Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

I don’t know where I first came  upon a favorite phrase of mine…someone’s parent used it, I think, when asked at a meal if they wanted more of something. They said,
“I’ve had an ample sufficiency;  more would be a superfluous abundance.”

Empty, full, overflowing

Don’t you love it?  I memorized that phrase on the spot and have found it fun and useful so often in my life.  It always gets a smile.

It occurs to me now that the OTHER extreme to “superfluous abundance” is something else again:  a “DIRE LACK” seems strong enough to balance the other end of the spectrum.

I ran into an article today which I found extremely interesting.  It was a talk by an atheist explaining how to ask non-athiests to accept some of the preferences of atheists! In particular was asking people not to pray for them!  It was particularly interesting to me because I am NOT an atheist, and I am sure that I have put atheists into the position of wanting to say how they prefer to be spoken to about such things as prayer, and blessings, and faith.

I was admonished a year or so ago for saying “God Bless You!” to a child’s sneeze!  I was sort of astonished, since it’s such a common sort of response to sneezes,  but the fact that the person who asked me not to say it was the father of the child.  They preferred their child not be exposed to “God Talk”, and so were censoring the kinds of things said in their house.

(So I semi-rebelliously said Gesundheit instead, and that was, somehow, okay, since no one speaks German in that house. But my reaction was knee-jerk, and not all that pure-hearted.  It was not a response of respect, at least, which is what the person may have expected of me.)

What I am puzzled about is how much we can tailor other people’s behavior in regards to their way of expressing themselves?  How okay is it to request, for instance, that someone NOT pray for you?   I say to people, quite honestly, that I will pray for them when I honestly do mean to do just that.  But when I say it, it’s not to convert them, or remind them, but it is simply a statement of how I will be putting my concerns into actionable form.  Of course, if they don’t believe in prayer, it will seem sentimental, old-fashioned, passe, and superfluous, and even obnoxious to people who severely disapprove of prayer and everyone who believes it to be effective.

But do I say to them that they are not to use atheistic terms and concepts in their conversation in my house?  No, really not.  People would pick fights all the time if that were true,  just as if someone were forbidden to speak any language but Urdu in a Palestinian home.  How divisive that would be! Of course they can speak of their belief in my house, even if it’s quite different from mine.  I would like to ask questions of that person and learn all I can about their beliefs.

If a person comes with a good-will gift, and that gift happens to be something repugnant to me, I will accept it with gratitude.  What seems good to some may seem awful to others, but a gift is a gift, and it’s the sincere gesture that counts, and the reception should be sincere as well.

Kindness makes for active tolerance of discomfort. Divisions happen when the “give and take” are refused.

But how much is too much?  And how about the opposite…too much restriction?

We used to be told in church to “witness” to others– actively and consistently.  This was one of the acts that Christians were to do.  Of course other religions have their ways of spreading what they believe.  And if they are earnestly innocent of ulterior motives (fishing for proselytes) they are simply doing what they truly believe is right.

There is a moving barrier in conversations across philosophies.  In this age of “coming out” when you are “different” in a way that is not always accepted, like gay, or Republican, or anti-gun rights,  you have realized by now that saying so will often cause a ripple of dissension and maybe even drive people away from you.   You learn to do it discreetly, and hopefully when others have learned that you are not a stupid person, or a fanatic, or a public enemy, but someone who has other “features” that makes you worth knowing even if you ARE something “odd.”

How about the ones who are coming up against the established accepted practices?

How much do we who have strong opinions about, say,  war, or God, or evolution, or global warming, ask of others to make room for our preferences?  When I go to a talk about athiesm, am I suppoosed to stand up and chant something to express my difference of opinion?  Only if I am on a campaign and am willing to take the issue to court, or to war, or to the press.  If I went  to this talk simply to understand others’ point of view, I have no business making a scene.

What if they come to my home and start telling me that I must stop believing in God and that I am ruining my family by not being an atheist?  Well, they will not be particularly cheered on, I will assure you.  If they persist, I may not invite them again– but it will be because they have delivered a superfluous abundance of their creed in my space, where my own creed is as precious as theirs, and it is offending me.  It’s just not polite.

So, how does one handle, say, a babysitter who is of the “other” persuasion, whatever that is?  Does one tell them what words are not acceptable?   I’m not sure how long the children will believe that everyone is like their parents,  but I can tell you that my kids learned an encyclopedia of words never allowed in our house on their first ride on a public school bus!  What a shattering experience!

I let my children play with the neighborhood group even though their creed was very different from mine.  There were words exchanged casually long before school days that caused them to realize that different families had some rather major differences in “okay-ness.”  It was still a shock to learn all the really “dirty” words on that schoolbus, but they were also aware that the world will be hugely different in a lot of ways from us.

AND, counter to what I wanted, they had a great time adopting all these forbidden words!!

  What one resists, persists…and parents should be aware of that.

Live and let live!  As we bump around and run into people who put their hands together and say “Shalom”, and into other people who sock us in the arm and say “What’s up, buddy?”, that both of those people are giving us respect as they are inclined to do, and all are worthy of our acceptance of their greeting.  It’s just polite!

I think no one ever did damage by allowing another his own creed, unless that other is trying to force his creed on others.  I will not adopt anything that is crammed down my throat.  But  will be thankful for people sharing their personal views honestly with me, and I will continue to pray for them, even if they don’t want me to.  It is not an act of aggression, after all,  and if they don’t believe in it anyway, why should it bother them?

Might as well tell people not to smile at you, as not to pray for you.

My atheist friends just say “I will send good thoughts”, and that’s okay with me!  I can use all the good thoughts I can get!

It’s all a journey.  And it’s good to have language with fellow travelers that crosses divides.

Old Swimmer


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I have to wonder, this Christmas Day, 2011, whether it would be a good thing to spend the day with a newborn infant and his family in a stuffy, or drafty barn stable with beasts breathing grainy exhalations into our shared air, and moving their bodies around the stalls—I hear the horse shifting weight on the floor, and munching a morsel, and hear the barn cat mew, hoping for some handout from the strangely milky-smelling people who are camping in the corner.

We are suffering a near-Dickensian downturn in our society this year—people are hungry and homeless—a lot more people than we have ever had before, and it’s not “bums” and “panhandlers” who have chosen their fate, but we find ourselves mingling with those same people by another label,  unemployed,  foreclosed,  evicted for non payment of rent,  bankrupted by overwhelming debt, and without a place to put the stuff that used to be their lives.  Had we ever before thought about the real inner life of that panhandler who tried to hit us up in Pioneer Square, or wherever we happend to be shopping?

Some are young families who have little children and some are pregnant.  They will possibly deliver today.

Could it be that God is allowing us to suffer this difficult passage to put us in the stable with the child who came to save us?

What can we learn from being “away in the manger” with the Christ Child?  Straw is stickery, and the dust makes you sneeze.  It’s good to be near parents. Large beasts are warm. Stay away from their legs.   Even in a stable there is cuddling.  Food comes from the breast of the mother,  not from the supermarket.  The part of the group with the greater wealth of food, shelter, clothing support the ones who have nothing. The ones who know how to do things use their knowledge to help everyone.   Life is not a bowl of cherries.  There is discomfort, and temporary distress.  Dirt happens. Life goes on anyway, and there is joy and humor and goodness even in the most inconvenient circumstances.

Not all the inhabitants will live very long.  There are animals in this stable who are there for the express purpose of being dispatched summarily for the purpose of feeding the humans.  Life is not always kind.  But it has a carefully engineered way of getting to God’s purposes.  We don’t always get into the planning meetings.  And the child we honor today did not live long… only thirty some years.  But what he did in those thirty years changed everything, forever.

I am trying to put myself in the stable today.  I am a traveler, in a way…far from my family this Christmas although just down the highway by about two hours.  I got the flu or something that kept me from the festivities.  I have been in bed with rain on the roof and the computer in the corner along with the tea and Gatorade, and the bathroom happily around the corner.  Not exactly the stable.  It’s warm in here, and I am not having to clean stable sorts of stuff away to get from here to the kitchen.

It’s good to be quiet, I find.  All I have done other than keeping an eye on the email for messages from loved ones, is a lot of not successful Sudokus!  Well I did solve some,  but my brain doesn’t think it’s important to really solve them.  Just to exercise as much as is good, and then to quit when it becomes stressful.  I’m only sorta good at Sudoku.

So, I am heading back to my bedroll, with my bottle of Gatorade, and a freshly filled hot water bottle.  The kids will call later on and give me a report.  The best part is the report from the four and six year old youngest grandchildren.

Mary and Joseph didn’t have a phone.  I will try to remember that.

Old Swimmer  going back to Sudoku

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Some things never change.

Seems to me that last year on December 8th, I was worried a great deal about the hunger and cold in Vineland, NJ.  I saw a lot of people huddled and unhappy in the streets, and the weather was, like the Old King Wenceslas carol put it, cruel.

This year the faces I see are in another town in another corner of the US, and some of them are just as sad and cold and needy here as they were (and likely are) in Vineland NJ.  The Salvation Army guy is out ringing his bell and duly wishing givers and non-givers alike a similarly Merry Christmas.  He was cold when I saw him first on Monday.  But he was caring about how he did his ringing, and wishing. 

I told him on Monday that I’d “get him next time.”  “Merry Christmas” he said.   And on Wednesday I “got him” and he wished me Merry Christmas again.  Going in, and going back out of the store, there he was. A young fellow.  He did his job with an aura of serious cheer, if there is such a thing.

This is the time of year I inevitably remember my cute little dark-haired English neighbor who, in yet another town, another decade, knocked on the door and brightly announced that she was collecting for the March of Dimes.  I was really and truly broke (and depressed about it)– really scratching for money as a “displaced homemaker”.  “Cathy, I wish I had something to give, but I just don’t have any money.”  

And she said something that occurs to me every time I am confronted with an opportunity to donate to a worthy cause.  She said,  “It’s the March of Dimes. Have you got a dime?”

I did, of course, on the ledge of the kitchen window.  Cathy taught me that day that if everyone actually gave a dime to the March of Dimes, a whole heck of a lot of money would be given.  Whatever the population of the U.S. is times ten cents is a heck of a lot of money.

We can do this.  I can do it.  I have a stack of loose change that collects when I empty pockets before doing laundry.  I’ve got a thin wallet, but certainly more than a dime this year.

I say do it!  A dime.  A quarter.  All those pennies.  The wadded up dollar you stuffed in the cubbyhole next to the handle of the car door.  Go ahead.  It’ll make your heart feel warm on this very cold day in December.

I’m going to write a card to my wise friend Cathy when I finish this blog.  I happen to know that little English Cathy worked as a very small child at a mill near Blackpool  and had to give all her paycheck to her Granny.  This was in England in a desperately poor country place where there was a peat fire to warm the little row house she lived in.  Granny used to give her a penny back and she would savor the treat she would get from the candy store.  Cathy knew what a dime could bring.  This is not a fairy tale.  This is a real story. And Cathy is a white haired old lady this 8th of December, God bless her.

old swimmer

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