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Archive for November, 2019

SOUND TRACK

It’s been a tough week on the national scene, regardless of your politics, and with winter arriving prematurely, holidays looming, and the daily challenges that face us all, self-care (never sure completely what that is) is mandatory.

So I am vowing to replace some of the omnipresent political chatter that I allow into my consciousness with music: In my office, in my car, in my heart. I’m even singing a little more, as my tortured cat Finley will attest.

At least I’m trying to try.

When I first looked at the lessons for tomorrow, I could only ask “Really? Really?” One commentary said that it seems they’re trying to scare us to death! At this point the sermon will only be moderately scarey…and at the end there will be what we call “a sermon response hymn” (which Richard generously agreed to add) and it is lovely.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a dose of “lovely”.

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This month parishioner and retired Religious Studies Professor, Paula Cooey, shares her thoughts on and experiences with Theology and Finance.

Theology addresses questions of who God is and what God has to do with human life. These past few months we have focused on personal finance in a variety of ways. This week we look at a partial view of what God has to do with such matters. The Church rightly focuses on giving: giving time, material resources, self in service to others, not to mention God’s gifts to us daily in our solitude and in community. The God of scripture, history, and for many of us, experience focuses heavily on need, however, our own as well as that of others. From a Christian perspective God so focuses on need that God becomes incarnate, one of us, to suffer what we suffer, even unto death, with us. God’s economy places heavy emphasis on need.

In my own experience, I readily admit to spiritual impoverishment. I wouldn’t be at the altar taking the sacraments otherwise. By contrast, I find it almost impossible to admit to material need, not in this society, so defined by independence and self-sufficiency. Yet, in scripture, note the Gospel of this past Sunday, God not only values those in material need front and center, but places a heavy emphasis on the poor persisting to get their needs met. In Luke 18:1-11 even the judge who respects neither God nor people grants justice to the persistent widow (widows noteworthy for their poverty). My childhood experience further exemplifies how need and persistence in the face of need, God’s and ours, challenges today’s central values.

When I was a little girl, my mother—a dance teacher—and my father—a lawyer—prospered.  During this time my mother taught dance lessons all over the county to anyone who wanted to learn to dance. It didn’t matter whether they were any good at it; a desire to learn was all she required. She charged a dollar a class lesson and two dollars for private lessons. Her classes flourished though not everybody could pay cash. For them she worked out an alternative. One of the mothers dressed both my mother’s hair and mine once a month in exchange for a month’s lessons for her son and daughter. Another, who worked at the Lovable Brassiere Company, got lessons for all four of her children for making some of our clothes and for feeding my sister and me dinner once a week. In addition, we got produce. We got eggs. It was a wealth of material goods. For those who couldn’t pay because the father had been laid off by Lockheed, or there were unexpected medical expenses, well, she just carried them until things got better. If the mother of such a family was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had gone wrong, Mama just point blank asked when the child quit coming to classes. Mama and her clients operated on a mixed economy of money, bartering, and welfare, depending on need and ability to pay. Like the early churches of Paul’s time, they simply shared what they had according to what was needed. Growing up with Mama taught me to share, to enjoy giving, to want to give.pikwizard-bd495b667141dc6e5ad9c110420f8c24

Times changed for us. My mother’s classes dwindled almost to nothing as my father’s law practice dissolved into alcoholism. We lost our house, at which point my mother divorced my father (heavily stigmatized where I grew up). She was forced to beg her own parents who forked over their meager life savings for the down payment on a new house. She persisted in finding work until the Director of the YWCA hired her for a low paying job. We continued to live in debt. She was never able to pay my grandparents back; she was never able to finish her college degree in order to get a higher paying job. I had the good fortune to go to college on a full scholarship with part time work right on through graduate school. My siblings also worked, my sister who graduated from college at the age of 42, and my brother who now owns a successful business. My mother died debt free. We kids turned out fine over the long haul. Nevertheless, all three of us still remember the shame felt about the divorce of our parents, our father’s alcoholism, and the loss of our home. I also remember that had my mother’s poor, ageing parents not stepped up with all their savings, had my mother not persuaded the Director of the YWCA to hire her even though she had no college degree, had scholarships not come through for me, the story could have been more tragic. It was dependency, not prosperity, followed up by persistence in need, not pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, all the way down.

My mother taught me to give graciously. Our poverty, her persistence, and my shame have hopefully taught me empathy. I still feel the shame of our past need, but I recognize this as a symptom of the times in which I live that has no role to play in God’s economy. Were I to fall into poverty again, I hope I would have the courage to ask, to persist in seeking justice, not only for others, but for myself.

God’s economy places the dependent front and center—whether due to loss of material resources (the Prodigal Son), lack of sufficient material resources (the widow and her mite), loss of health (the woman with a flow or hemorrhage), or Paul, economically dependent, in order to do God’s work. As it turns out, God is all about needing, acknowledging need, and persisting in getting need met. As Mathew points out, it is in the faces of the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, and the outcast that we find God’s face. We as agents of God are called to recognize material need as well as spiritual from birth to death both in the lives of others and in our own lives for need, like gift, is crucial to Incarnation.

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact executive administrator Sarah Dull.

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