Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sing Along with Me

By: Janet Mendenhall

She wheeled herself up to her designated table in what for this hour would be a makeshift church sanctuary, though the occasional clatter of dishes and faint smells of Sunday lunch gave away its intended use.  I was looking for an unclaimed chair and greeting my fellow congregants as I wound my way through the labyrinth of wheelchairs and walkers.

I have been visiting and worshipping at the nursing center in my neighborhood for several years now, and have come to know many of the residents’ names and even some of their stories. I have my favorites:

• My 90-year-old friend who after several recent falls is madder than a hornet that she has been slowed down by a wheelchair.

• My 87-year-old former nursing school instructor who misses no opportunity to hug, reminding anyone who will listen of the study done by North Carolina nurses that claims a dose of 12 daily hugs is necessary for us to thrive.

• The former Colorado history professor and my current movie buddy who is somewhat limited by serious injuries suffered on Colorado black ice.

All of them encourage and inspire me on a regular basis.

However, I didn’t recognize the woman who stopped me and quietly said, “I am so glad you’re here today. I can’t see very well any longer, and even with my glasses, I can’t read the words in the hymnal, but when I hear your voice, I can remember the words and sing along.” I smiled. I am known for my strong alto voice in that service, but this was the first time I had thought about it serving this particular purpose. I introduced myself and settled into the chair nearest her. I don’t know how I had missed meeting her before, but I was thankful for today’s introduction.

After the service, I wheeled the former nursing instructor back to her room, sang my twice-weekly offering of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” her favorite hymn of which she apparently never tires, and headed out the door with easily the prescribed quota of hugs.

My new friend was parked just outside the door and struck up a conversation with me. She described her sadness at losing her mate, her failing health, her relocation to the nursing center. She told me how she had prayed that she would die, how she felt like 87 years was a good, long life and how tired she was. But she hadn’t died, she said.

And now she was feeling like she needed to make good use of the time she had left. It would not be in her nature, and would require mustering up her courage, but she was pondering running for the presidency of the residents’ organization at the nursing center. There were folks there without advocates, and she thought she could lend her voice to make things better for them. She envisioned herself rolling down the hallways, poking her head into each room and visiting with everyone to see what it was that could be done to make their home even better. Were people getting adequate care? Was everyone comfortable with the surroundings? Was everyone’s voice being heard? She was going to pray about it some more, but felt certain there was more for her to do than to just rest and long for her life’s end.

I thought about our conversation as I walked home. I am not 87 years old, but sometimes I feel tired; too tired to keep trying to make this world a better place. And often, I feel like giving up. But if my friend can overcome her fear and fatigue and run for president, I think I can press on as well.

There was a song in my heart as I turned the corner toward home, and I said aloud, “I am glad you were there today, my new friend. Sometimes my eyes don’t see things as clearly as they should, but when I hear your strong voice, I can remember the words and sing along.”

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Attack on poverty:  A page from God’s playbook

By: Steve Holt Sr.

The food was late arriving at my place setting.  And when it finally arrived, it was a salad!

But all that is to be expected when you attend a fundraiser for a nonprofit, especially one aimed at helping the poor.  The five hundred or so of us weren’t there to eat.  The occasion was a fundraiser for a local organization that serves the poor in my home town. The campaign is entitled “Beyond Charity, a Vision for the Future.”

The real food at this luncheon were the insights and information shared by eight speakers from a variety of organizations whose missions intersect with some of this city’s poorest citizens.  Each panelist had his own idea of what the major issues are regarding poverty and how the people of our fair city might come together to address those issues.  A few examples:  the police chief called for a detox facility, the mental health advocate stressed the importance of programs for those suffering more serious mental issues, a doctor who sees a large number of poor women in his practice said sex and contraceptive education would make a big difference, a successful entrepreneur pointed out the importance of hiring people with limited skills and checkered pasts, the city councilman talked about synergy and the importance of working together to address the issues of homelessness and poverty, the representative from the local school district noted that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. There was no doubt that the panel participants care.  The fact that the mayor served as moderator gives you an idea of where this city’s administration is regarding the welfare of all our citizens.  I was impressed and challenged.

The problems of poverty are real, they are deep, and they affect us all as reflected in crime statistics, increase of single parent families, withering neighborhoods, run-away drug abuse, rising costs of goods because of theft, and more.  The most unfortunate result of poverty might be what it does to the human spirit. Poverty destroys hope, happiness, and will.

But the idea that holds the greatest possibility for permanent reversal of poverty—people of means actually moving to impoverished neighborhoods to live among and love the folks who live there—was barely mentioned.  People touching people instead of people throwing money at the issues from safe, well-to-do neighborhoods makes a difference in both long-time and relocated neighbors.

Where this has been practiced, real and lasting changes have begun.  And the changes work both ways—both rich and poor sharing from their respective wealth of experiences, knowledge and gifts, and in the process, simply loving each other, bring blessings beyond measure to all.

Why is this simple concept so often missing in the discussions about what to do about poverty?

The luncheon’s opening invocation, Bible references from several panelists and occasional hearty “amens” from the assembled made the luncheon a decidedly faith-centered event.  Several churches hosted tables for their faithful and friends.  Perhaps, then, you will excuse this paraphrase (with liberties) of Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being able to afford any neighborhood he wished, did not consider himself worthy to live any place he wished.  Instead, he gave himself up and chose to dwell among people who were so unlike himself. And moving to that needy neighborhood, he took on the identity of the poor, isolated, forgotten, abused, maligned people who lived there, thus submitting to his Father’s wishes.  As a result, his Father rewarded him handsomely with new friends, new perspectives, and contentment beyond measure.

 

The point is that God dealt with the dire human condition (far more serious than poverty), not by isolating himself behind the vast expanses of space, but by leaving the safety and comforts of heaven and choosing to dwell among a vastly different neighborhood…a neighborhood so hostile that it eventually cost Jesus his very life.

Perhaps it’s time for we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus to take a page from God’s playbook by moving into neighborhoods that need us, to live with people we desperately need.

And perhaps that’s what neo-restoration is really all about.

(Disclaimer:  I confess that I currently live in a comfortable, safe neighborhood—if, indeed, anyplace is safe—surrounded by giving neighbors who keep their yards up.  But, I’m seriously rethinking all of that. I’ll keep you posted.)

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Steve Holt lives in Texas. His recent book, “Intentional: In Jesus’ name we play,” tells the story of a fictional wealthy professional basketball superstar who moves to one of the poorest neighborhoods in America to connect with the people who live there and the hope and renewal he brought.  Contact him at sholtsr@gmail.com.