Thursday, December 8, 2011

Poor Children

Early Saturday morning, while on a high school retreat, I stumbled upon a sound bite that I found particularly upsetting.  As a resident of Iowa, I'm no stranger to political rhetoric descending upon our fair state every four years for the Presidential Caucuses.  Yet, there was something about this nugget (offered by current front-runner, Newt Gingrich) that I found offensive.
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habit of working, and have nobody around them who works.  So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday.  They have no habit of staying all day.  They have no habit of ‘I do this, and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”
I posted this quote on my Facebook page just to see what my friends (many of whom are pastors, teachers, and social workers) thought.  Within a couple of hours, over 30 responses - many of them lengthy - were posted.  Some expressing agreement with the statements, most expressing outrage and incredulity.

A brief exchange on the Tony Kornheiser radio program articulates my feelings on the matter.

Kevin Sheehan- Newt Gingrich is the front runner now in a lot of Iowa.  He said something last week that I know you, Tony, wanted to respond to.  He said the following [reads quote]: 
Tony Kornheiser- That’s a pretty broad brush that he uses to paint.  I have no doubt that is occasionally true in some households, but I think that it is also true in wealthy households too.  I just think it is more true that people go out and try and work and do the best that they can, and often, because of a lack of money, have to take public transportation long distances to work.  I think that’s an unfortunate statement.  I think you can defend it by finding some miniscule amount of people who do that, but I don’t know how that helps you get votes. 
Gary Braun- You don’t think there’s some people who hear that, and are like “YEAH!”? 
David Aldridge- Dog Whistle, Tony.  Dog Whistle.  It’s all about appealing to your base.  And Newt’s base of conservative voters wants to believe the story that poor people are poor because they chose to be poor, and all they want to do is... 
Kornheiser - ...lie around heaven all day...
Braun - ...suck off the government teet.... 
Aldridge - Yes, and that’s the narrative that they want to believe.  And so, he feeds them that narrative. 

Speaking in generalities is dangerous, especially when it's a wealthy adult describing the circumstances surrounding poor children.  Though I believe that our political system is broken beyond repair, I hope that there can be some civil discourse in the next year surrounding issues of poverty, hunger, and education.

For additional information about children in poverty, consider exploring these web sites:

Fight Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty
ELCA - Hunger & Poverty

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Be John

an edited version of an article originally posted on my old blog - January 12, 2009

When you’ve grown up in the church and been a “professional” in youth ministry for nearly 8 years, you hear a lot of cliched sayings.  ”What Would Jesus Do?”…”Sinner and Saint”…”Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”…”Personal Lord and Savior”…”God Has a Sense of Humor”…etc.

One of the sayings that has always made me squirm a little is when people say that youth ministers are called to “Be Jesus” to kids.  The point is for ministers to bring young people closer to Christ by emulating what Jesus embodied.  While I understand the intent, the idea that anyone can truly “Be Jesus” seems disingenuous to me.

All around the world this weekend, the thousands of churches who use the Revised Common Lectionary will hear the story of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus.  Many who listened to John believed him to be the Messiah.  However, he repeatedly said "I am not".

Neither am I.  Neither are you.

The task of being Jesus is too daunting for me.  Following Jesus is something I try to do daily; but something I fail at just as often.  Jesus was perfect; I am not.  I can’t be Jesus, but I can be John — “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness”.  

Perhaps, in doing so, we can bring people closer to Christ than if we’re trying to “be Jesus”.