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

Infinite Love

Humans are such needy creatures.  We spend our entire lives fighting with each other so that someone else will tell us that we’re important, that we’re needed, that we’re valuable, that we’re the best.  It’s as if we have no idea who we are or why we’re here but we still need to be reassured that our existence matters, that we matter.  When other people don’t appropriately affirm us, we get offended.  How could they not see how important we are?  We set about proving to everyone that we are valuable in many ways.  Some people acquire things, some acquire knowledge or position.  Some need others to be dependent on them and some pretend like they need no one.

All of these things are able to give momentary affirmation, but when the moment fades we’re back at square one, needing someone else to tell us who we are.  We want to feel wanted.  We want to feel appreciated.  We want to feel loved.  But we can’t create those feelings by ourselves; these feelings only exist in relationship.  So, we set about trying to have community, trying to have relationship, trying to find our identities.  Sadly, all we seem to find are cheap substitutes.  Our shallowness has caused us to ration out affection and devotion, replacing things meant to be unconditional with “ifs” and “buts.”

“If you really loved me you’d have sex with me.”  “I’ll be friends with you, but only if you do this for me.”  “Don’t expect me to talk to her, she hasn’t called in three weeks!”  The list could go on endlessly.  Somehow we’ve taken things that by their very nature belong to others and made them about us.  Any rejection or affront is personal, from a refusal of a date to being cut off while driving.  It threatens our personhood and our identity.  We have a fear, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious, that we’re not good enough and that we never will be.  We cave to the demands of others because of what they might think if we said “No.”  We are constantly afraid that someone, somewhere, is not going to see us the way we think they should.  They might perhaps get a glimpse of something they don’t like and proclaim us “not good enough” by an action, a glance, or a word.

A friend made this statement:

“I am so scared I’m going to forever be good enough to f*ck
But never good enough to love.
” – Beautiful

I signed her name as “Beautiful” because she is.  Not because of her appearance or her brains, though to the naked eye they might be appealing, but because she is a creation of the Almighty God.  To call her anything less would be to lie and indeed, this cannot even come close to doing her justice.  Her statement embodies one of the most deep-seated human fears – that of being only a stepping stone in another person’s need for affirmation.  You may think me wrong for having posted her words (one word, in particular).  I cannot apologize.  Sex is one of the most intimate things two persons can share.  It is also one of the things that can make a person feel most used.  There is perhaps no other action that can cause such a range of emotion and consequence.

I could reword it, though, for palatability’s sake.  “I am so scared that I am forever going to be good enough to use, but never good enough to keep.” It is a terrible thing to realize that you are the victim of someone else’s need.  What can be done about this?  How can we take our conditional expressions of love and make them unconditional?  How can we find affirmation and worth in such a broken system, made such by us, the broken?  Can we ever expect wholeness and unity with humanity?

It is almost like we are children lost in a big store.  Our parent had just been close, and we were safe, secure, and happy.  But now we’re lost, seemingly very small and insignificant, insecure because we feel alone.  Donald Miller writes, “How terrible it must feel, no longer feeling God, the ache of emptiness and the sudden and horrifying awareness of self.” We were wired for someone else to tell us who we are.  We were created to not be able to function without being connected to someone else.  That someone, of course, is God.  Tragically, that wire has been broken.  We’re just scared children, lost in a store, running around trying somehow to convince all the other scared children that we’re not as desolate and neglected as we feel, that our “parent” hasn’t forgotten us, and that we know exactly which aisle we’re on.

There is a chance, a little glimmer of hope for us lost children.  Jesus has repaired the connection between God and man.  If we would only take the step up to the outlet and plug in, we could experience wholeness, oneness, love, and devotion, all without cost, all without fear of rejection.  We no longer have to prove to the world that our “parent” hasn’t forgotten us, because He will be standing right next to us, holding our hands.  1 John 3:1 excitedly tells us “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” We no longer need to struggle with insecurities.  We are children of the Most High, heirs to the universe, and loved and cared for by the Creator and Savior of all.

When we are plugged in, when we are told by God who we are, we no longer have to ration out love and affirmation to others.  The storehouses of God are full of these things.  We can always get more.  We can love and love freely, because love is infinite.  God is infinite and God is love.  We have an infinite supply flowing to us.  Sparing a bit of it for someone else is easy when we’re no longer afraid we’re going to run out.  We can be patient, kind, without envy, never boastful, never proud, never rude, never self-seeking, and never easily angered.  We can keep no record of wrongs done to us and never wish evil on others.  We can always protect and trust others, hope and persevere.  Before 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, chapter 12 speaks in an often overlooked verse.  It reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (verse 31).  We can live constantly in the most excellent way – love.

This love, this beautiful, wild, indescribable love can be ours.  We can know who we are.  Instead of something miserable or angry or sad, we can say with Emily Logan Decens, “Happiness pulses with every beat of my heart.” And it will be an infinite happiness based on an infinite love that we can infinitely share with everyone we come in contact with because it will never run out.

Because God never runs out.

The Love Shack, Part 1

“The Get-Together!”

The B-52’s, an enormously popular new wave rock band started in the 70s, is most widely known for its biggest hit song, “The Love Shack.” It has won numerous awards, and was the bands first million-copy seller.  The song was released the year I was born, 1989.  Despite the song’s age, it remains a staple at parties, in stores, and on the radio.  It’s message seems to be timeless…though there has been a large amount of arguing over what the song’s message actually is.  For some reason I’ve always liked the song.  Perhaps it’s the catchy tune, or the funky dance moves in the video.  Perhaps it’s the eclectic mix of singing, yelling, and talking.  Perhaps it’s just the idea of a getaway.  Maybe it’s even that the idea of a place dedicated to love is appealing.

It might offend the sensitivities of a lot of people if I compared the church to the love shack.  Brows might be raised, heads might be shaken, and eyes might be rolled.  It is, however, a fitting comparison.  At least, it should be.  I’ve often found myself confused by the utter lack of love in some churches.  It is almost as if some people believe that the church is a good place to hide from the world.  The church is, on occasion, nothing more than an elite Christian club.  If a person does not dress a certain way, talk a certain way, or act a certain way, he may not be admitted.  If he is admitted, it may be grudgingly.  Recently I visited two churches of different denominations.  I wore nearly the same outfit to each one, and showed up with no Bible in hand.  I equipped myself with jeans, a black t-shirt, a slightly rebellious glare, and lots of eye makeup.  I sat in the last row for each service with my arms crossed over my chest.  I regret to say that at the first church, not one person said “Hi” to me.  Suspicious glances, raised eyebrows, and a few snickers was the extent of that congregation’s communication with me.  At the second church, however, I found myself completely unable to keep the rebellious glare on my face.  I was greeted by at least twenty different people.  One of the choir ladies sat down next to me and spent five minutes instructing me in the use of the hymnal.  Every single person that looked at me smiled genuinely.  At least ten people shook my hand as I left and expressed their desire that I come back, because they hadn’t had a proper chance to talk to me.  I was utterly amazed at the love shown by the members of that church, even when they had every reason to believe that I was not a Christian, or “one of them.”

The first two lines of the chorus of the song read, “The love shack is a little old place where we can get together!” It is an inviting, happy statement, full of anticipation and excitement.  Should not the church also be an inviting, happy place, where we can get together?  In those places where it is not, it is due to an incorrect definition of “we.”  Humanity has a terrible habit of splitting itself into groups.  It can easily be argued that these divisions are helpful to society and to the persons belonging to the said groups.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to make every group content.  When one group is cared for, it is usually at the exclusion of another group.  The “us and them” mentality always causes someone to suffer, to be neglected, to be forgotten.  But, as long as the group to which we personally belong is cared for, we are satisfied in ignoring the others.

John 15 contains one of my favorite Scriptures.  It is astonishing in its simplicity, yet profound in its implications.  Verse 12 reads, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” These are the words of Jesus.  If any person had a right to be in a group, it was Jesus.  The Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the Alpha and Omega, the spotless Lamb – certainly we wouldn’t expect God to place himself into our group.  But He did, and commanded His disciples to love as they had been loved: with no restrictions, with no prerequisites, with no judgments on their outward appearance or inward state of disarray.  They were commanded to love sacrificially, though they were not yet aware of sacrifice’s full extent.  They were commanded to love totally, for Jesus did not love them only in part.  They were commanded to love the unloveable with the same intensity that they loved the societally “acceptable,” for Jesus did not discriminate in love between Judas Iscariot and John.

They were commanded to love as Jesus had loved them…and He had loved them even when they themselves were not yet included in the “we.”  The unspoken question that the two lines at the beginning of the chorus raise is, “What if we don’t like who shows up?” The only acceptable answer is to love.  The church should be a place where we can “get together,” where anyone and everyone is viewed through the lens of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, and where the presence of love is so overwhelming that people can say, in the words of the last line of the chorus, “that’s where it’s at.”