mom or dad or some loved one speak of their own death.

It’s why so many keep their loved ones living on machines that provide artificial life, not real life, in resistance to “a time to die.”

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to "go gentle into that good night."

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to “go gentle into that good night.”

In the fascinating biography of David’s intense and fascinating life as told in the Old Testament Books of Samuel, there’s a story about the last days of King David’s loyal friend Barzillai.

Barzillai was a wealthy man from Gilead. He had shown King David hospitality and provided his army provisions in a time when few people dared to stand by David because of an uprising led by the king’s own son Absalom.

Now at the age of 80, Barzillai went with David to escort him over the Jordan River, where David would regain power and wage a national revival.

David said to his loyal friend at the riverside, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem at my side.”

Here’s how that went according to scripture:

    “But Barzillai said to the king, ‘How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? . . . Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? . . .

    Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (See II Samuel 19:31-37)

Barzillai was at peace with his personal end times. He was plenty ready to return to his hometown in order to “go home” in the spiritual sense.

It’s hard to let go of our beloved parents and others as they near the end, but there comes a time when one is too spent to “rage against the dying of the light.”

And why rage against it anyway. I’ve always said that God brings us into the world with our kicking and screaming and adjusting our tiny eyes to the light. But God in God’s tender mercy takes us back home gently as the body steadily shuts down. As it does so, one has no more desire or need for food or water and pain dissipates into peace.

A natural death can be, and should be, a “good death”–a death in which one can naturally “go gentle into the good night” of perfect rest, perfect peace.
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*Note: In signing up for hospice care, patients or families are asked if they want “spiritual care visits” from a chaplain. Because chaplains provide “spiritual care” and not necessarily Christian care, a Christian chaplain sometimes visits people of other religions or no religion at all; the aim is to be a “listening, nonjudgmental presence” to someone in grief.

I’ve prayed many times with Jewish patients, Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu patients–even atheist patients who, when asked them if they wanted me to pray for them, often said, “I guess it can’t hurt anything.”)

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*(photo is from the aforementioned New Yorker Magazine profile of a hospice nurse. link here.)
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* And here are useful facts about hospice care in a time when growing numbers of people are reaching the ends of their lives.