Over the weekend I read through Thomas Merton’s book Seasons of Celebration an interesting little book that looks at the meaning of the liturgy and the liturgical seasons. One line in particular stood out for me
…the People (of God) first came into existence when the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and called out into the desert to be educated in freedom, to learn how to live with no other but God himself” (p13)
I had never thought much about where the children of Israel learnt the principles and practices of God’s new world. I knew that Moses gave them the Ten Commandments but it had never occurred to me that the whole experience of 40 years in the desert was actually a training session to educate them on how to live in God’s new world with a strong sense of mutual care and concern and with particular concern for the weak and the vulnerable. It was in the difficult places of the desert, not in the abundance of the promised land that the Hebrews learned what it meant to live by the law of love of God and love of neighbour.
A Jewish rabbi told me recently that the Hebrew language does not have a word for charity because the idea of care for the marginalized and vulnerable is an integral part of their law and their faith.
As I thought about this I was reminded of one of the great differences between the Australian and American founding experiences. Whereas the American continent was lush and green encouraging people to go their own way and carve out a little space for themselves, the Australian continent was harsh and dry. The European settlers learned very early on that they could only survive if they worked together and looked after each other.
Adversity encourages mutuality, sharing, generosity and cooperation. It encourages us to take notice of the weak and vulnerable and hopefully to accept our responsibility to care for them. It writes the laws of God on our hearts not just on our minds. Something that we need to think about as we responds to the current recession. In fact I wonder if as a world society we are entering a season of Lent in which God wants us to be educated into the freedoms of life lived in a covenantal relationship with God.
In From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey a recent article in Sojourner’s magazine Walter Brueggemann reminds us that
Biblical faith is an invitation away from autonomy to covenantal existence that binds the self to the holy, faithful God and to neighbors who are members in a common economy.
This was the lesson of the 40 years in the wilderness for the children of Israel and it seems as though there has never been a better time to think about this than now. What do you think? What lenten lessons are you learning as a result of this recession that are enabling you to live in a way that is more representative of the kingdom of God culture?
This is hilariously funny but unfortunately I think that it is the way that many outside the church view Christians. A sobering thought for us to ponder as we continue our journey through Lent.
The end of another week of Lenten reflections. Some are still in the Hunger & $2 challenge like Kathy Escobar and her reflections on Hunger. Others like Tom Grosh are reflecting on Lent in general in You Have A confession to Make. Others, as is reflected on this comment by Pat Lasusky are focused on the challenges of homelessness.
Thank you for introducing your readers to the deep spirituality of caring for the homeless. My first exposure to working with the homeless was in outreach to those who were living on the streets. But the ranks of the homeless include more than the stereotypical “street person”. As a social worker at an Interfaith Hospitality Network, I am constantly educating people on the hidden homeless: the families who are “couch surfing” week by week, families living in one room at a motel, families in cars. These are often the working poor, trying to manage as best they can. Some are young parents who have made some mistakes, or who never got the guidance they needed to be more successful. Some are older parents, displaced from a job or a home, and unable to get back on their feet without a helping hand. When I think of our churches opening their doors to the homeless, I think of the woman who broke the alabaster jar of precious nard so she could anoint the feet of Jesus. We have such
an opportunity to experience what we “do for” others in a deeper way, if we truly take it into our hearts.
And for those that are still looking for ways to enter into the spirit of Lent and who live in the Pacific Northwest here are 2 opportunities to hear one of my favourite musicians – Jeff Johnson I often use his music as background in my meditation videos.
In two, rare live sacred concerts, Jeff Johnson will be joined by classical singer, Janet Chvatal for “Music & Prayers for the Season of Lent” at the end of this month.Chvatal, who lives and works in the shadow of Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle in Southern Germany, has been featured on many of Johnson’s CDs including Vespers, Psalmus, Standing Stilland the newest, Journey Prayers. They will be joined in both performances by Portland violinist,Wendy Goodwin.March 28, 2009 at 7:00pmChapel of MaryPortland, OR 97220$15 suggested donationMarch 29, 2009 at 7:00pmSt. Aidan’s Episcopal Church1318 E State Route 532Camano Island, WA 98282Offering donations encouraged
I have never been homeless, but still remember vividly a period in my life when I experienced some of the disorientation and destabilization that many homeless people know constantly. Someone accidentally opened the sprinkler system in my cabin on the Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis and its entire contents were flooded in black sludge. Most of my clothes were ruined and the stench made the cabin uninhabitable.
I felt helpless in the face of this disaster. For six months I moved from cabin to cabin while the carpenters slowly renovated it. At the same time Mercy Ships’ home office moved from California to Texas and I never knew where I would be staying during my frequent visits. At one stage I even slept on my office floor for a few nights because there was no other place available. Having a moving object in the middle of the sea as my only stability point was hard enough at the best of times but now I felt like a homeless refugee. My stress levels rose and I became increasingly irritable and depressed. Fortunately I was able to purchase a home near the office in Texas. Immediately I felt I knew where I belonged and I started to relax.
Homelessness is not easy to cope with even for those of us who have the resources to rapidly rebuild our lives. Imagine what is like for those who lack the financial and emotional resources to change their situation. Irritability, anger and selfishness are not uncommon amongst people who have been displaced and lost everything. In their attempt to regain some control over their lives refugees and displaced people often lash out at the very people who are trying to help them. Unfortunately this can create a vicious cycle of misunderstanding, resentment and withdrawal.
As I contemplate the plight of the millions worldwide who are homeless I am reminded that Christ too knew the uncertainty of homelessness. As a child he fled as a refugee into Egypt with his family and as an adult he “had no place to lay his head.” No wonder he was so sympathetic towards those who were displaced within his society. Perhaps when he looked at the beggar sitting by the city gate he was reminded of his own uncertain childhood. Perhaps as he reached out to embrace lepers and outcasts he was reminded of the times that he too was rejected by society.
As I read the story of the Good Samaritan I am reminded that Jesus often comes to us through the despised and rejected people of our world. The victim lying by the roadside was despised and rejected by the religious and economic leaders who walked by on the other side, yet he was embraced compassionately by the equally despised Samaritan.
If we see Jesus in the unlovely faces and broken lives of those who are despised and rejected by our society, then through God’s grace we too can reach out and be enfolded in his love. When we love those who are unlovely we experience the wonder of Christ’s compassionate embrace that willingly took upon himself the burden of every outcast who lies by the wayside despised by society yet welcomed and nursed to wholeness by the despised and rejected God of salvation.
We are now moving into the third week of Lent and so my thoughts are turning to our week’s challenge from the MSA Lenten Guide to reflect on and get involved in the brokenness of homelessness.
Homelessness is a huge and complex challenge throughout our world. UN Habitat’s 2005 report indicates that over one billion of the world’s six billion residents live in inadequate housing, mostly in the sprawling slums and squatter settlements in developing countries. They estimate that by 2050 this could rise to 3 billion people.
In the US an estimated four to five million people go homeless each year. In Australia an estimated 100,000 are homeless and in Britain 100,000 households live in temporary accommodation and of course with the current recession these numbers are on the increase all over the world. Millions of others live without a safety net and constantly struggle with the knowledge that loss of a job or serious illness could quickly push them onto the streets.
To highlight this issue I thought that you might like to read the following articles that suggest both the enormity of the problem and the creative ways in which some faith groups are responding. the problem is daunting but we can all make a difference.
This from the Herald Tribune:
As the recession has deepened, long-time workers who lost their jobs are facing the terror and stigma of homelessness for the first time, including those who have owned or rented for years. Some show up in shelters and on the streets, but others, like the Hayworths, are the hidden homeless — living doubled up in apartments, in garages or in motels, uncounted in U.S. homeless data and often receiving little public aid. read the entire article
And here a creative response by the Interfaith Hospitality Network
In response to this crisis, the Interfaith Hospitality Network brings the faith community together to help families regain their housing, their independence, and their dignity. IHN is a partnership of congregations within a community helping families who are facing homelessness. It offers an opportunity for volunteers of all faiths to reduce homelessness and transform lives. read the entire article
This contribution to the Lenten synchroblog is from Tim Mathis in Factoria Washington. I would heartily recommend the film Affluenza that tim mentions here and for teenagers the World Vision Australia clip Teenage Affluenza is also a great introduction to this issue.
A few months ago, before signing on for the synchroblog, my interns and I had decided to try out a slightly shocking object lesson on poverty and wealth that I learned from another youth minister. In one of those strange synchronicities, the date and lesson lined up perfectly with the suggested Lenten activity for the week – a fast where no more than $2/day is spent on food, in solidarity with the 50% of the world that lives on that much or less.
Each Sunday our youth group has a dinner together – usually high-carb, high-fat teenage fare such as pizza, tacos, nachos, pasta, etc. This week, after an anxious buildup, our group was provided with a more normal meal by world standards – a bowl of white rice – the cheap stuff, cost $6.00 for a meal for 20. read the entire post
Yesterday I mentioned that a number of people have commented that they cannot eat nutritious food on $2/person/day especially with kids. Most of them I suspect have never even tried, some I know have never cooked from scratch before and don’t know what to do. If you are still struggling with whether or how to eat on $2/person/day you might like to check out the resources below.
I keep coming across articles about people who are cutting their food budget deliberately to less than $2/person/day, not so that they can help the poor or for any religious commitment to Lent – which hopefully you have remembered is the object of this week’s challenge, but simply so that they can live more sustainably in today’s turbulent economic world. I am always embarrassed when the non Christians seem to understand things like this better than Christians do. And it makes me wonder even more how committed we really are to living out the gospel in our daily lives.
Yesterday I received an email from Hugh Hollowell from the Catholic Worker’s Home in Durham. He made me aware of a woman in Durham who has been living on a budget of $1 per day for the last month – and fairly nutritiously too. You can check out her journey at Less is Enough
Here is another couple who are embarking on a One Dollar A Day Project Now the aim seems to be to write a book but there are still some great ideas for recipes and even some very good and sobering information on how people in Africa live (or die) on such a limited food budget.
Here is the great article from NY Times that seems to have started it all. Again it contains some good hints on how to choose food that is nutritious.
Not only is it possible, but it can improve the health and reduce the girth of Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status. Read the entire article
There are no new Lenten reflections to post today – maybe that shows how difficult people are finding the $2 challenge. However there are 2 great resources to check out regularly for Lenten reflections