Why Should We Raise the Minimum Wage

Today is Labour Day here in the U.S. and I find myself reflecting on the plight of those who suffer because of low wages and inadequate benefits. My thoughts have been stimulated by several things.

First this info graphic that was posted on Facebook.

Minimum wageSecond by this article talking about the budget that McDonald’s suggested for its minimum wage workers. It includes a second job and with only $20/ month budgeted for health care and $27/week for food and gas, obviously expects that workers will take advantage of food stamps and medicaid. One response I read to this article even mentioned these as justifiable additions to their income. Which sounds like corporate sponsorship to me.

My third stimulus this morning was this reading from James:

Listen to me dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonour the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: Love your neighbour as yourself. (James 2:5-8)

Loving our neighbours means being concerned for their welfare – that they have a place to live, nutritious food to eat and health care, education and retirement plans to sustain them just as we do.

In many countries of the world minimum wage is calculated on what it takes to live with 2 dependents – on one job. Here in the U.S. even two minimum wage jobs make that difficult. Most of these people are in the service industry – waiters in restaurants, maids in hotels. People live in their cars, sometimes whole families. Or they live in overcrowded apartments in the most dangerous parts of town. And they are dependent on food stamps and medicaid.

These people work very hard for a living (or should I say a non-living). I think they should receive a living wage. Yes it would mean we have to pay more when we eat out but surely that is part of the true cost of living. What do you think?



Resources for Lent 2013

carbon fast via anieszkabanks.blogspot.com

carbon fast via anieszkabanks.blogspot.com

Each year around this time I like to update my Lenten resources. Last year I posts two lists of resources

Resources for Lent 2012

And More Resources for Lent from the Episcopal Church

This year in keeping with our Lenten Theme – Return to Our Senses in Lent I decided to post practical suggestions for Lent that help us to integrate our prayer practices and our everyday life. I am excited at the suggestions people are sending me.

A United Methodist Pastor serving in north central Pennsylvania shared her newest spiritual discipline with me.

Several months ago I felt that I needed to give up internet, especially email and facebook on my Sabbath day. Then when doing a mini-series on Sabbath keeping at church after reading Gift of Rest by Sen. Lieberman, I realized that I needed to add phone calls to that. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid phone calls, emergencies and such but overall I recommend this type of fast. It is not easy. I can think of lots of reasons each week to go online but do my best to avoid it. I shared the commitment with my congregations, adding of course that if they were on the phone and said a spouse was having a heart attack or something like that I would surely pick up and make the visit. I have been amazed at my colleagues and parishioners who respect this fast, even my boss:)

And on the MSA blog my husband Tom has suggested embracing a new discipline of daily laughter.

Ann Voskamp also has a great idea for a family repentance box which she posted a couple of years ago.

If you are like me and looking for disciplines that help us to focus outwardly on the challenges our world faces you might like to consider these resources. I have focused on two challenges I am passionate about – climate change and poverty.

The Oil Lamp  has shared several helpful links to sites that suggest ways to incorporate a carbon fast into your Lenten practices. I particularly enjoyed this link recommended by Archbishop Thabo Magkoba, convenor of the Anglican Environmental Network in South Africa: A Carbon Fast for Lent. They also have some good basic suggestions for a carbon fast here.

Earth Ministry’s LeAnne Beres wrote this helpful article about taking a Carbon fast a couple of years ago which includes links to other great resources.

You might also like to check out these resources for praying for the vulnerable and hungry during Lent.

The ELCA has a great World Hunger Lenten Series available – lots of good information and suggestions. They go for a $3/day diet – probably more doable today then the $2/day we have always attempted.

Bread for the World always produces wonderful resources that challenge us to face the issues of hunger. This year they have worked in collaboration with Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement to develop a series of Lenten activities around the theme of Maternal and Child Nutrition in the 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday. Check out what is be available here

Episcopal Relief and Development has chosen the alleviation of hunger for the theme of their Lenten Meditations this year too. They are available in both English and Spanish and can be downloaded for free.

And please keep contributing your own suggestions for Lenten practices that help bring faith and life together.

Lord Break Our Hearts

I have been thinking a lot over the last few days about ways I should be engaged in helping to alleviate the world’s suffering in pain. I always feel so inadequate in this area and my heart aches for those who live in poverty. Wrote this prayer earlier in the week

God pierce our hearts with your love,
Break them open into greater capacity,
Break them open ,
That we might hold more of the world’s suffering and joy,
That we might share more of the world’s despair and hope.
Lord break our hearts,
As we stand in the gap between what is and what could be,
Break our hearts open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for all the world’s people.

and just came across this TED talk (have not had time to listen yet but I thought some of you might be interested.


Secret Millionaire

I was recently contacted about the possibility of doing a review on a new show that will premiere SUNDAY, MARCH 6 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.  This is not something I would not normally consider doing.  I am not a fan of reality shows, but I was so deeply touched by the trailer for “Secret Millionaire,” that I couldn’t resist saying yes.

This one-hour alternative series follows some of America’s wealthiest people while they leave behind their lavish lifestyles, sprawling mansions and luxury jets to spend a week in the country’s poorest areas, is profoundly moving.  Living in local housing on welfare-level wages, they look for the most deserving individuals within the community who give their lives to help those in need.  What touched me most was the way these Secret Millionaires change as they come face to face with extraordinary people who put their own needs aside for the sake of others. At the end of the Secret Millionaires’ journeys, they reveal their true identities and donate their own money to these community activists, though I felt it was really the millionaires themselves who were given the greatest gifts.

I think this is a series well worth watching.

Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in this synchroblog initiated by Kathy Escobar.  Her challenge to us was:

Marginalization results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society and it’s source is many. Economic circumstances, illness, disability, geographical location, gender, sexuality, race, religion are all dominant sources of individuals being marginalized. Sometimes it’s easy to see holidays or certain systems from a position of power or privilege. * As God’s people, what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of the marginalized?

What I realize is that it is very difficult for me to see through the eyes of the marginalized because I have never really been in that position.  Yes I have been poor, and yes I have lived simply for most of life but those have been deliberate choices.  I have always had a back door out.  As a physician I could always have found a well paying job and rapidly moved myself back into the upper middle class lifestyle with which I grew up.

I was thinking about this today as I read Sean Gladding’s book The Story of God, The Story of Us, a very powerful story based telling of the Biblical story from creation to the coming of Christ.  Today I was reading about the time of the kings.

Sean begins this chapter with the story of the building of the temple – not as a triumphant worshipful act towards God but as an enslavement of the people of Israel by Solomon who was busily accumulating wealth and power for himself.  So often when we read this story, we filter it through the distorted values of our consumerist, middle class way of life.  But what if like Sean does in his book and like Kathy encourages us to do in her question, we saw Solomon and the building of the temple through the eyes of the marginalized, those who were conscripted to build the temple as forced labour.

Sean comments: if we are to be faithful to the covenant then we must beware of falling into the same three things that marked Solomon’s reign:

an economic affluence in which we become so well off that both the pain around us and the pain we cause others are not noticiced;

a politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or are silenced

a static religion, in which God has no other business than to maintain our standard of living, and whose prophets we try to silence when they speak words we do not want to hear.

To see through the eyes of the marginalized we must first acknowledge our own sin and the indifference and sometimes even hostility with which we confront them.  We benefit so much from the slaves of our society – the illegal immigrants who pick our fruit and staff our restaurants, the minimum wage workers who work 2 or 3 jobs and still don’t earn enough to support their families and those in distant lands who grow our food and sew our clothes.

They too are building our temples and enabling us to accumulate yet more power and prestige.  And on top of that we so often despise them because they can’t accumulate what we have and can’t pull themselves out of the pits that we so often have dug for them.

So how do we see through the eyes of the marginalized?  To be honest I am not sure.  But I do know that I need to begin by constantly reminding myself of those at the margins, talking to them, sharing meals and hospitality with them.  And for those that are more distant I know that I need to encourage them by raising my voice to make sure they are paid a fair wage and given the opportunity to get educated as I have been.

None of us can create a society that is just and fair but we can all take steps that move us in that direction.  The season of Advent and Christmas is a great time to do more than just think about this.  It is a great time to get down and get ourselves involved just as God did with the birth of Christ.

Here are some more posts to check out

Here are a few more posts to check out:

George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt

Arthur Stewart – The Bank

Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate

Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins

Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized

Minnow – Just Out of Sight

Kathy Escobar – Sitting At the Rickety Card Table In theFamily Room For Thanksgiving Dinner

Liz Dyer – Stepping Away From the Keyhole


Open My Eyes I Want to See Jesus

This morning one of the songs we sang in our worship time was Open My eyes Lord I Want to See Jesus, a song that I usually enjoy singing.  However as I sat amongst urban workers who work amongst the street people, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the at risk youth of London and other English cities. As I looked at these people who are all struggling with work overload and facing cutbacks to their funding, I was caught short – Do I really want to see Jesus? I wondered.

Yes I love the images of Jesus the loving and caring one, the healing and comforting one, the redeeming and renewing one.  But I realized this morning that there are other images of Jesus I am far less comfortable with –

Jesus the lamb who was slain, the despised and abandoned one, the neglected and forgotten one, the tortured and wounded one who is present in the lives and faces of all those who live on the streets.  Jesus the weeping  and mourning one who is present in the faces of so many overworked urban workers who feel abandoned and despised by their governments and often church leadership as well.  Do I really want to see this Jesus and if so how do I respond?

Distant Neighbours Show us Jesus

This morning I was reading the weekly meditation in the the Mosaic Bible.  It is written MSA Board member Penny Carothers reflecting on her time in Calcutta.  I was profoundly impacted as I read about how some of the poor children on the Calcutta streets washed her feet and that of her friend after they had been knocked down by a mob as they tried to distribute toys to some of the street kids

Asa and Jebodah entered the filth to take our hands.  They pulled us away and took us, dazed, to the water pump.  And then they bent down and began to wash the grime off our feet.”

As I read this I thought – this is Jesus.  This is the one who stooped to wash the disciples feet wearing nothing more than a lowly servant would.  This is the one who comes to us in the midst of our pain and the misery of our world to offer us comfort and love.  He comes as a servant, in fact he comes as the lowliest and most despised of all servants – the one who washes feet.

Many of these children, as Penny noted are the children of prostitutes.  They are despised within their own society as well as in ours. So it is easy for us to dismiss them.  But the poor are with us always and everywhere.  The poor wash our feet in so many ways and have made it possible for us to live lives of comfort and ease. It is the poor who pick our fruit and make our clothes.  They provide us with furniture and with cheap building materials.

This morning on NPR I heard that the poverty rate in the US has jumped to 14.3%.  The new Census report shows there were 43.6 million people living in poverty in 2009 – the highest number since records were kept (though not the highest percentage).  Not surprisingly poverty levels are worse in the south and amongst non whites.  These people too are our distant neighbours who we often depend upon to wash our feet – they work for low wages sometimes below minimum wage in order to make ends meet and many of us, sometimes unconsciously are dependent on the for our comfortable lifestyles.

What difference would it make if we saw Jesus in the faces and lives of these poor people who wash our feet?  What do you think.

Corpus Mysticum: How the Eucharistic Image Informs My eating

This afternoon’s post was sent to me by Lisa Carlson co-Director of Aurora Care Continuum and a MDIV. Together with psychotherapist Maria-Jose. Lisa blogs at the River Beneath where they explore mental health through the perspective of poverty. I love the way Lisa grapples with her concerns about exclusion from our tables and relationship to the experience of communion.  This is an issue I have struggled with too.

I have situated myself in front of my dinner table as I write. My heart and mind are both filled with grief and inspiration. I grieve how exclusive our homes and tables are in this society. I lament that the poor do not know that they are welcome to knock at the doors of our churches and our homes to be cared for and yet (sigh) I am utterly and unstoppably inspired by the imagination and revolutionary ways of Jesus’s eating practices. As I have wrestled with, ruminated on and researched the holy texts around eating, I am comforted, affirmed and galvanized by the explicit fact that this is our tradition and our unique identity as followers of Christ; to allow our ways of eating to witness to the inclusive, healing and flourishing way of Christ in our world and for our people. I am charged that even in something as ordinary as eating, Jesus served to heal, liberate and reconstruct society.

Read the entire article

What Do We Do When There are No Simple Solutions?

Yesterday I got together with a pastor friend who is feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the extent of the gulf oil spill and his inability to respond.  He is in the midst of teaching a series of sermons on a Christian response to the environment and confessed that he is feeling discouraged because the problem is so big that there is no way that he can solve it.  The small steps he is able to take seem insignificant and inadequate in the face of the environmental disasters we are facing so his tendency is to sit and do nothing.  On top of that there are other overwhelming challenges that just don’t seem to go away – AIDS, malaria, poverty, child slavery.  The enormity of the task defeats him and like many of us he wants to turn away and ignore them.

Western society thrives on the belief that all problems are solvable and that we personally can find and implement solutions.  We want to see instant success that wins us applause and means we can then move on to the next problem that needs to be solved.  But our world is not like that, and God is not like that either.  Otherwise the time between the Fall and the new creation would have only been a few weeks or maybe the transformation would have happened overnight.

There are two scriptures that I find very encouraging when faced with enormous problems like this.  One is the story of the mustard seed:

31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13: 31 – 32 NLT)

The other is the story about giving a cup of cold water:

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’  Matthew 25: 37 – 40 NLT)

God not only works through the small and insignificant but God also notices the seemingly insignificant things that we do.  Building the kingdom is about lots of people doing small and seemingly insignificant things together.

When I feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable problems of AIDS and malaria I remind myself that in the 1950s polio killed 5 million people a year yet it is now virtually unknown primarily because a lot of people were mobilized to immunize kids around the world.  Most of them only immunized a few kids but together their efforts made an incredible difference – like cups of cold water given to one child at a time.

And when I feel discouraged by the extent of the environmental crisis I am reminded of the community garden movement that is sweeping across America.  Mustard seeds growing into huge plants and providing a place for birds to nest.

God is at work in our world but so much of what God is doing is hidden, below the radar, seemingly small and insignificant.  In the face of intractable poverty and environmental disasters it takes faith to believe that God is indeed transforming and renewing our world but I do believe that is what is happening.

1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

So don’t give up on those seemingly small and insignificant steps that seem like a drop in the ocean.  God does notice and God is indeed using them to build a new world of justice, peace and abundance…. but it is God not us who is building.

Am I Worshipping God for Only Me?

I don’t usually blog or in fact open my computer on Sundays but because we are still waiting to make sure that our flight out of Pittsburgh this afternoon is actually going to fly, my routines have been somewhat disrupted.  So I decided to work on another Lenten meditation video based on Isaiah 58.  In the process I came across this beautiful and heartrending song by Shirley that is also based on Isaiah 58.  It would make a powerful Lenten reflection and I thought some of you would appreciate it.