Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thinking about America's economic woes

Over the last year or so, the number of beggars has increased in my city. There always were some but nothing like the numbers there are now. At literally every major and some not so major intersection, there are beggars. It breaks my heart to see them. I tend to believe their need is genuine because would people really expose themselves to that level of humiliation were it not absolutely their last resort? What is a Christian response?

What I would like to do except it is beyond my means, is to put together bags of basics such as cans of pop top chicken or tuna, juice, fruit, cookies, plastic flatware, napkins. Maybe also some travel sized toiletries. I live well below the poverty line for a single person myself, so I just can't do it. But I throw the idea out there for you, Gentle Reader. Maybe you are in a better place than to extend this small bit of comfort.

It's not enough, though, now is it? What is our Christian duty to God and our neighbor? It seems to me that each of us must undertake work, probably painful, to examine our relationship to wealth, money, possessions. And by "we", I mean all who call themselves Christians. We must allow the Holy Spirit in. Otherwise I fear we are all the rich young man whom Jesus loved but had to watch him walk away because the man loved his stuff more. I think this will hurt if we allow the Holy Spirit to have Her way with us.

But here's a simple way to start: how much do you spend at Starbucks in a year? I can't claim to know the prices there, but let's say a person spends $5 a day 5 days a week for a weekly expenditure of $25 a week. Multiply that by 52 weeks and it is a staggering $1300.00 a year. What is that same person buys lunch those same 5 days a week and it costs $10 a day. That adds up to another $2600.00 And what if that same person gets a mid-afternoon Starbucks every day, which would be another $1300.00. That's $5200.00 a year.

It's not my place to say whether or not this person should or should not do this. But isn't it a worthwhile question? Especially if that person also claims s/he cannot afford to tithe. My point is that we Americans can be very non-thinking when it comes to what we think we deserve. My point is that we embrace our luxuries at the expense of other Americans who lack the means to thrive. How can a Christian really justify it? Only through denial and a refusal to face up to one's own individual responsibility.

We also have to shake off all political rhetoric and oratory and just look at the facts. I am no economist but I am an observer. What I have observed is that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is no longer extended to every American citizen. I suggest part of why that is so is because we have changed the definition of happiness so that is more dependent on externals than it is on the person within. As if what we can buy is going to make and keep us happy.

I would welcome a list of facts and figures such as comparing where we are today to where we were 25 years ago. Has the incidence of homelessness increased? Has the dependency upon food stamps increased? How long is the wait to get rental assistance? What are the employment figures?

Frankly, I don't know enough to know all the questions one should ask. But there is a reason America is in an economic crisis and the reasons are bigger than whether or not the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans were extended. I suspect that if we were to simply compare facts and figures, allowing for population growth or decline, we would find that it started about 30 years ago when I new approach to our country's economics was implement. I suspect that we will find that it is very very horribly true that the rich are getting wealthier and not only are the poor getting poorer but the number of poor increased and will continue to increase.

We Christians must look anew at all the Bible says about wealth and money and the poor. We must allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hard hearts, to make all of us, rich and poor less greedy. What we need is conversion of life, Conservatio Morum, to conform ourselves to the Bible. Rather than trying to make the Bible conform to us.

Were we to do that we just might find ourselves moved to compel our politicians to so change things so that every single American has a roof over their heads, food in the home, means to prepare it, decent affordable medical care, clothing proper to the climate, heat, water, whatever is necessary to thrive.

And maybe that starts with giving up those $5 coffees and $10 lunches.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More thoughts on Work

Please forgive some additional thoughts on the subject of work.

When last I wrote about this subject, I wrote about the joys of iconography and how finally the work that has my name on it has manifested itself. I would like to share with my Sisters and Brothers the extraordinary events of this past weekend.

This past Friday and Saturday was the Episcopal Diocese of Sand Diego's convention. For those who don't know, I am Episcopalian. Fr. Mike, my rector, decided that we would take the icons and cards he made of the icons to convention and that I was to staff the booth. Any icon I write belongs to All Souls', my parish. They invested in my training and in return, they sell the icons and the proceeds is wire transferred to our missionaries in Kenya where the money is quite literally used to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, provide for those unable to provide for themselves. As I have for years been quite passionate about social justice I have been so very delighted that the icons are being used to alleviate the violence of poverty.

Here in San Diego we have a store called O'Connors Church Supplies ( ). Bob O'Connor came by our table at the convention. He discussed the icons with me and then asked about how we market them. I replied that we didn't quite know what we were doing about that and we meant to have some discussions. He then mentioned to me that in addition to the store they have a 600 page catalog and a website and that they could assist with the marketing as he would like to sell our product in his store, catalog and online. He would like original icons, cards and reproductions. I kept my wits about me long enough to ask for a business card and to tell him any such discussions would have to be with Fr. Mike.

There was then a lull in the shopping as people went back into their sessions and I raced out the door to find members of my parish to babble at them about what had just happened. One of them was Fr Mike who was obviously staggered.

I was then immediately consumed with performance anxiety. How would I ever supply enough icons? I think many of my icons are hideous so how could any one want to sell them? All sorts of "i, I, I, I" thoughts dominated my thinking. By the time I arrived home Fri even I was a mess of I this, I that, I, I, I. Naturally, I emailed friends and posted on facebook and as the email conversations started and I was overwhelmed with performance anxiety, a realization dawned on me.

If this potential business arrangement is any sort of an accomplishment, it is one that was accomplished by my parish and not by me. It is a result of our particular Body of Christ being the Body of Christ, everyone doing their bit. It is because we together have been conduits of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I write the icons but in reality all I am is the paint brush, it is the Holy Spirit who is the artist. My performance anxiety is not new news to my parish. They've been helping me through it for months and thanks to them that the Holy Spirit reveals Herself in the icons. If the deal goes through with O'Connors and money rolls in to be dispersed to our missionaries, it is not because I did it but because we as a parish, we together responded to our dear Lord.

What has me wondering, and here I finally get to the subject of work, is this. Here in the USA the question "what do you do?" is a big one. The emphasis is on "my job" of "my work."Here in the USA we speak of "my job" as if we are autonomous, solely self-reliant, as if we act as independent units. I have been guilty of thinking of iconography as "my job." But what this conversation with Bob O'Connor has forced me to realize is that iconography is not "my job." If there is anything of God or of His beauty in the icons, it is because the Holy Spirit put it there and She did it as a result of the combined efforts of all of us at All Souls'.

So... isn't this true of all work we are called to do? All of us are able to do the work to which God has called us only because others in the Body of Christ are being the person God has called them to be