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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The path to hope

My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

- Proverbs 24:13-14
I've been thinking about the Republican Manifesto, "The Pledge to America" which was unveiled last week.

No, I haven't read it all. It's about 8,000 words, taking more than a minute to download on my laptop. It is filled with graphs and charts, and heavily laced with inspiring quotes.

However, it has a a single animating idea, which is the conviction that the Republicans as much as the Democrats have been an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits, and that the Republican establishment needs to be punished for straying from fiscal rectitude.

"The Pledge" is, at its core, a conservative, Tea Party homage to an "orthodox" understanding of the Constitution. You know. Sort of like the Windsor Document, which eventually "devolved" to the Anglican Covenant.

It's just as restrictive and punitive.

Which has lead me to think some about the ideas of generosity and hope.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there is, in our present cultural environment, an atmosphere of free-floating anxiety. As if the economy and the unemployment rate weren't bad enough, we continue to be heavily engaged in two immoral wars which were initiated by the spark of outrage and an adolescent, testosterone-infused drive to avenge the events of 9/11, which was fanned by misinformation and flat-out lies about "weapons of mass destruction."

Every day, it seems, each political party sets up yet another "boogie man" for us to fear.

Pick and issue, any issue. While the Right is in 'Evil Empire' overdrive - from its Death Panel response to Health Care Reform to 'the Socialist Kenyan' in the Oval Office - the Left also has its own 'Wall Street hooligans' with their  'Sub-prime Mortgages' response to the economy.

Everywhere you look, there is a Darth Vader lurking just around the next corner. It's become a joke, parodied on SNL just the other night, with the "Gay Wedding Venue at the Mosque at Ground Zero." ("It could happen.")

Except, it's not so funny.

Everyone wants to hold on tight and then squeeze even tighter - especially their purse strings and wallets.

The tighter we hold on, the faster we seem to spiral down into further darkness and despair. There seems to be no way out. Or, up. Except to hold on until this horrible not-so-amusing ride comes to an end and the person in charge of the ride says it has come to an end and we can all get off.

In the words of that powerful documentary, we all seem to be "Waiting for Superman" to come rescue us from ourselves.

Is there no antidote, no anti-toxin, no inoculation one can take to guard us against this anxiety?

"Eat honey," goes the proverb, "for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste."

It continues, "Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off."

There is a wise old saying: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

That's a good place to start.  But, it's just a beginning.

I believe there is great wisdom in generosity.

I know that the aphorism "If you always give, you will always have" sounds paradoxical, but I believe there is great wisdom in it.  Furthermore, I believe this wisdom is the antidote - the 'honey' - to the caustic brew of fear and primal rage that have combined to pollute our cultural environment.

I was thinking, just this morning, about a woman I knew when I was Vicar of St. Barnabas in the city of Newark. A single mom of three young sons, she kept an immaculate home in a third floor, two bedroom apartment the West Ward of a 'marginal' inner city neighborhood.

She lived simply. No car. No cable television. She shopped for clothes at the local Thrift Shops and was part of a food co-op sponsored by the Church. She organized many of the women in her neighborhood to share clothing and shoes and school supplies for their children.

She had no health care or dental benefits. No pension. Her "retirement plan" as she said, "Was to get to the finish line and not leave my sons in debt."

She was a nursing assistant in a local Extended Care Facility where she worked from 11 PM to 7 AM. Well, that's the job she held 40 hours a week. She also worked 20 hours a week as a teacher's aid at the school her sons attended. Her sister worked the evening 3 PM - 11 PM shift at the same ECF, and she and her mother would take turns spending the night with the boys so their mother could work.

She also "did hair" in her home every Saturday morning and sometimes, in the early evenings.

Oh, and she tithed to the church. Tithe. As in "one-tenth" of her income.  Her tithe was her pledge.

I remember having a conversation with her during "The Season of Stewardship" which left me embarrassed and humbled. After I gave her my "pitch," over tea and several slices of wonderful warm banana nut bread which she had just made, she showed me her finances.

She took out a file where she carefully kept all of her receipts - income and all of her expenses - along with a hand written budget which included line items such as "Education," "Winter," and "Illness".  There was also a line for "College". She really, really, really wanted to increase her pledge that year, she said, because she really, really, really wanted to support my leadership.

"My kids are learning in church school. They love serving as acolytes with you. I want to keep you here, " she said, "but, as you can see, my salary hasn't increased, and I'm not sure where to cut."

I assured her, over and over again, that she didn't need to increase her pledge. That it was not her responsibility to keep me in my job.  That, as a 'mission church', the diocese was also a partner in supporting that mission. That her pledge was a positive expression of her relationship with God, not something that was meant to be punitive or restrictive. That if there was any line item in her budget that she needed to increase, it was the educational and/or college fund for her sons.

Two weeks later, when her pledge return came in, I noted that she had, in fact, increased her pledge. I immediately called her up. "I decided that I really didn't need a new winter coat," she explained. Nothing I said, nothing I could do would dissuade her from her resolve.

"God has been good to me," she said, "by blessing me with these three beautiful sons, this good home, a few good jobs. I need to give back to God."

I argued with her that I didn't think God wanted her to sacrifice anything more than she was already sacrificing.

She sighed deeply and was silent for a long while.  Finally, she took a deep breath and said, "I don't need a coat. I need hope. You need hope. We all need hope. Supporting my family and my faith community gives me hope. Hope that the things I do today will make a difference tomorrow. A new coat won't give me that. I can do without a coat. I can't do without hope. Don't take away my hope."

I wept.

I should tell you that all three of her sons went on to graduate from college. One is a physician. One is an attorney. The other is a college professor.  All three are giving back to their community.

I don't need an Anglican Covenant. I have my Baptismal Covenant.

I don't need a "Pledge to America." I have the "Pledge of Allegiance" To the Flag.  Of the United States of America. And to the republic for which it stands. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With Liberty. and Justice. For All.

I need to be more generous.  We all need to be more generous.

Because, I need hope. We all need hope.

And, I believe, acts of generosity - small and large - lay the walkway that forms a path to hope.

There is great wisdom in this paradox, the drippings of which are sweeter than honeycomb to the soul.  In it and through it, we will find a path to the future, and our hope will not be cut off.


Holly said...

Oh, yes. I need hope so bad and I don't know where to find it. Well, yes, there is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- fortunately that doesn't change. I look to my parish with its determination to be "nice" and it just makes me sad. My denomination -- not much better. I look to the government of my country, in which I have always believed, and I see so much nastiness. My "career" is dead-end and dying, although I am thankful to have a job at all. These days, it seems that I find hope only in the smallest places -- the joyous welcoming of my dogs when I come home, the tiny wonders of nature, the comfort of shared laughter. I think we all want to be generous, to give ourselves to something good and true and honest. If we could only find it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Holly - sounds like you've got some wonderful teachers and role models in your dogs, the nature that surrounds you, and friends with whom to share laughter. It's the little things which are teeny-tiny little seeds that grow the biggest trees of hope.

DeanB said...

Preach it, sister! Keep up the good fight