By Contributor Rev. Alan Eschenbacher
In an effort to get my head around all the things happening in the world, the United States, Washington State, and right here in good ol’ Spokane I have re-examined our primary purpose as a gospel bearing community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I looked at what we have in our church mission statement.
All Saints Lutheran makes community and relationship building its primary purpose.
At All Saints:
- People can explore their idea of Christian faith in community.
- The Holy Spirit is called upon to enliven and support, especially in relationships where there is weakness, mental illness or with any person living on the margins.
- We share in joys and pains of our All Saints family and the community at large.
- We reach out to the “mainstream” for support and partnership.
- Building a new, faithful, sustainable community for all is our mission.
I have been working with and making friends with the homeless and mentally challenged community here in Spokane for last eight years. I have found a very different group of people than I expected.
There is a substantial link between the people who live on the margins of society and the financial results of the way our economy operates. Our economy is a game, and how you are equipped to play the game means everything. My work in the financial field as a salesman gave me much insight and knowledge of how people think and act in society, especially in relation to commerce and capitalism.
As a result of all those years working with people and their money and my experience working with those on the margins, I have an unusual view of the economic situation in which we find ourselves as a country. The economic situation as it stands now is, simply put, the result of greed. We don’t need to look any further; greed answers most problems in the economy and many problems involving government programs. Obviously it gets more complicated in the detailed explanations but the root cause is the love and worship of money and materialism.
Why do I tell you all this? Tell me something I don’t know, you say. First, I needed a good rant, but more importantly I am convinced the future of this country is tied to how we deal with this crisis. The Occupy movements around the country and the world have gotten us off to a good start in the last year or so, keep up the good work! The way people think about money must change, the new buzzword needs to become “enough.” But what is enough? When have I reached the point where I can say, “I have enough”, push back from the tough, and then be able to give to another who does not have enough. The age-old arguments — everybody has to “pull their own weight” or “if you don’t work you don’t eat” — have limited merit and lead to a totalitarian idea that we must apply across the board. And, if we are honest, we all know it does not apply to everyone.
There are, have always been, and always will be those in society that cannot “play the game.” These may be the homeless, those with various disabilities, addictions and mental illness, in other words, those on the margins. What, as society, do we do with those who fall behind or through the cracks and wind up in desperate situations and in need of care of some kind? That becomes the crux of the situation and impacts all other things, especially financial considerations. Take taxes for instance: you can’t tax me, because that will discourage me from using the gifts I have, and then I won’t create business and jobs and everyone suffers. We are back to greed, if we could rely on people to be generous with their gifts and talents, as indeed some are, but alas, we cannot.
When times are difficult economically giving goes down, that’s a fact. When times are good giving only sometimes goes up. It often takes years for charitable giving to return to previous levels after an upswing in the economy. My tirade goes on.
I think I know the solution, but so do many others. The only thing that will cure our national greed is the understanding of what “enough” is, followed by community building and relationship forming amongst the classes.
Currently at All Saints Lutheran
Our feeding program is in its seventh year, a meal on Tuesday evenings and a food bank that is open Monday-Thursday.
We are a member organization in Spokane Urban Ministries (SUM), a low-income housing consortium. SUM owns a 47 unit low-income housing development called Walnut Corners. This housing development is in two buildings on the corners of Walnut and Mallon and Walnut and Broadway in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood. The Broadway building has 18 units devoted to chronically mentally ill homeless folk; there is a live-in manager and office space for counseling. It also houses The Book Parlor, a full service bookstore and gift shop, as well as Indaba Coffee, a now 2-year-old business that has espresso and sandwiches and pastries. These two businesses have become a vital gathering point in West Central; a place where diverse people meet and share coffee and food, books and ideas.
All Saints Browne’s Addition location has a community garden for last five years. This provides some local residents a space to grow their own vegetables and it also provides donations of fresh produce that are used in our meal program. The garden is a safe space for varied folks to gather, grow, talk and develop community.
A new development is the Spokane Mental Health Chaplaincy. Still in its infancy, the chaplaincy will work with local mental health professionals, churches, hospitals, the police department and other government agencies to provide mental illness training to the public. The end result will hopefully be a “companion” for some of the mentally ill here in Spokane. Companions will be volunteers that are trained to assist, befriend and work with people suffering from brain illness. The goal is to provide more stability and to hopefully decrease the use of emergency medical facilities and jails in favor of less costly alternatives. The economy doesn’t cause brain disease, but the difficulties of competing in and playing the game are, for some, cause to drop out and remain on the sidelines. What happens with these brothers and sisters who have dropped out or cannot play the game?
All Saints is a worshipping community of old and new Christians coming together to study and worship in a mostly traditional Lutheran setting. We take comfort in the consistency and love found in the liturgies used and in doing this together as community. The worshiping group is diverse with ages 0 to 102, from all walks of life, the homeless and mentally ill are welcomed and loved by our open family mindset. The future is being created as we go. If we are faithful to the now God will bless our tomorrow. I would love to see the Spokane Mental Health Chaplaincy get off on the right foot and begin to provide much needed help for those with brain disease. I would hope to have the funds to hire a chaplain and to raise awareness for this need, not just for the indigent that are mentally ill but also for those elderly and children who have brain disease and need help. The time is now for training many more people to recognize and to be able to help others in this area. We have many opportunities and we now need workers, financial supporters, prayers and love to make it happen!