Posts Tagged ‘recession’

it wants to be

Posted: October 26, 2010 in give
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In grade school I had friends who were alcoholics.  Swede was one. He was a really big man, and  he always wore bib overalls and couldn’t stay sober  long.  I never thought of him as in any way scary or weird or even much different from me.  I’d hear from my dad that he or some of the others were drunk again or gone or back but I really only ever saw him at our camp, under the supervision of my dad, doing his program, trying to recover, working, taking a moment to talk to me.

Swede had a family, but it wasn’t like mine. They didn’t want to see him. You can do enough to your family often enough that after a while they are done with you. After that, other people may come to believe in you and to care for you but not your family anymore. The bridges get burned, as they say, and there is no way back, only forward, without them.

The alcoholics were like big kids to me,  One of them taught  me my first chords on the guitar, C, F and G.   Yesterday I played the guitar after lunch. I still play C, F and G although now I’m much more fond of C2, F2 and G2 thrown in here or there for a bit of dissonance. And I much prefer songs in D or E with lots of partial chords and minors and 4ths and 2nds and a few notes of the melody line here or there. But an alcholoic  gave me my start and it now occurs to me that he is still a part of me when I play, my link to him through a few chords that keep coming back as a part of the different songs I play.

When I was older my dad said something to me that got me going. He said, “The men I work with won’t become middle-class. They aren’t going to integrate back into society, get jobs, have families again, go to a middle-class church. But we still try to help them. They are human beings, and they deserved to be  cared for even if they never change.”

I’ve given this some thought. I wonder if sometimes “good” people help “bad” people thinking  that the bad people will become good people so  that the good people will feel good about what they have done to reform the bad people.  Maybe, but this seems like it might be a recipe for giving up, when the helping doesn’t work. And it seems a bit self-interested. Mostly, however, it’s a messed up way of thinking because there aren’t really good and bad people, just people who all have both the good and bad working pretty hard in them and on them.

I’m not so much for giving up on anyone anymore,  but I wonder if I’m much for helping either. Exceptions do arise.

This morning I found a three-foot long stick pole lying on the floor in my bedroom with six-inch piece of white ribbon attached. My cats drug it into the room in the night.

On the floor I also found a broken off two foot piece of ribbon. I knew what belonged with what, and so I tied the two foot piece of ribbon to the six-inch piece of ribbon and to the end of that I tied the receipt we got from eating chicken wings at Pat and Oscars last night.

So this morning we played, and the white Pat and Oscar’s receipt zoomed around the room, zipping through the air and making sudden turns, popping at the end of the ribbon, and the cat tails whipped through the air, and I laughed as the wild fur flew.

It’s good to give the cats what they want and need because it’s what I want and need too. Megan was tired afterward and lay on her back, liked beached seal, with her black legs sticking straight up in the air and the white tips of her paws looking gloved and elegant. Then she got up, picked up the receipt from the floor and carried it in her teeth to me. “More fun, please.”

Whatever is  separated or incomplete needs to be put back together. Space “wants,” as the architects are given to say, to become,  something. The pieces beg, to the observant mind, to fit together.

There are hard times.  60 Minutes reported the other night that if you count the unemployed and those who have quit looking for work and those who have had their hours cut, the percent in California is around 22%. That’s a lot of people. People who were pulling down big bucks a few years ago are going to soup kitchens to eat. We Americans now live in the presence of absence. It seems only proper to tie things back together, to fix what is at hand, to make an effort to offer something, more than once.

The other day at Costco I picked up a twenty-five pound bag of rice and threw it in my cart. I found it lying at the edge of one of the wide isles of the store, on a pallet with a bunch of other bags just like it. That’s a lot of rice. I put it in the back of my car and took it down to the food pantry at my church.  It will go back out of the food room repackaged, in smaller bags, to go into the homes of people who don’t have jobs or don’t make enough money at their jobs to have enough to eat. The rice from Costco “wants” to belong in the mouths of the people with not enough to eat.

The other day a woman came by the office and asked if I would help her with the rent for the apartment where her family lived.  She needed $150 to complete the payment. If they didn’t pay, they might have to move, to something smaller or perhaps back to New York. The money was in one of my bank accounts, and more than that.  In the past, I have only made my own house payments from my bank account. But something different seemed to me like the thing to do, to put two things together, her payment and my money,  and so I made the arrangements, and she took a cashier’s check to her property manager the next day.

For lunch today I bought a dark green pepper in the market and brought it home. I cut the top off, put it in a pan and gently cooked it until it blackened in a few spots and softened nicely. I ate it with a left over Mexican casserole that my wife had made a few days ago. The pepper was mildly hot, perfectly soft, slightly bitter with that delicious green pepper essence, a capsaicin marvel. I loved the way the cooked pepper squished between my teeth and the way the bitter, hot green goop bit at my tongue. It’s so natural, such a given for me, that I plan and shop and cook  and consume what I want.

In the afternoon I drove down to the bowling alley to pick up my daughter Roz and her friend Steve.  I didn’t want to do this, but it wanted to be done and so I did it. Steve came out of the bowling alley with his ball in his bag over his shoulder and his tongue sticking out between his teeth. He looked exactly like a big wookie from the Star Wars  movies, gangly and kind of scary but so good-natured that I wasn’t afraid of him. I’m mostly not afraid of him except when he charges and rams me with his untempered enthusiasm.

Steve doesn’t talk, at all. He signs. Roz interprets, kind of.  I take them home every Monday, as if I were the disabled community’s shuttle bus, taking the disabled adults home from bowling. Roz can’t drive; she never will, because of her seizures. I think as I drive her home, “I’m so selfish  not to want to driver her around. It’s something I should never say anything about. She doesn’t want it to be this way. She wants to be able to drive, like her sister.” I think about his and resolve to be a better person.

But I’m not. I spent the morning shopping, at Target for my favorite kind of coffee, and at a department store for my favorite kind of undershirts, black, mostly cotton with just a touch of spandex to make them stretchy and comfortable. It ‘s interesting how normal it feels to buy these. I drive them home in my luxury car to my beautiful house and hang them in my closet full of nice clothes that I like. It’s not that there is something intrinsically wrong with this; its just that buying things for other people is not as normal for me as buying things for myself and this is starting to muck with my head a bit.

April told me last week that she didn’t have a couch in her living room and that she and her kids were tired of sitting on the floor. I told her I’d see what I could do. Afterwards, I thought about her sitting on the floor, and her divorce which is coming final this Christmas and her bipolar condition and her lack of enough food to eat and her empty house. It sucks, totally. There is an old couch at the church, sitting in a room we aren’t using. On Saturday I told April that I had a couch for her. She squealed like a little girl and gave me a big, spontaneous hug. One of the church members will deliver it to her house this week.

I sit and think about what an unselfish life looks like, what a meaningful life looks like. I don’t really know. On Sunday, after church, a woman came by. She walked with cane. Her eyes were deeply set in her head, back in caves, tragic and grieved. She said that her husband had died last week, suddenly of an aneurism.  They had been married thirty-eight years. She wanted to have his service at the church. His friends from the auto parts store would come. I checked the calendar; we couldn’t do it. The church was scheduled with activities on the weekend she had told her relatives to come. I gave her the name of a friend of mine, a pastor who I thought might be able to  her out. I prayed with her and helped her step down from the office to the parking lot. She tottered off across the black asphalt of the parking lot, old, sick, grieved, bent and hunched, making her way to a house where just being there would remind her of how much she is now alone.

On the guitar, songs can be played in a very simplest way using chord progressions. Taking any major scale (Ionian mode) the first, fourth and fifth intervals, when used as roots, form major triads. So in the key of D, we play D, G and A  and this progression becomes the backdrop to sing many songs on. To the western ear, this progression works, begins, creates expectation, resolves. One chord feels right as it follows the other.

I’m wondering now, when we eat, does it follow, as one chord follows another, to give  people who don’t have enough to eat, something to eat. And when we buy something for ourselves, is the next chord that wants to be played, to buy something for someone else. Do these things follow one another. I look around. It’s a bit confusing now, how I live,  how I want to live. There are, it seems,  bits and pieces of things lying around me that go together and want to be together. I’m still working on putting them together.

Tonight I heated up and laid out dinner for my wife and daughter. We ate hot vegetable soup and fresh bread. After dinner we relaxed together, with the cats. A friend stopped by and she sat on the couch and talked with us.  It seemed like the most common thing in the world, to have enough to eat and to have a couch and to be full and to be together, not alone.

It’s not.

Maybe it wants to be.

We Are Hungry

Posted: December 23, 2009 in news
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Everybody is hungry.

Some are simple hungry, some twice hungry, some triple hungry — brain and heart and stomach simultaneously starving to death.   There are the physically hungry people and the psychologically needy and the spiritually hungry and the love hungry and the hate hungry too.

Our world is not cleanly divided up into rich and poor. It’s mixed up. There are poor people with rich people’s surfeit and rich people who are hungrier than poor people.

I’ve met homeless people who were profoundly selfish, self-centered and isolated, like some of the rich.  Some poor experience the poverty of pride, thinking inaccurately, “I am not like the greedy rich.” We are more alike than we will admit. Everybody tends toward looking down on someone.  In this way, being poor can make you more poor – relationally poor.  A poor person may be angry at everyone else, angry at the universe, angry at God or whatever might be god.  

And some people who are rich are so pathetically poor; they are the rich-poor. The Bank of America took 46 billion dollars in bail out money from the government in 2009. And it gave out 3.6 billion in bonuses to it’s Merrill Lynch executives. This is a form of emptiness, taking and giving lavish benefits while people are losing their homes. There is an unsatisfied hunger in evidence when we take too large a serving for ourselves from the community pot. Such grabbing betrays unmitigated hunger.

The hungry, empty rich? Many people would like to be this kind of empty. 

How does this emptiness make sense?

Personal wealth may be accompanied by and even contribute to all kinds of poverty: love poverty, good-sense poverty, spiritual poverty, moral poverty, relational poverty. If we prop ourselves up with bank accounts and houses and food and savings and retirements and accomplishments and reputation and insurances and neglect our inner persons, our sense of right and wrong in relating to others, some kind of relationship with something bigger than self, we can experience a radical, hidden form of soul thinness, of spiritual deprivation, of divine starvation.

Recently, I went to out to lunch.  I had delicious, gourmet fish tacos. I ate fast. Why? I ate alone. I hate to eat alone. A great meal is meant to be eaten with someone. A great meal is a relationship. A great meal is made to be shared.

But the raw and stunning truth of life is that not everyone shares in the meal, and furthermore, it is shocking who gets left out. Mary, the mother of Jesus, said about God, “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” 

What a kick in the stomach! God sends the rich away empty.  How empty? Well, obviously empty of a relationship with God, if he sends them away, and empty of good relationship the poor who stay and eat. So is God prejudiced against the rich?

That can’t be right. Just because you are rich, doesn’t mean you can’t know God and receive from God. If God made everything, then everything we have is from God, so even the rich’s riches are from God and so rich and poor are similar in being dependent on a common source of wealth.   

A wise proverb says, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” 

Godly people have been rich. Abraham was rich. Esther the, Jewish Queen, was rich. King David was rich. Solomon was rich. All knew God, were favored by God.

Jesus identified with the poor, but he too accepted moneyed people, tax collectors like his follower Matthew, business owners like Peter. But they did leave their businesses to follow him. And Jesus told one rich person to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor and to follow him. The obvious issue with this person was that his wealth would be a barrier to becoming God-rich and need would be part of a life of following God.  

So here is something a little problematic. If being hungry can bring you good things, then a lot of people are now up for good things, but they don’t seem to be getting the good things they need, and their poverty doesn’t seem to be uplifting. A billion people go to bed hungry each night. In the recession, as many as 200 million people are now unemployed worldwide.

50 million Americans live in food insecure households. Roughly 16 million people are unemployed in the United States. There have been over 200,000 home foreclosures in the United States since the recession began.  

He has filled the hungry with good things – but are all unemployed, homeless, hungry people filled? No, that isn’t true.

Hunger isn’t a virtue, it isn’t ennobling, and yet, it can open you to God. How? Hungry, you may realize, you need him. I met a man named William last week. He is HIV positive. William is homeless. He told me, “I could not have made it without God.” What did he mean? He meant he could not have made it without feeling God’s comfort, strength, provision of food, provision of love.

To receive from God, the rich and the poor must both be hungry for God. They must hunger to know God, to encounter God, to encounter Jesus as the bread of life.

They must admit their psychic poverty, admit their spiritual poverty, admit their weakness, and open both hands.

To be fed by God, we must all come to see that we are impoverished in some way. It is our choice, to recognize our poverty or not, admit our hunger, or not.

The spiritually fed, the emotionally healed, will be those who see they are poor and hungry, who suffer over their lack, no matter what they have physically, and who open their souls to God to fill them with good things – all the amazingly good that comes from a close relationship with him.

It’s complicated, but simple. We are all alike in one way. We are all hungry. And if we are triple filled, we will all be filled from one entrée – God.


Posted: November 19, 2009 in people
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You can choose to be critical or gracious.  You can sing one of two songs: a sad,  negative ballad or a happy, positive tune. It is hate or love, looking down on people or looking across at people, living by the rules or living in freedom.

In the recession, many people without jobs or adequate funds are afraid, sad, negative and hopeless. I totally understand and sympathize. I lost my job during 2008.  I know.  I now have a new job, but I get it. It’s scary. But how we respond to the recession is a choice. I met some people this week in difficult circumstances who are hopeful, positive, forward leaning — even more generous. 

Yesterday,  I spoke to a woman who is under resourced. She recently found a way to make $200 extra dollars by involving her children in a friend’s business, helping with advertizing. Her eyes gleamed with excitement as she spoke of her children’s success. She was focused on them, on what they were learning, not herself.

Sometime we may not even be aware that we are making a choice. We are. We aren’t destined or fated or predetermined to be afraid, rule-dominated or cranky. Loss and hurt and bad luck don’t destine a particular outlook.   We can choose to see hardship as fuel to propel us into the next good thing.

I forgot to give someone back the keys I borrowed from them yesterday. Her response: “It’s okay. I’ll borrow my husbands.” Gracious! No key rule imposed on me.

The world is populated with mistakes. And there is a rule against every one of them.  Rules say what people can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do. They have value in creating order. “Give back what you borrow” is a good rule. But “It’s okay when you forget,” is a crucial rule for lasting relationships.

Order isn’t primarily a function of imposed rules  but instead a function of the desire for progress, improvement and freedom. An orderly way of relating best stems from  a  positive, intrinsic, internal drive. When we love,  we bring about an order that is beyond and better than imposed rules.

Take for example  how women have been defined in our culture. Women, like men,  have been defined by by gender rules. These rules don’t always operate, but they do so often enough that they are powerful behavior shapers. Women should be thin. Women should be nice. Women shouldn’t be paid as much for the same job as men. Women shouldn’t intimidate men by being more competent. Women shouldn’t do certain jobs or play certain roles.

Recently a friend told me. “I was told by some male leaders who were not very open to female leadership that I wasn’t a leader.” She is now leading a highly organized and well-funded non-profit effort to feed people during the recession. So much for that judgment. It wasn’t based on reality or openness. At the heart of the matter, it wasn’t gracious, open to possibility, to freedom.

Limit or empower. Shut-down or open up. Live under the rules or beyond the rules. Be critical or be gracious. It’s  my choice — today.

It’s Good!

Posted: October 19, 2009 in thriving
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puff ballThe second-longest  running  Off Broadway musical comedy is called I Love You, You’re Perfect … Now Change.

Murphy’s law tells us: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Someone added: “And it will be your fault, and everyone will know it.”

Mark Twain famously quipped, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.” For starters, the cat would stop purring.

It’s easy to carp, and kind of fun to pick on our species. I was negative, once in my life. Or was it twice.  I enjoyed it.  Sometimes I even enjoy being negative about being negative.

To be honest, many of us incline toward the gloomy. Foreclosures, bankruptcies, corporate greed, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and declining moral values – a negative outlook is simply the downside of being informed. People shouldn’t have taken financial risks, our country shouldn’t bail people out, our leaders shouldn’t…

Yes, perhaps, but I say, beware, the naysay. Don’t … shouldn’t … too much.

 Last week I found my red and yellow peppers had molded in the refrigerator. Proof: it’s a spoiled world.  But Friday night I ate a large slice of spice cake. It was moist and sweet, a sticky cake with a rich, creamy, smooth frosting. Times may be hard, but the spice cake is still lip smacking good.

I’m a Christian, and I believe that Christianity, at its core, is a positive-narrative. Christians aren’t the financial police, the social police or the food police of the world. We aren’t the moral scolds either. We are happy, good news reporters. In the worst of times, we always have good news.

In the ancient days of Noah, there was a large retributive flood; but there was also a rescuing ark-zoo. The ancient Hebrew God-lovers were enslaved in Egypt – but they were liberated by Moses.

 For every negative, in the Bible, there is a leaning into something positive. For every failure, there is a contrasting redemption.

Calvinism is making a comeback in Christian circles. Famed reformation scholar John Calvin held that the Bible teaches a doctrine of “total depravity?” Yes, I agree, I’m depraved. I have a penchant for forbidden, harmful cake. For anyone else to recognize this requires a look no further than the edges of their own unhealthy thinking.

But the Bible also teaches a doctrine of total forgiveness. We taste Christ, and we are good again.

The cynical nursery rhyme says, “All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men can’t put Humpty together again.”  But the Bible counters that there is a king who can put Humpty together again.

Shakespeare quipped that life is a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  The Bible says life is a tale told by an artist, full of symbols and meaning, signifying everything.

Do you want to thrive?  Repent from being negative and celebrate what is right with the world.  

What is right with the world?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and earth …” and after each brush stroke, each God breathed event,  the Bible records that God paused and saw that “it was good.”

Light, pause, good; land and sea, pause, good; plants, pause, “good;” creatures, pause, good.

The pause was in the “saw,”   “Check out that spiral galaxy, 100 million light years across. That’s good.”

“Love that pink rose with the yellow center, good.”

“The kids are going to go crazy over those pandas and striped zebras, very good.”

Good? How good? Good as in beautiful. And it still is beautifully good.  

 I was out walking the other day, and I saw little circles on the ground. It was the sun, shining through the leaves, reproduced, by the solar pinhole effect. 386 billion megawatts of energy was projected on the ground in a tiny, me-sized image!  Good!

 Dewitt Jones is a renown National Geographic photographer tells of  how he once he traveled to the British Columbia on assignment. Out in the field, he decided to photograph a field of dandelions. But then not into it, he packed up and with a mind to return later. Several weeks passed before he got back. The field had turned to puff balls. 

About to leave again, Dewitt instead began to move in a more positive direction. With his camera he was suddenly over the puff balls, eye level with puff balls, under the buff balls, and there it was – an award winning shot!

We live in a God kissed world.

 Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

 And yet even as we claim this, less positive images come to mind.

 I have several friends who work in hospitals. The hospital presents a 360 degree view of life. One of my hospital buddies told me that this week a man with diabetes had his leg cut off.  I grieve for that man. But on the same day, in the same hospital, a baby was born with all its fingers and toes.

 The good is always framed by the tragic. This doesn’t take from good’s intrinsic goodness.

A man named Jud came to my office recently. He is a devastated person. He has vacant eyes. He has little contact with his family. His spirit is broken by an alcohol addiction. What can I do? In 30 minutes can I fix 50 years? I invited him to use the phone.

 I watched as he called his parole officer. I watched as he called a detox program. I watched a man digging himself out of his own grave. I invited him to come back the next day, sober, to call again. He came back. He made more calls. He left for the trolley, to go downtown to the detox center. I watched his back as he left, a man on a mission.  It was good.

 How good? Good in being one step back toward beauty in the form of order. This is what good means –order out of a depraved mess.

 I striped a parking lot recently, laying down new white parking space lines in measured, chalked and then sprayed rows. When I was done, I paused, the divine  pause, and enjoyed. I thought, this is how God must have felt after making the zebra. Striped is good. For me, striped is a mirror image of some kind of mysterious divine order.

 Perhaps we have been busy without pausing. Perhaps we should eat more spice cake and buy more paint.

 Life isn’t just a bunch of shouldn’ts and didn’ts. Certainly it is tragic, but certainly it is also framed in wonderments and full of astonishing possibilities.

 Look around. Life is good.