Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When will it trickle down?

In looking over the statistics for November in Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, part of the Jubilee Ministry Center at St. Mark’s, it came to my attention that in November alone we were able to serve 97 families for a total of 270 persons. What is amazing is that of these 17 families or 37 people were NEW clients of the Cupboard. That means that 17% of the families served had not been in the Cupboard before.

To me this is more evidence that the economic “recovery” is not trickling down to the lower strata of our economic structure. In other words, the problem is getting worse, not better.

In 2011 Church Finance Today reported, "68% of churches in the West-South Central U.S., and 64% of churches in the East-South Central U.S. have expenses exceeding income. These are the best regions in the country." This poses an interesting question: how are churches that can’t even pay their own bills with current income provide the safety net that is necessary for our own society in the long term? This is one of the fallacies that plague our current political debates over care for the poor: that “private sector” organizations (i.e. churches and non-profits) are the proper purview for this kind of work – that it is not part of government’s responsibility.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this leads me to a question I shudder to ask. Is this a way to accelerate the decline of main-line protestant churches, I mean the ones that are traditionally identified as “liberal” in their social justice stance? The logic is there: if these churches feel compelled to take care of the poor, let them. Soon enough they will spend their way out of existence and the social consciousness that they espouse will go with them.

Honestly, I do not think that there is any such conspiracy. However, the logic is inescapable and if we continue to ignore the proper role of government in providing a social safety net for those who are unable to care for themselves, we will in fact lose part of our national soul.

Meanwhile, the Jubilee Ministry Center at St. Mark’s will continue to feed those who seek assistance motivated by the love of Christ. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Parishioners’ Outreach will continue to touch and change lives just when individuals felt that they were at the end of their fiscal rope. We will do so even as the parish struggles to keep its fiscal head above water because it is not about our institutional survival – it is about our fundamental commitment to the Gospel to care for the least and the lost in our community. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chicken & Egg: Self-Esteem and Accomplishment

I recently read a quote that said something to this effect: Great accomplishments are the result of a healthy self-esteem, not the cause of it. I apologize to the sage who authored this thought but I can’t remember where I read it or who said it. Its truth nonetheless remains.

So often in our culture, we measure an individual’s worth by what they have accomplished. While this may at time be legitimate (as in a “value-added” approach to organizational life), it should never be the measure of the self.  Forgetting this truth undermines the inherent dignity that is the inalienable possession of every human being, and violates the covenant we profess in our baptism to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

It is necessary for us in Christian community, then, to work first and foremost to affirm and help individuals build self-esteem and self-respect.  This is not self-centered. Rather, it is the requisite for fulfilling one of the great commandments, “to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

Inwardly rooted self-esteem has its origin in the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator. To develop this kind of self-esteem requires not external affirmation (though that doesn’t hurt) but the discipline of spiritual practice. This practice requires that we live ever more consciously and intentionally as children of God. It will require us to accept ourselves as God sees us – redeemed and restored by his grace. This is the beginning.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God has no express lane.

Advent is the liturgical season of vigilance or, to put it more commonly, a season of waiting. During the weeks before Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the people of Israel who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah.

From beginning to end of scripture we discover stories of people who are forced to wait. The patriarch Abraham received a promise that he would become, despite his old age, the father of a son. But the fulfillment of that promise was a long time in coming. Through many years, as he and his wife grew older and older, as the likelihood of their parenthood became increasingly remote, Abraham waited. Did he doubt? Did he wonder whether he had misunderstood God’s promise? Did his faith falter? Probably. But he waited, and in time the promise came true.

In the course of the Christian tradition, there is much evidence of this spirituality of waiting. Many of the saints realized they were being called by God to do great things. But before they found their path they often passed through a wide variety of experiences over many years: often with times of stark asceticism and prayer, sometimes living hand-to-mouth and sleeping in doorways. Only at the end of this long journey is the will of God made clear-showing the saints the great things God called them to do.

All of this, I believe, is very hard for most of us. I suppose we humans have always been in a hurry, but modern people seem especially to want what they want when they want it. We are driven, determined, goal-oriented, fast-moving. I, for one, have difficulty waiting for just about anything.

For some reason, this year is a bit different. Although the responsibilities are plentiful and time seems short, there is an inner patience that has grown out of – I don’t know where. I credit God’s dealing with me for this. More and more, I see God as standing outside of space and time. More and more, I see the plan of God being worked out not by me but by God’s people – in God’s good time. My task is to wait – to do what I am called to do when I am called to do it.

While I am still not ready to be a devotee of jigsaw puzzles (and the time it takes to complete them), I find that such things come into mind I do not reject them out of hand so quickly. I actually see myself entering into that experience – creating true leisure – the time it takes to wait.
Perhaps as this Advent unfolds, I will let what eighteenth century spiritual writer Jean-Pierre de Caussade said sink in: "Whatever happens to you in the course of a day, for good or ill, is an expression of God's will." 
-- thanks in part to Rev Robert Barron for the core idea for this post.