Coming in weakness

January 31, 2011

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Century.

For the past 20 years I have
toiled in the vineyards of two state legislatures: in California for 12 years
and now in Wisconsin for the past eight, along with occasional forays to the U.S.
Congress. In these arenas I have represented the interests of state councils of
churches, which are really the interests of those who don't have the time,
money or wherewithal to advocate for themselves: children, impoverished
families, working-class parents with low-paying jobs.

My vocation is less about
issuing pronouncements and buttonholing legislators and more about educating
local folks in congregations to be the true advocates with their state and
federal legislators. The work takes patience, a knack for timing and the
ability to orchestrate some subversive political theater. Legislative success
is rare.

A number of years ago, when
Congress was threatening to choke off funding for low-income child care, I
helped organize a lunch with a group of pastors, four young mothers who were on
public assistance, and a powerful congressman who represented the community.
After weeks of planning and several rehearsals, the lunch was staged to honor
the invited congressman.

Following the award
presentation, each woman succinctly shared her story of the challenges of raising
children and being on welfare. The room fell silent. There was no
confrontation, no pointing of fingers, no shrill rhetoric. The gathering was incredibly
respectful, with the congressman invited to listen to the real human drama of
living in poverty.

Some weeks later this legislator
was responsible for inserting an extra $1 billion for subsidized child care
into the federal budget. I would like to believe there was a connection between
the human need expressed at that lunch and the congressional response. There
are times when humility holds great power, even in politics. When it happens, I
trust that God is smiling.