Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Five: Companions on the Way

Dante had Virgil as a guide. Before he had younger siblings, my oldest child had an imaginary friend named Patrick. Betsy had Tacy. Laura Ingalls depended on her brindle bulldog, Jack. All of them were companions on the way.As we take the beginning steps of our journey through Lent, who would we take as a companion? Name five people, real or imaginary, you might like to have with you as guide or guardian or simply good friend.

First, my constant companion, The Husband, who when I said "I think I have to be a minister" replied by saying "I have been called by God to go where ever you go." He's traveled across country with me three times! and been there through college and seminary and in my first call to encourage and support me in every possible way. Is it any wonder I sometimes call him Ruth?

Revgals, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. I really don't know how I got along before I found you all. Thanks to Dona Quixote for naming these as the cloud of witnesses.

My support group of first call pastors and mentors who are always available for venting and advice.

The Preachers Kid who was my academic advisor in college and is still always there to take my phone calls, have lunch and generally keep me balanced - humbles me when I need it and lifts me up when I need that.

Liz Curtis Higgs, author of Bad Girls of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, whose writing continues to encourage and inspire, especially when I am feeling unworthy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Five: Tourist Edition

In the spirit of tourism:
1. What is one place you make sure to take out-of-town guests when they visit?
The beach, of course. Most of my friends are from the East Coast or Midwest and being able to stand in one place and see ocean and mountains at the same time is amazing! And then there are all the "strange people" that show up regularly in movies and tv shows. Yes, there really are buskers and roller skaters and strangely costumed folks at the beaches every day.

2. When visiting another city or town, do you try to cram as much in as possible, or take it slow and easy?
That kind of depends on how long I will be there, but I'm usually a slow and easy kind of tourist. My mindset is "If I don't get there this time, maybe I'll be back."

3. When traveling, where are we most likely to find you: strolling through a museum, checking out the local shopping, or _________________?
It's all about the shopping and the foods! Museums are on the list only when my hostess or The Husband insists. :-)

4. Do you like organized tours and/or carefully planned itineraries, or would you rather strike out and just see what happens?
How about 1/2 and 1/2? I like a "tour of the city" to get an idea of where I am, followed by wandering as I desire.

5. After an extended trip, what do you find yourself craving most about home?
My own bed and bathroom! No matter how nice the hotel (or friend's house) there really is no place like home.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Great Equalizer

Evil exists where ever people oppress each other. Perhaps the greatest evil is when people are oppressed in the name of religion. One of the places the church has sought to oppress is in scientific advancement. If it were up to the church we’d still believe the sun revolves around the Flat Earth. We would all have a life expectancy of maybe 35 years, most of our children wouldn’t have made it past age 5, no medical research would ever have taken place. Performing anatomical research on corpses was considered heresy, even witchcraft. If the church had its way in our past, there is no way the testing made available today through our doctors and agencies such as lifeline would be possible - and these tests help our doctors extend our lives and improve the quality of our lives.

One way to fight the oppression of science and medical research in the name of religion is to speak out publicly. Today, the 189th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, some 586 churches in every US state and five nations are participating in Evolution Sunday. Over 10,000 clergy have signed a letter stating that religion and science can and should co-exist. The letter and information on the Clergy Letter project is available on Awareness Table.

Jesus is the great equalizer. Who stood on level ground to speak to oppressed and oppressor - comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Healing all who came near with the power that flowed out from him.
Poverty - I have some disturbing Numbers. 37 million Americans are poor. Not “can’t afford a 46 inch HD TV” but “Can’t buy food and pay the rent” poor. A large percentage of America’s homeless persons actually have jobs - often minimum wage jobs. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of minimum wage earners are not teenagers working part time during high school. ¾ of the minimum wage earner work full time, 1/3 of those are the sole support of families, earning about $10k a year - $6k below federal poverty level for a family of 3. $8/hour brings a family of 3 up TO the poverty level. (California’s minimum wage is $7/hour. We pay our preschool teachers $8/hour) Corporate CEOs average 821 times that - over $8million per year - about $4k per HOUR!

Blessed are the poor, for you will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Some Christians hear these words, and the words Jesus spoke when the woman with the alabaster jar anointed him “The poor will always be with you” and believe that we don’t need to find ways to alleviate the dire conditions under which so many of our brothers and sisters here and world wide must try to survive. Some even preach a pie in the sky kind of gospel “you’re poor now, but you are going to be rich in heaven.” Others, like us, do great work in providing food and shelter to the poor. But is this enough?

Poverty, systemic poverty, has a profound and negative affect, not just on the poor, but on all of us. There are people who are praying for our safety because this church is located in the middle of one of the most violent gang communities in Southern California.

Violent, criminal, Street gangs have existed as long as there have been cities. The desperately poor, the hopeless, the children who grew up without parents, banded together in family groups, caring for each other as there was no one else to care for them. They preyed on those around them, anyone foolish enough to come to their neighborhoods or so poor they to have to live there. Human Life meant little to them, as they know their lives mean nothing to the people who keep them there, generation after generation living in extreme poverty. The only real differences between the street gangs in Ancient Rome or Dickens’ London and the Street Gangs in our city are the quality of their weapons and the addition of racism to the reasons for their violence - Hispanic and black gangs are pitted against each other, for each sees the other as a threat to their livelihood. Seeking a way to end to gang violence, to give hope and family to those hopeless, family-less children, is Gwen’s new passion.

Jesus is the great healer. The one whose name means “God Heals” Who came to teach us about love, directed us to react to hatred with love, to violence with a kiss, Who came to heal the world.

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Just preaching the gospel is not enough -we must live it. If we do not work against the evil of oppression, we are participating in it. When we leave here today, let us seek to be on that level ground along with Jesus, speaking and acting in his name with love for all persons, as healers, as active workers against oppression of every kind. As the power flowed out of him to heal all who came to him, so let it flow out from us in his name, to make the wounded whole. For He is the balm in Gilead.