December 16, 2013


adjective (of a person) not enjoying the same standard of living or rights as the majority of people in a society.
synonyms: needy, deprived, disadvantaged, poor, destitute, in need, impoverished, poverty-stricken, on the poverty line, indigent, lower-class;

'Underprivileged' is a word commonly used in reference to the poor, most commonly to refer to poor children or communities. It is a curious choice of words. 

This language is oddly used by a culture that often doesn't recognize its own tremendous wealth and privileges. I remember when the Lake House first decided to shut off our air conditioning how much we and others acted like it was a necessity for Florida living. It isn't, and most of the world lives in similar climates without it. It is a privilege that we mistakenly consider a real need. We think we need our mattresses, our hot water heaters, and our air conditioners and never realize that these things are mere luxuries and privileges. Even our choice to go without any such luxuries is itself an expression of privilege. We can choose to use it or not. We are very privileged. Choice, I would argue, is an expression of being a human. To strip one of their freedom and choice is to strip them of their humanity. This, in my mind, is truly what poverty is: a lack of choice or freedom. 

Another possible implication of the term 'underprivileged' might be that it is an accurate assessment. Without even being conscious of it, we use as a kind of subconscious confession. Perhaps we realize that everything that we have beyond food and water and basic shelter is just luxury and privilege, possibly at the expense of those who do not. Perhaps we realize the very privilege of being able to choose whether or not we talk about, think about or face poverty (if we are not poor), racism (if we are white), or sexism (if we are men) at all. Perhaps using the term 'underprivileged' is a way for us to acknowledge all of our privilege. Once we can acknowledge and embrace the fact that we have privilege in this world we can make it available to those who may not. Not as a hero or a saint or a martyr but as those who have come to realize that our salvation and freedom is as much wrapped up in our need for them as theirs may be in us. Together we can be free, together we can be human.

December 11, 2013

Celebrating Christmas

At Christmastime most of us spend a lot of money giving gifts to each other. We buy watches, jewelry, game consoles, clothing, food, movies, tablets, computers, and socks. Shout out to all y'all who got socks for Christmas. I've been there. Some of us also make our own gifts for Christmas, which is pretty cool. Jon got into growing and making gifts for his family and friends. We give gifts, homemade or store-bought, to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem. We celebrate his birth as the greatest gift ever given, and we give our own gifts in memory of him.

How we celebrate Christmas says a lot about how we view Jesus. If we celebrate by singing songs of worship, it reflects that we believe him to be divine. If we celebrate by spending time reconnecting with family and friends, it may be that his life speaks to us of reconciliation. And if we celebrate by giving gifts, we may well be participating in his life by passing on the generosity and love that characterized his time on Earth. The stories preserved in the gospels of his birth, his family, his life, death, and resurrection are all rich to draw inspiration from. They are challenging and they are hopeful, and hopefully, they leave us different, more aware and active than before we heard them.

There is a tradition, a very old one, that is gaining more popularity lately, and which I'd like to highlight this Christmas. People are celebrating the birth of Christ by giving gifts. But instead of giving to people who love them, some folks are giving gifts to people they don't know very well, if at all. They are giving gifts to people because God loves those strangers, and that is worth celebrating. Organizations like Heifer and Compassion International are helping such-minded givers to celebrate by giving a cow or a goat or rice or fresh water to a family in another part of the world. How cool is that?

I imagine the Son of God looking at the celebrations taking place across the world this month, all in his name, all to his honor, and I wonder what he thinks of it all. The hymns ringing out in the church halls. The candy canes hanging on the tree. The hams and yams and eggnog. I picture him staring, somewhat interested, somewhat bored, at the gifts we give each other as a remembrance of him. It's good to give gifts to each other, and we should express that love. And yet...

Perhaps as he's staring at our celebrations, he quietly says, just to himself, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." 

And then someone gives a gift, not to a friend or loved one, but to a stranger, or a foreigner, or any person who he has no business giving a gift to, and I imagine the corner of Jesus' mouth rise, just a bit, in a knowing grin. And he remembers another line of his own preaching: "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High..." And his grin turns into a smile, because he knows now, for certain, that he is remembered. What better way to give a gift to Jesus than by giving a gift to those for whom he has such special affection.

For those of you that love our neighbors on the streets of Tampa, please consider giving to support our friendship with them. It's a costly friendship to maintain, but we think it's worth it. In January we will begin some major changes to our facility, and we could use the help. We will expand within the building to provide more space for people to be at home so that they can come in off the streets for a while. We will need to build a new bathroom, showers, and laundry machines. We will have to relocate our free market and set it up better than before. In addition to the construction work to be done we are also planning to open a computer lab. It will all be an additional expense that we frankly cannot afford. But we're moving forward by faith in the Giver of all good things.

Subtle hint: Home Depot or Best Buy gift cards. See?

click to give :)

PO Box 75157
Tampa, FL 33675

Happy holy days, everyone.