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Posts Tagged ‘Poor’

Deciding to leave the comfort of one’s home to enter the world of the poor in another culture is not to be done blithely.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Once determined to enter such an experience, a traveler must brace for a test of endurance and flexibility.  I am reminded of Bilbo’s warning to Frodo in the epic trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I had heard of the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyonof Mexico over 20 years ago when friends of mine made

Tarahumara Woman

annual trips with blankets and clothing to donate to them.  Their plight then was very bleak.  It seems that it has not improved much in 20 years.  There are somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 people who live in the Copper Canyon.  The exact population is unknown because the Mexican government does not count them.

Three native Indian tribes make up the population in the Copper Canyon: Tarahumara, Pima and Yaqui.  Each tribe has its own language.  The Tarahumara alone have 5 distinct dialects which can make communication among their own tribe difficult at times.  They prefer the name of their own language, Raramuri  (“those who run fast” or “runners on foot”), and are known for running very long distances.  Living isolated and deep in the canyon has helped them preserve their culture, language and music.

The Copper Canyon is over 25,000 square miles or 4 times larger (some say 7 times larger) than its sister canyon, the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, U.S.A.  The Sierra Tarahumara is actually made up of 6 large canyons with rivers that feed into the main part of the canyon and the Rio Fuerte which empties into the Sea of Cortez.  The remote and rugged nature of the area isolates the Tarahumara and makes getting help to them very difficult.

This area of Mexico has been under a drought for the past several years.  This has made the bleak living conditions of the Tarahumara and other Indian tribes very difficult.  Death from hunger is a very common occurrence.  The infant mortality rate is 50%, mostly due to nutrition issues.  The high elevation (8,000 ft) and cold winters can also bring its own misery.  The winter of 2010/2011 was particularly bitter and reports of children freezing to death were regularly heard.

There are a number of different non-profit organizations and Christian ministries at work attempting to bring relief to different parts of the Copper Canyon.  My church, Central United Protestant Church (UMC), in Richland, Washington, partners with Tomas Bencomo and Tarahumara Ministries based out of El Paso, TX., and Juarez, Mexico.  We have had Tomas and Maria Bencomo and their co-worker and translator, Brenda Granados, to a few of our missions conferences, which we call Global Impact Celebrations.

Our team flew into El Paso, TX, and stayed at the Micromotel right next door to the airport.  We spent the night and then got up early in the morning and rode to a little village 8 hours south called Rio Chico.  Rio Chico is the staging area for humanitarian trips into the canyon.  It also has an experimental farm to train Tarahumara farmers.  Another experimental farm is located in Rio Bravo about 12 miles away.  These help train farmers in better farm methods.  After a season, the farmers are sent back home with seed and a steel plow that can be pulled by a mule.

The first few days were spent planting 200 fruit trees and digging and pouring a foundation for a small building.  This was done all by hand with broken shovels and picks.  So, it not only made for hard work but also frustrating work.  The elevation of Rio Chico (about 7,000 ft) made the work seem even more difficult from us lowlanders.  We joined a group at Rio Chico from Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota.  So, at least we had plenty of hands to do the work.  Still, those few days produced sun burns and lots of blisters and sore backs.

Finally, we loaded up to go down into the canyon with a supply of food.  We took a large four-wheel drive box truck and a four-wheel drive Chevy Suburban.  It is a 10 hour ride from Rio Chico down into the Copper Canyon where Tomas Bencomo and his team have a boarding school.  It serves about 300 families.  It takes 4 1/2 hours to travel the last 60 miles of dirt road.  The last 2 1/2 hours is descending 20 miles into the steep canyon by a steep twisting road with 31 hairpin turns.  They are so sharp that the driver must stop in mid-turn, backup and finishing the turn.  Fortunately for our driver, we descended it at night so he did not know what he was facing as the headlamps of the Suburban shown out into the pitch black night.

Finally, we arrived at the canyon camp tired from 4 1/2 hours of constant jarring and jostling in close confines.  It was

good to get out.  The night sky was brilliant with a splash of stars, but only the narrowest portion of the sky could be seen as the walls of the canyon pinched the night sky.  It would not be until morning that we would gaze up the steep canyon wall and be amazed at what we had ignorantly descended in the dark.  We all agreed that we were glad we had done it in the dark.  Some of us may have gotten out and walked down the road otherwise.

The morning was clear as we made our way to the main boarding school.  Out buildings were scattered all along the sides of the canyon, which meant that almost everyone had to move up or down its walls.  Level ground is a precious commodity reserved for buildings and gardens.  The sounds of chickens and children filled the morning air around the school where 80 – 90 children are housed and fed.  A government teacher comes in, when she can make it, to provide education at a small building close by.  This week, apparently, she was not able to make it.

The children that stay at the boarding house or who travel up and down the canyon to go to school travel long

Food Distribution in the Copper Canyon

distances to get there.  Parents send them because they know that their children will receive food and an education.  A few of the mothers come with their children and help in the kitchen and with other duties with the children.  They are paid with food to take home on the weekends.  Typically, children head home on Fridays and return late Sundays for a new week.  The ages range from a couple years to almost 6th or 7th grade.  After that age, there are no other resources for the children.  Many of them go to work.

One young brother and sister there had been rescued last Fall from starvation.  The family could no longer feed the 1 and 2 year old boy and girl.  So, they asked another family to take care of them.  However, that family too finally came to the heart wrenching decision that they, too, could no longer feed these two and feed their own kids.  So, they were placed in a corner, covered with blankets, and left to die of starvation.

One of the workers at the children’s home heard about it and went to see what she could do.  She encouraged the family to give the children to her to feed.  They were somewhat reluctant because they were afraid of the social stigma that may accompany when others find out about their plight.  After much coaxing, the two youngsters were given to her.  She drove the 4 1/2 hours over the rough dirt road to take the children to the nearest medical clinic.

The doctor at the clinic took one look at the 1 year old boy and declared there was no hope for him.  The two year old girl seemed to be in much better shape and a chance to live.  The compassionate worker who had spent all day hiking into the canyon to rescue the children and then driving over the jarring road to get there refused to allow the doctor to deny the boy treatment.  Finally, the doctor declared, “Fine.   If you can get him to eat something, perhaps there is hope.”  The only thing she had available was a small bag of potato chips.  She gingerly took out a small piece of a chip held it up before the listless boy.  Once the morsel was registered by the boy, he lunged at the potato chip and jammed it in his mouth.  “Well!” declared the surprised doctor, “It looks like he’s going to live.”

Tomasito - saved from starvation

While we were there we had the joy of holding these two lively kids.  They were full of life and joy.  This is one story among many that reveals the importance of this type of service to the indigenous people of the Copper Canyon who are locked in poverty.  Our team passed out bags of groceries that families were able to take home.  The food was available to everyone and anyone who came to receive.  The week’s worth of food, which many of them would attempt to stretch into a month, was gratefully received.  Women received food first and then the men who had come received food for their families also.

There are no shortcuts out of the Copper Canyon.  A train rides along the rim from Chihuahua to the Pacific Ocean.  For most of the residents of the canyon, the only supplies available are those that the hike out to receive and then pack back in to their families.  Some, a few, are fortunate enough to have a burro to help with the chore.  Most, however, continue to live as they did when the Spanish Conquistadors pushed them into the canyon 500 years ago.

So, we climbed back into our vehicles glad that we did not have to hike out of the canyon.  Instead, we bounced along for 4 1/2 hours until we got to a paved road, that led to the town of Creel that brought us to a good road back to Rio Chico.  After 10 hours on the road, we fell into our sleeping bags exhausted only to get up early the next morning for the 8 hour drive back to Juarez and El Paso.  It would be good to get home.

The illusion of short-term mission trips is that one has experienced fully what it means to be embedded and fully embraced in a mission project.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  We were returning home.  We would go back to our routines in our American suburbanvilles.  The ones we were leaving behind would continue the work.  On Sunday, the next day, Tomas would preach a 7 am service in Juarez, an 11 am service in El Paso, and another 3 pm service in Juarez.  Then, Monday morning, he and his team would take the long torturous road back to the land of the Tarahumaras.  And do it all over again.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (April 18, 2011)

Tarahumara Dwelling

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Truck Stop Jesus

One would have expected a different plan to introduce an important person; even if that person was a baby.  Historically, after all, royal births were always accompanied by fanfare and celebration.  Every important dignitary in the world is notified and invited to the event.  When the savior of the world arrived little more than 2,000 years ago, maybe someone made a mistake and got the address wrong.  Not only that, but they forgot to get reservations.  The young couple was left out in the cold to give birth to their child among animals and all that accompanies animals posted in a barn.  These would not be the first sights and sounds that I would have wanted any of my children to have as their first experience in this world.  Jesus’ birth was so radically different than the antiseptic world we live in today.  It leaves the modern individual amazed he survived his first year.

The irony and mystery of Jesus’ birth is that it was planned ahead of time to take place just the way it unfolded.  Prophets hundreds of years before had already laid out how this baby boy was going to come into the world.  The details they left for others to figure out, who were some of the wisest people on earth by the way, did not include royal privilege, birth in a capital city or any of the other things that would normally accompany the birth of someone important.  There was no golden spoon privilege for this messianic figure.

Imagine a modern day set of new parents caught far away from any hospital, family or friends when the expectant baby decides to come into the world.  Not only that, but now the birthing plan, carefully prepared hospital bag for mother and baby and new born baby clothes are all forgotten.  The fact of the matter is that even for 1st century Joseph and Mary the conditions of the birth of their child were far less than desirable.  Any parent of any socio-economic class at any time in history would have hoped for better.

Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.  Bethlehem, the city of ancient king David’s origin, was not an important city on the world map 2,000 years ago.  It still is not in today’s political or economic world.  It was more like a modern day truck stop on the way to a major city – Jerusalem.  Today it is a walled-up small city that survives on the arrival of tourists who come to ogle the supposed site of Jesus’ birth.  It is a battle-scarred town divided by deep religious factions that only seems to know peace once a year.  In Jesus’ day, Bethlehem was not prominent.  Its history was more storied than its present.

Bethlehem was a place that served the more impressive city of Jerusalem to the north.  Its trade in sheep, wool and grains provided for the needs of the much bigger and more important metropolis.  Bethlehem was a place one passed through on the way to Jerusalem.  It was rarely, if ever, a destination city.  On the trade route from Egypt, it served as a resting place for the traders.  The surrounding hills provided pasture for the sheep that were used in the temple sacrifices or kitchens of Jerusalem.  Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, also had rich fields surrounding it that provided the wheat and barley for Jerusalem’s bakeries and kitchens.

Like a modern day truck stop, then, traffic was always flowing in and out and through with goods on the way to the more important city of Jerusalem.  At the time of the census, when Joseph had to report to his ancestor’s hometown, Bethlehem, the already bustling city was packed.  The only space available was the equivalent of a small garage where some vehicles of transportation were parked.  Unfortunately, these eco-friendly vehicles would also leave their exhaust all over the floor of the place.

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Truck stops are never pretty places.  As much as I appreciate the Flying-J Travel Plazas, Pilot Travel Centers and TravelCenters of America, they are not places I ever intend to stay very long.   I am always just passing through.  On top of it, I would definitely not ever have dreamed of having a child at one of those places.  Perhaps it is for the purpose of avoiding having children at truck stops that doctors now discourage women from traveling during their final couple weeks of pregnancy.

Jerusalem was the capital city; the city of commerce and politics; the center of religion and learning.  Everything and anything important that happened took place in Jerusalem.  In the United States, it would be the equivalent of New York or Los Angeles.  In Europe, it would be the Paris or London.  In Asia, it would be the Tokyo or Beijing.  Anyone who wanted to be anybody made their way to Jerusalem, bought property, and hobnobbed with the rich and powerful.  Perhaps God did not get updated about conditions in Palestine during 1st century B.C./A.D.  I suspect, however, that he had a different plan and procedure than the one derived and practiced by humans since their arrival.

The birth of a messiah and savior would have been much more pronounced if I had been calling the shots.  Everyone on earth would have known that “God-in-the-flesh” had shown up on the scene to straighten out the crookedness of humankind’s ways.  It surely would not have been left up to a few foreign wisemen and local low-class shepherds to welcome the arrival of the most important figure in human history.  But then, I am not God.  This is not my creation.  It is not my story.  Plus, I suspect that God’s ways are directly counter intuitive to most of our human ways.

As it is, God might as well come in disguise. I mean, who among us would be apt to recognize his arrival today anymore than his contemporaries did then?  His economic class, education and means of arrival did not shout “God’s here!” in neon letters that is for sure.  Besides the angelic proclamation to lowly shepherds, no birth announcement cards were sent out.  Likewise, most scholars and religious leaders did not get the cryptic prophetic message left hundreds of years before by various writers of the Old Testament.  So, in a sense, when God sent a savior, he did it on the sly.

So, the most important birth of the most important human was scripted ahead of time to take place in obscurity – a couple of low socio-economic status and a shed on the back side of a truck stop served as the main characters and the setting.  As the story continues, things do not get any better.  Soon the couple was on the run from the law, spent a few years as illegal immigrants in a foreign country and only returned to their own home town years later.  The messiah grew up in obscurity and learned the family business.

This amazing story of truck stop Jesus violates our highest sensibilities of what we believe God is like.  We like to picture him in a Cathedral with mighty stone pillars and statutes, rich woods and tapestries, and lofty music.  I think, rather, that given Jesus’ birth record he would be just as out of place there as he would be at a Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales.  After all, we like our deities to remain “high and lifted up” – far above the corruption of lower class humanity.  We would rather have the name of our deity pronounced in the more lofty open throated English “Gawd” than the too familiar buddy-buddy name of Jesus.  Somehow, a god who would prefer blue-grass music to Mozart and Beethoven just does not meet our criteria for divinity.

I suspect that if we were to have to look for Jesus’ arrival today that we would be better off looking for him at a truck stop.  His neighbors are more likely to be migrant workers and trailer park inhabitants than a gated suburban community.  I suspect that his address would more likely be under a bridge, overpass or homeless shelter than in a 2,000 square foot house.  He would be more acquainted with the living conditions of foreigners in our land than the economic well-to-do and socially established.  As a religious reformer, his audience would more likely be among the illiterate and poorly educated working class than among the highly respected theologians and seminarians of our day.  His calloused carpenter hands would shake more gnarled and calloused hands than manicured ones.

In short, most of us might have a hard time relating to this truck stop birth of Jesus.  I suspect, however, that it is all part of God’s redemption scheme.  For those of us who think we are better off than others, we will need to get down on Jesus’ level and humble ourselves to accept him and his mission to the least, the last and the lost of this world.  To those among this latter group, he raises their vision, empowers their future and invites them to participate in his redemption story.  So, the next time you have a chance to stop in your travels at a truck stop, just think to yourself, “Maybe Jesus is here.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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The Russian literary giant, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot.  He wanted more of everything.  Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:

One day a farmer received a novel offer.  For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day.  The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.  Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace.  By midday, he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground.

Well into the afternoon, he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point.  He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run; knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.  As the sun began to sink below the horizon, he came within sight of the finish line.

Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared.  He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth.  In a few minutes, he was dead.  Afterwards, his servants dug a grave.  It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide.”

The title of Tolstoy’s story was: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (Adapted from Bits & Pieces, November, 1991.)  In the end, Tolstoy suggests, all a man really owns is a 6-foot by 3-foot piece of earth, so we are better off putting our confidence elsewhere.

Jesus, like Tolstoy, warns us (Matthew 6:19 – 24, 33) that we had better not put our trust in the promise of materialism.  If we do, we will be sadly disappointed.  Instead, there is something of eternal value that we can give our lives to pursue.  Anything we forfeit here on earth to gain what is in heaven will be returned to us there 100 times over (Matthew 19:29) along with eternal life!

Unfortunately, the western church in particular has drifted away from this teaching of Jesus.  Like first century Judaism, we associate material blessings with God’s favor.  Yet, very few people as well as nations have ever passed the prosperity test (Deuteronomy 8:8 – 10; 31:20; Jeremiah 5:7; Hosea 13:6).  The antidote to the poison of material envy and greed is “seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

However, this is not a prescription for poverty either.  We are not more spiritual if we are poor – or act poor because we do not want people to think we have anything, which is hypocrisy.  Instead, in abundance or in want, the Lord wants us to trust him for all our needs.  He wants to use us to pour out his riches and grace upon “all nations” so that through us all people will know that He is God.  Like Abraham, he was to bless us so that we can be a blessing!

Nowhere is this more evident than in the churches of nations of the two-thirds world that are marked by material poverty but spiritual abundance in revival, signs and wonders, and miracles.  These saints do more with less for the Kingdom of God, while the American church does less with more.  While we are rich in available materials and resources, we are growing more and more Biblically illiterate and spiritually impoverished.  Thinking that we are rich and blessed, we are truly “blind, naked, and poor.”

Waitsburg Tombstone

Waitsburg Tombstone ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

While in Albania, I saw a church that was struggling with the simple resources that we take for granted everyday and every Sunday.  Can you imagine attempting to teach Sunday school or disciple without materials in your own language?  Can you imagine a church without any resources to pay for a staff of pastors and office help to keep ministry going?  Can you imagine doing Children’s ministry without any props or tools?

This is what I witnessed in Albania.  Yet, I saw a vibrant church in prayer, reaching lost souls, fellowship, and growing future leaders.  I witnessed creative people and pastors inspired by God who gathered dozens of children to teach them about Christ.  I saw the church gather for prayer and then “hit the streets” to find people to pray for and possibly be a witness to them about the love of Jesus.

My family has paid a price for my trips abroad to Albania and India.  Seeing such poverty among the world’s poorest of the poor ruins a person.  It gives one a jaundiced eye toward our western materialism and consumerism.  As such, for the past several Christmases we have not exchanged gifts.  We have not given gifts.  Plus, we have asked our friends and relatives to help us express Christmas in a new way.

Every year we pick a world poverty problem to target and give towards efforts that attempt to meet it.  We have supported homes for girls rescued from forced prostitution; bought and put together medical kits for AIDS patients; bought chickens for a impoverished family.  This year we are buying a goat to be given to a family in need.

This is a great time of year to ask ourselves:  How much stuff do we need to be successful?  How many material things do we need to feel God’s care and love?  How long do we wait until we have the earthly things we need so that we can answer God’s call to bless others?  How much of this world’s stuff are we dependent upon for our personal happiness?  How much “earth” does one need?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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A surgeon was speaking to a small group of university students about his work in the Gaza Strip. He was reminding the students that we North American “fat cats” knew nothing about gratitude.  Nothing!

On one occasion, he had stopped at a peasant hovel to see a woman on whom he had performed surgery.  She and her husband were dirt poor.  Their livestock supply consisted of one Angora rabbit and two chickens.  For income the woman combed the hair out of the rabbit, spun the hair into yarn and sold it.  For food she and her husband ate the eggs from the chickens.

The woman insisted that the missionary surgeon stay for lunch.  She insisted on showing her gratitude to him this way.  He accepted the invitation and said he would be back for lunch after he had gone down the road to see another postoperative patient.  An hour and a half later, he was back.  He peeked into the cooking pot to see what he was going to eat.  He saw one rabbit and two chickens.

The woman had given up her entire livestock supply–her income, her food, everything – to say “thank you.”  He concluded his story by reminding the students that, as Americans, we know nothing of gratitude.  He wept unashamedly.

Old Abandoned Truck

Old Abandoned Truck ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg (2009)

There is another incident concerning gratitude that will never be forgotten.  It is about a woman who poured costly perfume over our Lord’s feet as she wiped them with her hair.  Make no mistake–the perfume was expensive, three hundred denarii, a year’s income for a laborer in Palestine.  Enough to keep a family alive for twelve months.  Also, in that culture, a woman’s hair was among her most precious personal possessions.

Some, who witnessed that event, including Jesus’ closest disciples, objected to such an extravagant display of affection in view of personal need – or even need of others.  Jesus asked a very pointed question, “Who loved more – the one forgiven much or the one forgiven little?”  Obviously, the answer was – and still is – the one who was forgiven much.

In view of what Christ did for us, how can we be stingy in our worship, our praise, our tithes and offerings, our time in his service or in fellowship with his body – the Church.  The vivid portrayal of Christ’s extravagant sufferings for our sins in Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” should move us to be just as extravagant in showing our gratitude and worship to our Heavenly Father and Savior, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  And yet, according to the surveys made by Barna Research, the average Evangelical Christian gives only about 3% or their income to the ministries of their local church.  Americans spend more on dog food annually than on giving to charities or mission work!

Perhaps it is time some of us got more extravagant in our worship.  It is about time we got radical in our display of gratitude for all that God has done for us and ‘sold the farm’ or ‘broke the bank.’  After all, how much do we really love Him?  How thankful are we?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Even before the founding of the United States of America, the question that bright minds have struggled with concerns the role of government in the life of the individual and the community. It is something that we are still trying to define today.  The answer really rests on one’s experiences in life and the attitudes that have been handed down.

Much of American life and culture is made up of the rugged settlers and individual entrepreneurs who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and earned their own success.  They left community, friends, and families behind to make it on their own.  As a result, their identity with a community is loosely based upon their individual fit in it.  If they come to a place where they do not feel they fit any more, they have no problem pulling up roots and moving – to a different job, a different community, a different church, etc.

These individuals came from families who left mother country and fatherland to start a new life in America. Then, they left comfortable lifestyles on the eastern seaboard of America to pioneer and settle the mid-west or start over in the gold rushes of the far west.  Later, their families left the family farms of the mid-west to find careers in the expanding industries and start-up companies on the west coast of the U.S.  There is a history of settlers, pioneers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs in this group.

Those that grew up in this cultural ethos tend to believe that government should leave the individual alone to do his or her best (or worst).  The role of government is largely relegated to ensuring the safety of the nation, the economic concerns of the nation on the international stage, and to provide, as much as is fairly possible, a level playing field for each individual or corporation to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Individual rights are more important than governmental interests.  Big business and their CEO’s tend to be suspect only when they are perceived as being in cahoots with the government.  Otherwise, they are content to leave well enough alone.

These tend to be what has come to be referred to as “conservatives”. They are conservative about cultural and governmental changes.  As such, they tend to believe that less government is better government.  The settler, farmer, rancher, entrepreneur, business owner and anyone else who attained the American dream by their own hard work tend to be in this mix.  America has a long history of such individuals: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (despite, among others, being a philosophical and social liberal), Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Booker T. Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan among others.  Of course, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are also included in the conservative camp, but they also did much to expand the role and authority of the federal government.

On the other side of the discussion are those who have thrived and succeeded in the American dream not so much on their own rugged individualism as much as in cooperation with others. Many of these have been immigrants who came to America and settled in immigrant communities.  They survived the transition into a new life through the safety and cooperative spirit of that community.  Others of these have witnessed the success of cooperatives to better their lives, such as labor unions or social justice organizations.  They tended to gather in large cities and depended upon their smaller community within the context of the large metropolitan area to maintain identity and gain a measure of success and stability.

These tend to be what has become referred to as “liberals”. They are liberal about social and governmental changes.  As such, they tend to see that government is the promoter and prompter for social change on the individual and corporate level.  Whatever change is necessary to better the whole community is welcome.  They believe that government exists not only to guarantee a level playing field but also to guarantee, as much as is possible, that every individual succeeds and attains life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  America has a long history of such individuals:  John Adams (despite, among others, being a philosophical and social conservative), James Madison, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson,  and Jimmy Carter among others.

These are two distinct visions of America. For one group, government is the extension of the individual with representatives to carry out the interests of the individual.  For the other group, government is the extension of the whole community with representatives to carry out the interests of the whole community.  One sees a lone pioneer struggling to make it on his or her own.  Another sees a village working together for the survival and fulfillment of all of its members.  On one side of the aisle you have a group yelling, “Stay out of my way.  I can do it!”  Then, on the other side of the aisle you have a group screaming, “Together we can!”

Yellow Flowers in Seattle, Full Color, July 2003

Yellow Flowers in Seattle, Full Color, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Which one is correct? This is part of the struggle surrounding the current health care reform debate.  Do we need government intervention and control?  Or, do we need to let the individuals and corporations of our society work it out in the market place?  Until then, who pays the price?  Is it better to have a government bureaucrat or committee deciding who and what is covered by insurance or to have a corporate lawyer and committee decide?  Both may hold power over the individual and make decisions that are life changing.   Are we better off allowing the abuses and responsibilities of  insurance and medical corporations to continue or should we entrust the government to do a better job?  Is the track record of government bureaucracies better than the track record of public or private corporations?  And this is only one issue our nation is struggling with among many.

The question that must be answered, and perhaps never will be answered in our current American cultural climate, is simply this:  What kind of community do we want to make as a nation?  Is community made up of  individuals in cooperation with one another based upon contractual agreements?  Or, is community made up of  individuals in responsibility for one another based upon larger responsibilities to the whole nation?

The question that must be answered in our religious communities is this: What does the gospel say concerning the care of the last, least, and lost among us?  What are the commands and injunctions given to us in the Old and New Testament concerning how we treat the oppressed, foreigner, and poor among us?  If we deny the government the responsibility to care for them then where are we in actively caring for them?  While we have built multi-million dollar campuses and facilities, what impact have they had upon caring for the poor and disenfranchised in our communities?  What portion of our church budgets go to help the poor, unemployed, disabled, hungry, sick and homeless in our own congregation or neighborhoods?  How much do the community churches support the local food bank, homeless shelter, free medical and counseling clinics, and pregnancy centers?

If the government is only a representative of the independent individuals of our society, then perhaps it is time for these individuals to own up to their moral responsibility and put up or shut up when it comes to donating time and money to help the less fortunate around them.   We are all our brother’s or sister’s keeper.  It is in our best interest to care for those in need around us.  For the religious, it is the essence of the gospel and our true identity with Christ.

On the other hand, if the government is an extension of community and community care to our whole society, then it is in everyone’s best interest that the government by the people, for the people, and of the people hears from the people.  For a community is more than just one, whether that one be the president, a senator or representative, a bureaucrat or corporate lawyer.  Likewise, “we” is more than just “me”.  Perhaps now would be good time to hear everyone say, “We can do this together!”  And for all the individuals to answer, “Count me in!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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