I woke up the other morning feeling as though I was living in an alternative universe. The gray sky and sodden landscape did little to brighten my mood. The primary source of my malcontent was Paul Ryan’s recent press briefing. Ryan, rejoicing over the passage of the tax reform bill, exhorted American women to have “more children.” Citing the declining birthrate, Ryan contends we will need more American workers if we are to grow our economy. He then smugly added, “I’ve done my part.” When I heard this I felt like I might be living in a Margaret Atwood novel.
Unfortunately, I let Ryan’s words put me in a foul temper, because he seems so unaware of the factors that affect a family’s decision to have children. He fails to see how stagnant wage growth, and the rising cost of housing and healthcare make the decision to have a child incredibly difficult. There are other chilling factors as well. A recent study states ”Black babies in the United States die at just over two times the rate of white babies in the first year of their life," according to Arthur James, an OB-GYN at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus.” Shockingly, this statistic holds true despite the mother’s income or educational level.
Yet, Congressman Ryan appears to be tone deaf to these inequities. I find his comments particularly ironic in light of Congress’s current inability to fund CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and their supposed plans to further cut Medicaid and dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a viable plan to put in its place.
As I mulled this over in my more-than-grumpy mood, I couldn’t help but think of the empty manger displayed in our dining room. The figure of the baby Jesus is hidden behind the stable, because according to our family tradition Santa will place the baby in the manger on Christmas Eve. I am not sure when we started the tradition. I think it was our way of tying old Santa into the true meaning of the season for our children. Even though my children now have children of their own, I still tuck Jesus away until Christmas morning. I wonder now if that is why all the news of late has made me feel less than joyful. I feel the loss of Jesus’s presence in our world. His message of care and love for those less fortunate seems hidden behind the din of partisan squabbling, the hue and cry for corporate tax cuts, and the unsubstantiated promises of trickle down prosperity in a country where the wealthiest one percent now control almost 40% of the nation’s wealth.
However, as I look out the window at our cherry tree, I remember the raindrops that glistened on the branches just the other morning. As each droplet let go, I found ease in their graceful descent. Like the raindrops perhaps I, too, need to let go of these worries and look closer to home for hope. While hope may not be found in my news feed perhaps there is still hope to be found in the empty manger downstairs?
A few weeks ago I shared a meal with Thomas, a homeless veteran, at our church. During our meal, I learned that Thomas carries many sorrows from his days in Vietnam. He wishes now he had deserted so deep and wounding are his memories. I will never forget his face as he wondered how God could ever forgive him.
Yet, Thomas with all his struggles still carries hope. Now in his seventies, he doggedly pursues a GED and has hope for a home in the next few weeks. He even hopes for a Giant’s comeback with Eli Manning at the helm. If Thomas with so few creature comforts can find hope this Christmas season maybe I will, too?
I know my hope will not be found in a political party, the White House, or the halls of Congress. Nor should my despair. I realize now that my hope still resides in a long ago stable where a love beyond imagining came in the form of a poor, helpless child. A child who would grow to teach us an upside-down, nonsensical theology. A theology that tells me the poor are rich; less is more; and loving my neighbor is all that is required. It is this hope and love found in the manger that is the true gift of Christmas. Yet, we are tasked with sharing that same love with others. If we do not, we risk losing all hope for ourselves and others.
Happy Holidays! ~c.hause