October 2008


Did you see Barack Obama’s infomercial last night?  What did you think?  Was it on the level of selling the perfect set of ginsu knives promising the impossible?  Or did it provide you with some hope. Some sense that things could be different.  

Maybe cynicism has creeped in for some of you.  Thoughts of why try… why when we know that politics is a mire of muddy pigs dressed up in fancy suits. To be honest, I don’t know if the next president, whoever it may be, can bring true reform and change.  But one thing that Obama’s hopefulmercial gave me back again was a sense of hope in relation to the Church. 

Hope, is the possibility of seeing what God sees and having God’s thoughts, feelings and actions infiltrate into the core of my being.  

The question is, do I have hope that things can be different?  Can there be communities who reflect the image and character of God?  Will there be people who stand for radical love, inclusive hospitality and social reconciliation.  

Has middle classness, individual consumerism, safety and security so inoculated the christian church that we have become blind to the calling and dream of God in this world.  Maybe.  My resposnse out of fear is… why even try.  “Give in to the dark side, Luke”.  Just stay on automatic pilot in my individual world where safety and security are the throne and scepter of my life.  

But then Barack Obama’s pirated the network airwaves to spread his message of “What if…”.  And this is the reason I feel that Obama will win.  There are enough Americans who are willing to let a relatively unexperienced person be president because we want some with enough resonance and vision to dream “What if”.  But i digress onto my political soapbox.

“What if…” there were a people who took the words of Jesus seriously and practiced with their lives…

-RADICAL HOSPITALITY

-INCLUSIVE LOVE

-PEACE AND LOOKING FOR GOD’S JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD OF INJUSTICE

-REDEEMING RECONCILIATION

-DOWNWARD MOBILITY

Hope says, God sees all of these things and today I want to see my world and my culture as He sees it.

Hope says, that God has called out a people to live out this radical and subversive life as a light to all the world of what God’s Life looks like in a world of flesh and blood, suffering and pain, failures and disappointments.

Hope speaks.  What is Hope saying to you today?

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This article is from a pastor in the local Portland area. I thought it appropriate due to all the media and political talk the middle class. It seems that the middle class are a group that gets all the attention. The upper class also get their fair share of press. The only group that doesn’t make the front page(or any page for that fact) is the poor. Maybe it is because we make too many assumptions.

Middle Class Assumptions

    
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of people were stranded in the city, which was soon destroyed by wind and flood and filled with diseases.  Because the great majority of people stranded in the city were black, it is assumed that latent racism underlying American society has taken its toll again.  Racism is an easy card to play—it seems to be a problem everywhere from the LA Police to grandpa’s living room.  There is the prejudice inherent in racism as well as the system in which groups are held back from positions of power. 

    Personally, however, I don’t think that the problem in New Orleans was racial prejudice.  Yes, the far majority of folks trapped in the city, lied to and even shot at were black—but certainly not all.  Nor do I actually think that the problem stemmed from authorities “not caring” about those who were stranded.  Yes, I am sure that there are some who didn’t care about them, but I don’t think that is what created the situation. 

    I think, rather, that the horrors in the city were created from the assumptions those in power had about society in general.

    The powers that be knew that there were many people who had no intention of leaving the city, no matter how many evacuation warnings were given.  These were people who had ways of getting out of the city, but they chose not to.  So, as many authorities were leaving the city, and they saw people staying behind, it was no surprise.  After all, many people were foolish and decided to ride out the storm.

    The real problem lay in what they didn’t think about.  They didn’t think about the fact that there is a vibrant street culture in New Orleans who wouldn’t have the capacity to leave the city.  They didn’t think about the many who were injured or elderly who were incapable of leaving, and without family to assist them.  They didn’t think about the poor who rely on public transportation for their daily needs, and do not have money to pay to leave the city.  They assumed that everyone could get out of the city if they wanted to.  It was never a spoken assumption.  If it had been spoken, it could have been questioned.  But the assumption was still there, still and quiet in the minds of those in power.

    And who could really blame them?  They were under a tremendous amount of stress.  They had to figure out how to take care of their families and property.  They had extra responsibilities.  They just never thought of those who wanted to be evacuated, but couldn’t be. 

    We mustn’t judge these authorities.  It is easy to point fingers after the fact, “You should have done this!”  Rather we should think about what we would have done in similar circumstances.  Would we have thought of those who had no transportation?  Would we have thought of those who had no reserve of cash to deal with an emergency?  Would we have thought of those in nursing homes and mental health facilities and prisons, if we had no one that we personally knew in such circumstances?  Would we have thought beyond ourselves to those who lack the resources we do on a daily basis?

    These questions are easy to answer.  First we need to ask, do we think of these folks now?  This is not asking—WHAT do we think of them?  If pressed on the point, I suppose that most of us would honestly say, “I never think badly about the poor and lowly.”  But the reason it is true is because the poor and lowly are so far out of our context, out of our lives, that we never actually think about them at all- either good or ill.  If we don’t think of them now, how could we expect anyone else like us to think of them when they are facing a personal crisis?  How can we expect anyone to assist the lowly in an emergency when they never thought of them on normal days?

    The stranded in New Orleans weren’t put in a life-threatening position because of racism or even because of blatant prejudice of any kind.  They were stranded because of middle-class assumptions.

    What is a middle class assumption?  It is what most of us who are middle class assume that “everyone” has in society, because everyone we know has them.  It is what we assume is the minimum standard to live and function in our society.  It is what goes thoughtless when dealing with large groups of people—from leading a church meeting to organizing a free concert to governing an entire population. 

    Having assumptions is not wrong.  It is a part of the cultural baggage we all have.  We learn it bit by bit beginning as infants, and our culture grows and is reshaped and is transformed as we get older.  The assumptions, however, is just what we get used to—what we never see missing.  If we have never (or have rarely) experienced a person speaking anything but Russian, then “normal” people speak Russian, and everyone who is not “normal” just doesn’t come to mind when we make plans.  Sure, we can understand intellectually that other people speak other languages, that they are people who are just as important as us and that they have their own need that doesn’t include speaking Russian—perhaps they speak Bengali or use sign language.   But in the normal course of day-to-day events, non-Russian-speakers don’t count because we have never experienced them. 

    And this is the case of the middle class with the lower class.  Yes, most middle class people know—intellectually— that lower class people count as much as they do and have their own needs and issues that differ from middle class needs and issues.  However, since the majority of the middle class do not “rub elbows” with those of the lower class, then the needs and issues of the lower class are unknown, not to mention the specific needs of individuals who find themselves in the lower class because they suddenly are lost without one of the things that they assumed was necessary to survive—but never really thought about it.

What are these assumptions?  Well, it is beyond my ability to list all of them.  But below are a list of those that I and those whom I know experienced.

Ability to remain clean
The idea that everyone in our society has the capacity to a shower or bath with a change of clean clothes and proper hygiene items, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.    However, this is a huge assumption to make.  To remain clean in this way requires many resources that people, especially those who live on the street, do not have.  Think casually how much you pay for your cleanness—between water, a place to have privacy, all the various items to clean clothes and hygiene items.  Even a quick overview can help us realize how expensive hygiene is.  Now we can know that cleanliness is next to godliness because only the gods can afford such a standard!

Ability to gain identification
Most people assume that identification is simple to obtain.  But if you had all of your identification stolen from you or lost in a fire, then you might find that you were in a grave situation.  For legal state I.D. you need two pieces of identification.  And you cannot obtain any other identification without identification.  And without identification, you cannot even check out a library book, let alone get a job or cash a check.

Well spoken English with no or minor accent
This is an assumption that many immigrants face daily.  It is assumed that because they learned English with a strong accent that they do not know English well at all.  And this is a barrier to many avenues of our society, although bi-lingual services are being provided more and more frequently now.

Basic knowledge of national events
Most of the middle class assume that everyone has access to a newspaper or at least watch television news.  However, for those who do not have televisions or who do not choose to pay attention to news, this limits conversation and the main source of knowledge of basic cultural information for the middle class.

Personal transportation
According to the middle class, “normal” people have access to an automobile, and thus can drive to places quickly as often as they like.  However, the cost of an automobile is such that a large percentage of the lower class cannot afford to pay for the car, insurance, repairs and gas.  

Ability to travel out of town
This is the assumption that stranded many people in New Orleans.  It is assumed that if necessary, with some planning, anyone can leave to another county or state if they so desire.  However, many people are limited to public transportation, which is limited to a metropolitan area.  Or Greyhound, but if you can’t book two weeks in advance or have extra money, then you ain’t going anywhere.

Well dressed, (but not necessarily fancy)
This is the assumption that keeps many lower class folks from attending church services or weddings.  It is assumed by most of the middle class that everyone has at least one set of “nice” clothes for special occasions.  However, many people, especially those of the lower class, just do not have them.

Computer literate
It is an assumption being made more and more often that everyone has the ability to get on a computer and know what one is doing.  Along with this assumption is the idea that we can send important information to people on the internet, or through email, and that is adequate for all who need it.  However, not everyone can use a computer and a large percentage of people have difficulties accessing the internet.

Health insurance
Some assume that everyone has some kind of health insurance, although is it becoming widely recognized that most people’s insurance is extremely inadequate.  Again, it is a large percentage of the lower class has no insurance whatsoever, and a growing group is being turned away from almost any medical care due to past unpaid bills.

No mental illness
This is the most widespread assumption and the one that is most wrong.  Perhaps some 10 percent of people have a diagnosed mental illness.  And perhaps another ten percent has a mental illness that has not been diagnosed.  But every single one of us has a mental weakness that makes us inadequate in an area that most people are adequate in.  Some of us are weak socially, some are weak in mathematics, some are weak in self-assessment.  But more often than not, those of us who are strong in an area cannot understand or appreciate those who are inadequate in some area of mental ability.  What we must remember however is that mental weakness is what is normal.

Disposable money
It is assumed and expected that everyone has some money, even if it is a small amount, that they can use for an occasional lunch out or for an emergency.  However, those of low income, while they might have the occasional financial surplus, they cannot predict ahead of time when they will have disposable income.  Thus, having a middle class friend ask if they want to do lunch together is just embarrassing.

Literacy
The education system of the United States has done a remarkable job of teaching most people to read.  But there are many people—almost exclusively of the lower class, with some rare exceptions—who are not literate, except in some rudimentary ways.   But we all  establish things for others

Place to sleep
It is important for all of us to recognize these assumptions and to fight such ignorance, both in ourselves and in others.  To know that many people do not have these culturally significant items for the middle class is important for all of us.  It is especially important for those who organize events or lead large groups of people to recognize what assumptions are being made, for the more assumptions we make, the more people we are excluding.  But most importantly, it is important for those in civil leadership to be aware of their assumptions, so that they could truly represent all of their people, and not just the middle class and above.

On the way home from ballet last night, my 5 year old daughter Charlotte came out with her pick for the 2008 Presidential election.

She is voting for the one with the star.

This is how it came about.  We drove by the typical sign plastered highway corner and she says to me.  “Dad, I am going to vote for the one with the star.”  I asked her why.  She did not give me her blistering opinion of abortion rights, gun control, taxes, ear marks or budget cuts.  She said, “Well Dad, I like the star, and Dad I am going to vote for them even if it is not Obama.”

Funny story huh.  Simple and direct.  She votes out of her heart, not her head.

I wonder if we voted with our hearts instead of our heads.  What if Republicans would not vote based upon the sole issue of the right to life, gun rights or taxes and instead voted with their heart on a leader who extolled the attributes of compassion, mercy and love.  What if Democrats would not vote on abortion rights, big government and union rights but instead voted for whom their heart rings of integrity, honesty and hard work.

So as we are deciding whom to vote for on Nov 4 can we try to vote out of our hearts?  Voting out of the knee jerk reaction of red and blue, donkey and elephant may be appropriate in an election of the class clown but is of little value in election of local and national officials.  

So I too join my daughter in voting for the the one with the star, voting from the basis of my heart.

 

The things I love in life… I love my hammock.  I love to lay suspended and yet held.  I love my ipod holder in my truck.  Such a wonderful organizational device.  

But I love all of these things for what they do for me.  They are the objects of my utility and that is why I love them.  I use them therefore I love them. (likely a poor definition of love and really not love at all)

I came to the realization that I may think God thinks the same way about me.  Why do I think this?  Is it because the Big Wigs who hear God tell me that God needs me as the blare horn of the impending dangers of hell or that I need to be a student of God’s word in order to give ‘right’ answers to the unsuspecting Jehovah Witnesses that come across my door.

Utility, use, work.  Soon the Bible becomes the Sears Roebuck tool catalog of the 100 uses a Christian can be to God and I becomes God’s Leatherman of multi-use tools that he can utilize in any situation.

But what if,  what if my conceptions of who God is are wrong.  What if the theology buffs who graduated from their theology schools are wrong.  

What if I am not the object of God’s utility.

But rather the subject of God’s Love.

No longer a third party tool that God uses to uses to accomplish His purposes and then puts back in the tool shed, until the day another ‘non-Christian’ steps onto the scene.  

Rather I am the subject of God’s love.  

Here is a great question to ask God.  God what are you into?  God in your spare time, what do you think of? God what do you dream of when you are inbetween helping my favorite team win the Superbowl and helping me find a heavenly sent parking spot at Walmart?

This is what I think his answer would be.  

You.  You are the subject of my love.  

You are the one I spent eternity dreaming about.  

Not for what you could do for me, but what you would be to me

And that baffles me.  That confounds every sensible and religious bone in my body.  My meritocraty, my earning God’s favor and blessing, all an unbearable chainsaw noise to the God who is screaming with the feriocity of His love.  “STOP, stop living a life in relation to me as one out of utility and become the subject of my love.”

And so the question begs, will I take my ear plugs out, turn off the buzz saw of my workings, doings and yearnings and listen? 

In the midst of some turbulent financial times I am going to post some relevant thoughts.  I really would like to hear from people on how they are living more contentedly, simply and within budgetary restraints.  I do believe it is exactly in these times that the Church needs to be vocal and prominent in their communities bringing hope in the midst of despair.  So please share on any thoughts or community ideas that you are trying or would like to try.

I am thinking of putting on a seminar that would deal with some of the more practical things in relation to hard times.  So any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

An Excerpt from Contentment: A Way to True Happiness by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl explore a seemingly rare state of being — contentment. In this excerpt they explore the pattern of inflation and deflation and posit that contentment lies in the middle way.

“Inflation is a distorted sense of who we are. Modern people have a psychological tendency to inflate like a balloon. The slang expression ‘he is just full of hot air’ captures this experience. When inflated, we think and act as if we are more than we really are; we are filled with high expectations, sometimes even arrogance. Anything that interferes with our willful desire feels like a disappointment.

“Modern life pushes us to inflate. Our progress-orientated, ‘bigger is better,’ consumer-driven society celebrates ‘too-muchness.’ A recent bumper sticker was succinct in expressing this attitude: ‘The one who ends up with the most toys wins.’ The West has been busy for decades teaching the world how to inflate; in some ways this has become the essence of being American. It is hard to part with something so ingrained as our power stance. . . .

“Any time we puff ourselves up — whether to gain attention, power, status, monetary reward, or love — there is a price. Every inflation is followed by a deflation, and then the hot air balloon comes crashing down. A deflation is thinking and acting as if you are less than you really are, a feeling of “not-enoughness.” . . .

“Inflations and deflations turn life into a wild ride of ‘too-muchness’ followed by ‘not-enoughness.’ They undermine our capacity for contentment. Contentment can be found only in the middle place, the point where you are neither inflated nor deflated. It requires you to be who you are, no more and no less. . . .

“Buddhists speak of the middle way and call this balancing act ‘walking the razor’s edge.’ It is precisely that middle place, where you are neither more nor less than you are, that is the holy place. Most people in the West don’t believe that the middle point is the solution; instead we want to inflate, grab hold of emotional ‘highs’ and force reality to go our way. But our appetite for ‘too-muchness’ only brings us ‘not-enoughness’ and keeps us in a painful cycle.

“To realize more contentment, it is essential to begin each day by reminding yourself to be just who you are — no more and no less.