Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vessels and Vessels

 All metaphors eventually leak. They leak when we use them beyond their capacity to describe the reality to which they've introduced us.

 Last week I wrote to the parish I serve about the connectedness of our Outreach Committee's giving. I bragged 10% of our budget is spent on outreach and I celebrated that each ministry we support has a connection to us.

 Later that day I saw some fairly recent data on how the average American's income compares to the incomes of all the others inhabiting "this fragile, our island home."

 This was the most impressive piece of what I read and shared on Facebook. Those of us with incomes at or above $50,000 are in the top 1% in the world. 

 This hits in an interesting way because our own current U.S. political news has repeatedly named the "1%" as being a socioeconomic group that doesn't include me or most of those I call "us."

 It is a matter of perspective.

 And here's the rub; ours is the perspective that needs addressing just as much or more than the view held by the American 1%. But they are "on top" of us and everyone else on the planet and so do not have the luxury of thinking that someone above them is preventing some positive outcome meant for them.

 I do not say this to vilify them. Granted many of them are fairly recent new-comers to that "club." Some have moved into membership by way of modern legislation to help "the economy" using economic theories known best by metaphors like "trickle-down" or "rising tide."

 Nonetheless, they are not compelled to consider a complicity of which they could claim to have been ignorant.  I am.

 They have known where they stand in the stratified world of incomes ever since they arrived. We are the ones who can rightly claim surprise at the Credit Suisse report.  We are the ones who can say we thought the changes were going to benefit everyone.  That's how "trickle down" and "rising tide" were portrayed to us.

 But we can't stop there. As disappointed as we may be in our current state we cannot deny that it could be worse and it IS worse for most of the planet already.

 Making our situation even more difficult to acknowledge is the way in which the newest members of the 1% came to their positions.  Some knew ahead of time, some were the ones who sold the metaphors, but all advanced when what we described with those unfortunate metaphors allowed practices and gained results the metaphors failed to describe.

 "Trickle down" failed by not identifying the "vessels" first to receive the inflows made by reducing taxes "at the top." The metaphor works if those at the top retained the same amounts and allowed what first flowed to them to actually trickle-down.

 Some saw that the opening the tax changes created would just as much provide the moment and the means to increase the size of the vessels -- cisterns? -- at the top of the flow.

 Rising tide was also a lie.  It led us to believe all our vessels -- the boat kind -- were free to float.  It did not accurately describe the mooring and anchorage of poverty or the dangers inherent when one's vessel is the smallest or most porous in the harbor.

 So what do we do now that those above us have carved out a space distancing even us from those below with benefits so little that we enjoy less or at least no more discretion over our expenses than before the tide supposedly rose?

 So much income has been redistributed to the top, the majority of us can no longer consume enough thus to rise the tide and stimulate the economy like in the good old days before these bad vessel metaphors.  

 Some could say we are complicit in our ignorance and that even though surprised we bear a responsibility to turn and face those below us and do more than cry "it's not my fault" or "we're doing the best we can."

 Again not vilify but to clarify: doesn't the response we are being called to make include addressing the realities our metaphors hid regardless of who is responsible for the hiding?

 Only some, say .001%(?) really are to blame.  But aren't all of us in the world's 1% living at someone else's expense whether we were fooled into it or not?

Parable of the River

There are several versions of this parable but in general they go like this.

There's a river and one day someone notices something floating in the current.  Its a dog in one version, or a cow, or a baby, or a person and worse a dead body.

The rescuer pulls whatever is floating by out of the river.  In every version the appropriate action is taken to care for what has been rescued.

This happens again.  And again.  More animals, more babies, more bodies.   In one version broken pieces of boats and canoes also flow by.

In every version the rescuers get good at rescuing.  In one they even build a hospital.

In every version someone finally asks something like "where are these  -- animals, babies, bodies -- coming from?"

Then the variations multiply.  For some the work of rescuing means so much that they are reluctant to leave their efforts to look upstream.  Some are eager to go but worried that they will not be up to what could be an even sterner task.  Some go and find even worse circumstances.

In several versions they stop whatever is upstream causing victims to be caught in the current.

This parable became part of our conversation in Tuesday's most recent meeting of the Circle of Love support team.

Look for more information about their plans elsewhere in this and following newsletters.

As we have rightly focused a new and vibrant interest in the work being done through the shelter in Greene County we are already to a point of considering a bigger picture, to thinking upstream to the how we might address the causes or triggers or preconditions whose outcomes are all of the category: domestic violence.

Looking upstream is not only a consideration for this committee but it is really a strategy and -- even better -- an organizational model for church.

How we look upstream -- not just as an additional effort of our outreach commitments -- and consider the preconditions for the current problems we face becomes a rehearsal for how we look at the world. And often that call to consider more will have to meet the demands of an already stretched but comfortable set of responses.

There may very well be costs but there are no substitutes for going upstream.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Campaign Financing

I just left the October meeting of our Outreach Committee.  Boy am I impressed!!!  
  • We voted on the distribution of the last $3500.00 in this year's budget.  Gifts to Circle of Love (our newest venture), the Baldwin Farm at Camp Twin Lakes, and relief aid to South Carolinians hurt by the recent severe flooding.  
  • We committed to providing Angel Tree gifts to 24 residents at Madison Health and Rehabilitation
  • We committed to collecting Christmas gifts for the children in the Circle of Love shelter
  • We learned that the mission of the Morgan County Foundation for Excellence in Public Education, Inc. is to support and enhance the educational programs of the public schools of Morgan County, Georgia.
  • We learned that our Panda Packs ministry is now providing more than 100 packs each weekend.  
  • We finished this year's distribution of 10% of our annual undesignated parish income for a total of $21,000.00 for outreach!!!
We should note that those funds do not include the ~$800.00 we collected for Episcopal Relief and Development during our Lent Madness campaign.

More important is the realization that our donations do not go to people or places from which we are disconnected.  More typical for us is that one of parishioners makes an appeal on behalf of a ministry or effort to which they are already joined.  

If the money leads, someone has followed.  If someone is engaged they will look for support from their parish.  Chicken or egg?  In the end it just doesn't matter.  

Given the time of year with presidential politics dominating the news rooms we could use the metaphor of campaign financing to understand those moments when the money gets our attention.  

Did you know that we have supported the work of the Boys' and Girls' Club with more than $3000.00?  With more than 250 children and youth served, not only could they use more support, they need more volunteers.  

Did you know that along with a pledge from the Outreach team for $1500.00 to the Circle of Love we are also planning bi-monthly donation drives for things like pillow cases, toys, food stuffs, school uniforms?

Did you know that our annual support for the Transient/Benevolence Fund administered by Madison Baptist's Jim Nesmith is increased by grants from the Salvation Army so that they can help more than 150 families each year?

Did you know that our donation to the General Scholarship Fund for the Madison campus of Georgia Military College was part of more than $75,000 being raised?  The response in Morgan county is the largest such collection in the 9 campus system of GMC.

Did you know that the Camp Twin Lakes operation serves more than 9500 campers per year?  

Do you see? How we give and what we are interested in go hand in hand.  Our interests stimulate our giving and our giving can just as much stimulate our interest.  

I remember a phrase, I think it was from the Watergate days: "follow the money."  It spoke a sad truth about one of the worst scandals of our lives in American politics.  

The phrase is just as true in this markedly more positive application.  Sometimes we know where the needs are and we know from whom to ask for assistance.

But if we "follow the money" that our Outreach team hopes to distribute each year we will find our own lives enriched along with the thousands we too hope to help.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All Saints'-tide

I like the days between November 1st and the first Sunday in Advent.  I have given them my own title, All Saints'-tide.  If I could I would convert to white for our liturgical color for these days or even better go to some other combination of colors that would evoke apocalypse, demons, battles, choirs, etc.

The lessons on the Sundays during this period hint in the direction of challenge and trouble: 
". . . after that the judgment," ". . . until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth," ". . . The LORD will judge the ends of the earth," ". . . he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," ". . . not one stone will be left here upon another," ". . . My kingdom is not from this world,"
Maybe it is the light shed from the last of the Sundays in my mini-season that makes things stand out for me as they do.  Christ is the King, the Victor with arms outstretched,  crowned and in royal array. To get to that moment some change has got to come.

Not all of this transition is by way of turmoil and trouble.  Some of it is just the way the world happens.  Autumn is a season if not THE season of change.  But change it is that comes.

And this year November 1st is a Sunday.  So we will have a special start to these days in how we worship and name our part in the changing.

Already we are asking you to add to our list of saints; any and all of those who have gone before us in the faith and are now as a "white robed army" are praying and singing with us.

Saints are not just those who have been martyred or brought to fame by their living faithfully, think St. Alban or Mother Theresa.  When Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus he calls them saints. Both times he writes to the the church in Corinth he calls them saints and the second letter is largely to chastise them because they haven't followed his previous instructions.

So we -- being careful to proceed in humility and with great caution -- can call ourselves saints, too. Especially as we recognize the challenges our world presents us and as we strive to honor and to follow the one who died for us and now reigns as our king.

So let us also use this rare moment -- Sunday, November 1 is actually All Saints' Day -- to acknowledge the living saints as well.  Let's use this moment to identify the work we are already doing and the work we hope to do together.

Two other days will also be opportunities to adopt our roles as living saints.  On the Wednesday before All Saints' Sunday we are inviting our Advent-ures group to try out their costumes and to learn about how to become a living saint.  See the detailed information later in this newsletter.

On the Wednesday following All Saints' Sunday we will share a meal and celebrate the culmination of this year's pledge campaign.  There will be more information to follow.

Either way let us adopt with each other the sainthood that is striving to live faithfully in a world that will one day no longer be as it is but will shine bright in the light of Christ as King.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Inhabiting Wednesdays

My experience this past month in joining many of you at table in conversation and fellowship under the title Food for the Journey has been a great joy.  No two occasions were the same and our conversations were as varied as the menus.  I guess that's what pot-lucks will do.  Oh darn.

All of the evenings gave us something new to consider, some opportunity, some place to grow. Thanks to all of those who were able to attend and take part in these enriching and encouraging moments.

I have admitted to having a ulterior motive along with the hope to explore and consider what God is calling us to become.  I also wanted to get into the practice of using Wednesday nights as another time for us to gather and be with each other in faith.

If we can continue that practice I believe we will also grow closer to the calling of God's we have just begun to consider.  Yes we used our gatherings and closed each dinner remembering the meal Jesus shared with his disciples but not all of our gatherings, perhaps especially those on Wednesday night needed to "always go there."

I remember what one of the students in Athens said about the community he became a part of at the Episcopal Center.  "We can be eucharistic without always doing eucharist."

The liturgies beginning on pages 323 and 355 in the Book of Common Prayer are meant to be used on every Sunday.  They are not just to be used on Sundays.  They are also not the only ways for us to gather in the Lord's Name for the sake of sharing His gifts to and then through us.

We too can be eucharistic without always doing eucharist.

So it is my hope that Wednesday nights will be eucharistic.  It is my hope that we will use these occasions to continue our consideration of the question, "What is God calling us to become?"

In order for that eucharistic aspiration to become a reality we will need to get into the habit of gathering, regularly. So there will always be something happening in the evening on every Wednesday.

The schedule for October is a good example.  Our first First Wednesday Dinner is tomorrow night from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.  This one is a pot-luck affair like the Food for the Journey nights.  In the future we will rely on cooking teams to make it so that families can just show up and have an easy meal and fellowship opportunity.

Next week we'll show a movie classic, Casablanca. Popcorn provided. BYOB. 6:30pm to 8:00pm.

October 21 will be the first of our Civil Religion nights.  We'll discuss our role in Morgan County politics and governance as people of a reasonable faith.  We'll be inviting leaders such as our own Ellen Warren and others like Fred Perriman our Mayor to join us.  6:30pm to 8:00pm.

October 28 Advent-ures will take the night for an All Saints Festival. There's so much to do we'll have to start earlier at 5:30pm.

There are so many ways for us to be eucharistic. That's just how we will see to our "Inhabiting Wednesdays" in October.