Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Epidemic of Homelessness

So I was sitting in the directors' meeting last week, and I shared how were are starting The Truth Project this fall for adult ministries. And one or two people in the meeting wondered if we might run out of space for all the attenders. And I said, "I doubt it. Let's see how many come before we create worries that don't even exist.

Well, I was wrong. The people started coming in about 10:18 and didn't stop for the next 35 minutes. By the time all the chairs were in, and the people were seated, there were 45 people and 4 oxygen molecules in the room. A few were standing in the doorway or sitting out in the hall. Moments later, we began The Truth Project. It's a DVD series from Focus on the Family that explores how Christianity deals with every aspect of life and society. We are taking each DVD in two halves... we watch for about 25 minutes, then talk about what we've seen in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ. Even in the squeeze today, it worked pretty well. The people discussed actively and made some good connections. We also dug into some spiritual truths about what the unsaved person is like and how transformative God is to bring us to his family and himself.

After lunch, we went to Walmart with all the kids. There were two homeless guys begging at the turn into the parking lot. Evan surveyed the situation and then said, "We should do something for that guy."

We shopped. We loaded our stuff. Then Evan said, "Aren't we going to do something for that guy?" (one of them had left). So I said, "What do you want to do?"
And he said, "Could we give him some money or something?"
And I said, "Your money or my money? Are you willing to give him your own money?"

Well, he thought for a minute and then said, "Yeah. You give me the money and I'll work it off." So Tara handed him four quarters that we had in the change holder up front, and Evan walked over to the man and gave him the money. When he returned to the van, Tara looked at me and said, "Good job, Honey. You taught him compassion."

I said, "No, I did not. I taught him the difference between a Democrat and a Republican." And she started to laugh, gently at first, then harder as the reality sank in. Of course Evan wanted to know what was going on, so I repeated myself.

"Evan," I said, "I've just taught you the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. A Democrat helps the poor by taking other people's money and giving it to them. A Republican helps the poor by giving them his own money."

Of course, that's a massive oversimplification, but the core of it is true. It takes very little charity to give away someone else's money. It takes real character and faith to give away your own.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Notes from Our Trip to West Branch

I left school on Friday with all my work done. This is a rare experience, due to extraordinary self-discipline during the day and a crack schedule that includes three (count 'em, 1-2-3) preps in a row on Friday mornings.

I casually mentioned to Tara that maybe we would like to go somewhere for Labor Day weekend. She airily replied, "You organize it and get the kids packed, and I'll be happy to go." So I got out an old Iowa map and started looking for destinations. I'm not sure why I chose Iowa. I think I wasn't sure what part of Minnesota I wanted to see, and anything north of the Cities, even though it exists, doesn't really exist because during my childhood there was never any reason to go there.

So when she got home from Nick and Jessica's about 3:00 on Sunday, I said, "Let's go." And she had had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this, so she didn't even say, "Where?" She just said, "O.K. What's left to pack?"

The destination I had chosen was the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa. They had special programs planned for Labor Day, and it seemed a good site for a family with lots of children.

We pulled out around 4:00 and hit 63 south. I think we traveled through until Waterloo, Iowa, where we began looking for a park to stop and eat our dinner (I had packed sandwich fixins in our cooler). The main problem with Waterloo is that everyone is, uh, not the same color we are. From my end, that's not a problem, except that I don't know if it's a problem from their end. I don't really want to be shot for entering a neighborhood where my kind ain't welcome. So we finally settled on something like Lincoln Park, a sort of town square with decorative trees, picnic tables, and a carillon from the Presbyterian Church Across the Street playing the Doxology during dinner. Needing to urinate, we headed across the street to a scuzzy-looking convenience store run by a middle-eastern man and his family. Everyone peed, and in my gratitude, when Aidan wanted a bag of marshmallow peanuts, I happily obliged him.

We were pretty stunned when we hit the cash register to pay, and it was manned by a seven-year-old boy. It got even better when we saw his skills: lightning fast with the cash, the register, the change, and the "May I help who's next?" Aidan was buying the peanuts, so it was even funnier... this little middle eastern boy selling to my almost-six-year-old.

So we got out of Waterloo without meeting our Waterloo. I was struck by several things: 1) how white it isn't, as I already said 2) how different churches down there look from churches in Rochester -- in general, bigger, older, more garish, and more run-down. 3) how people just saunter across the street nowhere near and crosswalk and in very non-Minnesotan ways.

Continuing south, we arrived in Cedar Rapids. I had not booked a hotel because I figured that would give me more flexibility for how far and for what price. (I had done the internet work and knew that 25 hotels in greater Cedar Rapids had availability for that night.) So after lifting a quick prayer for guidance, I exited somewhere on the south half of town. The Lord answered very kindly, because there were no less than 9 motels at the exit I picked. We hit several and finally settled on the Heartland Inn, where the family could swim and where Talli the desk chick promised full breakfast including hot biscuits and gravy and real waffles in the morning. We settled in and let the kids swim until it was pretty late. As a family we don't spend a lot of time in the water, so these are good experiences for them.

Back in our room, we got people down for the night. This is some trick because all four kids aren't used to sleeping in the same room. While they go to sleep, we usually sit in the hallway and read. When we thought it was safe, we re-entered. Only Evan was still awake, and he conked out pretty quickly after we came back in.

In the morning we partook of the said full breakfast and met six siblings in their 50s or so who had been home for a reunion and were now heading back to their homes east of Iowa. One brother told me there were actually 10 of them, but only six were traveling together. Well, this was a delight, and we chatted with them a bit and got them all laughing before we said our good-byes.

There was a little more driving, but we finally arrived at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. It is a very pleasant destination, including Hoover's birthplace (a tiny cottage), a re-creation of his father's blacksmith shop, the Quaker meeting house where his family worshipped, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover's graves, and the actual museum/library. Hoover was an efficient man with a big heart for people and humanitarian causes. We learned many facts about him, his wife, and his family and came away with a much different impression than "the guy who presided over the beginning of the depression".

Evan had many wondrous experiences, including playing in the nearby creek where Hoover had played as a boy, being interview by a newspaper reporter, and meeting the wife of a diplomat who had served under Johnson through Bush 41. We toured everything we could and even bought souvenirs for the family.

On the way home, I determined to take a different route through different towns to see more of the countryside, so we traveled 150 north to Highway 52. Eventually that brought us within two miles of the "Smallest Church in America", which we decided to see, even though it was already evening. The Smallest Church in America, St. Anthony of Padua's, really is tiny. Some woman made a vow that if her son came back alive from whatever war, she would build a church. He got back alive, and she figured she better keep her word. To minimize costs (I assume) she only built a tiny church. If it seats 20, that would be amazing. Still, it has elaborate stonework, beautfiul stained-glass windows, and a tall steeple. There is also a guest register where people can record their visit. I counted 9/07/09. Eleven other parties had stopped and signed today!

The rest of the trip, I would like to say, was un-eventful, but that would be a lie. We arrived in a 30 zone on the south end of Chatfield, and the flashing lights started. But I'm tired now. We got off with a warning (mercy completely undeserved) and made it the rest of the way home.

Presidential libraries are very educational. So is traveling with your wife and four children.