Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When you can take money from rich people...

Dr. Don Coffey
It has been 36 years since the Jubilee House Community was formed and began working with the poor first in the U.S. and then later in Nicaragua.  When we started in both places we didn't know squat and we have learned by trial and error and listening.  Some our most important lessons came from a seminary professor many years ago…Dr. Don Coffey.

When I was in seminary lo those many years ago, Don called me in for an appointment to talk about  my part in forming a community to work with the poor.  Don said, “I am going to give you two pieces of advice.”  I was stunned, because in our counseling courses Don always steered us away from the temptation of giving advice but instead he insisted we should listen; therefore, I listened all the more attentively.

Later Don served on our Board of Directors when we created and operated shelters and to the two pieces of advice he added a third.  We all listened then and here are the three bits of advice:

Photo by Eric Matheson Gruen
The first piece of advice is You can always kiss one foot but never kiss two.” 

This sounds a bit silly but surprisingly it has been a valuable measuring tool for us over the last 36 years when we try to find funding for projects that benefit the poor and when to give in to outside demands and when not to.  “If we do this, are we kissing one or two feet?” we have asked each other over and over again, and if the answer is “two” then we don’t do it.  This simple statement has steered us from many potential disasters and has helped us retain the need for dignity and integrity of the poor.

The next piece of advice came in the 80s.  During a Board meeting we were discussing whether to take money from Martin Marietta, a weapons production corporation, for our shelter work and taking that money felt an awful lot like kissing two feet to us, but Don’s reply was, When you can take money from rich people and give it to poor people, do it!"

Asking for money for this work is difficult for me.  I really have to take a deep breath and plunge into it like diving into cold water.  In one such recent situation, I was reminded of Don’s advice when I apologized to a wealthy friend for asking for funding.  The friend quoted back to me what he had heard Mike say, “When you can take money from rich people and give it to poor people, do it!” 

Don gave us good advice on what to do and where to draw the line…the last piece of advice is on how to stay sane.  In his office in 1979, Don said to me,Remember God’s time is not your time.  God says “I am going to break that boulder and then He sends a drip, drip, drip, drip…in time that boulder will break, but not in your time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., said  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  We as a community believe that the boulder of injustice and poverty will break…not in our lifetime…but it will break.  As long as we keep participating in bringing justice and ending poverty, we are moving towards justice, though it seldom feels that way.  We find that hope in the drip, drip, drip of kindness, love, and justice.

Thank you, Don.