This past Wednesday evening, I dressed in what passes for my business suit and went downtown to Trinity Episcopal Church to participate in an interfaith summit on child poverty in my county, which is Buncombe. Yes, I know–and that is, in fact, where the word “bunkum” comes from.
It was sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of western NC and others and several non-profits presented some frightening statistics about the level of poverty in this county that includes the Biltmore Estate and the most aggressive Chamber of Commerce in America.
I sat with some women from Trinity, and a couple of women from Children First which was one of the sponsors. I saw lots of folks with whom I’ve done interfaith work in the past. There were hugs and stories, and a supper was provided.
That untidy moment at the beginning when there is the inevitable prayer was actually not too bad. The priest whose parish hall was in use welcomed us to the place and invited us to join together in a moment of silence. I always use those moments of prayer and silence to look out the window and see if there’s a tree or shrub or a bit of sky to connect with. There was and I did–but I also smiled when a rambling happy toddler suddenly sang out “Mama! Mama! Mama!” Being a priestess of a Goddess, it seemed particularly timely to hear that joyful “call to prayer” for my Matron and Mother, as the priest added a prayer from his own tradition.
Then the statistics began rolling over us–each more awful than the last. After the powerpoints and papers, we went to different tables depending on our interest. There were two of us from Mother Grove Goddess Temple, so we split up and I went to affordable housing. As is usual in this sort of thing, we came back together to compare notes and I looked at all the earnest faces around the beautiful room. I imagine I looked as overwhelmed as everyone else–they looked wan and already burdened with all that needed to be done with so few hands and so little money.
The happy little child had settled near her mother, coloring and safe, warm, with a full belly. And then I realized something else.
So often, there is a notion that all religions have a “Golden Rule” (mine doesn’t) and that all are working for peace (not mine–we’re more justice-minded, assuming that peaceful relations is a by-product of all people being treated fairly). But I was struck as I saw this roomful of good people straighten their shoulders and close their notebooks, ready to do what can be done and wishing more could be done. I was struck with what we really do have in common.
We all know that a child going to bed hungry and cold, insecure in all the basics that humans need to thrive is wrong on every possible level. We could agree on this “sin,” at least–no child should go hungry in a land as rich as this.