poverty

One Emotional Check Away

It was stated in the Prosperity Now report that 40% of Americans are one paycheck away from poverty. This is just one more reminder that so many of us are living week to week and it is vitally important that there is a net floor that provided by society that no one can fall below. I am not an expert on how good America is at providing that floor, but 40% seems rather high for such a wealthy country.

While it may be that 40% of us are one paycheck away from financial poverty, I would add that it is at least that many who are one “emotional check” away from devastation.

Photo by  Sydney Sims  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Most of us receive love and support from family, friends and community. It is something that I see each week when I attend worship. People coming together to remind one another they are loved, that God is with us, that we are bound together and that when life crashes down there is a foundation that you will not fall below..

These "emotional checks” are regular in most of our lives. However, in tragedy, loss or just circumstances, there can be a lapse in those “emotional checks” and many of us are not able to sustain that loss.

While the government opens back up and we still make our way to try to build up the social floor of support, let us not overlook the sources of our “emotional checks” in our world. Break bread with friends, call a loved one, connect with strangers, practice mercy, share in love, participate in a worshiping community - these actions are among those that help each of us through those times when our lives shut down but we still need our emotional checks.

How Jesus Knew The Church Would Always Be

Jesus says in Matthew 26:11, "For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." There is a lot of conversation about what this means and if Jesus was endorsing a social structure that keeps people poor. In the discussion I offer up the idea that Jesus said the poor will always be with you in the same spirit that he said, "Follow me." That is he said this as an invitation. 

As long as people are following Jesus and giving everything up, then there will always be 'the poor." In fact, being poor is one of the categories Jesus says is blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. I confess that I am not the best at being poor in finances. Frankly, I am often embarrassed by what I do have, and tend to brag about the things I do not have. Even as a clergy person, I am not immune to Sin and in some ways. As a person with power, privilege and influence, I am often more in danger of the power of Sin. 

Jesus knew the church would always exist, even after his death, because there will always be people to take the invitation of let go and follow Jesus. There will always be people poor in spirit and poor in resources - these are the ones that Jesus blesses and even says he would be dressed as in the final judgement (Matthew 25). 

Wisdom From "Senior" - A Man Living Under a Bridge for 2 Years

I met "Senior" when I was passing out cheeseburgers during Lent in San Antonio. My friend, Sam and I, fasted during lent then took the money we would have spent and bought as many McDonald's cheeseburgers we could each Friday in Lent. After a few weeks of doing this we got to know a couple of the people who lived downtown San Antonio. One of those men went by the nickname, "Senior" because he had lived there the longest. Apparently, it is a less a name and more a rotating title so that when the one "Senior" died or moved on there was a new "Senior". 

I cannot recall the birth name of this current incarnation of Senior but I do recall his out of control mustache. It was roughly a collection of fifteen thin hairs all caked together and more or less pushed to one side of his top lip. He joked and called it his "comb over". It was the oddest facial hair I have ever seen. 

Senior shared a lot of stories that I don't recall and frankly only understood about 1/4 of what he said. Truthfully, it was not so much how he spoke that was the main problem but of my anxiety to "move on" to the get the burgers to the next person. I regret that I was not present to where I needed to be. A lesson that I still am trying to learn.

One thing that Senior told Sam and I that impressed upon us both was that there is a difference in being homeless and being houseless. Senior said that he had been houseless for about fifteen years, but never homeless. He knew some people who were homeless, but most of his friends were only houseless. 

It is one perspective of one man that may not be affirmed by anyone else, but it seems to me there is a bit of wisdom in Senior's words. 

While I have not passed out cheeseburgers recently, it remains clear to me that people need houses. On the flip side, there are a good number of people who have a house but are homeless. May we have the courage to address both these conditions and the humility to not see them as one in the same.

How Jesus might solve the economic gap in the US

The gap between the rich and the poor is complicated. I don't understand all the arguments around why this is a good or bad thing, I do not understand why it is bad for employers to pay a living wage to people, I do not know why it is acceptable for the top percents to have a disproportionate amount of wealth. What I do know is that there is an economic floor that I believe needs to be in place for the health and wholeness of an individual and, by extension, a nation. 

Perhaps what I do not understand is the idea that more wealth is better. Like I said, there is an economic floor that needs to be in place so that there is food on the table, healthcare and some pleasures of life can be enjoyed, but more wealth does not mean greater wholeness. Daniel Kahneman1 and Angus Deaton have a study out that shows that a person who makes $250,000 a year is not much happier than the one who makes $75,000 a year. This suggests a limit to the amount of happiness economic stability can provide.

Mystic and theologian Andrew Harvey said, "For Jesus, it is clear, poverty is not the problem; it is the solution. Until human beings learn to live in naked contact and direct simplicity and equality with each other, sharing all resources, there can be no solution to the misery of the human condition and no establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ radical and paradoxical sense of who could and who could not enter the Kingdom is even more clearly illustrated by his famous praise of children."

While I will continue to advocate for the economic floor for everyone to stand on, I will continue to struggle with the teachings of Jesus. I will continue to try to embrace poverty as the solution.