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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Poverty?

There are lots of stories of giving these days.  A lot of people really "step up to the plate" and share abundance during Christmas.  Perhaps we take notice of what people don't have at this time more than other times of the year.  But I wonder if we miss the mark sometimes and see this from a slightly distorted lens?

I read an article this morning about a family that was living in true poverty in my part of the world where this really shouldn't have to happen.  A documentary had been done on this family that consists of a single mother and four children. The family has deep roots in poverty and is trying to break out of the cycle and make changes. The article mentioned that the family is very focused on love and respect and together they are changing old patterns. The rest of the story is about the fact that the documentary gained the attention of a businessman who donated a lot of money to the family so they could have a much more opulent Christmas. This sparked the attention of others and the family has been showered with gifts of ipods and "teen electronics", a huge gift card from a local department store, educational support, and other "things". The mother is reported as saying that she had warned the kids that Christmas was going to be "lean" but now it turns out  they are going to have a lavish Christmas.

It's wonderful that people want to help. Most people that gave to this family wanted to remain anonymous so they weren't looking for public recognition. They truly wanted to help and I think and that's a wonderful thing. I don't mean to "slam" giving in any way. But I just want to examine it a bit...

This story has shades of Dickens "A Christmas Carol" and I think we consider that a bit to be the spirit of Christmas. That those more fortunate might help out others in need.  But it might be worth looking at the characters in that story a bit.

Tiny Tim and the Cratchit's seemed very happy despite some pretty poor living conditions. Scrooge, on the other hand was miserable and tortured, despite opulent living conditions.  In the story, Scrooge realizes the error of his ways and tries to make amends.  He doesn't bring the Cratchit's ipods, toys or "things".  He doesn't bring the Cratchit's to his home for a Christmas feast or to live with him. He really doesn't bring his world to them. I don't think he sees that as a gift.

Scrooge goes to the Cratchit's. He doesn't go there to rescue them.  He goes there to be rescued. He seems to understand that in their home and environment they actually have something he could benefit from. I think he realizes the love they have despite the "lean" conditions.  He does bring food and that is welcomed.  We are led to believe that he helps out with necessary medical expenses for Tiny Tim and that's a miracle for the whole family.  They understand the value that Tiny Tim brings to them all because Tiny Tim lives in the "now", happy to be alive and thankful for his family it would seem.  Tiny Tim's optimism is contagious and that seems to be what Scrooge is looking for too. We also leave the story thinking that Scrooge will continue to provide a job for Mr. Cratchit and income for his family, not through charity but because Scrooge understands the skills Mr. Cratchit possesses.  We think he may turn up the heat in the office a bit and perhaps provide more perks and time off. That seems welcome as well.

I don't get the sense in the story that Scrooge pats himself on the back for helping.  I think he realizes the errors of his ways in the first place in his unfair working standards perhaps.  But I think even more than that, he realizes a "lean Christmas" in terms of presents and "things" might be a very "lavish Christmas" in terms of love, peace and understanding.And that's what he's looking for- the spirit. Hmm...

In my opinion, we should be taking a look at what we consider poverty. I believe we should share food and the basic necessities for sure. But I also believe we should consider for a moment before we try and create for others what we have ourselves. Because I don't think that's the point.

I personally think jobs that match people's skills and abilities and provide self-sufficiency and pride are not so much gifts as a good match and what we should be doing anyway.  If we see a window to help facilitate that process  at Christmas, or any time, that makes sense. I think food for people that are hungry is always welcome and always right if it's given in an appropriate way and if it's what they want to eat. A frozen turkey when you can't afford the power bill to turn the oven on, probably doesn't cut it. 

On the toys and gifts, I think we should look at that.  I think a mother that can explain to her children why they are having a "lean Christmas" and how they may be replacing "things" with love, respect, budget abilities, good memories and a sense of self should be honored for her abilities and strength. I think she has much to give to the givers. I think her children do as well.  Aren't most of us trying to get away from expensive things and toys we don't need? Aren't we all looking for that "spirit of Christmas" that sometimes seems to elude us no matter how much we buy and spend and give? Hasn't she achieved that in a way perhaps we could emulate?  Hm...

See the Cratchits felt pity for Scrooge.  They welcomed him into their home and shared their spirit with him. The Cratchits rescued Scrooge much more than the other way around. I think that's the spirit of Christmas and it has nothing to do with "things" and everything to do with "being".  Maybe when you are surrounded by less "things" you can "be" with enough spirit to pass it on.

... bless us, everyone.

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