Tag Archives: poverty

The Poor Will Always be with You

Over tea one day, a friend tells me a story about visiting a fiscally conservative Christian church. During the sermon at this particular church, the piece of scripture where Jesus says “the poor will always be with you” is used to support the argument that Christians really need not concern themselves with delivering charity to those who are economically disadvantaged because such charity would not effect a substantial change around the broader and ongoing issue of poverty.

My friend’s story reminds me how far we, as individuals, are capable of straying from the Grace of our shared humanity in an effort to protect, defend or uphold our sometimes selfish comforts, myopic philosophical positions or even personal idiosyncrasies.

Spirituality

When sacred scripture is taken out of context, misread or interpreted solely to support our comfortable social positions and views, it can cloud the very Light which binds us as One. (I would note here that such attitudes toward scriptural interpretation(s) are not unique to Christians, but that this phenomenon exists among peoples of a wide variety of religious and philosophical traditions, where individuals or select groups desire to safeguard certain of their habits, decisions and/or lifestyle traits.)

Looking at the larger context in which Jesus makes this statement about the poor, we learn that Jesus is receiving the gift of an anointing from a woman, who clearly wishes to honor Jesus’ work through her generous ritual, physical act.  The perfumed oil she uses on Jesus’ body is expensive. The disciples do not give voice to discontent regarding the act of anointing, but to the discontent they feel about the use of an expensive gift of perfume. From the disciples’ perspective, such an expensive commodity could have been resold; and, then, the money from that sale could have been used to alleviate suffering among the poor.

It is only after the woman and, indirectly, Jesus are admonished by the disciples that Jesus, in turn, admonishes the disciples themselves by stating, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” [Mark 14: 3-9]

There are a great number of interpretive readings or lessons that might be derived from this piece of scripture.

Jesus may be reminding us that working for “social justice” is an ongoing task and that those doing this work need to take care of themselves—physically. (Remember that the anointing is not the issue here.)

In another interpretive reading, Jesus may be asking us to honor each other as individuals, because none of us knows how long we have on this earth, even as we concern ourselves with issues of deep social concern in our Grace-centered lives.

Another aspect of this narrative is Jesus’ reminder to receive gifts graciously and humbly from those who wish to give from the seat of their open and generous hearts, because God alone knows about the timing and leadings which precede an individual’s actions of compassionate generosity.

In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus concludes, “She hath done what she could: she is coming aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel is preached throughout the world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

God knows us by our mitzvahs.

Using the more complete scriptural context, the greater lesson may be that we, as individuals, will be remembered for the selfless acts of kindness we perform and that those outside of said acts should not judge them for being extravagant or out of place.

However this narrative in its various interpretations may speak to us on a given day or in a given moment, this reader cannot find anything in the text to support the idea that we should abandon caring for one another or that consistent, conscious and kind acts of charity should be denied to anyone–poor or not.

There will always be a need in this realm for social action which acknowledges the sacred nature of the physical frame, through which we may choose to serve the Light, and that of Grace which resides in each of our hearts.

See also Matthew 26: 6-13 and John 12: 2-8.

Economic Lottery & The American Dream

It is day two of my trip home on the Greyhound bus. I am crossing the expansive landscapes of many large states, pondering the artificial boundaries separating the various people of the United States. We sway and move to the inaudible music of the road passing beneath us, together for purposes of travel, while trying hard to remain apart out of respect for each others’ sense of space.

Sometimes there is conversation—sometimes not. Many passengers have spent days on the bus, traveling to see family and friends. Frequent breaks for passenger pick-up and drop-off, the humane stretching of our legs and the respectful nod toward nature seem to serve mostly as cigarette breaks for the majority of passengers.

At one stop, watching most every man and woman file off the bus for a ten-minute cigarette break, I am virtually alone when I hear this giant of a man in the seat kitty-corner and behind me exclaim with amazement into the empty air, “You’re all a bunch of smokin’ b*tches.”

I smile at the forthrightness of the observation and turn to give him a quiet nod of affirmation. My compatriot is as big and black, younger than myself, with jet-black lashes that are so thick, long and curly they look artificial. He could be a line-backer.

Spirituality
Spirituality

At one stop, where we have enough time to purchase something to eat, I note my non-smoking, line-backer friend has picked up a salad for dinner. Turning to him, I comment on the obvious, “It is really hard to eat healthy foods on these trips.”

He nods as an over-sized, plastic-fork-full of salad travels the distance to his mouth. I wonder how he keeps his frame going on iceberg lettuce, bits of shredded carrot, a few slices of cucumber and three anemic cherry tomatoes. He and I do not appear to have anything in common, except that we both do not smoke and seem to favor healthier foods.

“Eavesdropping” on a conversation between two wiry, retired veterans—one white and one black—both hard-of-hearing and diabetic, I learn that one of the men is traveling across country, back to the east coast after a visit to Vegas. This means days on the bus. After the conversation finishes and one veteran gets off at the next stop, I plop down beside the remaining vet. He draws a curtain of privacy around himself by plugging in his ear-buds and listening to tunes. With the shift in seats, I can hear a melody seeping from around his ear-buds, so I decide to do the audacious thing and ask about his music.

“What are you listening to?” I pipe up.

Pulling one ear-bud from my side of his head, he turns to introduce himself, “My name is Martin,” while extending his hand. “‘Part-time Lover’—you know that song?”

Taking his hand in my own, we shake. “My name is Julian. Just like a guy’s name. Can you call up anything by The Gap Band?”

“The Gap Band, you like them?” Martin asks, expressing a subtle level of surprise.

“Yeah…something with a heavier beat. I am not a huge fan of late, Stevie-Wonder songs,” I confess. My truth is out.

At this point, my line-backer friend starts the call and response, “You like The Gap Band?”

Martin finishes scrolling through his options, “Okay. Here it goes.”

We listen quietly (Greyhound rules), “You dropped a bomb on me, baby. You dropped a bomb on me…”— as an extended three-some. More conversational popcorn happens. And, at some point, I am asked about what I do.

“I am a writer.”

“Hey, me too,” my line-backer friend responds. “I have two books coming out.”

It is then that I understand why the economic disparity in wages and in living conditions remains intact and largely unchallenged in the United States.   We are a bunch of madcap gamblers. The majority of Americans and United States émigrés still hold a fundamental belief and trust in the ability of an individual to better his or her personal lot, through skill, creativity, luck, originality, invention, investment, avarice, altruism, parsimony or some combination thereof.

Whether we call ourselves writers, musicians, politicians, do-gooders, investors, bankers, hard workers or adventurers, we live in a nation of risk-takers. My sense is that the majority of Americans would rather play and pay for a high-stakes, all-out win than go through the process of changing our economic system. In accepting this condition, we fail to assist those who may never possess a winning scratch card, and we lose the opportunity to devise a more equitable way of compensating people for the hours they work.  We are, as my fellow writing peer might say, a bunch of gamblin’ b*tches.

Homeless with the American Dream

“Dude, I can help you with that,” one man is leaning over another seated man filling out an online registration form for homeless services at one of the public library’s computers.

At the adjacent computer terminal, I drop into a chair to check email.  My skin is prickly from the long, hot walk to the library, and I am looking like a boiled lobster while trying hard not to overhear the conversation next to me.

“I got it bro,” the response comes.  “But, thanks for the help.  Hey, man, you know about this place?” the seated man asks gesturing to the screen.

“Yeah, they got a ten-o’clock curfew.  That’s alright.  What I don’t like is the showers and beds and sh*t. They’s all communal.  I ‘m real clean.  I can hardly stand to shower there, let alone sleep.  I got to get me a job, so I can have my own place—my own shower.  You hear me?  Family sent me ahead, ya see?”  (There is a formal recounting of all of the immediate and extended family members relying on this man’s ability to find and retain employment.)

“Yeah, yeah.  I hear, ya.  Who’d ya say was hiring?”

“There’s that warehouse.  They’s taking applications.  Do you need me to help you with that?  I can help you.  I got me a bar of soap and found a stream.

Spirituality

Cleaner washing in that stream than some of those places.  I know they [the local Christian charities] mean well—but germs, man, I’m really funny ’bout germs.  Family is counting on me.  You see what I’m sayin’ bro?”

“Yeah.  I got it,” the seated man replies.  “Thank you, though.”

“I’ll catch you later.” The other man moves away, returning to perch on one of the library’s high stools facing the windows looking out onto the pedestrian traffic on the street.

Exhaling, I finish my computer session, grateful for the home I have.  Gathering my things together, I exit the building to breathe the hot, heavy air and begin my walk home.  I consider how alone the man with the extended family must feel,  I hope Grace keeps him safe.