My circus, my monkeys

circus monkeysAn old Polish proverb is  making a comeback these days: “not my circus, not my monkeys”. In essence, it means that whatever is going on is not my problem.  It also suggests that whatever craziness one is experiencing, whatever whirls of discontent, dysfunction, or badness are flying around, it’s not of my doing and it’s not my responsibility.  The proverb indicates good boundaries: that is crazy but I am not.  But I wonder, too, if the proverb does not also suggest some leave taking of responsibility.

In many ways, the denomination of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is my home.  Since I started attending church in third grade, I have been a part of a Presbyterian church.  It’s what I know and yes, at times, it is my circus.  And lately my circus has had some tent poles crashing down within it.

There’s an ongoing investigation into the misuse of funds in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative.  Some folks started a 501(c)(3) without the correct approval, and an appointed attorney is looking into it, and four people in the national office have been put on administrative leave.

More recent is a misguided marketing campaign for one of our longtime annual offerings, the One Great Hour of Sharing.  The campaign featured photographs of youngish people, all of whom were people of color, with an attention-grabbing line.  One said, “Needs help with a drinking problem” implying that this young Hispanic girl/woman was an alcoholic.  In smaller font were the words “She can’t find water.”  Many leaders throughout the denomination many people of color raised an appropriate uproar and the campaign has been pulled.  When our materials arrived at the church office last week, we put them in the recycling bin and confirmed that new materials would be sent out shortly.

In other words, the national office has experienced two very big and very public mistakes in the past few months.  Leadership has been applauded by some for their honesty in owning up to the errors, and scourged by others for lack of transparency, top-down decisions, and general ineptitude.  My husband’s take is that ever since so many of the conservatives have left, we have no one to fight with so we fight with ourselves.  Isn’t that sad, if it’s true.

But here’s the thing: this is my circus, and these are my monkeys.  We Presbyterians hold fast to the idea that we are a connectional church, which means we are connected when we get it right and we are connected when we get it wrong.

Many years ago a friend of mine was the moderator of her presbytery.  She served at a time when the pastor of a very big church had been found guilty of sexual misconduct with a member of the congregation.  The church court voted to have him reprimanded on the floor of presbytery.  There is a script for these things, and the time came for the reprimand.  The moderator asked the pastor to stand, and as he did, about fifty members of his congregation, who could not fathom that their pastor was guilty of such a thing, stood with him.  My friend quickly got the lay of the land, and in a stroke of brilliance, said something along the lines of “when one member of the body sins, all sin, so let us all stand with our brother.”  I’m still awed by her quick thinking and deep theology.

She had a point.  When people talk about “them” – the presbytery, the national  office – I always want to jump in and say “there is no ‘they’ – we are the presbytery!”  “We are the PC(USA)!”  And we are the national office, too, in the sense that we’re all Presbyterians and we are all connected and we are all in the same beautiful and broken three-ring circus.

I pray for the national staff because it must be pretty rough right now.  Everyone who works in the center can be lumped together – those who made the awful decisions and those who had no part in their making.  And I pray for the people of color in our denomination who have long felt that their voices have been neither heard nor heeded.  It’s all my circus.

I’m just glad I’m not the person in the middle in the top hat.

 

Holding fast to the good: Christmas Eve

Haring-Life-of-Christ-Altarpiece-500One of the readers of this blog recently commented that a few of my recent posts have been a bit on the down side, and as I looked over them, I realized she was right.  I have been in a bit of a professional funk, which happens.  I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of person, evidenced by the title of this blog.  The funk needs some personal reflection and you all don’t need to be a part of that.  But I have encouraged myself not only to hold fast to what is good, but to look for what is good, and to share some stories of good news.  So here’s one of those stories.  (And those in it gave me their permission to tell it.)

Our later Christmas Eve service is a beautiful thing.  Our choir sings like the angels.  Our deacons are on it, hospitable with first-timers, alert when all the candles are lit, staying late to clean up afterwards.  The worship committee has worked hard on decorations and details.  But the management of all that falls on me as the pastor for worship.  Do the pastors and ushers have their big candles?  Will the lights go out in the right order at the right time?  Did we print enough bulletins? Did our communion team put the elements in the loft for the choir? Did I remember to remind our congressman that the service starts an hour earlier than it used to, so he won’t show up an hour late?  All of which is to say that sometimes it’s hard to get in the mood for worship when all those details are swirling around in my head.

But I do try to set those details aside; at some point what will happen will happen because of or in spite of all our planning.  And Christmas Eve is so beautiful in the necessary sort of way, even magical for some.  And I love Incarnation maybe more than I love Resurrection.  So here’s a bit of Incarnation reality on Christmas Eve.

Like almost every other church, we light Advent candles for the weeks leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve we light the three purples, the pink, and the big white Christ candle.  We usually ask our new members, folks who have joined in the last year, to light the candles as a way to include them and introduce them.  This Christmas Eve two of our new members were the lighter/readers.  One a soprano from the choir, and one a transgender woman who came to know us because of a tragedy – the murder of a friend of hers who was a member of our church.  They carried out their roles with aplomb and grace and poise.

We pastors processed in during the prelude, and as I settled in and tried to rid my brain of the detaily things and the gnats of minutia, I watched the people come in.  Some I knew; many I didn’t, but there is a joy to watching people come in because it’s Christmas Eve and they want to be in church.  Arriving just a minute or so late were some other new members: a lovely woman and her son who is physically disabled and in a large motorized wheelchair, her best friend, her sister-in-law, and his nurse.  We don’t have a good space for folks in wheelchairs, so they came up and sat in the front row.

As I watched them settle in, I realized that because we were having communion by intinction, everyone who came up would pass by this family as they returned to their pews.  I wondered if it would be hard for some to see this young man in his wheelchair, if for some there is an expectation that everything is pretty and “normal” on Christmas Eve, if the sight of this man would be jarring.  I hoped not, because I know him a little, and because I know that the sight of him in his chair doesn’t begin to capture his personality or his mind, or the love this family has for each other.

Three weeks later, as I think about Christmas Eve and those who were a part of the service, I think we got something right.  Maybe the lights didn’t go out quite right, maybe my meditation was a little more depressing than I had intended, but we got at least one thing right: people who in the past would have been shunned at church were not only welcomed, they were front and center, a part of things.  Because if there is one thing to take away from that stable in Bethlehem, it is that everyone has a place there.  And I will hold fast to that.

“Remembering the stable where for once in our lives

Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio)

John Galt is loose!

romance_novelTrue confession: I love Atlas Shrugged.  I think it is a wonderful romance novel, complete with striking beauty Dagney and the bevy of men who wish to bed her.  I think the next edition of Ayn Rand’s hot masterpiece should include an image of Dagney, corseted under her stern suit, breathless in the arms of John Galt, immortalized by Fabio who has cut his hair short for the occasion.  Really, I think that’s the only way to read this Rand-y romance.  And I have, more than once, though I’ve never made it through the 70 page manifesto/radio address/proclamation of love by John Galt in the latter part of the book.  There’s something romantic about the notion of leaving all those talentless mucks behind and creating one’s own utopia of talent, hidden away in the gorgeous and rugged landscape in Colorado.  A brain drain is afoot, and John Galt is behind it all, whispering to the best and brightest to come away, to leave the world, to create a community where their talent will be tested and validated.

Every so often I feel that way about the church – not that it’s full of talentless mucks; not that at all.  But when I learn of another pastor friend leaving the parish, or of a parishioner who has decided he or she is done  with church, I wonder: what is luring them away?  Is there some spiritual equivalent of John Galt that whispers to them, “There is more… come away… leave it all… you are better than this… enjoy your Sunday mornings….”

The people I know who have answered a new call to non-parish ministry are good folk.  They are faithful.  They are talented.  They have not made this decision lightly.  But every time I hear a friend is leaving her or his congregation to head up a non-profit, or to go into counseling, or just to take a break, a part of me gets so very sad.  The church needs them, I think.  But I also think, is the church so broken they had to leave?

I don’t think the church is that broken, or better put, I don’t think the church is any more broken now than it ever was.  We are an imperfect people called together into community, and that right there means brokenness.  I think my friends who leave parish ministry leave not because of brokenness but because of faithfulness – faithfulness to the call they discern from God, faithfulness to their true selves.

We pastors are broken people who minister to other broken people in a broken world.  We are all in the process of mending.  We are not super-human, uber-faithful, crazy talented folks who deign to share our gifts with the undermasses.  We are not Dagney Taggart; we are not John Galt.  We understand that however flawed or perfect we are, there is One who is more perfect, One who accepts and even uses our flaws.  And if that One calls one of us to go do something new, to minister in a classroom or a counseling office or a non-profit, then okay: it’s not that the one is leaving the church, but taking the church and God to the world.

So Miss Ayn, you can have your John Galt luring the arrogant away.  You may have all those people.  I’ll keep the rest, in the church or in the world or in the home.  But thanks all the same for the trashy romance novel.

In it for the long haul

It has occurred to me recently that, if I work until I am 67,  I am a little over halfway through my ministerial career.  And there are days I wonder if I’ll make it.

There are not many days like that, I will tell you.  But when I look at another seventeen years of ministry – seventeen years of stewardship campaigns and candlelight Christmas Eve services, seventeen years of Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter, seventeen years of this year’s Lent theme or next year’s Advent theme, seventeen years of monthly session meetings, and seventeen years of the Gnats of Minutia (more on that in a moment) – the future that might unroll seems a bit like cold leftover oatmeal.

I am what you would call a first career pastor.  I had three years between college graduation and starting seminary, and when at 25 I moved west to begin my M.Div., I thought I could say I wasn’t exactly a first-career pastor.  After all, I had had three whole years of work!  I lived in Manhattan and worked at three different institutions, and then I temped for year and had all sorts of work experiences!  I was no wet-behind-the-ears seminarian.

But of course I was.  I was not terribly sympathetic to my classmates who had moved their entire families across the country, left decent-paying jobs, uprooted a spouse from his/her community.  I was Going Places and had Three Whole Years of Work Experience.  I too had moved across the country.  Bring it, Jesus!

There have been periods when I’ve thought about leaving ministry or doing a ministry in a place other than the parish.  These days when I’m going through one of those bouts I fantasize about going to work for a friend of mine who started a non-profit that accepts donated children’s books, cleans and repairs them, and then gives them to children in the Head Start program.  The staff works Monday – Friday, about 9-5.  No evening meetings.  No weekend responsibilities.  It sounds like heaven.  Minister friends leave their parish to do something else, and I’m a little bit jealous.

For me, the biggest pushers to leaving parish ministry are this:

1. Weekends.  We don’t get weekends off, though I did know that from the beginning.  If we do get a weekend off, it counts as vacation time, and in my congregation (as in many) there are a limited number of Sundays off in a year.  Six, to be exact, which is certainly a fair number.  But that does mean juggling out-of-town weddings, graduations, family celebrations, 50th birthday weekends, and time just with my family.  And yes, there are many people besides clergy who work on weekends.

2.  Tedium.  I dream of never going to another committee meeting.  Now granted, some committee meetings are very productive and some have a holiness about them, but often they are a litany of to-do’s (which do need to get down) and another night away from my kid, another night of driving to church in the cold or the rain and sitting in an overheated room with fluorescent lights.  Every two weeks, come rain or shine, I write a newsletter article.   Every week in staff meeting we go over the calendar, and still we miss things.  And yes, there are many people besides clergy who have tedium in their work.

IMG_5636-13.  The Gnats of Minutia.  On our staff are big picture people and detail people.  I am one of the detail people, which is sometimes fine and sometimes a burden, because in my experience, people rarely complain about the big picture stuff but they do complain about the details (where, I believe, the Devil is found.) And while I’m pretty good at details, there are those in the congregation who are GREAT at details, who live to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  I am happy they do it, but once in a while I wish they could understand that their attention to detail does not excite me as much as, say, a baptism or a stunning choir anthem or a life turned around somehow.  And yes, there are plenty of people besides clergy who swat every day at the Gnats of Minutia.

I am writing this the week after Christmas when admittedly I am weary.  Next week I’m going off to spend a week with my lectionary group, a community of clergy who get together once a year to do some studying, and to talk a lot, and to laugh and play.  It is a refreshing time.  My husband/co-pastor and I are working with a coach and one of the things we’ll talk about with him is pacing ourselves for the long haul.

I don’t know everything about making the next seventeen years interesting and fulfilling and faithful, but I do know this: I cannot lose sight of God while tending God’s church.  When I look at pastors who’ve served the parish for thirty, forty, fifty years, often the common denominator of what keeps them going is paying attention to their own spiritual life, not to lose the Forest of God for the trees of meetings and deadlines and minutia.

And the God I want to grow closer to is not the God of doctrine (though I find doctrine intellectually stimulating) nor the God of all the rules (because I think there are just two: love God, and love neighbor as self.)  I want to grow in my relationship with the God of mystery and grace, the God of incarnate love and the impossible resurrection. That God will see me through another seventeen years, if not my whole life.

Long-and-Winding-Road

 

On the park bench, Christmas Eve

(This was my Christmas Eve meditation a few years back.  Generally, I don’t think most sermons have much staying power, and maybe I’m being a little sentimental, but I think I may have gotten something right with this one.  A blessed Christmas, and gracious holiday to you.)

park-bench-1340697334wtQThere once was an old man whom, this evening, we will call Joe. Joe was single, never married, didn’t date much. He was an only child and his parents were gone, and he was a bit crotchety, which is to say he was all alone in the world. He had long since retired from a job which brought him a modest income, a few acquaintances, and no friends.

In his retirement he spent his days as he pleased – checking the morning headlines, washing up the coffee cup and cereal bowl. He’d run the few errands he had, get the daily special soup at the diner counter, run a few more errands. Late afternoon would find him on a park bench, alone. It was always the same bench, in the northwest part of the park, near a sidewalk but blissfully far away from the children’s playground. He would sit there, all alone, and with a fair amount of disinterest, he would watch the world go by.

Most days, that was enough for old Joe. Once in a while he would break his routine – he’d give a smile to the cashier as she handed him his change, or he’d bark at the server who overfilled his coffee cup. Most days his routine was enough. But every so often as he’d sit all alone on that park bench, a terrible melancholy would overtake him. That happens sometimes at dusk – babies instinctively cry and the colic worsens, or harassed parents, home from work, stress out as they try to transition from employee to chief cook and bottle washer. Every so often, as he sat on that bench at dusk, Joe would be overcome by a sadness he could not name, and all he wanted, in those anguished few moments, was for someone to come sit next to him. They didn’t have to talk, process feelings, make a plan to have dinner. All he wanted was company, a companion to sit with at dusk after years of going through life all alone.

As the seasons changed, Joe would change his routine ever so slightly and unconsciously so that he was always on the bench at dusk, be it a winter’s 4:00 or summer’s 8:00. The years passed, and the spasms of melancholy grew more frequent, and Joe, already so miserable in his aloneness, became all the more brittle, and a little desperate. He tried ways to make the bench inviting. He’d move the newspaper he’d been carrying around, as if to say, this seat isn’t being saved for anyone. He’d brush off the leaves. Once he even wiped off the residue from the pigeons – all to no avail. For whatever reason, no one ever sat by Joe.

Maybe passers-by feared that his loneliness was contagious, and they hurried past him so as not to catch it. Maybe after years of trying to smile and say hello only to be rebuffed, people stopped trying. Maybe after sitting on that same bench in the same park at the same time, year after year, Joe became invisible, the way the guy on the corner with the cardboard sign “Will work for food” becomes invisible. Whatever the reason, no one ever sat by Joe.

He could’ve died on that bench, so deep was the melancholy, so profound the despair, so pointed the loneliness he could no longer avoid. He wondered if that’s how he would end up – forgotten and ignored, sitting there one minute and dead there the next, without a soul to notice that his life had ended. He wondered if there would ever be anyone who would care. He wondered if he would live out however many days he had left sitting alone at dusk on that park bench.

There may be some here tonight who have felt like Joe at some time in their lives, or who feel like Joe every day. There may be some here tonight who know someone like Joe, some who have passed him by, some who understand how the relentless pain of another becomes invisible. There may be some here tonight who wonder how this story will end, and some who believe they know how it will end.

Tonight, on this night we have chosen to call holy, this is what I know: Our world has been like Joe, battling melancholy. The children of our world have known isolation; they have known what it’s like to be ignored or forgotten; they have felt, deep in their bones, what it is like to be alone. The children of the world have been battered, if not by loneliness or apathy, then by poverty or violence or forces beyond their control that have made them grow up too soon.

Our world has been like Joe, going through the same routines day after day without reason or purpose. The people of the world have known what it is to live by rote, to live in that routine of work and play and rest, of work and shopping and rest, of work and shopping and entertainment, confusing shopping and entertainment with godly play and holy rest. Our world has been like Joe, desperately trying to make that park bench a little more palatable, aching to have someone simply sit down next to us. We have feared the stranger, the other, for so long that it seems too late to make amends for our isolating tendencies. For so long we have sat on our proverbial benches waiting for someone to come to us, never venturing off to go to someone else.

Tonight, on this night we have chosen to call holy, this is what I know: That the miracle of the incarnation might be described as God coming to sit down next to us on our park bench. Because while we might have forgotten or ignored all the Joes of the world, God hasn’t forgotten. God cannot ignore this world that was created by deep love. God will not forsake this world so plagued by fear and greed and pride. God will not turn a blind eye to the pain of the world’s children.

Ours is a visited planet, as the Bible scholar J. B. Phillips once said. Ours is a visited planet, which is to say that God is no theist watchmaker kind of God, setting the world a-ticking and then moving on. Ours is a visited planet, but not in the way you or I might want to visit Tuscany or the Grand Canyon. Our is a visited planet, in the way we might want to sit and visit with a beloved grandmother who died, whose advice and date pinwheel cookies we still crave; the way we might want to visit with our best friend who’s doing his best to beat cancer; the way we might want to visit forever with a child or parent or sibling who is wedged deeply in our hearts.

That is how God has visited with us: with the love a Creator has for his creation, with the love a mother has for her child. Why God would choose to do this is beyond my ken, and all that I know on this night we have chosen to call holy is that it has something to do with love. And this love transformed God (if we could say God is transformable) from being a mere visitor to being an inhabitant of the world, like we are. God visited us, and came to us, and became one of us so that you and I and all the Joes of the world would know that we are not alone.

On this holy night, it is as though Joe is sitting on the park bench again. He has put his paper in the recycling can; he has brushed away the pigeons’ offering. He has waited for the light to dim, once again, alone. But this dusk, this time, this holy time, Someone sits down next to him. He just sits down with Joe, and Joe is not alone. We are not alone; we are loved. Thanks be to God.

Help me, Baby Jesus- you’re my only hope!

stormtrooper-costumes-christmas-coupleA few recent conversations have gotten me to thinking about the large Load of Expectations people carry around with them this season. It’s a bit crazy making, really.  Here are a few:

That I will purchase The Perfect Gift for a someone in my life, and they will love it so much.

That our gathering (family or friends, co-workers, girlfriends, whomever) will be perfect, the stuff of catalog stock photos.  Everyone will say it was the best holiday party ever.

That I will preach the perfect Christmas Eve sermon -or- the church service I attend will renew my faith/inspire me to sell all my goods and give to the poor/make everything that is wrong in my life or the world right.

That the dinner I prepare will make the judges on Top Chef cry with jealousy.

You get the picture.  We need to tone it down because:

You probably cannot afford the perfect gift or there is no way you have time to find the perfect gift.  It is the giving that is important here, and if the recipient of your present doesn’t know that, it’s on them and not on you.

Your gathering will not perfect.  Your family will likely not all get along, and someone might be sullen and someone might drink too much and not in the good way and someone will be disappointed.  Your friends might cancel at the last moment because their kid is throwing up or because they can’t do one more thing.

Something will go wrong with your dinner – the turkey might be overcooked (which, admittedly, is better than being undercooked). The person in charge of the wine might bring something dreadful.  The souffle might fall.

So let me ask: why are we doing all of this?

If you are a religious person, particularly a religious person who identifies with the Jesus people, you are doing this for Jesus and not for anyone else.  So if you think Jesus will be disappointed with you because you did not give your father-in-law the matching tie and pocket square that he wanted, you are wrong.  Jesus does not care about the presents you give or receive.  The Wise Men thing?  About honoring a king, not about making Mary and Joseph happy that the neighbors did the right thing.

If you are not a religious person, there could be many reasons you are doing this.  I am a religious person and always have been, so I’m not entirely sure.  But you might be joining in on all the holiday stuff because the sun sets too early and rises too late in this season and you need to add a little cheer to the gray dreary days.  You may be doing the holiday thing because you have time off from work and everyone else is doing it.  You may be doing it because you think it adds some good to a world that’s hurting.

Here is what I know:

That some people will be disappointed no matter what.  They have unrealistic expectations of you, or of the church, or of this season.  You are not responsible for their disappointment.

And some people will be sad or depressed in this season no matter how much cheer and twinkly lights surround them.  They have good reason to be sad.  They’re not getting enough vitamin D this time of year.  This is their first Christmas without their beloved and frankly, it sucks.  They are staring down cancer or ALS and wondering if this December is their last.  Their family won’t fight because their family won’t be together, for whatever reason.

The world is a mess and our country is a mess and that’s always been the case.  There has never been a time when everything was okay.  Everything will not be okay this Christmas, and to expect that it will be is to set yourself up for disappointment.  But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some good in the midst of the sad.  That doesn’t mean there can’t be some hope in the midst of all that is dreary and awful.

For some of us, Baby Jesus is our only hope – the hope that God did not give up on the world when it was a mess but instead came to the world because it was a mess in order to start getting it cleaned up a little.  If you’re doing all this because you’re a religious person, you might want to keep that in mind.

I suppose others find hope in other place – in the potential of good in the human heart, in that long arc of history that bends every so slowly toward justice, hope that there have been cures and ceasefires and confessions and pardons and there will be again.

Maybe Leonard Cohen said it best:

Ring the bells that can still ring.SONY DSC

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

On poverty

Last week I went to the dentist to have a little problem fixed; my bill, after insurance was figured in, was $963.  I put it on my Discover card and consoled myself that at least I would get a little cashback bonus for my trouble.  And then I got to thinking: I have dental insurance and a credit card and a decent paying job, but $963 does make a dent.  What do people do who don’t have dental insurance, or credit cards, or decent paying jobs?

They don’t get their teeth fixed.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about poverty, the cousin of racism.  I know many people in my various circles of family, friends, and church who will not hear one more word about white privilege, racism, or any of it.  I don’t agree with their position, but I also know that however eloquently or loudly people proclaim their message, others simple will not hear it.

But I wonder if these same people who will not hear one more word about racism will listen to a word about poverty.  I think the two are very much entwined, though poverty may cast a wider net.  I think as much as we have a problem with racism in this nation, we also have a problem dealing with the reality of poverty.  I am not an economist, a social scientist, or a psychiatrist, but I do read a little in these areas.  I am a pastor in a faith tradition that teaches that we must always have special consideration of the poor, who will always be with us and who will always rely on our goodness or guilt or generosity.  Some friends would say that Jesus has put this on my heart this season, and so I share my thinking with you.

Walmart-strikers-food-bin-return-e1416863017929I think about those Walmart workers who are not paid a living wage, who gave back the food donated to them at Thanksgiving saying they would rather have a raise than a turkey.  I think about the Walton family’s wealth.  I think about the discrepancy between what a CEO makes and what the janitor makes.  The figures don’t add up.

A recent study showed that there is a point at which more income does not equate to more happiness.  “Emotional well-being also rises with… income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ~$75,000. Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone. We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”  (http://www.pnas.org/content/107/38/16489.abstract)

I think about the cycle of poverty.  Brain research has shown how brains under stress get rewired.  Children who live under the stress of poverty, food insecurity, abuse, and other factors essentially run the risk of having their brains rewired.  They get stuck in the “fight or flight” response mode.  Toxic stress also cause long term physical damage as well.  Harvard University has done great work on the developing child, and I commend their research to you. (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/toxic_stress_response/)

I think about world poverty.  After the nation of Liberia ended a fourteen-year civil war, there were only five doctors there to care for four million people.  Ebola has ravaged parts of west Africa because the poverty there has insured inadequate medical care, sanitation, communication, and support systems.  What is fueling the so-called immigrant crisis on our U.S. southern borders?  Poverty, in part, in Central American countries.  Violence, corruption, and crime also play their part, but those might all be rooted in poverty.

Last week I attended a meeting of city officials, housing department staff, and religious leaders in my part of the city to talk about undoing and repairing the effects of gentrification in North and NE Portland.  Some of that is tied to Portland’s shameful history with regards to the African American community here, displaced three times in the twentieth century.  But some of it is tied to the gap between poverty and wealth in this community.

It’s no coincidence this is on my heart in December, this month when we spend so much money on things, and some money on organizations that help people.  It’s also a month when many non-profits received a good portion of their annual donations as people take advantage of the tax credit available through charitable giving.  In our little family, we spend more on ourselves than we do on others, but we do give some money – to our church’s Angel Tree project, to Habitat for Humanity, to Heifer International.  My parents asked that this year our present to them be a gift to their church’s school in Haiti.  They know they don’t need one more thing.

I am no communist.  I don’t think we should all throw all we have into a big pot and everyone gets an equal share.  (Sorry, disciples in Acts 2.)  But I do wonder how much is enough.  I wonder what would happen if some gave up a bit of their abundance – would that help another get out of some of their poverty?

Faces-Poverty