Prayers for the Journey

Here is my weekly round up of facebook prayers

In this time of budget crisis

Be with all those who face cutbacks

Care for the vulnerable

Provide for the destitute

Fill those who are hungry with good things

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God in this time of budget crisis

Be with those who make decisions

Speak through those who are wise

Silence those who are foolish

Help them decide with justice in mind

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Praying in the midst of the budget crisis today:

God who offers abundance and plenty where we expect scarcity,

Provide for all those who are hungry and in need of food today.

God who lives amongst us, hear our prayer

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Sit still in the presence of God
Look back with gratitude
Look forward with anticipation
trust in the One for whom all things are possible

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God we are like parched ground waiting for the rain to fall

We lift our faces in reverence looking for your touch

We lift our hands in praise with prayers rising from our lips

We lift our hearts in hope, faith rising within us

We are content to wait each day for your refreshment

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God we sit in the contentment of this moment

Knowing it holds all we need to find you

We sit with still hearts and welcome everything it offers

And be at peace, experience freedom, enter your rest

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Good time of brainstorming and listening to God today at our MSA retreat:

Small beginnings, hidden things, mustard seeds,

Planted in a place of darkness

May we seek and water them, nurturing into growth

A tree that the birds of the air come and nest in

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Mustard Seed Associates staff retreat today & tomorrow. Starting with this prayer:

God we gather in this quiet place

To hear the prayers you have placed in our hearts

We come willing to listen to the silence

Alert and attentive to your voice speaking within us.

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God help us today to embrace experience and not stuff

To hold onto you and not possessions

To rest in the presence of the living God

And see we need nothing else but you

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Thinking of those killed in Norway this morning:

God today we mourn with those who mourn

Our hearts ache with those whose loved ones were killed

God have mercy on them

In the midst of despair may they find hope

In the midst of grief may the find your love

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Couldn’t resist this second prayer today:

God of a thousand names, Merciful, compassionate, faithful

God of infinite love, righteous, holy, trustworthy

God who provides in unexpected ways

You are beyond imagining and we praise you

___________________________________________

Cultivate change – building foundations in turbulent times

This is the last in a series of posts that I have been doing on preparing for turbulent times:

Change is coming whether we like it or not and learning how to mold our lives so that we bend rather than break in the midst of that change is one of the most important challenges to our current spiritual wellbeing.  Fortunately there are ways to prepare so that our faith grows and strengthens during these times.  Here are some of the principles that I have found most helpfu

  1. Identify or establish stability zones.  By this I mean identify those aspects of your life that are not going to change.  Routines and relationships that draw you close to God and to each other need to be identified and nurtured during turbulent times.  That is why I think that maintaining regular and familiar spiritual disciplines is so important.  It is these practices that maintain our sense of order and security in the world.  Without them we have no anchors for our lives.
  2. Stay put.  The tendency when life falls apart is to move because we think there will always be more and better opportunities elsewhere.  And of course sometimes this is necessary, but moving always adds to our emotional and spiritual instability.  It uproots us from the stabilizing influence of friends and the spiritual communities that anchor our lives.  If you do need to move it is important to unpack and establish new routines quickly.  Living out of suitcases and boxes gives an impermanence to life that can be very destabilizing
  3. Surround yourself with “at home” items.  This is something I learned when I lived on the mercy ship Anastasis and travelled constantly rarely feeling I knew where home was.  Family photos, pictures of my favourite at home scenes in Australia, making a meal of familiar comfort foods all helped me to relax and feel secure.
  4. Establish and maintain friendships that have the potential to be stable.  Many people I know specialize in disposable relationships.  Every time they move they close the door on the important friendships they have forged and look for new relationships.  Nothing can be more disruptive in tough times.  And of course these days facebook, iphones and email make staying in touch so much easier that there is no excuse for giving up friends anywhere in the world.  Part of the privilege of my life is that I have literally made friends all over the world.  Knowing that, and nurturing that is a hugely beneficial part of my life.  Reminiscing on the good and the bad we have shared together often gives me confidence to face new challenges.
  5. Identify enemy factors.  What are your greatest temptations and destabilizing influences?  That is what I mean by enemy factors.  A little introspection and honesty gives all of us an idea of our own particular areas of struggle.  How have you dealt with these in the past?  What practices could you establish now that could make you less vulnerable to these enemies in the future?  For example as a young adult I was prone to depression.  I was most vulnerable when I was alone and feeling sorry for myself.  Journalling each week on what I was grateful for and where I saw God at work totally transformed my view of the world and tendency to depression.
  6. Affirm the good, don’t concentrate on the bad.   This is closely linked to the point above.  The more we focus on the good things in our lives no matter how trivial they may seem in the overall scheme of things, the easier it is to handle the bad.  Unfortunately bad news always tends to travel faster and speak louder than good.  The internet instantly and constantly puts us in touch with disaster.  Hunting for the glimpses of hope and redemption often requires a lot more effort.  That is one of the reasons I try to post regularly on things I see that reflect the hope of God’s kingdom.  it is also why I love to write about the kingdom and the hope that God gives us for the future.
  7. Avoid surprises.  Our normal response to sudden change is rejection.  We dig in our heels, cling tightly to what is familiar and try to barricade ourselves into the world that is passing.  In Mustard Seed Associates we try to help people think about how the world is changing and how we as God’s people need to change now in order to be more effective in the future.  In a few weeks we will be holding a seminar here in Seattle with local church leaders to talk about the state and local government cutbacks that will impact all our lives in a possible second wave of recession.  Looking for positive responses to these challenges before their full impact hits will make a huge difference to our ability to cope and to continue to be God’s compassionate response to our neighbours near and far.
  8. Look after yourself.  I love the imagery of how God dealt with the stressed out prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19.  Here he is running away from Jezebel frightened and depressed.  He wants to lie down and die.  And God lets him lie down.  God gives him rest, food and water.  Only then is he led to the mountain of God.  I think that God knows how important good sleep, good food and good exercise are for all of us and encourages us to keep our minds and our bodies healthy.  When I get too busy I stop working out in the garden and sometimes I stop doing regular exercise.  Neither of these are good for me and my spiritual and emotional as well as my physical body suffer.

 

 

Following God in Turbulent Times – Build on the Foundations


I commented yesterday that how to maintain our spiritual foundations is not something that can be encapsulated in a single post.  As I thought more about this I realized that it is in fact too important to confine in that way and so decided to add this post as well.  Much of it is adapted from a previous post I wrote and may seem familiar to many but I make no apologies as I think we cannot be reminded often enough of these important foundations.  The steady stream of natural disasters and economic uncertainties hound our lives and undermine our security.  Economic indicators seem to bring hope one moment and despair the next.  Many of us live on a rather bumpy roller coaster ride with constant fear and trepidation that often reaches panic level.

How can we imagine new ways to respond so that the devastations of our physical world do not undermine our faith or destroy our ability to trust in our loving, caring God whose heart aches for all of us in the midst of our anguish?  How can we respond without allowing compassion fatigue to form walls of indifference between us and those who suffer?  And how can we respond in a way that strengthens our faith and draws us closer to God?

Once again I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s words in Seasons of Celebration, where he talks about how God’s people were called out of the slavery of Egypt and into the desert so that they could be educated into freedom.  It was in the desert, not in the promised land that they learned to strip away the false securities that distracted them from a whole hearted commitment to God.

Trial and struggle teach us what it really means to follow Christ.  It is in the desert and not in the abundance of the promised land that we learn to look beyond ourselves and really grapple with what it means to love God and neighbour as ourselves – the very commands that are at the heart of the gospel.  It is in the wilderness places that we learn to care for each other and become concerned about protecting the weak and vulnerable.  It also in the desert that we confront our own places of vulnerability and discover how God can transform them into new strengths.

Following Christ into tomorrow’s world is a challenging commitment.  It will require us to grow deep roots that anchor our souls and provide stable foundations that withstand the buffeting of wind and storm.  My own spiritual roots have grown deep over the last decade as I have, like many others, delved into ancient spiritual practices that sustained followers of Christ throughout the uncertain and turbulent times of past eras.  The resurgence of interest in ancient practices such as a rule of life, daily offices, and the liturgical calendar are heart warming signs that convince me God is alive and very active in our rapidly changing world.

Developing a rule of life is one valuable practice I engage in that provides a deep stability for my life. It has challenged me to re-imagine what my life could look like in the light of God’s priorities rather than those of the secular culture. It has enabled me to establish a rhythm of prayer that entwines through all of life and has encouraged me to live into God’s new world of wholeness and abundance by developing a balance between work and rest, solitude and community, feasting and fasting.  This has been made possible by my involvement in the Mustard Seed House community where we participate in morning and evening prayers and community meals.

The use of centering prayer is another practice that has strengthened my faith.  This practice begins with a time of silence focusing on the presence of God and reminding us that Christ is the center of all we are and do.  Reciting a short bible verse or phrase like God is love can help block out distractions and quiet our hearts.  In this quiet place meditate on God and are able to pray in response to God’s great love.  As a result of this type of meditation I began writing prayers that often flow out of my attempts to grapple with the challenges of our turbulent world.  Reciting these prayers on a regular basis calms my soul and frees my imagination to develop creative responses to the challenges I face.  It was this practice that initiated the Light for the Journey prayers which I post regularly on facebook.  These I know nurture not only my soul but the souls of many others as well.

More than anything, what has drawn me closer to God in the last few years is the recognition that life is a journey in which every experience entered into and every activity undertaken is an opportunity to both represent and meet Christ.  Looking for God’s love in a mother’s embrace of her child or in the compassionate sharing of resources with the poor is breathtaking way to both unveil and respond to the story of God.

We live in a changing world and I don’t think that the coming years will be any easier than the last few.  However I do believe that it can be a time in which God’s people shine as beacon’s of light encouraging all the world’s people to journey towards a society that reflects something of God’s eternal world of peace, harmony and wholeness, a society in which all the world’s people share abundantly from the riches of God’s storehouse.  A society in which there is mutual care and concern once more as there was at the beginning of God’s creation.

Turbulent Times are Here to Stay – Believe in the Future

Shalom and the Wholeness of God

In the last few years economic turmoil, natural disasters and an ongoing wave of war, conflict and uncertainty have shattered our confidence in the future.  Many of us laughed at the end times gurus who thought that the world would end on May 21st but if we are honest, deep within us was an uncertainty about the future that made us wonder if they could be right.

What we believe about the future toward which God is leading us will greatly impact our ability to both prepare for the future here on earth and participate in God’s redeeming activity.  For most of us the future we dream of is shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by a culture that tells us success and prosperity will follow us all the days of our lives.

Tough economic times and natural disasters have brought that dream into question but have not replaced it with a compelling and gratifying new vision.  Proverbs 29:18 tells us that without a vision the people perish, and I think it is true.  Not only are we in danger of perishing, but many others in our world are already perishing because of our limited understanding of the future and particularly of a vision of world made new in which all are provided for that God wants us to be a part of.

What we need more than anything else to prepare us for the future is a new and compelling vision of God’s shalom world that resounds in our hearts and reverberates out in our actions throughout the world.  If Christianity is to be a vibrant and life giving part of the future of our world, its vision of a new world of wholeness and abundance must become the place of security from which we explore and understand all of life.  And at the centre of that vision must be a vision of a God of love whose heart aches for the brokenness of our lives and the devastation of our hurting world.

This, as many of you know this has become the central passion of my life and is the central theme of my bookShalom and the Wholeness of God.    And I think that this vision which is so central to the gospel message cannot be stated too often.  Our vision of the future needs to be communicated as though it were the current reality otherwise it never has a hope of coming into being.   We need to be constantly reminded that the call of God’s kingdom for all disciples of Christ is to bring the wholeness and abundance of life promised in God’s shalom vision, into the lives of all human beings and indeed into all aspects of God’s world.

It was this kind of “abundant life” which Christ lived and demonstrated through all his actions.  It is also demonstrated through the lives of the early disciples and their call to be a countercultural community representing God’s Kingdom purposes to the world.  This vision culminates in the wonderful imagery of the Revelation of John where we are again given a vision of a world in which shalom is fully present – a world in which all things are restored and reconciled through Christ.

Our journey toward the shalom of God must include our own personal turning toward God when we kneel at the foot of the Cross, seek forgiveness for our sins and give our lives to be followers of Christ.  This however is not a single experience that brings us instantaneously into the ways of God.  Self-centredness does not automatically disappear when we become followers of Christ.  Educating ourselves into God’s perspectives really does take a lifetime.   It involves a deliberate effort to lay down our self centred lives daily, confront our brokenness and make active decisions to embrace God’s ways.  Only then can we walk with Christ into the freedom of a life lived for the good of all not just for ourselves.

Our vision of the future should be one in which we see ourselves as  instruments of God’s shalom world, growing into wholeness in our individual lives and reaching our with compassion and love that brings that same wholeness into the lives of others.

We gain hope and inspiration whenever we catch glimpses of God’s shalom world breaking into ours.  And there are so many of these glimpses in our world today.  We see them as strangers reach out to help those whose lives have been devastated by disaster.  We see them as people give up the hope of personal wealth and prestige to share their resources through local networks and small business creation.  And we see them in every fight for justice and freedom that are going on all over our world.

I love God’s vision for the future because it is the only one that gives hope and provides stability in the midst of an uncertain and insecure world.

 

Turbulent Times are here to Stay – How Do We Maintain our Stability?

This last week the Washington State government announced a new budget with major cutbacks that will impact social programmes, education and societal infrastructure. It is but one of a long line of federal, state and local governing bodies around the world that have done so. And all this with a backdrop of uncertainty for all of us, not just because of the economic volatility of our time but also because of our growing concern for environmental and societal upheaval that seem to face our planet.

Repairing the damages of the earthquake in Christchurch NZ, the tsunami in Japan and the tornadoes in the midwest of the US are daunting challenges that will impact all our lives for years to come. And these are but the last of a long list of disasters that have hit our global neighbourhood in the last few years. In the midst of all this I find myself once more asking the question How do we maintain our stability in the midst of such change? and probably more importantly How do we equip ourselves to be God’s compassion and care during such times?

Pentecost is not far away and as I mentioned yesterday we are about to launch ourselves into that season of the church year that many of us refer to as kingdomtide – the season to be God’s representatives reaching out into our world. It is a good time to take stock of our resources and strengthen the foundations that will maintain us and even grow us and God’s church through these turbulent times.

Over the next few days I plan to write a series of posts that are my attempt to address these issues. I look forward to your feedback and contributions. The future into which we are moving is uncharted territory and we need to work together to better equip and inspire each other to grow in our faith and serve more effectively in God’s world.

What enables you to not only maintain your spiritual, and emotional stability during this season but also provides you with the resources you need to reach out into God’s world with compassion and love?

The posts I am planning are:

Believe in the future – God’s vision to inspire and encourage

Build on the rock – spiritual foundations for a rapidly changing world

Cultivate change – building foundations in turbulent times

Grow together – accepting limitations and strengthening the church & our communities in times of change.

If you have suggestions for other posts or would like to contribute one yourself that enables others to be better equipped for the future I welcome your help and contributions.

To end here is a prayer that is part of a liturgy I wrote a couple of years ago for these turbulent times

God, who sent Joseph into Egypt to prepare a place for your people,

We believe you still provide for the needs of all who cry out to you.

God, who fed the five thousand with a handful of fish and loaves,

We believe you are still able to multiply our efforts and feed all who are empty.

God, who asks us not to worry about tomorrow but to trust in your daily provision,

We believe you still desire to transform our scarcity into your abundance and plenty. God, who sent your Son to share our fears and carry our anxieties,

We believe we can give up our burdens and open the floodgates for your mercy and compassion to flow.

God whose heart aches for all who are hurting and in need

May we be your hearts of compassion and your hands of caring this day and ever more

Amen

Austerity Measures – What Would Jesus Do?

Tom and I are now in Britain where the entire population is staggering under the drastic budget cuts that have just been announced.   These are the most severe cuts since the 1920s.  Some programmes have been cut by 10% others by 30% and still others have been annihilated completely.  A few people are breathing a sigh of relief thinking they have escaped the devastation.  Some are trying to hoard their existing resources and maintain a semblance of security.  And though the situation in the U.S. has not reached this stage I suspect that it might not be far behind.  I believe that we are in the midst of a major societal upheaval and we will never be the same again.

This is not all necessarily bad news though.  Jesus constantly instilled his followers with hope and expectation in a time that must have seemed as uncertain as our own.  His proclamations about God’s kingdom gave them confidence in the future – not just for some vague after life future, but for their very real future on earth too.  And as a result they radically reoriented their lives and reinvented their priorities.   In the midst of societal upheaval Jesus established a new community of love and mutual care.

In the midst of this challenging transition there is so much that gives me hope and much that excites me because it seems that God is doing something new, something I can imagine Jesus doing so that we catch wonderful glimpses of God’s kingdom.

First I love the new understanding of Christian mission that is emerging –  not as programmes that help or convert people but as relationships founded on mutual love and concern.  And out of these relationships new intentional Christian communities are evolving with spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines at their centre.

Second I believe we are seeing a re-definition of generosity – not as a giving of our leftovers to help those at the margins but as a willing turning away from self centred living towards simplicity that frees up more resources to share.  The increasing popularity of One Day’s Wages, started by Eugene Cho is a great example of this.  And as I travel I run into a growing number of people who voluntarily accept challenges such as the $2 challenge.  Others are living on minimum wage for several weeks in order to free up resources.

Third we are seeing a reconnecting to creation that is not just a wonderful way to provide fresh produce for ourselves but it is often a way to reach out and help others too.  In my post Is This A Move of God I talked about the community garden movement that has not just provided food for individuals and families but that has stocked food pantries and fed the homeless in amazing ways.

We are all facing challenging economic times but I do believe that God is still in control.  And God still provides us with hope for the future no matter how challenging the transitions may seem

 

What is the Good Life?

Last night Tom and I were watching (briefly) a show in which we were given a walk through a $65 million mansion.  As you can imagine it was a lavish place with immaculate gardens, ornate furnishings and extensive technological gadgets.  At the end our hosts commented “So what do you think, should we make an offer on it?”  The implications was – this is the good life, can we afford it ?  And if we can’t then obviously we are still hoping that one day soon we will be able to.

We live in a culture that wants to convince us that living in bigger houses and owning more stuff is what  the good life is all about.  But isn’t that what has led us to the current economic downturn?  The poverty rates are still climbing, jobs are still few and far between yet we are constantly being barraged with messages that suggest that getting back to the way we were is the good life.  But I think that an economy that is based on the accumulation of stuff is not only unsustainable, it must crash sooner or later.

So what does the good life look like? Interestingly at CCDA last week I met someone who after he lost his job a couple of years ago asked himself the same question but with a slight difference.  He had just attended the MSA conference The New Conspirators, at which he was confronted with the question: What does the good life of God look like? So when he lost his job he asked that question and then went out to make it happen.  He followed his God shaped dream and became a farmer and also got involved with Mobile Loaves and Fishes – a ministry that works with the hungry and the homeless.

Cindy and Dennis Todd who are working with us at MSA are also using this economic downturn as an opportunity to reinvent their lives around the good life of God rather than the good life of the consumer culture.  They relocated from Florida to Seattle.  Cindy is raising support to work with us full time and we hope that as the plans for Camano develop that Dennis will be our construction contractor.  They are still living on the edge financially, struggling to provide for themselves and their four kids but they are filled with hope and expectation believing that what God has in line for their future is far better than the dream they left behind.

Hearing these stories makes me wonder – how many of us miss the good life of God because we do not see the current economic situation as a wonderful opportunity to reinvent our lives around God’s dream for us and not around the consumer culture’s dream?  How many of us miss the best that God has for us because we are still focused on getting bigger and better houses and more stuff?

We all know Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. But how many of us take it seriously?  This promise was given to the children of Israel when they were in captivity in Babylon, a season in their history that God used to reorient their priorities.  And I think that this challenging time in our history is meant to help us realign our dreams and priorities too.

So let me ask: What is the good life of God for you?  What are the  opportunities that this economic recession has opened up for you to pursue the dreams of God?  How have you used it as a launching pad to reinvent your life and realign your priorities more with God’s priorities?


MSA August Seed Sampler – The Global Economy in Crisis

Even as we see signs of the economy breaking free of its collective depression, many are warning that this may just be a blip. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel may well be just another train speeding in our direction. Whether or not we break free of this current cycle of crashing economies, joblessness, and despair, the reality is that we have entered a new era.2010 through 2020 will be a decade of increased volatility and uncertainty. As global markets become more and more interconnected, we experience together the economic, social, and environmental effects of our world-wide economy. 

While the “trickle-down” effect of prosperity failed to materialize in the 80’s, the ripple-effect is becoming all-too evident. What begins as an economic earthquake in one region becomes a financial tsunami on the other side of the globe. Even what appears to be a tiny ripple in one country may swell in magnitude by the time it reaches the shores of another.

Some Christians have responded by predicting the end of the world, saying this is all proof that Jesus is coming back soon and we had better get our spiritual houses in order! We don’t know when Jesus is returning and it’s not really our job to be predicting the date and time. But we are called, as followers of Jesus, to be ready and to respond to the situations around us with genuine compassion, sacrificial love, and the wild imagination of our God.

In this issue is a reprint of an article written for TEAR Australia over a year ago. I’m including it as the lead article because it is still relevant today. And the fact that it is still relevant today is a poignant reminder that this is no ordinary recession. What we’re experiencing today is the result of both globalization and years of choosing short-term profits over long-term consequences.

The prayer this month comes from the heart of a long-term unemployed brother – reminding those who have “escaped” this recession that we cannot remain disengaged from the very real issues faced by those around us. Rather, as a global community of faith, we need a collective balance. Our “Reflection” piece from Pastor Eugene Cho provides hope – God knows our needs and will provide, sometimes in the most amazing ways. The Seed Shares follow with examples of how Christ places on us, as individuals and communities, both the burden and blessing of walking alongside each other; bearing one another’s burdens, and becoming the answer to prayers lifted around the world for healing, hope, and compassionate relief.

Andy Wade – Seed Sampler Coordinator

August Articles
Seed Smile | Tim Clue on Personal Finance
Seed Story | World at an Economic Crossroags – Trevor Thomas
Prayer | Prayer of the Unemployed – Anonymous Anawim
Reflection | The Crazy Provision of God – Eugene Cho
Seed Share | Laundry Love
Seed Share | Graduated Tithe
Seed Share | Responding to the Global Economic Crisis
Seed Share | Micah Challenge, UK
Resources | Resources

Robin Hood tax

Here is an interesting idea that is being propounded for some as a solution to the bank bailout.  It would free up billions of dollars.  Maybe something to think about during Lent.  Thanks Steve Fouche for making me aware of it.  What do you think?

America Without a Middle Class – Is It Closer Than we Think

This very sobering article from Alternet suggests that it might be

Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions andsavings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out.

Read the entire article

When I read an article like this I am reminded of a recent comment by my colleague Eliacin Rosario Cruz.

We are called to create alternatives for the future not because the future is scary but because we are called to co-create with God and to live into God’s future.  If love casts out fear then we create as an act of love not of fear.

Our central motivation in MSA is this desire to live into God’s future and unleash the creative potential of ordinary people to make a difference in their communities and a world of urgent need.  So I wonder during this Advent season: What creative responses could we develop to support those who are losing a grip on the Middle Class not jsut in America but all around the world