Reframing Lent: Suffer the Children, It's Really Not About Chocolate
I, as many others in this congregation, was reared Baptist. We have no concept of Lent. It was a Catholic idea, so Baptists didn't talk about it.
I still "don't do" Lent. I have no idea how my giving up cream gravy equates with the suffering of our Lord. I sort of understand a church calendar, but not seasonal Christianity. We are charged to do what Jesus said every day. Lent, Advent, Christmas, Easter... no matter the season, the call to us never changes.
My father was the most peace-loving man I have ever known. He was our family war hero who abhorred violence. His faith was strong. His patience was near infinite. Me living past the age of 20 is a testament to that.
He loved Carol, my wife, as if she were his own. He loved to hear her sing and loved to watch her perform. If she was in it, he would be first in line to see it.
Except, long ago when "Walker, Texas Ranger" was shooting in Dallas, and Carol was cast as a nurse caring for an abused child. My father would not watch it. The only thing that would move the most peaceful man on earth to rage was the very idea of a child being harmed.
He was a button-downed banker and always considered himself a conservative, but I don't know how he would handle the way our society treats children today. We, as a nation, abuse our children.
At the same time people are pocketing bonuses in the millions, 15 to 17 million children are going to bed hungry in this country every night.
Snow days call for celebration for most of our kids, but it means a day with no breakfast or lunch for far too many. How can this happen in the "greatest" nation on earth?
There are too many in our government who think that the poor should just stop being poor. They fight an increase in the minimum wage, and they cut food benefits to the poor in the farm bill, even though food stamp programs help farmers and move money into the economy quickly. An increase in the minimum wage gets spent in the local economies, too. People are going to spend that money recklessly for survival. When the money runs out at the end of the week, children go hungry.
My first minimum wage job paid $1.75 an hour. It wasn't bad, but I was a stupid kid with a summer job. I had no dependents. Gasoline was roughly 25 cents a gallon. So, that meant that I could buy 7 gallons of gasoline for one hour's labor. Or, I had to work almost 9 whole minutes to the gallon. If we use $3.30 a gallon as a rough cost today, one has to work almost 25 minutes for what cost me 9 minutes of my valuable teenage time.
The Department of Defense estimates 5,000 military families will lose SNAP (food stamp) benefits due to the new Farm Bill. These are people in junior enlisted grades. You know, the grunts who bear the brunt of the workload. These are not "lazy leeches." The very fact that we ask these people to serve multiple tours of duty in deadly places and and then don't pay them enough to feed their kids is a national disgrace.
If you have a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker and also support cutting food aid to the poor, you need to work this little bit of cognitive dissonance out in your own head.
As Brent mentioned a few weeks ago, some local mega-preacher recently attributed poverty to unfortunate individual choices. Please. Who chooses to be poor?
Jesus mentions the poor more than he mentions anything else in the New Testament. Christian nation? Balderdash. Until we address the problem of poverty, especially the working poor, we are a second rate power.
As in the time of Jesus, the poor have no power, so screw them. They can't contribute to campaign funds. It is up to us to provide a voice to speak to that power. What politicians fail to mention when they rail against the "lazy poor" is that every cut they make hurts children.
The NorthPark congregation has done much to fight hunger. The Vickery Meadow Food Pantry truly appreciates the response to our Red Wagon drives, but you have to realize, we are shoveling sand against the tide. Until our society decides to serve the poor instead of the rich, it is going to be a burden on us, the followers of Jesus, to take up the slack.
We, as a congregation, often provide food, clothing, and medical care to the least among us. We can't do it all, but we have to keep at it. It is what our Lord tells us to do, and not just during Lent, but every day. Our responsibility to the least knows no season.
So, a governor declines Medicaid increases for political posturing and denies health care to tens of thousands. House members applaud the denial of food assistance to people working 40 hours a week for substandard wages. Their donors celebrate quarterly earnings that are earned on the backs of their underpaid employees.
Many of these people make a big deal out of public professions of Christianity.
I would love to be there when they get the chance to look Jesus in the eye and tell him how they once gave up chocolate for 40 whole days.