Monday, August 29, 2011

The Depraved Poor?

The other day I was perusing blogs and I came across this one that caused me to sit and stare at my computer completely dumbfounded. The author was apparently a prominent voice within some evangelical circles. He wrote in regards to a recent study by the American Sociological Association that says that less educated, low income Americans are leaving the church at double the rate of those with more education and higher incomes. 

The author began by saying: 

"It is past time to admit a very hard truth: America’s poverty problem is also a depravity problem. It is simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor.  There is no other proven formula for lifting Americans out of poverty.  None.  Food stamps don’t do it.  Medicaid doesn’t do it.  Soup kitchens don’t do it.  Good intentions don’t do it.  Hundreds of billions of dollars of transfer payments have not budged the poverty rate."

Wow, well that's nice for those of us lucky enough to be born into a home where the opportunities to accomplish these things are readily available. It's really too bad for all those other poor folk that face very real, complex, and depraved institutional, social, and economic roadblocks that keep them within the cycle of poverty. But, I'm sure hearing from someone in a higher class that they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps- and accept Jesus- is the way to end the cycle. I'm also having a hard time seeing the connection between depravity and something such as not finishing one's education. Am I missing something? As far as I know, depravity isn't confined to socioeconomic class. 

The author goes on to say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty. 

However, can you really say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty when you initially say hard work, finishing school, and staying married is the answer? 

Is the gospel of Jesus the answer? Surely it is. But, the answer to the problem of poverty is found in kingdom values, not middle class values and social stability. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted and set the prisoners free. The Cross frees us of our poverty. The gospel shows us a better way to live, though this has absolutely nothing to do with income, education, or possessions. The gospel provides a voice to the voiceless, covers the shame of the disgraced, and brings hope to the dejected. It says you are created in the image of God, you have worth. It says, even in your depravity, Christ died for you. It says hope is not in things but in a risen King. The gospel allows us to put our faith in a God that's able to paint a beautiful portrait of redemption through pain, sacrifice and despair.

When you view poverty through the eyes of the impoverished, using their own definition, it's no wonder they are leaving the American church in droves. Those that are poor define poverty less in terms of material possessions but as the lack of opportunity and voice and feelings of shame and worthlessness.  If this is true poverty, than maybe when looking for solutions to how to alleviate it, we're asking all the wrong questions. Is the ultimate goal to bring someone to middle class status where we have a whole new set of issues, including pride, apathy, entitlement, materialism, and consumerism? 

Those living in poverty aren't finding a home within churches built primarily on middle-class values. There are certainly many, many wonderful churches engaged in serving those in poverty. I wonder though, are we actually giving the marginalized a voice within the church? Do we choose leaders more often based on spiritual gifting or on education and status? What happens to those that feel like they have no voice? Quite often they disengage. Are these people running away from Jesus or are they running from Pharisaical churches? How many of our middle-class churches have become a place of comfort instead of a place of mission?

One of the more troubling assertions in the article, is the author's reflection about his time "in the trenches." He talks about how he spent several years working in mentoring programs, providing financially for people in need, and generally giving of himself. Through all this, he claims he was taken advantage of until the point where he realized that everything he had done was meaningless. 


To say that we don't serve, we don't give of ourselves because "it doesn't work" sounds like quite the depravity problem to me. 

We serve the poor, the unloved, and the marginalized because Jesus told us to and showed us how. We meet the physical needs of people because Jesus said in Matthew 25 that in taking care of these people, we are taking care of Him. I believe wholeheartedly as followers of Jesus we must work to alleviate poverty and work for all kinds of social justice. There is no doubt that when we look at the life of Jesus we see that we are called to do this. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes from Isaiah saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then, he goes onto say that today this Scripture is fulfilled through Him. 

He is the answer.

Jesus brought freedom as no one else could. When he rode into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion, people were laying palms before him. They wanted a messiah that would free them from the oppressive Roman rule. But the Kingdom of God was not of this world, and it provided so much more than just freedom from tyrannical governments. The freedom that God gives goes so far beyond physical needs, yet we still serve people's physical needs as Jesus did during his ministry. The cure for poverty isn't in more money, but we give more money. The cure for poverty isn't in providing better education but we provide better education. The cure for poverty isn't in working at soup kitchens but we still work in soup kitchens. We do all these things and love Jesus through loving people. 

We work to promote kingdom values, and we speak to the needs of the whole person. 

We bring hope in despair, voice to the voiceless, and restore dignity to the marginalized. We don't shove middle-class values down their throats; we serve, we love, and we show the person of Jesus, who is the answer to the poverty of every heart, regardless of class or status.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When the Best's Not Best

Several months ago I was at a party having a conversation with a couple moms with kids who were the same age as Emma, who was barely two at the time. One mom asked me where Emma was going to school. I paused for a moment, not quite sure I understood what she was asking. I awkwardly reminded her that Emma was only two. She didn't go to school. She and the other mom told me how their kids had been in school since they were eighteen months. Then they enlightened me about the best schools in the area and how you have to start them early if you want them to get into a good preschool.

They were preparing them to get into the best schools.

At two.

I get tired just thinking about what the next sixteen years of those kids' lives will be like.

I read an excellent article today about Finnish schools, which made me very proud to be a Finn. It turns out that Finland has made more of a contribution to the world than with saunas, Nokia, and Angry Birds. They're leaders in education and it's not because they crank out amazing standardized test scores. In fact, they don't even have standardized tests, apart from the matriculation exam taken at the end of their final year of school as a prerequisite to attend university. Yet, globally they're leading the way in math, science, and reading. They're not motivated by competition; more tax dollars do not go to schools that perform well, and students living in affluent areas do not have greater opportunities than those living in poor areas. In fact, they pride themselves in equality for all students. Schools are publicly funded and run by, get this, educators. It's not business people or politicians making decisions about education. It's educators. They trust their educators and let them do their jobs. Wow, how empowering that must be. I think of all my friends and family in education here in the States who are so disheartened because they're not allowed to just do their jobs. They're policed by bureaucrats that don't know the first thing about educating our children.

We've created a climate of competition that begins during the first couple years of our children's lives that is screwing them up. They are made to think that they're loved because of what they do, not who they are. When all you whisper to someone is achieve, achieve, achieve, you end up with a bunch of kids that don't give a flip about actual learning. In study after study, students admit to cheating because really, that's what we teach them with all our performance-based testing. Students don't even see it as a moral issue because the system (not the teachers) teaches that achievement is the most important goal, so use any means necessary to get ahead.

I don't want my kids to live like this. I don't want to parent like this. I just want my kids to be kids. I had a conversation today with a friend about how if I want to get Em in the preschool where I would like her to go next year, it might be a good idea to put her in a couple days a week this winter. It's hard to get a spot if she's not already enrolled. Seriously, it's out of control. I can't worry about it though.

I am a teacher, regardless of if I'm in a classroom ever again. I take full responsibility for my children. I will cultivate their potential in ways that speak to their entire being. I will teach them about what it means to love God and put others before themselves. We will learn together that it's better to serve others than to be served. My kids will not get lost in a system that some politician has hijacked. I pray that they grow up to be world changers, not because they have an edge over someone else, but because they follow a better way. I pray that they know the One who redeems lives, systems, and cultures. And I pray that Matt and I don't get caught up in all this nonsense in the name of wanting what's best for our kids.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Heaven, Hope, and Hollowing

Evidently three is the age when kids start to figure out that with separation comes sadness. Usually when we leave my family in NY, Emma is sad but bounces back pretty quickly. She gets caught up in the excitement of riding in a plane or the anticipation of seeing other family members. It was not so this year as we left Syracuse. Initially she was fine, but as the plane landed she started crying and couldn't be comforted. She wanted to go back to her wawa's house. She wanted to see her cousins. As we got in the car for the ride home she continued to bawl. We gave my mom a call and Em sobbed to her about how much she missed her and how she didn't have a heart anymore. She couldn't watch the sunset because she was just too sad. It was pretty heart-wrenching. While I don't think it's healthy to wallow in emotions like that I do want her to know that it's okay to mourn. Being separated from ones you love is sad.

A week ago today Matt's grandpa passed away. This is the first time Em has lost someone to death. With her family in NY, she can take comfort in the fact that she can see them again at Christmas. She has a concrete time to look forward to. Seeing someone someday in heaven is not quite so concrete for a three year old. The night that he passed Matt was putting her to bed and she started crying because she wasn't going to see Big Papa anymore. Today as I was putting her down for a nap she kept asking me if I was going to get old. I kept explaining that everyone gets old. Her response was, "But not mommies, right?" I went on to say that getting old was a part of life. Mommies get old and even she will get old someday. Then her little chin started quivering and she said, "But I don't want you to go to heaven." Oh goodness. Break my heart.

I'm not really sure what to do with that. To me, heaven is hope. To her, heaven is separation. It makes me wonder if in trying to bring comfort to our kids, we're really skewing their views. I'm not sure. I know I don't want Em just praying a prayer sometime in her young life just so she thinks she can go to heaven someday and see those that she loves again. Of course I want her to follow Jesus. But, there's a huge difference between following Jesus and wanting to see loved ones again. Are there things that we should wait to explain to our kids until they can think more abstractly so as not to confuse them? Is heaven one of those things, at least when paired with death? Just thinking out loud. What are your thoughts?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The One Where My Kids Puke All Night

The best thing about being a parent is not waking up at 2AM to the sound of your 14-month old throwing up. Nor is it the sound of his sister following suit 20 minutes later. It's not holding your child over a trash can as his little stomach heaves or holding him all night with the putrid smell of vomit penetrating your nose, all the while your spouse is doing the same for your other child.

Strangely enough though, one of the greatest things about parenthood is how it makes you and your spouse the type of people who can do these things without batting an eye.

Seriously, when the nurturing traits were handed out, I must have been skipped over because I'm not naturally a caregiver. I never went gaga over babies before I had my own. I tend to hold my breath around people that I know are sick. I remember some months back we had a friend in town that was in the car as Emma started tossing the large amount of cookies that she had just consumed. Kristin jumped right in to help clean up the massive amounts of disgustingness all over our car and our daughter. I tried to stop her several times, but she just continued like it was no big deal. Wow. I'm so not that girl. And my husband is so not that guy. In fact, Matt's the type that passes out when there's gory scenes in war movies. No joke.

But, there's something super hot about laying on the floor with your sick baby boy, knowing that your hubby is in the next room doing the same thing with your little girl. Funny how what's hot changes as you go through life with someone. I guess that's what building a family together is all about though. It's a  team effort. Both spouses have to be willing to get their hands dirty. What this means will change on a day to day basis, but there has to be confidence on both sides that the other person is willing to step up for the other and for the family.

Real life.
Real love.
Real gross but real good.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Call Me Grace

A few days ago while the kids were eating breakfast, Emma randomly told me she was sorry. It's never a good thing when your three year old apologizes and you have no idea what she's talking about. I asked her what she was sorry for, to which she replied, "For writing in marker all over your table."

Oh. Crap.

I saw the black permanent marker first. Then I looked to where she was seated and spotted the scribbles all over the side of my new, white table.

Dangit. What was going on in her head when she decided it would be a good idea to do something that she clearly knew was wrong?? What was she thinking!? We have had several conversations about only writing on paper and what a big no-no it is to write on furniture, clothing, or her little brother. And of all things, she decided to mess up my new. white. table.


I went off on a tangent asking her all these same questions and bringing up these important points. I may have raised my voice. And used broad sweeping gestures with my arms to portray to her just how big my disappointment was. Until she burst into tears and said quietly, "Mommy, please call me grace."


I had to stop in my tracks long enough to actually look at her and ask her to repeat what she said. Again, she said with a quivering lip, "Please call me grace."


I realized my daughter was asking for grace. Even though she knew what she did was wrong. Even though she didn't know the right words to say. I had to pause for a second. I mean, seriously, it's my new, white table. It only took a second though.

"You mean show you grace?" I quietly asked her.
"Yes, Mommy. Show me grace."

I hugged her and told her I would show her grace as God shows me grace. And I meant it.

How many times do I know something isn't right but do it anyway? How many times am I selfish and have an attitude that's just about what I want, regardless of how it affects someone else? Yet I am so incredibly aware of the grace of God in my life.

There's nothing quite like being humbled by your three year old.

A while later she came up to me again with a quivering lip, hugged me and said she forgave me. I was a little confused and asked what she forgave me for, to which she replied for writing on my table. Again, she had the words wrong, but I understood what she meant. I realized that although she had told me she was sorry, I hadn't actually said that I'd forgiven her. My goodness, two important lessons in a fifteen minute time span. I'd forgotten in my earlier conversation with my child how important it is to hear the words "you're forgiven" in the process of reconciliation. I know in my relationship with Matt how important it is for the other person to acknowledge that while yes, a wrong was done, there's something freeing in hearing "you're forgiven." It allows the other to know you're not holding something over the other's head and lets the relationship be restored from both party's perspective.

I hope the lines of communication always stay this open with my kids. I hope that God continues to teach me lessons through my children. I hope they'll look back on their childhood and see parents that strive to show them the love and grace of Jesus.