I enter into this post, deeply aware of how divisive this might be. I shake a little at the thought of this, but deep down I know I must write. A week and a half ago, perhaps more than at any other time in recent years, I felt convicted (and really, I still do given our current potential for a government shut-down)! I feel convicted as an American. I feel embarrassed as a citizen. And, I feel like a “stinking maggot fodder” sinner instead of just a sinner.
The real median household income today remains the same as it was 25 years ago. Yet, the economy has grown greatly since then. Where have the gains gone, straight to to the top. The rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten poorer. This has been an economic reality as long as I have been alive. And yes, this convicts me. But what really convicts me is that on September 19th we had one of our legislative bodies vote to cut funding for the poor and the needy. (Not to mention, take the 42nd vote to repeal the healthcare legislation that was approved a few years ago.) People may say, well its “my money,” and it should only be going to this or that. The reality is, its not your money. God entrusted it to you for a reason. And to withhold it from the poor in need is effectively murder. But alas, I feel like I am beating a dead horse here. So let me take a step back and see if we can make some sense of this.
Christians unite in praying the Lord’s prayer. One petition of the prayer asks, “Give us this day our daily bread…” Now with that in mind, consider the events of Thursday September 19th. That day, the House of Representatives voted 217-210 to cut $40 billion from the Food Stamps Program. Let me repeat that, the House of Representatives voted 217-210 to cut $40 billion from the Food Stamps Program.
I am the first person to admit that we need to do a better job of budgeting as a country. But, taking away from those who already are the most in need does not seem like the right or just way to do that. The House of Representatives is supposed to represent the people. Unfortunately, on Thursday the 19th those who most needed their voices heard were let down. Thankfully, this legislation had little chance of passing the senate so the legislation is more symbolic than anything else. But, it sends the wrong message. It says, “you don’t need this.” It may as well say, “we don’t care about you.”
Well, to the 217 representatives who voted like this, let me tell you this, I disagree with you, because I do care about the people whom you would effectively be cutting their financial support. I think it is the role of all sectors of society (and not just one) to work and serve the greater good and the common good. The government must play a role in this, because if it is an institution that is supposedly “of the people and for the people,” it must support a just and humane society. Otherwise it is not an institution of the people at all. It risks becoming merely an institution of special interests and self-justification.
We could always try and swipe this away with some “2 Kingdoms” argument. We could say that this is just another example of our brokenness, or the depth of the earthly kingdom in contrast to the heavenly kingdom. We could just point to this example as further proof that the Kingdom of God though it has broken into the world in some ways, there is still much that has yet to be seen or be realized. The problem is that such theological reasoning does not do justice to the fact that we are called to love our neighbor. It ignores the implications of Genesis 2, where we are basically given the ability to be co-creators with God. We are called to be better, to serve our neighbor, and I know we are entrusted with the resources that could easily overcome this. There has to be a better way.
In terms of biblical thought, I could point to a number of stories. But, let’s just pick this past week’s lectionary (Lectionary 26C) appointed gospel text, Luke 16:19-31. The passage is commonly called, “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” and tells of a rich man who ignored and avoided the poor Lazarus who lay at the rich man’s gate. Jesus tells the parable about how the poor Lazarus would ultimately be lifted up, and the rich man who refused to feed or pay any attention to Lazarus was brought low and was tormented. St. John Chrysostom wrote a host of sermons on this passage which were combined into his On Wealth and Poverty. Martin Luther’s explanation to the 5th Commandment in his Large Catechism says that to fail to help a person in need, is to commit murder. Thus, to fail to provide for the needy and hungry is to be guilty of murder.
In terms of leadership thought, Otto Scharmer begins his Leading from the Emerging Future with the following words:
“Finance. Food. Fuel. Water shortage. Resource scarcity. Climate chaos. Mass poverty. Mass migration. Fundamentalism. Terrorism. Financial oligarchies. We have entered an Age of Disruption. Yet the possibility of profound personal, societal, and global renewal has never been more real. Now is our time.” (Scharmer, 1).
Scharmer provides hope for us to find a solution. As he says “now is our time.” There is a need for global renewal. To see global renewal though, we have to be willing to have renewal in our neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, etc. These renewals aren’t just located in one place. They are multi-faceted and transcend boundaries.
So, it with this hope for a new day and a new way that gives me the strength to respond when we get news like of the House of Representatives vote on September 19th. We can take the advocacy approach and write our representative and senators. We can also begin to re-imagine as Scharmer calls for. We can begin a new to pay attention to the poor Lazarus at the gate.
When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we aren’t just praying for our selves. We are praying for our communities. We are praying for all of God’s creation. It’s what makes the prayer so powerful. We are entrusted with what we have to serve and to uplift, build, and collaboratively improve and co-create. This is my hope. This is my prayer. Instead of cutting the funding for those in need, we use this as a chance to remember those in need and to take seriously the responsibility to serve and provide the means to build all people up and enable all people to be productive members of society, with hope, meaning, and purpose and the basic things like food, water, and shelter.
1) St. John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, tr. Catherine P. Roth, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984).
2) Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, (1529), as found in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb & Timothy J. Wengert, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 410-413.
2) Otto Scharmer & Katrin Kaufer, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2013).