It’s that time of year again – starting with Black Friday (really? we don’t see any ominous symbolism in that name?), we shop like frenzied pigs at the trough, up until Christmas. In addition to our copious shopping, we have quite a few discussions about the poor. We hear admonitions at our church, synagogue, or yoga kirtan about mindless waste and the care of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Finally, we are prone to feelings of love and tenderness towards people, at this time of year. These feelings are deeper than at other times during the year. Or, they may solely occur, for certain individuals, at this time of year. There have been scholarly articles, and yes, even blogs, written about the cause of these feelings, as well as the causes of the other two dynamics I mentioned. These dynamics are cross-cultural, at least for capitalist Judeo-Christian nations: the same currents are felt in Bethlehem and Singapore. You know all this. IN fact, you know everything.
But ultimately, collectively, nothing ever changes, nothing has ever changed, as a result of either the glory or the shame. The people who volunteer at the soup kitchen do indeed get a warm feeling which suffices for them for the remainder of the year. But, the soup eaters themselves simply return the next day and the next day, and don’t really feel that much more loved, by virtue of the presence or absence of one more affluent soups ladler like you. Jesus is attributed with saying,
The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. Matthew 26:11
That phrase has provoked me for most of my life. While there is a lot to be surmised about it, I want to stick with the point that, apparently, nothing is ever supposed to change, at least with regard to the poor, so saith the Prophet. Like Buddha Gotama, Jeshua is letting us down gently by saying that this Earthly life is going to have suffering. You can not end the suffering, You can not solve poverty. Apparently.
But the second part, but you will not always have me, is, I think, an admonition to work, to always work, to carry the torch, in the name of whatever you choose to associate with me, in that phrase. Jeshua, “God with us”, is the “easy button.” When you have The Great Moral Leader right there with you, you won’t slack. What will we do now that Mandela is not keeping his eye on us? What did we do after Gandhi Gi was out of the way? Yes, the poor and the oppressed were still there. But, nobody took care of them anymore. Nobody brought them up at dinner.
Actually, it doesn’t matter to me if the Jesus scripture supports what I am saying. It is just a springboard to foment discussion among my peers. My point is this: do it yourself.
The People say, “The Government should feed the Poor.” The Pope he say “The Church should feed the Poor.” Who is this “Government” person? Who is this “Church” guy?
They are our scapegoats. Our way out the back door. They are supposed to be We, the People – but that has been so untrue for so long, it sickens me a little to even repeat it. Hearing people say “We the People” has even made me a little bitter over the years. While it is impossible for anyone but you to fix your broken accountability mechanism, there is at least one little aspect of this Government co-dependency you might be able to fix pretty quickly.
You don’t know how to go the Poor. You don’t know how to find the Poor. You don’t know how to feed the Poor. Do you. But the Government seems to know. “They” (I won’t use “We”) have the resources and staff and organizational ability to organize a program like, say, food stamps. But, still, the real Poor don’t get fed. The Church runs places like Camillus House. Here is Miami, Camillus House is in the heart of the real Poor – in Overtown. “They” (the Camillus Organization) provide meals to society’s offcasts. Bien hecho, Church.
So, you can certainly donate money to the Church and pay your taxes (or, support social works with your ballot). But, why do you need these organizations? You really can’t find the poor? You really don’t know how to feed the poor? Now, here is a distinction I make between the Poor and the real Poor: there are lots of people who, after living a modest, but comparatively comfortable life, get laid off their job, or get that foreclosure notice. I call this “hard luck”, but I don’t call it really poor. These people can qualify for any number of assistance programs – and be approved. They get help from the Church and the Government and their families and neighbors. The real Poor, on the other hand, did NOT have a relatively comfortable life, ever. The real Poor were abused, malnourished, surrounded by drugs and death, most of their lives. The real Poor are not quaint intellectuals, fallen from Grace, like Robin Williams, in The Fisher King. No. There are millions of people in this world who will NEVER make it out of the quagmire of abject poverty. Millions of people who have chronic drug addictions (not like Lindsey Lohan), and are therefore banned from both Government programs and Church programs, “left out to die on the mountains of the heart” (Rilke). These people require the one thing that We cannot seem to give: a personal investment in an untidy relationship. You know, the real Poor need someone to confide in, someone to care. And if you open that door, they will confide in you, call you, ask you for money, ask you to give them a ride to their drug dealer, show up at your home. Yes. That is caring for the real Poor, But – you don’t have to do that! Just start out by finding them, and feeding them! Oh, where are they, though?
Christ! They’re everywhere! The Poorest of the Poor lie on the sidewalks of my city, to the extent that I have to step over them. Are you blind? Do you step over them? Do you have conversations with your friends about whether or not to give money to “beggars.” Well, I say, give them money. I say, go home, fill up a bag with good – hell, drive to Whole Foods and drop $50 on a bag of healthy food, and drive back to you-now-exactly-where, and hand the bag to someone.
Once you cut the middle-man, the Great Scapegoat – out of the picture, you can immediately start feeding the poor. Just feed them. Don’t blame the Government – and yes, the Government should feed the poor! Don’t blame the Church – and yes, the Church should feed the poor! Get out of that cycle. Go feed the poor.