Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Testimony: "I'm on Food Stamps. Don't Hate Me For It."

I just found this article on Sojourners and I have to say, it has moved and convicted me. It was originally published in the Chicago Sun Times here, but I'm pasting it below because I think it's important that everyone read it.

"I'm on Food Stamps. Don't Hate Me For It."
Vicky Jones

I am on food stamps. This will surprise almost everyone who knows me. I have hidden it from friends, from family, from classmates.

I use self-checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to face judgment from the cashiers. I read countless posts on Facebook and receive political emails telling me that being on food stamps makes me a degenerate, someone who is dependent and useless. I hear about how I should be kicked off of food stamps so I won’t be so lazy and will get a job.

At the time the economy crashed, I was studying to be a chiropractor. My (now ex-) husband was laid off from his good job. It took him over a year and a half to find a new job. During that time we lost our house and had to declare bankruptcy. Our marriage fell apart.

I’m now a single mom struggling to make ends meet. I was faced with the decision to quit school and go back to work and pray that somehow I’d be able to make the payments on more than $100,000 in student loans or to press on with my education. I prayed about it. I applied for aid. And through the grace of God, I received food stamps.

I live on $60 a week. This pays for my gas for my car to commute and for any personal items not covered by food stamps. Silly frivolous things like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, dish soap and, at times, a cup of coffee from the bookstore. I don’t have cable, a telephone, Netflix, a DVR or a gaming system.

In the last two months,I bought one pair of dress pants because I am required to dress professionally at school, a half-dozen pairs of underwear and a package of socks. If I didn’t receive food stamps, I would have to somehow feed myself and my son out of that $60 a week I have budgeted to make it until my next student loans come. I live in a one-bedroom house. I sleep in the living room, allowing my son to have the small bedroom. Beyond that, I have a kitchen and a bathroom. I do not have a basement.

And yet so many people comment about how people like me take advantage of the system. That we have big-screen TVs — my only TV is 10 inches — and other expensive items. How we are just lazy.

This trimester, I am taking 11 classes. I am in class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. After school, I spend a little time with my son, make dinner and put my son to bed. Then I study until I collapse in bed. I get up at 6 the next morning to put my son on the bus and start my day all over again.

Studying to be a doctor is not easy. It is not lazy. And for me, it is a calling. It is a dream. And it’s a future.
I’m not writing this to ask for support. I am so blessed to be able to make ends meet and continue my education. I am writing this because I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of being embarrassed. And I’m tired of the ignorance. Unless you’ve lost everything, you cannot possibly understand what drives someone to accept food stamps. How hard it was for them. How they cried when they submitted the application. How they are made to feel ashamed for accepting help.

You are entitled to your opinion. I respect that. But please consider my story the next time you are tempted to post or email hateful jokes; the next time you discuss with a friend how everyone on food stamps is taking advantage of the system.

I never imagined this would be my story. I was an A student, top of my class. I went to college, got a job and continued my education toward a post-graduate degree.

I did everything I was supposed to do to have the bright, amazing future I was promised by my teachers in school. Life doesn’t always turn out the way it does in storybooks.

And I was one of the charmed, lucky ones growing up. I can only imagine the lives that some people on food stamps have endured.

For the record, current estimates show that 3 to 5 percent of people on food stamps are on them fraudulently. Most are like me, enduring a difficult time in their lives.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. Not to ridicule and hate them for needing help.

To love.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

GC2012 Synchblog is Back!

Hooray, the Synchblog is back! This week's book is Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement by Gil Rendle. While there are only three posts in the synchblog this week, I have read all three articles and they all offer excellent analysis of the book. Kirk's post on Signs Unseen especially made me think. Enjoy!

Also, more on the Call to Action: this article was written by a young local pastor and it's the most clear-headed analysis I've heard that's written in everyday language (aka, not Methodist-ese).  I highly recommend it to everyone, Methodist or not.

See you next week!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do Nothing For Lent

OK, so apparently the GC2012 Synchblog over at Hacking Christianity isn't going as planned. Ministers too busy to blog during Lent- should we be surprised? Of course not. :o) Well, I am still too busy to blog this Lent, as I enter my second of three weeks of intensive dress rehearsals in a row. In two weeks, I will have both my time and my brain back, and you will have a new post. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you an article I read on the Sojourners blog this week that really got me thinking about how I observe Lent. I've pasted it for you below. Enjoy!

"Do Nothing For Lent"
Catherine Falsani

We are surrounded by a way of life in which betterment is understood as expansion, as acquisition as fame. Everyone wants to get more – to be on top – no matter what it is the top of that’s admired. There’s nothing recent about the temptation. It’s the oldest sin in the book. The one that got Adam tossed out of the garden and Lucifer tossed out of heaven. What is new about it is the general admiration and approval it receives.
~ Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience

Last week, I spent a couple of days listening to Eugene Peterson share stories and precious wisdom from his 80 years on this little blue planet.

It was a blessing of unparalleled riches to sit at Peterson’s feet (literally — I was in the front row and he was on a stage that put me at eye level with his black tassel loafers) and learn.

For the uninitiated, Peterson is a retired Presbyterian pastor and prolific author perhaps best known for The Message, his para-translation of the Bible, and titles such as Practice Resurrection and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. 

A native of Western Montana, Peterson and his wife of more than 50 years, Jan, returned to Big Sky Country several years ago to the home his father built on the shores of Flathead Lake when Eugene was a child.
Undoubtedly, it will take me many months — or years — to digest all that Peterson shared with a smallish group of youngish Christian leaders at the Q Practices gathering in New York City. But I can say I was most indelibly struck by how at ease — content, yes, but more than that — Peterson is in his own skin. Fully present. Mellow but absolutely alert, energized, fascinated by the world and the people around him.
Relaxed — that’s it.

Surely eight decades (and counting) in this mortal coil has contributed to Peterson’s deeply chill vibe. And yet I am convinced it’s more than simply a matter of age.

It’s spiritual.

The Petersons have cultivated, with great intention, a simple life.

They live in a place that is natural, beautiful, majestic. They eat locally, cook their own food, and regularly ask friends to join them for meals where conversations linger for hours. They read good books by writers and poets whom they find inspiring. They keep their life (and their calendar) uncluttered.

They pray. They keep a Sabbath. They walk in the woods and they listen. To the rustle of the leaves, the cry of a hawk, the wind and the still small voice of God. To the silence.

Eugene Peterson was a pastor for 30 years and for a good part of that time, he was not content, relaxed or mellow. He had to learn how to let go and recalibrate his life to what he calls the “rhythms of grace.”

“Competitiveness is in my DNA,” he confessed. As a young pastor, “I worked hard: Get a lot of things going, set the goals, meet the goals … It was energizing. Money to raise, a sanctuary to build,” he said. “Then, when we were finished, people quit coming to church.”

An advisor in his Presbytery told Peterson that congregations needed a challenge, a goal to work toward, something to achieve to keep them engaged in the life of the church. Start another building fund, the man said, even if you don’t intend to build a building.

Peterson was flummoxed. The competitor in him wanted to do something to change the situation. But he recognized that to do so would be to enter a never-ending cycle that would be unhealthy for him, his congregation, and the faith of everyone involved.

So he stopped. He did nothing. He slowed down, simplified things, and waited.

“By doing ‘nothing,’ I think I was slowly being cured,” Peterson told us. “It took a while. But by refusing to do anything…I learned to live a life that was contemplative, not competitive.”

In New York City, Peterson’s audience of 99 included about 90 pastors — many of them in the early or middle years of their ordained ministry. They wanted to know how to have a successful pastorate (in myriad ways), how to live an intentional life in an era of epic distractions, how to love mercy and walk humbly with their God and their congregations.

I was a bit of a square peg among the pastor-set, but as Peterson told his stories (he’s a marvelous storyteller, the kind you want to lean in closer to listen to — a Norwegian Presbyterian Yoda patiently guiding the would-be Jedi toward a fuller understanding of The Force), I quickly realized that his wisdom wasn’t for pastors, it was for all of us.

“One of the things the monks used to say: ‘Stay in your cell. The cell will teach you everything,’” Peterson told us in a conversation about simplicity. “I took that personally in terms of my congregation. ‘Stay in your congregation. Your congregation will teach you everything.’ I was always thinking about projects, but I kept coming back to that until I was content to be just with these people. Receive from them. Not always thinking up ways to make their lives more interesting, or godly, or whatever.”

I took Peterson’s translation of the monastic slogan and reimagined it again as, “Stay in your life. Your life will teach you everything.”

Stop looking for the next adventure, challenge, hurdle, drama, or excitement. Be present. Be here now. Stop trying to change people. Stop trying to do anything. Just be.

Be in your life. Your life will teach you everything.

“Pay attention to what’s there, not what isn’t there,” Peterson said. Go about the journey of faith — the Christian life, the Way — relaxed, he said, “not feeling so guilty, not having to prove yourself all the time.”
Providence has a great sense of timing — one that’s oriented by kairos not chronos. My time with Peterson fell during the first full week of Lent.

Before Ash Wednesday I already had determined not to do the usual thing _ give something tangible up: chocolate, caffeine, wine, fried food, etc. I decided instead to forgo saying negative things about my appearance out loud. I thought that would be healthy, helpful, a meaningful practice to honor God’s creation (me) and the Creator.

It lasted about 36 hours. I determined to start again. And again and again and again, if necessary.

After listening to Peterson, I stopped trying. I stopped, full stop.

For Lent, I am doing nothing. I am just going to be.

Feel the rhythms of grace and let God do the doing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Break from the Synchblog

Well, it appears that the synchblog on the GC2012 recommended reading is not happening this week due to pastoral emergencies in the ministries of a couple of the participating pastors. However, the conversation about the Call to Action Report is really ramping up as General Conference approaches. There have been some really excellent posts about it recently. Here are a few:

Blowback: Lamenting an Open-Source #CallToAction at Hacking Christianity
The General Commission on Finance and Administration has released a financial analysis on the CTA which can be found here.
The president of Africa UMSM has responded to the CTA in a letter published here.
What is the Call to Action, you ask? Here is a blog roundup on the topic.

If you have read any good blog posts on the CTA recently, please post them in the comments below!