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As part of Hunger Month, Mike brought this message to the meeting on October 30, 2011

Scripture Reading:
Ephesians 6:10-12

Class Warfare

I guess we're heading toward class warfare. I suppose I should pick a side, but I'm not sure which way to go.

On one side of this conflict, we have the rich. To their credit, rich people are beautiful. This is because rich people can afford to eat right. They can afford personal trainers and tailored clothing and plastic surgery. In our country, we spend about $10 Billion each year on plastic surgery. That money is not coming from unemployed factory workers. Rich people can afford to get their teeth whitened. Go to where the rich people gather, and you'll see my point. Rich people look good.

Well, that's something. But wars are not decided by which side looks best in uniform.

More to the point, rich people expect to win. Rich people don't apologize for their success. They expect to win. And look at all they've accomplished. Over the last 30 years, the wealthiest 1% of Americans have increased their household income by a staggering 275%. And those same people are paying less in taxes. Without apology, they're earning more and giving less back. Rich people know how to win.

Besides, war is expensive. If there's a class war, all the poor people will have to arrive on the front lines with slingshots and crowbars. Only rich people can afford to spend $150 billion on a fighter plane.

Also, rich people own the television networks and newspapers. Rich people have lawyers and accountants. On every front, Rich people have better weapons.

If there's a class war, there are some good reasons to side with the rich.

Of course, maybe the rich don't want me. In fact, that seems pretty likely. Rich people aren't known for their inclusive attitude. They live in gated communities. They join exclusive clubs. They are a world unto themselves.

You know, maybe I don't want them either. Rich people don't have the best reputation. Rich people are selfish. Rich people are like Marie Antoinette and Ebenezer Scrooge. "Let them eat cake," they say. "Let them die, and decrease the surplus population." Rich people look down their noses at the rest of us. They look down their surgically enhanced noses on the rest of us.

So I guess I should be on the side of the poor.

To their credit, poor people are... um, abundant. About a month ago, the Census Bureau made a report on the number of American living below the poverty line. Over 46 million Americans are living in poverty, today. That is the highest number the bureau has ever published.

Even those who live above the poverty line can feel impoverished. In August, the Oregon Center for Public Policy published a report called, "The Fraying of Oregon's Middle Class." They say, "Median income for Oregon workers is the same as it was a decade ago." We're not making any more money than we were ten years ago, but we are spending more on healthcare, on our own retirement, on childcare, on housing, on gasoline.

When it come to a class war, the poor are sure to have big numbers on their side.

The poor will also have youth on their side. In Oregon, nearly 22% of children live at or below the poverty line. So maybe siding with the poor is good strategy. Ours will be a large and youthful army.

I wonder if the poor will investigate my credentials? A couple of weeks ago, I bought a pumpkin-spice latte at Starbucks. I might be disqualified for something like that. Also, I've been to Europe. And I drive a Prius. Wow. Maybe the poor won't have me.

You know what? That's fine. Forget about the poor. Poor people have a bad reputation. I've heard that poor people are lazy. Poor people make bad choices. Instead of taking responsibility for themselves, poor people expect a handout from the rest of us.

There you have it.

People are talking about class warfare. If you've seen the pictures from Oakland and Denver, you might think the battle has already started. Here in Portland, we've been told that the occupy movement has already cost taxpayers $200,000. The police have been working overtime. The park has been damaged. As the cost of this protest climbs higher and higher, city officials will feel pressure to act.

There is real tension about the use of our public spaces. But class warfare isn't happening in the parks. It's happening right here. This is a war of perceptions.

Will you decide that rich people are selfish and cruel?

Will you decide that poor people are lazy and irresponsible?

Reducing some segment of humanity down to a couple of adjectives is the first step toward war.

We don't go to war against people like us. We go to war against them. Once we've established in our minds that the rich or the poor are removed from us -- in a completely different category of being -- then we have sewn the seeds of war.

The most important battle is within us. We must fight the urge to demonize others. The real enemy is hatred, hatred that legitimizes itself by robbing others of their humanity. If there is a class war, then let us be peacemakers. We believe there is that of God in everyone.

* * *

In 1932, our country was mired in the Great Depression. The unemployed veterans of WWI marched to Washington DC with their wives and children. They setup a camp outside the city. 43,000 people stared into the face of an unresponsive government.

In those days, the protesters were called "communists" instead of "hippies." What matters is not the label. What matters is that people were reduced to a concept. President Hoover sent police to the camp. Then he sent the army. Soldiers on foot and horseback charged into the camp, supported by six tanks. Tanks! Flames from the burning camp lit the sky over our nation's capitol.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President in the fall. The following summer, a disgruntled group of veterans once again established a camp outside of Washington DC. The new President took a different approach. Instead of sending tanks, he sent his wife. There was still a political disagreement, but each side was able to see the humanity of the other. No one was killed. No one was thrown into prison.

* * *

Our struggle is not against our fellow human beings. Our struggle is against perceptions and patterns of darkness.

This year, Hunger Month has taken an important step forward. In the past, we tried to gather 1000 pounds of food. Although we had good intentions, we were gathering food to solve a problem. We were gathering food for them.

This year, we are gathering the food we like. We are gathering food with the expectation that hungry people are like us.

If a class war is brewing, let's not send food or bombs. Let's not send bandaids or tanks. Let's send ourselves. Let's show up and love everyone with the love of Christ. Let's see that of God in everyone.

People are talking. We're talking about rich and poor. We're talking about the occupy movement and the police. Friends, listen for how people are reduced to labels. Let your voice be the voice of love.