Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jesus Action Figures

A recent editorial in the West Palm Beach Post by Jac Versteeg alerted me to the existence of Jesus action figures.

My reaction came instantly: visceral and gut wrenching, made me want to picket Wal Mart with a sign reading, "Don't toy with Jesus!"

Nevertheless with a log in my own eye and a judgmental streak a mile or more wide,
it behooved me to step back a bit and consider things in the light of the Lutheran church I grew up in, now gone with a shopping mall on the site, closed in part because members got older and their children left Satellite Beach, Fl because the beach side town has little professional work to offer.

Sure, you can open your own medical practice, but carpenters and mechanics can't afford to live in beach towns.

My church of over 20 years, Trinity Lutheran Downtown in Orlando , FL has a pre-school and a school with grades 1-6 and, perhaps because my father worked and retired as an educator in the pubic school system, has irked me at times trumpeting value of a private education.

Nevertheless if having a parochial school gets kids connected to the Gospel as preached there, if their kids and grandkids keep coming back—like the family of the founding pastor, 4 or 5 generations now, I've lost count—then the school serves a vital purpose: providing lifeblood for the future of the congregation.

So whatever any parent chooses to do to bring up children in the Way ought not bother me, even Jesus action figures.

Yet last year days before Christmas in front of a Orlando Public Library branch in a strip mall on Colonial Drive, a man reached into a garbage can to get a McDonald's wrapper out and ate what remained. The strip mall has Bennigan's and Friday's. To the west lies restaurant row with Barney's Steak House, Chan's Chinese with dim sum on Sat. and Sun and where ethnic Chinese people go to eat, and little further you'll find Little Viet Nam, all to say Orlando abounds with abundance.

Yet this man, not shabbily dressed nor dirty, had to eat garbage because of hunger.

Misconceptions abound about the homeless: all alcoholics, addicts, derelicts, or lazy. Even the term "the homeless" robs human life of dignity, so much so that beating homeless people to death becomes sport around the country, not just Orlando. Presumably these young men, maybe raised in churches, imbued with an all to common view and began to see homeless people as dregs or even subhuman.

Yet every homeless person has a story, a mother and father, a whole life that you cannot divine just seeing present circumstance. Many circumstances cause homelessness, such as the political economy which limits affordable housing and actively works to demolish such sites in the name of development: the Lammar hotel in Orlando (which you can see in the movie Ulee's Gold) and the Orange Court Motor Lodge downtown for example. The working poor, even intact families with 2 wage earners cannot afford 1st and last month rent and security.

"1 in 4 homeless people in the United States are veterans (while veterans make up only 11 percent of the general adult population)."

With the current collapsing of the housing bubble and interest rates resetting on adjustable rate mortgages, the CEO of Freddie Mac, one of 2 government sponsored mortgage finance companies, envisions [ "pictures of people standing with furniture on the lawn " after being forcibly evicted from their homes, Syron said. "As that begins to happen, and it will happen, I am afraid of the impact that this has."](link broken) So soon "the homeless could include humans you know: neighbors, family, friends, maybe even people who've sat next to you in your church.

My great aunt, Helen, the youngest of 8 children all born in Pilot Mountain, NC—yes, a real place you can find on Google Earth and printed maps—told a story of the Great Depression when 2 men came to the door and asked for chores to do in exchange for food. My great great grandmother, Lillie B, went to get a chicken from the ward to slaughter for dinner—in those days that meant lunch and supper meant the evening meal—and told Helen to fetch the good china.

In those days for people of modest means, the good china served as objects of veneration rather than for use eating. Aunt Helen, who may never have touched the good china before then and aghast at using it to serve strangers, exclaimed, "but Momma, you want to use the good china!?"

"Chile, I have 2 boys out on the road now and want them treated as I treat these boys."

So by all means, buy a Jesus action figure to teach your children if you must.

Nevertheless since few would welcome strangers into their house in the 21st century, consider instead donating $20 to your local homeless shelter, maybe give Subway coupons and God's blessings to a homeless person, or even buy food for your local food pantries as they have shortages all over the US.

Please consider what the Lord actually said rather than words of the action figure: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…" (Matthew 25: 35, 36)

Permission granted to disseminate freely as long as author's email, empireofdirt77@gmail.com, and place of publication included.