…are we talking about the same guy?
The Jesus I know was a Jewish carpenter turned itinerant preacher with calloused hands who liked nothing better after a long day than to have dinner and a glass of wine with a large group of friends, acquaintances and anyone else who showed up. He very much enjoyed deep discussions about the meaning of what it meant to be fully human – to live with authenticity and compassion – to bring the “golden rule” to life every single day. He didn’t shy away from discussions about the plight of the poor or the oppressive rule of powerful authorities, whether religious or political.
Despite the fact that his words often cut to the quick of the soul of anyone listening, people were drawn to his authenticity and compassion. The Jesus I know definitely walked his talk, and folks wanted to follow him and be just like him – they craved to embody the same depth of humanity that he exuded.
Of course, those cutting words often cut the religious authorities the wrong way. Jesus never shied away from looking them straight in the eye and telling them they had missed the whole point of life – their rules bound people to misery instead of freeing them to live fully. They hated that he hung out with all the wrong folks, eating and drinking and raising the religious awareness of the lowest members of society. In fact, the hate was so deep they conspired with the political authorities (who were no less concerned about the unsettling impact this itinerant carpenter-rabbi might have on the masses) to kill him.
That is the Jesus I know.
I do not know the Aryan-ized, Pharisee-friendly, corporatist, nationalistic Jesus who laughs at racist jokes, proscribes narrow rules of morality based on sexual ethics, blesses profits while children go without food and water, and wraps himself in flags and endorses one political party over another. I do not know the Jesus who agrees that the lowest members of a society are “takers” or that food, shelter, healthcare, education, or any basic human need is a commodity best trickled down in measured doses via any economic system by the wealthiest to the neediest.
That Jesus I do not know. And don’t want to know.
Which Jesus do you know?
One of my favorite poets died earlier this month. I often have my students read Lucille Clifton’s poems when we’re learning about using descriptive language in writing. Her poems are deceptively simple, usually lacking both punctuation and capitalization. Yet the simplicity of her poetry only adds to the punch of the ideas.
Clifton’s poetry is often woman-centric and carries within it the struggles of being both female and African-American. Her poems can be defiant, challenging, and funny. Here is one of my favorites, simply called “homage to my hips:”
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
Lucille Clifton may have passed from this world, but her work will stay with us, growing on us, reminding us of what it means to be human.
This question of where were you on 9/11 keeps popping up today. I was at work. I watched the terrible events unfold on a big screen TV in the conference room. I knew my life would never be the same.
We had already been through the Murrah Building bombing here in Oklahoma City in 1995. That was enough large-scale, man-made tragedy for me to witness in this lifetime. 9/11 eclipsed that horror on a massive scale. It was a crystallizing event that changed the way I looked at life.
The last eight years have been a journey from corporate employee to real estate agent to writer/educator/pastor. It’s been a journey complete with wrong turns and lost luggage. Most of all it has been a journey towards living an authentic life of peace, simplicity, and justice. Not an easy journey in a society enamored of celebrity, wealth, and power.
I, like everyone else who was old enough on that day, remember where I was. But these days I’m more interested in remembering where I am and where I’m going. I believe it is the changes wrought in us by such events that propel us forward into a life lived more honestly. So maybe I would ask, Who were you on that day and who are you now?
I got wind that October 15 was Blog Action Day ~ Poverty. So, I thought I’d make a few comments about poverty and what we can and can’t do about it. I’ll relay the stories of two single mothers I’ve known and assisted in their battle against poverty – each with a different outcome.
Each woman received identical assistance:
- The basics of food stamps, Section 8 housing and subsidized childcare
- Free job training co-sponsored by a community agency and DHS
- Mentoring with a business woman
- Resume and interview coaching
- Gas allowances and transportation assistance through a local church
- Utility assistance
- Free work-appropriate clothing through a local charity
- Medical and mental healthcare through a government/community action agency partnership
- Opportunities to volunteer at local churches or charities of their choice
- Parenting training and coaching
In short, they participated in a program that took every step imaginable to help them build the skills, confidence, and support system necessary to be able to get to a point that they could support themselves and their children.
Woman A consistently missed appointments, classes, required DHS inspections, etc. She blew what little money she had on beer and cigarettes. Despite my efforts and the efforts of countless others, she ended up evicted from her subsidized housing and her children were taken by DHS and put in foster care. We cried, all of us, those children were precious. The mother cried, but chose to run off to another state with the latest boyfriend instead of working to right the situation.
Woman B never missed an appointment, a class, or failed to attend to any other requirements asked of her, regardless of how silly or demeaning they may have seemed (and some government regulations do seem completely senseless). She won the respect of her teachers, case workers and counselors. She volunteered to help other women in her same position. She learned and asked questions and learned some more. She hung on her mentor’s every word and worked hard to become a professional herself. And she succeeded. Again we cried, but this time it was at a graduation ceremony for a young mother who would be starting her first “real” job in her entire life.
The difference in those two women was the attitude, the mindset, they brought to the table. You and I can and should support efforts to help those living in poverty. However, none of us can change the way a person thinks. Someone who chooses to be the victim and believes the government, the rich, or whoever, is out to keep them down will never rise out of poverty. More money, more programs, more volunteers will never end poverty. Poverty is as much a mind problem as a financial problem. All we can do is continue to reach those who are ready and willing to take the steps necessary to defeat the scourge of poverty.
I don’t know what happened to Woman A. I can only pray that she has or will take advantage of opportunities to rise above her unpleasant past. Woman B has continued to do well. She’s received promotions and pay raises and recently moved from her Section 8 housing to a nice, suburban neighborhood where the kids can attend some of the best schools in the area. And it’s for the sake of the Woman B’s out there they we must continue to help wherever and however we can.