While a youngster, growing up in solidly middle class suburban neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston, I had no contact with poor people. The homeless, those down on their luck, the ill or infirm, or those who just couldn't grab their share of the American dream for whatever reason, were not part of my life.
Sure, I saw news stories on TV about their plight or heard sermons on Sunday morning about Jesus and the poor. I was aware I was economically blessed, but "out of sight, out of mind" was where I relegated that unpleasant fact of life.
Not a lot changed over the next four or five decades. Living in place like Scottsdale, or now, Chandler, Arizona, means my day-to-day existence is rarely touched by the economically poor. Folks on street corners with signs are there, but I just pass them by.
Recently, something has begun to change, for me, however. I am being "forced" to think about my reaction to the poor. My lifestyle and where I live are not why. Rather, the change is being caused by the downright hateful attitude I see toward those who are struggling economically.
While certainly not restricted to this arena, political posturings seem to be the most obvious place to find people who blame the poor for their own misfortune, seek to make their hard life even more difficult, vilify their efforts to improve their position in life, and generally seem to wish the poor would either just disappear or die off and stop being so damn visible and needy. Sure, some of the poor are lazy and cause their own problems. But, that is not the majority...that is not even the minority, but a tiny sliver of folks.
As a Christian and someone whose spiritual life is at the core of my life, the reaction of some others of my faith also causes me distress. Sometimes, I am forced to conclude that these people have either never read the Bible, or have missed the point entirely. The disparaging comments for those less fortunate, the active dislike of people different from them, the hypocrisy of condemning one particular sin while conveniently overlooking their own shortcomings in the eyes of God.....makes me crazy.
In large part, I believe the negative reactions to those different from us comes from fear: fear that our way of life, our idea of the order of things, is changing without our permission, without our consent. Even though every moment of every day involves change, in this instance people are trying to hold onto a world that no longer exists.
But, what drives me even more 'round the bend, is not knowing what to do about it. Giving money to a charity for the homeless, volunteering at a local food bank, speaking up when someone makes a crude joke about a homeless family.....those are all well and good.
But, those actions don't do anything to halt the hate. They don't get people to look at the less fortunate as human beings, created in the image of God, every bit as precious in the eyes of the Creator, who deserve our love, respect, and all out efforts to ease their suffering and pain.
We can disagree with a choice they have made, or see how a series of decisions caused a problem. But, nowhere in the teachings of Jesus, or of simple human decency, can I find it is OK to treat them like disposable human beings, or to line our own pockets while pushing them even deeper into the muck.
I am open to suggestions. I need to do something to help break the feeling in our society that those not like us are the enemy and that the poor are not our problem.
Believe it or not, this is part of a satisfying journey...the search for a purpose.
Note: A regular reader and e-mailer to me sent the following. I thought it would add to this post and give us all something to think about. The explanation of different types of poverty is helpful.
Thank you, Richard.