Archive for the ‘Blessed are the Poor’ Tag

Lessons in Humbling   6 comments

For five years I have worked in Lynchburg College Library as a circulation supervisor at night (8 pm to 2 am).  It has been a vital part of my emotional survival because it is low stress, but I get furloughed at Christmas for a month and 3 months for summer, so it has put a strain on us financially.  Last fall I finally landed a second part-time job, selling fridges at Home Depot for $9.25 an hour.  My career has been a slow but inexorable descent by demotion.  From respected missionary to struggling pastor to harried social worker, and finally out of ministry of any sort into secular, unskilled labor.  From minister’s collar to blue-collar… to no-collar.  From meaningful work to trivial, from salaried to part-time poverty wages, from insured to Obamacare.  And as long as I’m confessing my low-status, I also have a job as substitute janitor in junior high school: even on the toilet-swabbing team I’m a bench-warmer.

As a 54-year-old with two Master’s degrees, I felt humiliated with my entry level job for teenagers, and it took me two months to work through the shame enough to admit it to my fellow librarians.  It is quite possible that some student I have supervised in the library will be the junior high teacher next fall who is spitting his gum into the trash can as I pick it up to empty.  I’ve acclimated enough to my new roles that I think I could handle it without chagrin… or maybe I’m kidding myself.  Like coming out of the closet, any closet, the initial shock of exposure is the hard part, and after that it is just a matter of learning a new level of humility and the grace to remember that my worth has no connection with my occupation.  It is freedom and growth through downward mobility.

It’d be a lot easier to wash dirty feet if I could take up the towel of my free will instead of being handed the towel and told to wipe down.  A leader who volunteers for menial labor can earn high praise for his humility, augment rather than diminish his reputation, and so ironically can undermine his growth in grace.  Being humble contrasts with being humiliated precisely because the latter is out of our control, like being nailed to a cross.  It is a rich person choosing to wear rags in contrast to a person who only has rags to wear.  In my experience, actual poverty, though it is more scary and painful, has more power than voluntary poverty to open me to grace.  Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Posted April 28, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down   6 comments

My memory is like cellphone reception in the sticks–very iffy.  I am a full-spectrum forgetter, from the trivial pen to the crucial time sheet submission, and everything in-between.  I’m so good at misplacing things that I’m surprised to find them where they belong–the cupboard is the last place I look for my coffee cup.  I have a whole strategy for dealing with my incompetence–jotting myself reminders and propping them in key places (my computer keyboard, my Honda dashboard) or leaning things against the door so I can’t leave without them.  I am totally prepped for the onset of Alzheimer’s!

Along with my other inveterate shortcomings, It is my wild forgetfulness that wakens my memory, that keeps me aware of my own inadequacy.  Some folks are so successful or competent or busy or distracted that their memory needs to be elbowed into recalling their own failings.  They get good grades at work and church and family and pick up extra credit volunteering at the mission downtown.  Their lives, unlike mine, constantly point to their virtues and accomplishments, and it is their failings that they forget.  They need reminders, blacked out calendar days, time set aside to reflect on the noxious embers that still smolder in their bones.  They need Ash Wednesday.

But I need Resurrection Sunday.  I live in the ash heap of my own failures, reflecting back on them not for 40 days, but 40 years.  I don’t need reminding, I need rescuing.  What I need to remember, always remember, is Easter, the joy of forgiveness.  My hope cannot be in outgrowing my faults or in forgetting them, but in living my present messy life in the full embrace of God, the God who not only accepts me in spite of my past failures, but also in expectation of my future ones, who is not put off by my need, but is drawn to me because of it.  We all fall down, constantly fall down, but may we land in His grace, not in our own self-loathing.  And may the ashes on our foreheads be the sign of our mutual poverty as we hold one another’s hands and dance together in the glorious light of His redemptive love.

Posted February 19, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Kinks in the Christmas Spirit   2 comments

Dec. 2: Simplicity: Spirituality on Rations

Charlie Brown treeKimberly and I are boxed in by limited resources, especially emotional resources.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” Jesus said, and though it doesn’t feel blessed, I find it carries a spiritual wealth that others miss.  In fact, the really hard part of our experience is not from our personal limits, but from our society’s values and judgments.  Our daily choices must break through a constant barrage that threatens to swamp us.  Our society has traded in Jesus’ version of abundant life for the American version of abundant life.  It is now measured by success above faithfulness, impact above humility, drive above being, power above brokenness.  How can we grasp in today’s world any sense of the blessedness of poverty?

Here are a few of the riches we found in our own experience of poverty.

1) Focused orientation: Excess breeds a casual spirit.  With few resources comes a focused life.  Superficiality is stripped away, and the things that really matter really matter.  If you have one true friend, for example, you learn a depth of friendship that a crowd of pals won’t teach.exclamation

2) True values: Someone with a folder of opportunities and a stash of resources has a wide range of choices.  Those of us with few resources must guard our priorities or suffer dearly for it.  Since my spirit falters under criticism, for instance, I choose carefully the issues on which I take a public stand.  I have not always been this way–I used to voice every disagreement with relish, aggressively.  That was not good for me or my relationships, or even good for the truth.  It was a potent defense mechanism, which I have laid aside, making myself much more vulnerable, but also more authentic, a high value for me now.

3) Enhanced growth: I expected in theory that more resources would create more potential and freedom, but I found in experience that suffering and stringency are much more fertile soils for self-discovery and growth.  When life is smooth, I have little need or motivation to go plowing up my soul, but daily struggle demands attention.  Patience and courage and perseverance and faith are strengthened by the obstacles we face.

fragile box4) Deepened empathy: Recent studies have shown that those who have more care less about others.  Statistically, the poor are more generous than the rich.  Those of us who feel threatened and battered by life can better understand and feel compassion for others like us, and we feel safer with someone whose soul has been deeply cut.  The tender are tender.

5) Healing relationships: Deep connection doesn’t come through sharing our strengths and abilities, but rather, like grafted branches, our exposed wounds bind us together in a living, vital way.  It is in shared weakness and want that we create strong community.  When the window dressing is stripped off–all our efforts to look good and capable and successful–then the real me can connect with the real you, and acceptance of my true self has astounding power to heal.grafted branch

I can resent my poverty or scrabble to escape it or pretend it isn’t there, but when I embrace my poverty, the true spirit of Christmas is released.

Posted December 3, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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