living in exile…a voice in the desert!

It was the title that caught my eye…”What do low-income communities need?” Intriguing. Definitive. Hopeful? Maybe…I clicked the link and read the article in hopes of finding the answer.

After reading it, I’m not sure I necessarily “liked” what I read. But, I still felt compelled to post the link on both Facebook and Twitter. Megan McArdle’s perspective was frankly pretty dark and cynical in some respects. As I read it I found myself torn. There are ideas here that rub my liberal sensibilities the wrong way and others initiate a loud AMEN from those same sensibilities. I also found my more conservative impulses reacting almost exactly opposite my liberal side in precisely those same places.

Ultimately, the writer didn’t answer the question posed in the title. And that was sort of a let down after all of the opposing visceral reactions I experienced while reading the piece. Don’t get me wrong. McArdle’s point is well taken, specifically as she stated it in her last paragraph:

“Public policy can modestly improve the incentives and choice sets that poor people face–and it should do those things. But it cannot remake people into something more to the liking of bourgeois taxpayers.”

And there’s the rub. Just like so many other things in our culture, we want to apply some kind of pharmaceutical remedy to all our problems and make them disappear. We don’t necessarily care how the drug works, just so it takes the pain away. It is in that spirit that we attempt to apply social policies to issues at the whims of elected officials whose main goal is not to solve the issue at hand but to be re-elected. Lets just say the “results” of these politically motivated prescriptions pretty much read like the foul side affects that are hurriedly read following the utopian myth offered by the drug ads we are constantly barraged with on TV (would anyone like to recall the first time you heard “please call your Doctor immediately if you experience an erection lasting for more than 4 hours” with your kids in the room? For a funny digression, check this out.)  All of the efforts from “both sides of the aisle” to solve these problems seem to be more effective at inducing cynicism and resignation that any sort of hope for real solutions.

However the false promise of the article led me to another thought. I was reminded of a passage of scripture we read in our Corner Bible Study at King’s Cross Church a couple of Sundays ago:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
—Isaiah 61:1

It was a prophetic word to a people who had lost everything: their homeland, their culture, their religion. They were returning from exile in a foreign land to rebuild their lives from the ruins of Babylonian conquest. And it was very good news.

I think we often forget that we (all of us) live in exile as well. As I listen to the noise of partisan politics and recognize it’s absolute inability to deliver the good news proclaimed by the ancient prophet, I begin to long for the realm promised by God.  As I become inundated with the call to consumption and materialism to which this season has devolved and recognize the fleeting nature of the “highs” provided by the giving and receiving of stuff, I long for a voice calling out in this wilderness. (With all due respect to my friends who work for Nissan, this particular ad was the last straw for me.  Seriously?…”most wonderful sale of the year“…seriously?)

This Advent season has been a reminder for me to rediscover the true source of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for allthe people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  — Luke 2:10-11

This is what poor communities really need.  Frankly, it’s what all of us need. Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love…generously applied in our day to day lives.  Generously applied to the problems of our day.  The empty words of politicians and the fleeting pleasure of the accumulation of stuff pale in comparison.  It is my prayer for my family and for all of you this season that we all absolutely enjoy our Christmas celebration.  All of it…the giving and receiving of gifts, time with family, the lights, the food, the TV shoes, even the shopping (but that was a bit hard to write).   But I also pray that in all of this busyness and activity that you will “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Peace!

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