The Nose had no intention of doing a Linus imitation this week. He had no desire to interrupt his last-minute shopping to think about the meaning of Christmas. But then a friend sent an email with a link to a website that features an unusual holiday-season "blessing."
As a bucolic country scene appears on the screen, complete with an old snow-covered wooden wagon, so too do these words:
"If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep...you are richer than 75 percent of this world."
The scene dissolves and is replaced by a lighted Christmas tree in front of a white church steeple.
"If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish some place...you are among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthy."
Next comes a crackling blaze in a stone fireplace.
"If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed...than the million who will not survive this week."
You get the idea. The on-line card (www.paulbarrs.com/cards/christmas.html) made no mention of the baby Jesus, but the Nose couldn't help but think back to one of the handful of scriptures he can recall. It's the story of how once Jesus was talking to a group of his homeboys and reminded them of the time he was hungry and they gave him some grub, the time he was sick and they took care of him, the time he was cold and they gave him a hoody.
As the Apostle Matthew tells it, the pals said they couldn't remember any
of these things. Jesus, so the story goes, replied that "inasmuch as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me."
And that, as the Nose sees it, is what this whole Christianity business is about. It's not about fancy cathedrals; it's not about waging war in the name of homeland security; and it's sure not about arguing whether that fir on Pioneer Courthouse Square is a "Christmas" tree or a "holiday" tree.
It's about helping those who need it. And while the online "blessing" brings to mind images of refugee camps, this year, in particular, you don't need to look overseas to be thankful for a paycheck and a working furnace.
If this week is typical, the parents of more than 15,000 Oregon children will turn to food pantries to fill their kids' stomachs. And more than half of those hungry families will have at least one adult in the household who has a job.
If Christmas night is typical, 1,700 Portlanders will spend the night on the streets.
And if the current trend continues, at some point next year one out of six Oregon adults will not seek needed medical care because they can't pay for it.
Elsewhere in this paper you'll see suggestions on how you can help some of folks working to fill stomachs, provide warm beds and treat chronic ailments (see "Give Guide," page 13, and Queer Window, page 46). Although the Nose's theological beliefs are as squishy as figgy pudding, he's convinced that these people are doing God's work and deserve all the support they can get.
But the Nose is also convinced that in rallying around these charities every December, we're in danger of fooling ourselves that we've solved the problem for another year. The fact is, we're losing ground. The number of people seeking meals from food pantries is growing, as is the number of people turned away from homeless shelters and forgoing medical care.
The Nose isn't about to get into a war of scriptures (he recalls President Reagan's quoting "the poor will be with you always" to defend his cuts to social services) but he will remind those who take the Good Book to heart that Matthew's story goes on for a couple more verses.
Jesus noted that while those who feed the hungry, tend to the sick and shelter the homeless will find "life eternal," those who ignore his words "shall go away into everlasting punishment."