Politicking and the Poor

It’s that time again – the time every four years when two powerful people sling insults at each other and their respective political parties, hoping to gain the confidence of a nation.  Presidential candidates used to advertise on the radio.  Then television came onto the scene, and with it the potential for unlimited amounts of money spent to raise awareness for a campaign.  President Obama’s campaign is expected to raise over one billion dollars and the Grand Old Party (GOP) hope to do the same for their candidate.  That is a phenomenal amount of money.  One billion dollars can do a lot.

It could buy up every Super Bowl ad slot.  For 4 years!
It could buy 600 Bugatti Veyrons – the most expensive car in the world.
It could buy 40 private islands.
It could buy 284, 900,285 Big Mac sandwiches from McDonalds.
It could buy a gallon of milk for every single person in the United States.
It could buy a 30 month supply (on average how many months it takes to potty train) of disposable diapers for 666,000 children.

If you had 1 billion dollars, and you spent $1,000.00 every day, it would take you a million days to spend that much money.  That’s almost 2,738 years.  The average person in America makes roughly $29,000.00 per year.  To make one billion dollars, a person making $29,000.00 per year would have to work for 34,482 years.  And that’s not spending a single penny!

Seems like a lot of money to spend on advertising for one person who wants to be president.  The interest groups lobbying congress spend easily as much.    Michelle Obama was quoted in 2008 as saying “Someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”  One billion dollars buys a whole lot of pie.  It would buy a lot of food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, and shelter for the homeless.  According to Fox News, from 2000 – 2004 the Obama’s gave $10,772.00 to charity – less than one percent of their income.  And while any contributions are appreciated by those that receive them, that doesn’t seem like giving a very big slice of pie away so that someone else can have more.  To be fair, there are plenty of other politicians who give one percent or less; don’t think that I’m just picking on the Obamas.  Across the board charitable giving does not appear to be a priority.

There’s a common misconception that there’s not enough “pie” to go around.  There isn’t enough money to erase poverty; there isn’t enough resources to stop aids; there isn’t enough food to stop world hunger.  Those ideas are simply wrong.  There is enough money, resources, and food – but they’re not being prioritized correctly.  One billion spent by one candidate for an election (whether democrat or republican) isn’t a correct priority.  At least, for a Christian.

Isaiah chastises the rulers of Israel in scripture for their misuse of resources: “Your rulers…love bribes and chase after gifts.  They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”(1)  American Christians place a higher priority on the defense of their stuff than they do on care for those without stuff.  The United States military budget for the 2011 fiscal year was about 680 billion dollars.  We spend a huge amount of money as a country on the latest technology that can erase governments and peoples that pose a threat to our way of existence, but less than half of that amount on the families that are struggling just to exist in the first place.  Americans as a whole (including corporations) donated roughly 300 billion dollars in 2009 to charitable causes, about half of which went to religious institutions such as churches.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it could certainly be more.

America is the richest nation in the world.  American Christians are some of the richest religious in the world.  We pour millions of dollars into constructing beautiful sanctuaries with impeccable landscaping and state of the art cooling systems and sound equipment so that we can be comfortable and entertained on Sunday mornings when we worship.  Should we care for the building we meet in?  Of course.  Should we do everything well?  Of course.  But what is the value of a beautiful sanctuary if the people inside are not cared for?  Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord again, rather angrily: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me…I cannot bear your evil assemblies…They have become a burden to me; I am wearing of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood.  Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn how to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppresed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow.”(2)

God asks, “What do you mean by crushing my people, and pushing the faces of the poor into the ground?”(3)  What can we answer?  We can we say when buying meaningless items to satisfy our materialism when not a mile away a single mother struggles to pay for diapers?  What can we say when we parade against abortion, but condemn and ostracize the teenagers who have babies out of wedlock?  What can we say when we drop a dollar or two in the offering plate for missions, then spend fifty on a Sunday lunch?

What is there that we could possibly say?  Only one thing – I repent.  Then perhaps the seraph (angel) will come with a live coal and touch it to our lips, saying “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”(4)

Perhaps then we could defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the cause of the poor and the widow.  Perhaps then we’d worry less about who’s president, and more about how to love our neighbor. Perhaps we would spend less on entertainment, and more on real relationships with others.  Perhaps we could offer hope – the hope that Christ came to give the world.

(1) – Isaiah 1:23
(2) – Isaiah 1:15-17
(3) – Isaiah 3:15
(4) – Isaiah 6:7

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Spiderweb Gospel

A dear friend recently expressed to me his overwhelming desire for deep, intimate connection with other human beings.  He made a statement that I always will remember: “Perhaps we all have a sense of loneliness…for when we wish to pour our heart and soul into another, it cannot be fully grasped.”  It is as though togetherness and perfect mutual understanding are butterflies, beautiful ideals that disintegrate at the merest touch.  Humans daydream of being in unadulterated relationship with other human beings.

We want to find that one special person that will understand us without effort.
That one we can’t live without.
That one that will make our entire lives fulfilled.
The one thread of life that will intertwine with ours and make us complete.

Our view of relationship is tragically flawed.  We are not autonomously existing entities that weave together with other autonomously existing entities as we so choose, allying ourselves here and there with what pleases us, and disengaging subtly from what doesn’t.  Neither are we only half of a cord, perpetually waiting for the one other person that will complete us and make us strong.

We are, instead, threads in a spiderweb.  We are intimately connected with every other thread, and cannot exist apart from them.  Only in community can we find strength, purpose, and commonality.  We were created to need more than just one who has everything.  If we were, would not God alone be enough?  He certainly isn’t lacking in any area. What we need is all around us, scattered here and there in various personalities, worldviews, and opinions.

I used to think that the connections existed for the few moments of perfect understanding that exist in any relationship, when everything is right and good and perfect, and no explanation is necessary, and the channels of communication flow unhindered. I find that I was wrong. There is infinite beauty in the struggle to connect with others.

Even when we know they’ll hurt us
misrepresent us
misunderstand us
love us selfishly instead of unconditionally
and at times, ignore, annoy, and lie to us,

even then we must seek connection, for we cannot exist without each other.  Humanity needs us just as much as we need it.  We need each other for when we fall, for when we rejoice, for when we work, and for when we rest (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).  Personhood requires personal relationships with persons (plural).  Only in plurality can unity be found.

Perhaps, in a mystical finality, it’s not being understood that matters so much. Perhaps it is the connection itself that is the pinnacle, and understanding is merely the shrubbery that graces the slope.