Monthly Archives: October 2012

The burden of poverty

I overheard the following speculation about the fast-approaching winter weather between two of my colleagues at the office: “One nice thing about winter in Chicago…there aren’t as many homeless around begging for money.” His conversation partner nodded in agreement.  They proceeded to discuss how it was hard to walk down the sidewalk at times without being accosted by beggars.  The usual “they are just going to buy drugs and alcohol” meme was repeated.  These gentlemen parted company as I made my way to the coffee machine.  I found myself suddenly conscience about the spare change I was using to get that cup of coffee.  I muttered something to the effect that the homeless weren’t migratory birds.  That elicited some harsh looks and one colleague said “You know what I mean… the homeless are a pain.”

I was stunned.  Yes. I know exactly what he meant.  We’ve become so very self-sufficient that we view poverty as a burden upon the wealthy.  How’s that for turning economics and logic on its head? It isn’t the poor who are burdened by their poverty: it is the wealthy who are inconvenienced, temporarily made to feel guilty, and are forced into being arbiters of stewardship and grace.  The poor just have to be poor.  (Read that as lacking agency, autonomy, etc.).  It is their ontology.


I said it before but it bears repeating here: When Jesus said in Matt. 26:11 that “the poor will always be among us”, it was not to let us off the hook and give us permission to ignore them because it’s a problem which just won’t go away. It was an instruction that we always have to consider the poor: plan to tend to them, make charity and generosity part of our daily lives.

In this particular season, remembering the words “the poor will always be among us” is to remember that their lack of visibility isn’t an indicator that poverty is being eradicated: to the contrary, the poor are dying to find shelter–quite literally.

To my grousing, nibbling colleagues who are making upwards of $100K, I ask you to learn to unburden yourselves of poverty, and instead embrace the burden of wealth (which is properly yours anyway).  Lay aside your claims to self-sufficiency and learn to recognize that the position you are in was not self-made. Be grateful for those who gave you a break: for parents who provided a home, guidance, an education; for health–both mental and physical; for employers who took a risk in hiring you for that first job; for congregations who provide you a spiritual home.  Remember that you didn’t earn everything you have.  Grace was afforded you when you least deserved it. Be an extension of that grace to others.


Why I am a Christian Democrat

This is a reblog of an excellent post by Ellen Painter Dollar.

Why I am a Christian Democrat.

Binders full of women…

Thank you, Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite for this EXCELLENT piece on why we must continue doing feminist theology.

Thank you.

The pretend orphan…

When I was 24 my parents moved to Hanoi, Vietnam to be missionaries.  I was an adult, living on my own several states away from where they’d been living, and was surprised at my own response to the announcement that they were moving.  I found myself grieved, giddy, mournful and completely unable to account for those emotions: all in all, things were not really going to change.  I would not see them often (which was already the case).  Instead of a 10 hour car ride, there would be an 18 hour flight.  That’s only 8 hours! Why was I shaken? I’d lived ‘away’ from them since I was 11.  I took to writing to try to sort this out, and ended up writing them a letter, to be opened only AFTER they arrived in Hanoi.  The letter turned out to be a series of affirmations of them, coupled with apologies by me… some things I needed to get off my chest… or at least have them understand.

One such incident: As a special surprise for my thirteenth birthday, my mother scraped up enough money to fly to the boarding school to spend the weekend with me.  The day had gone largely unacknowledged, and routine:  I went to school, ate lunch, and had a fairly uneventful day.  So I was startled to see her in the  shared sitting room between the boys and girls halls in the hostel.  I stopped in the doorway, unable to take a step forward.  One of the boys pushed me on through, moving me out of his way.  Mom stood up and turned to me and said “Happy Birthday!  I’m here to spend the weekend with you!  I am staying at the guest house.  Do you want to stay there with me this weekend?”

My behavior was less than stellar.  I refused to go to the guest house with her, refused to stay with her, refused to eat with her.  I made certain we were never alone together and Saturday morning I got up early and took off, not caring who was worried or offended. I spent the day romping in the jungle, and when  I returned late that evening hardly spoke to her.  She was hurt.  The house parents were livid.  I’d proven how unruly I could be.  She finally declared that if I didn’t want her there, she’d save herself the housing expense and just hop the next flight home.  Fine.

The 24 year old had spent 11+ years thinking about how awful she’d acted.   She needed–I needed–my mother to understand what was going on.  So in that letter read 11 years later in a hotel room in Vietnam, my mother learned this:  “It wasn’t that I didn’t love you.  The problem was that I loved you too much to have you just come in and out my life–too much for these sorts of surprises.  You see, I’d spent the year at boarding school pretending you were dead.  It was easier for me to be the orphan than the unwanted child.  The idea that life for you and dad went on without me and Bill was just too much to take in.  I wanted to not think about you until the holidays.  Then the holidays felt like heaven: a reunion of sorts.  But during everyday life at the boarding school, I just couldn’t bear you both moving through the routines of life without us kids.”