The past three nights, there has been Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways. The unsuspecting crowd was drawn in under the pretense of filming another show. The winners of thousands of dollars were interviewed under the pretense of a show that was about how people in difficult situations turn their lives around never giving up and always holding onto hope. And of course, the audience was surprised with six-day getaways, new exercise equipment, gift cards, and the latest and greatest technology.
If you watched the show or tuned in on Instragram or Twitter, you found yourself laughing and crying. I found myself hooked on the stories of the families whose lives she was turning around. The boy who was raised living in his car with his family who started being a sign spinner who received a car and a job, his life taking a completely different trajectory than before. The single dad who lost his job who was sent to Europe with his daughters for a month. The single dad whose wife passed away just six weeks ago whose mortgage was paid off. Surely, this is the reason for the season. Surely, this is what power and influence and money can do for good.
Ellen ended each show by saying, “Merry Christmas. Spread some Christmas cheer today and remember to be kind to each other.” I couldn’t help but compare this to the impeachment hearings and the way our leaders are yelling at each other and at witnesses. The rhetoric of our political leader in regards to a sixteen-year-old girl who has a passion and a calling to change the world.
Why is that we are so unkind to each other? Why is that we are so competitive with each other? Why is that we find ourselves so entrenched in identity politics that we can’t even see the needs of other people around us?
It takes a lot of intention, reflection, and prayer to renew our minds and to open our hearts to the needs of other people. Instead of asking why the person is on the corner holding a sign asking for money or food, it takes wondering what it would feel like to be at the point where you have to hold a sign to ask for food. Instead of complaining about the fact that it is raining, it takes imagining what it would be like to sleep outside in the rain all night long and then be damp for the rest of the day as the rain continues.
It takes thinking outside of our lived experiences and imagining the lives and the realities of other people. It takes an understanding that the economic system that we live in has privileged some above others and continues to do so. It takes shifting our thinking from “I deserve this,” to “we deserve this.”
And if there is ever a season in the church year when we can change our thinking and that the Divine turns things upside down, it’s Advent. Watch and wait. Something is coming that will change the way we see the world and indeed change the powers of the world.
As we turn our attention this week to the season of Thanksgiving, we are also right on the heels of the season of Advent. I have seen so many advertisements about the shortened shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the reminder that this store and that store have already started their Black Friday sales.
I can feel the pressure. I feel behind already because I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping.
In the midst of all the advertisements, it is easy to get caught up in our culture of buying and consuming. As I was sitting by the fire last night, I looked around and found myself in the midst of stuff. So much stuff.
Some of it was good stuff, stuff that had been given to us by friends and families. Toys that reminded me of our son’s first birthday, our little red house in Asheville where we became a family. Books that told the story of our educational careers and then our professional careers. Pictures that showed our children growing and changing.
Americans are surrounded by stuff. In fact, we own so much stuff and continue to live in the midst of stuff that new houses were 38% bigger in 2002 than in 1975. We have so much stuff that the average American will spend 3,680 hours or 153 days of their lives looking for stuff they have misplaced. We are surrounded by stuff with the pressure to buy more stuff.
The self-storage industry makes $38 billion a year on our storing stuff that won’t fit in the confines of where we live. That’s 2.3 billion square feet of storage. This is more than enough to house the entire homeless population in America many, many times over.
The home organizing industry has taken a different approach and has capitalized on our need to organize our stuff at the rate of $16 billion a year with a growth rate of 4%. We are living in the midst of so much stuff and that stuff makes us lose time, money, and our sleep studies have shown.
As we creep ever closer to Advent there is a whisper of something different. An invitation to leave all the stuff behind and marvel and wonder at the Divine Incarnate in the form of the Christ Child. Will we hear it in the midst of all the stuff we are trying to get done?
Recently, we have watched Finding Nemo with our three-year-old and when the seagulls came on screen screaming, “Mine, Mine, Mine” as they watched Dory and Marlin flip on the dock, his cackle filled the room. I can remember the first time I saw the movie and I thought these silly birds were funny too, especially in the end when they crash into the sail of a boat and keep crying out, “Mine, Mine, Mine”.
As I was listening to the news yesterday, I was overwhelmed with the subtext permeating the current administration’s policies. Immigrants seeking refuges are separated from their loved ones and treated like prisoners. Refuges from a country so devastated by a natural disaster that just missed our coast are sent back to the rumble rather than being welcomed into a safe haven. The homeless are being rounded up and placed in holding facilities. Over and over again the message is, “Mine, Mine, Mine”. We are not sharing. We are not helping.
While to some this is a message of strength and power and taking back what is really ours. These messages only reveal the scarcity and fear with which this administration makes decisions. The need to control situations and take ownership by snatching away opportunities for a better life from others is a scarcity mindset. There is only so much and so I must grab as much I can.
This is not the gospel message. Constantly seeking to take over and to take from is an exhausting way to live. Constantly monitoring who has spoken against you and demanding that they apologize or rescind what they have said takes up all or your time and attention.
When you live in this defensive posture, you aren’t really living. You are reacting.
The words of Jesus reminds us that we are to have life and live it abundantly. The thief, on the other hand, the gospel writer continues, comes to steal and destroy. There is no peace. There is no joy for those who are constantly stealing and snatching away from others crying out, “Mine, Mine, Mine”.
This is a time to live into abundance. To give generously to all those in need crying, “Ours, Ours, Ours”.
As Ben and I were walking this morning, we rounded the corner and Ben started to whine. He had his hand over his eyes and I realized the change in direction put the sun rise directly into his eyes. It made me think about looking directly into the poverty, homeless and need that exists in our society.
It’s almost too much. It’s too much to consider that another Category 4 or 5 hurricane could hit another part of our country. It is too much to think about the fact that we have food and homes while others don’t and so just like Ben, we often shield our eyes from the reality, but looking away or shielding our eyes won’t change the needs of neighbors.
It will still be there when we open our eyes shaded by the comfort and security of our own privilege. Maybe it’s time to head into the light, as bright as it is because there in the light is where we find Jesus healing those who are sick, eating with those who are outsiders and preaching to anyone who will listen.
This Labor Day is different because of the Homelessness Coalition I attended last week where people all over Columbia who felt passionately about helping the homeless came together to learn. We learned about the fair housing, we tried to make ends meet through a poverty simulation (I bet you can’t make it 30 days), and we asked ourselves how we could work together to combat poverty and homelessness in the Midlands.
As a young professional who entered the job market in 2008, I understand the impact the recession had not only on me and my colleagues but also on the baby boomers who were just within reach of retirement only to find out that they had to start all over. I understand the changing dynamics of what it means to work. I also understand the negative impact of the myth of the American Dream.
The average worker has to work one month in order to make what a CEO makes in one hour. 1% of our population holds 40% of all of America’s wealth. 8 out of every 10 people only hold 7% of America’s wealth. 500,000 youth (18+) are homeless. In fact, America meets all three criteria for qualifying as a third world country: poor distribution of income, government run by the elite, political focus on stasis rather than change.
South Carolina is the 8th poorest state in the US. In order to afford housing that is livable and abides by fair housing regulations, an individual needs to between $12.5-$18.29/hour. The minimum wage in SC is $7.25 meaning that a person who is working a minimum wage job would have to work 120 hours/week in order to afford housing that abides by fair housing regulation. This is physically impossible, but again and again, the homeless population is blamed for being lazy and not trying hard enough. Four out of ten homeless people hold jobs and four out of ten have no savings, so when a big expense in transportation, deposits, or medical bills arise there is no way for them to pay for those surprise expenses.
NPR reported today: “Full-time employees have become the last resort. Companies will do anything to hire part-time, short-term, or contract positions.” In addition: “More and more people who are full-time employees need second jobs or side gigs in order to make ends meet.” Our world is not the same as it has been. The changing dynamics of the economy and the changing idea of what it means to work is changing young professionals.
If communities of faith want to be relevant to young professional, there has to be an understanding of the uphill battle they are facing when it comes to finding work and finding reliable income. Our neighbors are in need. What are we going to do to help?