Faith Reflection for an Education Strategy Meeting

Faith Reflection for an Education Strategy Meeting

(Michael was asked to offer the opening faith reflection for P.O.W.E.R.’s strategy meeting for its organizing around education.)

Have many of you have seen the New York Times series titled
“The United States of Subsidies?”

The Times reports: across the country, various levels of government, desperate to create or keep jobs, are offering corporations incentives, tax breaks, deals, giveaways really… often without any sense of their final costs or results they promise.

Corporations are taking those breaks.
Taxpayers inevitably foot the bill.

Pennsylvania has offered Shell Oil a tax credit worth $1.6 billion over 25 years. Harrisburg predicts the deal will net thousands of new jobs.
Not one new job was required in exchange for the tax credit.

There’s the crunch:
$80 billion dollars a year is been given to companies —
with no certainty that the money is any real investment in the creation or retention of jobs.

In the worst cases, corporations accept lucrative deals, and then walk away,
shutting down plants or moving operations to some other place (where they got another deal?).

“Wait,” you might be saying,
“This is supposed to be the faith reflection for our education strategy meeting!” Bear with me, friends, I’m getting there!

Donald J. Hall Jr. of Hallmark, thinks business subsidies are hurting his hometown, Kansas City, Mo., by diverting money from public education. “It’s really not creating new jobs,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s… politicians who want to claim they have brought new jobs…”

You can’t run a business, no matter how many incentives the government is willing to give, if there is no adequately trained workforce?

Back here in PA, $1.6 billion is a lot of money that won’t be coming in from Shell… or available to improve education in our state.

$ 1.6 billion dollars is a lot of teachers, and text books, and school buildings in good repair…

My point is: making schools that teach is not only direly needed. It is also a reflection of what faith tells us the world is supposed to be like… what our faith calls us to do in service for God’s people, all of them. Because schools that teach are about righting a world that’s all turned around, upside down, if you will,
much of the time.

Our religions teach people are more important than profits (profit, faith offers is at best a means to an end). God calls for schools that educate children so they grow up whole and healthy and prepared to contribute, to work to support families and to form strong communities.

The education issue IS part of the jobs issue. And both are central to our concern as peoples of faith who hope to care for and are called to serve this great city of God’s.

Christians at this time of the year, we’re gearing up to celebrate one of our two highest holy days. You could summarize our belief in the Incarnation by saying,
God cares enough for the world, to roll the Divine sleeves up, wade into all the messy details, and get to work, no matter how hard it’s going to turn out to be.

And so we roll up our sleeves, and wade into very complex and interrelated social and political realities. Tax revenues. Incentives. School reform boards.
Charter schools. Organizations we might ally our work with. Different educational strategies. Competing reform agendas. Tough territory. Right where we should be.

But I find our grounding articulated in more detail the Hebrew prophets. Jesus is born to a poor family, but the prophets, all those years prior, are taling about, excuse me if it makes anyone wince, class warfare.

Isaiah, in the 10th chapter, verses 1 and 2, lays it low:

“Ah! Those who enact unjust statutes,
who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment,
robbing my people’s poor of justice,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey!”

As people of faith, we share a vision of a world where the poor are not robbed of their life’s opportunity, and the powerful don’t profit on poverty.

Instead, a society where everyone has the honor, respect, and support needed to further individuals and communities…

But here’s where gets tricky. We’re moving into this complex, interrelated spheres of education and employment. Very sophisticated and complicated systems. This school issue is tough territory.

But I bet if we take a page from our congregations, where life’s not always so easy or clear either. If we decide our differences don’t need to hold us back,
so much as remind us of our passion. When we remember we all want the same thing — schools that work for our children today and produce prepared, skilled workers for tomorrow — we might just find that we’re prepared to take on the school district.

Beloved, just about like any issue that really matters in our congregations, there’ll be more opinions than people in the room, and some disagreement, even a bit of distrust.

But, here’s the promise, God’s promise… why God’s brought us together in the first place: seeing the issues from different perspectives, out of our varied experiences, bringing everyone to the table, imagining a number of different strategies… we are more together than we could ever be on our own.
And we need to be THAT good for the challenges before us.

Remember how God’s spirit in Genesis was hovering over the chaos before God added form and content to creation, likewise, the tensions of our disagreements hold this promise: when we remain in faith, our differences, our disagreements are where God acts to form something new.

Let’s leverage our experience of mosque and synagogue and church to serve us in this extramural, complex sphere of our schools. We’re people passionate enough to be different, but stick together for and about something bigger than us. Isn’t that what God’ expecting us to do?

Be honest.
And not think ourselves above being changed
by the give and take of work together.
And believe God can make something Powerful out of our efforts.