Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On Poverty and Diapers - essay for the Leader-Telegram

I wrote this for the Leader-Telegram, the local newspaper here in Eau Claire, WI, to talk about poverty, and specifically diapers, as we begin our diaper drive for a local pregnancy center.

Here is the text:

If we were to take a poll, I have a feeling the percentage of people who desire a positive life for children would be extremely high. It would be a very rare person indeed who suggested that children should fend for themselves, that they can go hungry, that they ought to be left on their own to sink or swim. Such a person would quickly run out of friends.

And yet as a polis - a people organized as a society - we do not live up to that value. Individually we may have a positive attitude toward children, but as a society we are indeed willing to allow children to fend for themselves, to go hungry, to go without healthcare, to be left on their own to sink or swim.

Reinhold Niebuhr, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 for being of the great ethicists and political theologians of the mid-20th century, wrote in his book “Moral Man and Immoral Society” about how we humans create poleis that are less moral than the individuals in them. As we gather into increasingly larger groups, we become more able to tolerate increasingly immoral systems.

We see the result of this in our hometown. The poverty rate here is roughly 17%. We have schools in which so many students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, everyone gets one. Teachers use their own money to buy shoes and coats and supplies for their students as their families struggle to pay for food, healthcare, transportation, and housing. It’s an unhealthy and unjust system.

Another significant issue of our broken system is diapers for babies. Low-income mothers list a lack of money for diapers to be a major cause of stress, and one in three families struggle to buy diapers for their children, which averages about $1000/year per child. For someone living at the poverty level of $11,770/year, diapers are almost 10% of an annual income; for someone working full-time at a minimum wage job, it’s about 7% of annual income. Families might try to make diapers last longer than is healthy for the baby, or perhaps even go without, which leads to other health issues like urinary tract infections, rashes, and sickness. And often when a child is sick, Mom needs to stay home with them, which means a loss of income that comes with the cost of the medicines needed to fight the sickness. This is part of the trap of poverty that we have turned into an abstract concept, removed from the fact that these are our neighbors, God’s people made in the divine image.

So we are left with a question: do we have the political will to live up to the values we say we hold, such as caring for our children? Can we show Niebuhr that he undersold human nature?
Apart from petitioning your representatives to do more to help eliminate poverty, we offer you a chance to make a small gesture of grace.

Plymouth United Church of Christ is holding a diaper drive this week, Feb. 24-28, to help the Apple Pregnancy Center help low-income families. A gift of a few boxes of diapers can save a family money for food or medicine or other necessities. Please bring disposable children’s diapers to Plymouth UCC (2010 Moholt Dr, between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm), Bed, Bath & Drapery (3475 E Hamilton Avenue, during business hours), or Good Shepherd Senior Apartments (3304 14th Street, during the day). We are asking our whole community to join us in this act of love, to turn our words about caring into a concrete act of loving-kindness for the most vulnerable of our neighbors. We ask for your care and your generosity.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Seeing in Focus - clergy column form the Leader-Telegram 200118

We had our Interfaith Prayer Service on Wednesday, January 15, and Plymouth UCC hosted it. Quite a wonderful evening of hearing prayers and thoughts from others, and sharing in sacred space together, as human beings unified in our desire for peace and willingness to pray together.

I wrote this article to go into the newspaper the Saturday before the service, but some others from the Prayer Service had written something, so I modified the original to reflect that the service had already happened and it was published today, January 18, 2020.

The Leader-Telegram is a pay-only site, and my column wasn't published on the website anyway, so there is no link. 

Here is the article. What have you experienced/learned/seen anew from your interfaith and ecumenical work?

Seeing in Focus

My eyes don’t see in focus. There is nothing shameful about that. It means wherever I look, I see a beautiful Monet landscape. And without the cost of buying one! However, it is also frustrating. I see multiple images, making stars and street lamps into circles of 6-8 lights. Less Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and more Boschisn sensory overload. Night driving is nerve-wracking, particularly in rain. To thwart the bad vision, I must carry a special tool that bends light waves to fool my brain. Many of you reading this are using that tool now: eyeglasses! Thank God for the science of lenses, and for my extraordinary eye doctor who keeps my eyes healthy and my prescriptions accurate so I can see accurately.

The physical world isn’t the only thing that suffers misapprehension. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit none of us has 20/20 vision when it comes to spiritual or religious matters. No one and no tradition can know “it” all. Or even what “it” is. Claiming to hold all the truth is extreme hubris. And dishonest. Like my eighth-grade self discovering my failing eyesight and getting my first pair of glasses, I am forced to admit I need spiritual correctives as well. 

As lenses in my eyeglasses help me to see in focus, the lenses of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and partnerships help me more clearly see my faith claims. Hearing faith stories, singing music, participating in prayers and worship with others, shows me the breadth of human understanding of that which is greater than any of us. Seeing the world through the lenses of others shows me how impotent any of us are to claim a singular apprehension of Truth. Talking theology with my Jewish and Muslim neighbors in seminary; worshiping with Jews, Muslims, and Hindus; meditating with Buddhists; spending silent time with Quakers; being in spiritual formation with Baha’is and Unitarians; these have all enlarged my vision and drawn my spiritual self into greater focus.

Last Wednesday night, my congregation, Plymouth United Church of Christ hosted the Interfaith Prayers for Peace that happens every four months. We had a choir of people from three churches (representing the Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic traditions), and prayers from our Baha’i, Jewish, Quaker, Buddhist, Protestant, and Catholic neighbors. We gathered, and will continue to gather, as people of faith to pray for peace and understanding, to learn from and about one another, to share in our similarities and celebrate our differences. We gather also as a witness against the cynical and fear-mongering voices of our current time that want us to fear one another, to dehumanize, to bear false witness against, or otherwise cause strife among people of faith. Instead of accepting that toxic narrative, we gather for prayer and community, and then when we’re done we stay for more conversation over coffee and cookies. 

These triannual interfaith prayer gatherings (the next is May 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Church), and the interfaith co-operation of groups like JONAH, are eyeglasses for our souls helping us all to see the world - and ourselves - with truer vision. Only through the lenses of my neighbors’ insights can I hope to ever resolve the fuzziness in my own tradition and beliefs, and I am as thankful for them as I am for my eyeglasses. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Day 24 - 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar - the last day!

it's the last day, and it's a great day! A most excellent and fun build: porg dressed as Santa!

And the porg looks unhappy about it. Perhaps he's thinking of his brothers/sisters that Chewie ate a few days ago and, in the context of this Advent Calendar, Chewie is still eating since his minifigure from a few days ago has a big ol' porg drumstick in his hand.

Bravo, LEGO, bravo!

I'm so glad that I decided to get the calendar this year even the last couple years have had many disappointing days. Perhaps LEGO heard the cries of the fans who spend good money for these things and have felt cheated for a few years. I'd like to hope that LEGO was paying attention, and that this wasn't just a fluke of a year that might never be repeated again.

Day 23 - 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

Oh, yeah! Another win!

A Christmas decorated gonk-bot.

That's the name I gave this bot many many years ago, because the sound it makes is like "gonk gonk".

I just checked the Internet to find the real name of this droid, and lo and behold, that is the name. Well, not really. It's officially the GNK Power Droid, but GNK is "gonk", and "Gonk droid" is how it's referred to by the fans.

The GNK droids are walking batteries.

And this one comes with Christmas wrapping!

And they even included a bow on top! Absolutely fantastic.

Great year for the Calendar! Which I've said a number of times, but wow, it really is.

Day 22 - 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

Another minifigure!!

A Cloud City cloud car pilot! With funky helmet.

For some reason, I thought I should turn his helmet around to see if he fly using the Force. Come to find out, didn't have any, unfortunately. Fortunately, it's a cloud planet so the crashing cloud car didn't hurt anyone went down through the atmosphere.

In the words of Ron White retelling the story of a nervous passenger on an airplane asking, "If the engine goes out, where do you think the plane will take us?" and he answered, "All the way to the crash site."

Day 21 - 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

And again a very welcome build from the calendar!

The Cloud City bi-plane thingy called simply "Cloud Car", which seems a rather boring name, really. But the build isn't boring - it's quite well done!

I find myself needing again to say "Great Calendar this year!"

Day 20 - 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

The good stuff keeps coming!

Today was the Hoth nipple gun! You may remember this blasting shots into space from Hoth to hit the Imperial ships and clear a path for the Rebel transports to get away. Sure, it would have been easier to just fly the transports to the other side of the planet first and then have them fly into space... but, well, that's not what happened.

Pretty nice rendition of this gun from one of my favorite scenes in all of Star Wars! The Battle of Hoth gave us snowspeeders and AT-ATs. (Yeah, I know, the snowspeeders actually showed up in the scene looking for Luke, but we didn't really see them and what they could do until the battle).

p.s. - "nipple gun" isn't the actual name, but that's what I've called it, and how Mr. Pewterschmitt (playing the General with the Purina symbol on his uniform) referred to it in "Something Something Something Dark Side", though he said "boob-nipple gun".