Mar 062006

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. ~Charles Darwin

I’ve been pondering this post for sometime. I do not want this post to be seen as self-serving, but to point out how poorly we are doing as a society at caring for the least of these.

Some weeks ago it was getting pretty cool here at night. I have lived in the mountains of North Carolina and in Ohio. I know how cold it can get, and I realize the 38 degree lows we were experiencing here at not as cold as some places, but if you’re not used to it, and don’t have a warm place and warm clothes, it would be cold enough to be quite uncomfortable.

I was leaving the grocery store nearest the house. Sitting on a bench just inside the door were a man and a woman. I don’t know if they were married, lovers…I don’t know. They were in their late 40s or early 50s I would guess. I tuned in to part of their conversation when I realized the woman seemed to be close to tears.

They apparently had enough money to either get something to eat, or rent a cheap motel room for the night. The lady was imploring her companion to get the room because she knew it was going to be cold that night. He was bravely trying to figure out a way to get the room and still get “something” to eat.

I had $50 in my pocket. I’d nearly walked out the door when the gist of their conversation struck me. I turned around and just handed them the bills tightly folded, and said, “Maybe this will help you stay warm for tonight.” Hopefully, that was enough for a couple of nights, and they could buy food with what they already had. I sat in the car and teared up a few minutes after I left. It is hard for me to see things like that. I want so much to help everyone, but I know I don’t always do all I can.

In the richest country in the world, people are having to make decisions between a warm place to sleep and eating. Seniors have to make decisions about taking life-saving medicine and eating. And all the while America’s rich keep getting richer. That little bit of money I gave them won’t solve all their problems, but what a little bit it took to at least get them a warm place to stay during the cold snap. Yet instead of that, people already making well over a million dollars a year, get an extra eighty or ninety thousand a year…like they so desperately need it in order to stay warm.

I know all about homeless people and the reasons some of them are homeless. I volunteered at the homeless shelter in Winston-Salem, NC. I know that some people make deliberate decisions that result in their situation, and some even choose a life on the street. But make no mistake, many people in the same situation as these two people have not chosen the situation they are in, and many are trying to get back on their feet. Most American’s are periously close to financial ruin.

The purpose of telling this story is not to make myself sound like some hero…but to point out how we, as a society, are failing. It’s that simple. I admit I don’t have the all the answers, but I do know that we can and must do better. Further enriching the wealthy while making life more difficult for those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale is not the answer. Of that I am certain. I don’t understand why we don’t take the few minutes to call our representatives in Congress and demand better. I don’t understand why we vote people into office because they express the right prejudices and speak the words of war we want to hear.

We have the theocrats and wingnuts telling us we’re a “Christian” nation. Yet their concern is with discriminating against those who are different, and surrendering rights for a false sense of security. I, however, seem to recall Christ saying something about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked…to love others. I’ve said it before, but I think God looks at us and weeps for what we have become.

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