Diapers and Dragons

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unto the Least of These


All that will do is raise taxes and give free shit to those lazy welfare people who sit around and let other people work to support them. --J. Q.

I'd like to excuse him on the basis of being sixteen and stupid. He's never had a day of hunger in his life. He's never had to work to put his Abercrombie & Fitch clothes on his back. He doesn't pay the bills for his funky little I-Phone and the I-Pod that's constantly plugged into his ears.

At least he has that excuse, if you consider it one. There are plenty of others who don't.

I don't get into political crap on my blog, generally speaking. I'm an independent, somewhat left-leaning, somewhat middle-of-the-road reluctant voter who hates conflict. I have friends spread out all over the political spectrum. Some of them would fight like cats and dogs if put in the same room. They're all good people. They all have what they believe are good reasons for their stances. Sometimes, I agree. Sometimes, I don't. Usually, I keep my mouth shut.

I do, however, believe in social justice. I believe that we are commanded by God to care for the poor and abandoned, the orphan and the widow, the persecuted, the least of these. So do most, if not all, of those friends I mentioned. How that is to be done? Ah. Well, that's where the debate begins, isn't it?

I'm not here to debate that point. I am here to speak out about the reality of poverty, a reality that far too few of those outspoken people know first hand. Today I read an amazing guest post by Mad over at Frog and Toad are Still Friends. This is the reality of poverty in America, a form of poverty that is overlooked by so many of the smug White Tower WASPS. (And yes, I know they're not all actual WASPS and and this is a generalization, but you get what I'm saying. Let's move on.)

I have been fortunate in my life. My parents were never wealthy, and apparently there were times that were lean indeed, but I never remember going hungry or without. We always had presents at Christmas and dinner on the table. I was able to go to college, although I racked up debt doing so. I earn a good wage and can provide for my own children in turn. My boys are well-dressed, well-fed, and have toys up the wazoo. I don't worry about whether they have enough; I worry about whether they have too much.

There was a year in college when I had very little money. I did not have a job, and I was getting by on macaroni and cheese, cheap frozen salisbury steak, bread, and tater tots. I became ill after a few months, and the doctor at MSU's Olin Health Center told me that I had no choice but to get some vegetables and fruits into my diet. We scrimped and sacrificed to add some canned vegetables, to add just enough nutrition that my body would not shut down.

And even then...I had a roof over my head. I had food in my belly. I was still going to school. I knew it was a temporary situation. If push came to shove, there was family that would help. I was still fortunate.

I have witnessed true poverty. My parents earned less combined than I did alone my first year of teaching. Compared to the vast majority of people where I grew up, however, we were wealthy. We were surrounded by the least of these.

About five years ago my parents received news about a small family they had taken under their wings: a widow with many health issues who had two children and no support whatsoever. No one took care of them. Her children were bright and hard-working. They wanted to get educations, but the cost of schooling was prohibitive (no "free" public education over there, you see). The mother earned a few francs here and there by picking mangoes from the trees in my parents' yard and selling them in the market. Abou, her son, who was one of my brother's best friends, and Giisongi, her daughter, would work around my parents' house. They would bake bread and cookies, clean, do odd jobs. There still often was not enough to pay the school fees, which ran around $200 a year. Nothing much to us Americans, but astronomical to a family that lived on a few dollars a week, if they were lucky. I remember doing a fund-raiser with one of my classes to raise the money to send them to school for one year. We were able to raise enough in one month, mostly through bottle returns. That's all it took.

When civil war broke out and my family was evacuated, then lived here in Michigan for three years before it was safe enough for my parents to return, that little family was left without even that much assistance. Every now and then they would hear from Abou, who would call them on a friend's cell phone. But it wasn't until a mutual friend called and talked to my father that my parents found out just how much that family was struggling.

Do you know what "chaff" is? It is the papery husk that covers certain kinds of grain, such as wheat and rice. It has no nutritional value. It is removed during the threshing of grain. Since it is worthless, it is often abandoned on the ground.

This little family no longer had money for even the most basic of foods. So they were going to the areas where women would thresh grain, and they would gather up the chaff left in piles on the ground. They then would put the chaff in a pot with water and boil it into a tasteless, gritty porridge. If they were lucky, perhaps there would be a little bit of vegetable to add.

They may have been tricking their bellies into thinking they were being fed, but the truth was that they were slowly starving to death.

Ah, but that's in a third-world country! you say. It's not that bad here!

Want a taste of reality? Go read this. Or this. The reality is that poverty is alive and well (so to speak) in America too.

This is the harsh truth, folks. As a species, we haven't been doing too well on the social justice front. The wealthier and more comfortable we are, the more distanced we become from the reality of those who are less fortunate. We sit in our ivory towers and mutter about the laziness of the poor, how only the deserving should receive.

Those weren't the commands given to us by Christ. He didn't say to do good unto the least of these--if they've shown they deserve it. And Paul didn't qualify his words in James 1 as caring for widows and orphans who have worked hard enough to be rewarded.

I think a lot of us--and yes, this includes me--need to reread Matthew 5 a few hundred more times. Because we may find that our ivory towers are no more than crumbling plaster and all our self-righteous words are no more than worthless babbling when exposed to the light of the Son.

***********************

Because apparently I'm in a self-flagellating mood today and want to invite conflict (dear God, my stomach hurts now), I'm going to go ahead and Flog My Blog on this post of all posts. My darling Brenda over at MummyTime does Flog Yo Blog Fridays, and I've been meaning to do this, and so, whatever, I'll be brave and do it now. Click on over and check it out!
mummytime

16 bits of love:

Arby said...

You deploy a curious use of the pronoun “we” in this blog. Are you really sitting in your ivory tower and muttering “about the laziness of the poor, how only the deserving should receive?” You are telling me that the “wealthier and more comfortable” you have become “the more distanced” you have become “from the reality of those who are less fortunate?” By all means, share your own “self-righteous words [that] are no more than worthless babbling when exposed to the light of the Son.” Or is this just a clever way of sitting in judgment on people with whom you disagree without looking like you are sitting in judgment? If you tell me that you are, in fact, sitting in the ivory tower muttering these things, I will believe you.

Teacher Mommy said...

We, as a nation, as a people, are certainly guilty of these things many times. And yes, there have been times when I, too, have been guilty of this. I've been convicted of it upon occasion, even recently. Generalizations these may be, but there often lies truth in generalizations.

Arby said...

I do not share the monochromatic view of this nation as expressed in this post. Important details are lost when such a broad brush stroke is applied to a problem that is best illustrated using a dynamic palette of vivid and contrasting colors.

Teacher Mommy said...

I would object to saying this is monochromatic. I am addressing a specific segment of this nation that has become so outspoken that it overshadows those who are often very quietly living out the words of Christ. A segment represented by people like Glenn Beck.

And I was also responding to a specific statement which I have heard far too often lately, especially with the most recent political events--regardless of my own stance on those events, upon which I am NOT commenting, by the way. I don't wish to be placed in front of a firing squad by either side of the argument.

Teacher Mommy said...

And as far as sitting in judgment on some people, hell yeah I am. I'll take responsibility for my own shortcomings, and God knows (and boy does He) that I have plenty of those.

Call me a hypocrite if you want to. But when people sit there in their comfort and call themselves Christians and then go directly against the words of Christ, it pisses me off. It's one of the (many) reasons it took me so long to be willing to even call myself a Christian. It's one of the major reasons I have so many friends who see Christianity as nothing but hypocrisy. And while that certainly is NOT true of MANY Christians (and I know many of them as well), it is far too true of far too many, especially the very vocal and very spotlighted ones.

So if you want to take me to task for pointing this out, go ahead. I'm not ashamed of what I wrote today.

Teacher Mommy said...

And this? Is why I rarely post anything like this. My skin is way too thin. I apologize if I'm coming across as hostile.

Heidi said...

Arby - even bleeding-heart liberals are guilty of sitting in the ivory tower. Even those of us who are doing what we perceive as our best can be hypocritical in missing what's right in front of us. TM is right to use the word "we" because all of us are part of the problem, as we benefit from the system even when we understand how it damages people.

Our nation is very broken when it comes to social justice. People like Glenn Beck, or indeed, several of my right-wing Libertarian/Republican cousins, feed this problem when they accuse the poor of being responsible for their own plight. Are all Republicans/right-wingers bad people? Of course not. Are they all trying to screw the poor and help the rich? Of course not...but it is blindness to the reality of poverty that motivates so many to claim that they follow Christ but act so entirely un-Christlike in refusing to recognize the need for social safety nets.

Why is it "sitting in judgment" when TM says that we need to ALL be more aware of the plight of the needy?

Kathleen said...

I totally agree with you that Jesus commands us to care for the poor, but the key word is US (Christians, the church), not the gov't. The gov't runs things into the ground; they are not efficient. That's my only beef.

Teacher Mommy said...

Generally speaking, I agree. However, I disagree that this means we should abandon all efforts to provide, as Heidi puts it, a "social safety net." Demand greater accountability and efficiency, absolutely. But the government is, in a sense, "us". And I find it ironic that so many of the people who are most vocal against the idea of helping those who are poor (because, you see, it's "their own fault") call themselves Christians. I am NOT saying this is true of all or even most Christians. But I do NOT believe that churches and Christians do enough to make up for the lack.

With my/our backgrounds and what my/our parents do, trust me when I say that I strongly believe in Christian responsibility in this area. However, Christ also said to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." I also think that while separation of Church and State is a good thing, there's a danger in thinking this means that State should, essentially, not exist. Or the opposite, that Church should essentially take over State.

Theocracies don't exactly have a great track record in regards to social justice, after all.

Heidi said...

Kathleen - while I don't disagree that churches should play a role, in my experience many churches either do not do enough or do not do anything at all to help the poor in their communities. In Seattle alone, there are nearly 9,000 people living on the street at any one time. In the US, there are approximately a million.

In the UK, despite the fact that many of its population do not self-identify as Christian (or are not practicing), because of the social safety net there are approximately 1,000 homeless people on the street *in the entire country* of 60 million people.

Which nation is acting in a more Christlike manner by assuring that its people do not sleep out in the cold in January?

It is idealistic to the extreme to suppose that individuals and churches alone can deal with the social justice issue. We can *spearhead* those initiatives (although we frequently do not) but we have, as yet, failed to solve the greater problem.

Additionally, many Church safety nets come with strings attached. Will we serve gays and lesbians without preaching against their lifestyle? Will we give prostitutes a place to sleep without condemning them? Will we provide homes for the babies that women who do not receive abortions have?

Until we are walking the walk, we cannot deny the need for a government-led solution, since we are absolutely NOT providing an adequate church- and individual-run one.

MomZombie said...

Well, you had to step in it, didn't you?
Me? I've written three comments and deleted all of them before hitting send. This is the fourth attempt.
Bottom line: I think you wrote a great post. It could be because we agree on many things. Not all. But many.
There is so much hysteria right now it's hard to make any sense of it. I've decided to treat the hysterics the way I treat my preschooler when she throws a tantrum. Ignore.

Arby said...

It's kinda cool that your blog had such an active dialogue today. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I'm trying to decide if I should write what I'm thinking. Okay, I'm not going to.
James 1:27 - whether we do this individually, corporately, or as a nation (through our government), it's our calling as Christ's followers. But the record shows - we're pretty awful at it (yes, we includes myself)! It seems to be the human condition and isn't tied to our political leanings.
- SoccerSister

Brenda said...

This is your space and you can do whatever you want with it. So there.

...Also, I love yah. Thanks heaps for the shoutout.XO

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I'm not a practising Christian, nor am I American. But, watching from the outside, I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the values of christianity, which are often spoken of in the US and the venom surrouding the healthcare reform bill. Now, I don't know a whole lot about US health system, I love my own healthcare for all system very much. But, I do think that providing good healthcare for everyone who needs it, must be a priority. From the outside it looks an awful lot like people are against healthcare reform (which is supposed to benefit those with less money) because they, individually, will have to pay more tax. How that equates to Christian values is way beyond me.

As I said, I'm not American, I'm no expert. But this is how it appears to an outsider.

michelle said...

I love when bloggers go out on a limb and speak their minds (especially when I agree. ha ha)

Hope your stomach feels better

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