It was raining outside this morning as I began writing this post, and in a few days it will be the first day of 2013. While this time of year isn’t usually part of our rainy season here in Florida, it reminds me of how rain washes away a lot of the dirt and grime and leaves a fresh smell in the air. Sort of like the passing of an old year with all of it’s trials, temptations, turmoil and maybe a few triumphs, and the entering in of a brand new one, like a clean slate . . . a fresh start. Hope springs eternal, and never does it spring more eternal then at the beginning of a brand new year–another 365 days to try to get it right, whatever “it” is. In my case, “it” has to do with long-term unemployment. In April it will be the end of my fourth year of unemployment. My fourth year . . . . It’s beyond ridiculous at this point in time, and my hope is that it will end sooner then that (who knows???). It’s been a very long haul, folks.
However, 2012 was not without it’s highlights. I spent three days in Atlanta in May and visited a university where I had applied for a job, and I was able to say a brief “hello” to the woman who is the supervisor over that position (and I had applied for her position a year earlier, so I knew she had not been in it long). She seemed very nice but was headed off to a meeting when I arrived. I never heard back from anyone there and the position I applied for was reposted again a couple of months later. With twenty years of experience behind me in that field of work, it made me wonder just what they were looking for as apparently none of the candidates in that particular search in April/May cut the mustard, so to speak. But I enjoyed my brief time in Atlanta and was glad I took the time to drive there. It’s a beautiful city with lots of rolling hills and I wrote about my trip in a previous blog post (e.g., “The Thrill of Big Cities”).
Then in late August, just as Hurricane Isaac had it’s eye on the west side of Florida which is the side I live on right on the coast, I decided it was time for a trip back to Houston (I’ve lived through five hurricanes during my years in Florida and wasn’t really looking forward to a sixth one). So, I took off heading for Houston (a trip I had been planning for some time) on August 25th and spent a week and a half there. Hurricane Isaac ended up veering farther west and hit Louisiana and that part of the Gulf coast area pretty hard shortly after I arrived in Houston. I wrote several blog posts during my time there and if you’re interested you can find them in my late August and early September archives. While I loved the road trip even though it was very long (it took me 18 hours to get there and another 18 hours to drive back, and I drove straight through both times), I think I had romanticized Houston a little too much, but it is a cool city. Big, too. Bigger then I remembered it, but then when I lived there before everything I did–work, shopping, church, etc.–was within a five-mile radius of where I lived. And, of course, I had a job at that time, too. This time going back to Houston I did not have a job waiting for me, but that was my reason for going back–hoping to find one even if it was a temporary position while I was there as the unemployment rate was much lower in Houston than Florida. NOT . . . .
I don’t regret either trip and, in fact, consider them two of the highlights of 2012. Florida has offered me nothing in the way of work in the three years and three months I’ve been back here since returning from my ill-fated year in Houston at the end of September 2009. If I just had the money (it’s running out as you can well imagine after being unemployed for so very, very long), I’d just up and move away to a place with more employment opportunities. I’ve been living in Florida (in several different cities where I was employed) since June 1992 except for that year in Houston. However, these past three years and three months since returning from Houston have been dismal to say the least with no employment opportunities (except two short term jobs lasting only a few weeks in late 2009 and again in early 2010 and nothing since then) and no open doors of any kind, not even when I have applied for volunteer positions. So why do I stay? Well, I do love warm winters and palm trees, but the main reason is that I don’t have the money to leave and start over again somewhere else without a job or some type of income waiting for me when I get there . . .
. . . And with each passing year the futility of staying here becomes more and more apparent. Now I see why it’s such a big state for retirees to land in (besides the warm winters compared to up north). There are apparently very few jobs available considering the very large population that lives here so it helps if you’re lucky enough to be a part of the “retired” population. I never thought about it much in previous years as I was always employed. But apparently it’s not a great place for the unemployed to be–and I know that well after three plus years of looking for work. Not that I don’t love Florida–I do–but I can’t afford to be unemployed here for yet another year.
Also, once again and after so long, I’ve been disheartened by folks who call themselves Christians who, 99% of the time, give me the typical response in Christian America today of “I’m praying for you” and walking away. While prayer is certainly important, so is a helping hand. A hug wouldn’t hurt every now and then either–it’s called compassion. Everyone I know including several Christians in high level positions in higher education (my field of work) are well aware of my unemployment situation and have been for a long time now. And I rarely hear from any of them. So, what exactly is the difference between being a Christian and being anybody else out there in society who doesn’t claim Christianity as a guiding force in their lives? Quite frankly, I rarely see any difference.
I’m not quite sure I understand what defines Christian community in America today. Of all the places a person who finds themselves in a situation where the help of others is needed, one would think the Christian church in America would be the place to go. No wonder we’re in trouble here in America as the church is no longer “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16) in our society today. We look and act just like the rest of the culture. Acts 2:42-47 states in five short verses what the fellowship of believers ought to look and act like and it hasn’t changed in 2000 years. I can honestly say in all the years I’ve attended different churches here in America I have never seen this in action, at least not like it’s stated in these several verses:
“They [believers in Jesus Christ] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Does that sound like any church you know where people are actually selling their possessions and goods and giving to anyone who has a need? I’m not talking about missions programs or community work or even hospital visitations–all of which are good and excellent things to pursue. I’m talking about needs, real actual needs of people sitting right next to us in church–and, no, not just the needs of those who know each other but the needs of people who seem inconsequential to everybody else–you know, the folks who show up for a short while and then leave because nobody showed them that they really cared or mattered in any tangible way beyond coffee and donuts before (or after) church.
In July 2011 I met a homeless man named Perry who happened to show up at a job networking class I was attending at the time (see my blog post titled, “Don’t Write Off Anyone,” for the story). My heart really went out to him as we talked after the meeting about the circumstances that lead to his homelessness. I asked him to come back the next week, and during that week, I went around looking for resources in the community that could help him. One of the items I was given from a local ministry to the homeless was a list of food pantries at local churches in the area, and as I looked over the list, some of the churches stated that their food pantry was available “for members only” (meaning only for members of that particular church). I was stunned when I read that. Since when did Christianity become an exclusive club “for members only” in time of need? Anyway, I put together a care package of sorts in a backpack (some food that didn’t need refrigeration, a few utensils and a flashlight with batteries, and the list of food pantries and other resources I found in the area) to give to him the next time I saw him, but he never returned to the meeting and I never saw him again.
I realize that only a few of the churches on that list actually specified “for members only” but I was stunned that even one would make that requirement in order to receive food from their food pantry. What about “the least of these”? (Matthew 25:31-46). Christianity should never be an exclusive club for members only. John 3:16 clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever . . . not “members only.”
We live in really hard times and have for the past several years. Regardless of the fact that the media tells us the unemployment rate is lower now, I am, along with millions of others, still 100% unemployed. The figures reported by main stream media don’t include the millions of people who have run out of unemployment benefits and are still long-term unemployed going back to 2008 and 2009 when the worst of it hit–see this article dated December 14, 2012, on “Older and Out of Work” in The Huffington Post. If anyone in our society should care about what has happened to millions of people in our country, those who call themselves Christians should care and do something tangible if they can. And many do (like the woman in the church I attended in Houston who gave me $20 one Sunday shortly after I lost my job as well as several job leads which, unfortunately, didn’t pan out), but not nearly enough people do anything at all when they can. Giving any encouragement is better than giving none. And that is our calling–to help others if and when we can.
So, what will this brand new year hold as it begins to unfold next week? Probably not a whole lot more then the same stuff from previous years unless we consciously make an effort to change how we treat others including the strangers and the hurting in our midst.
Are you looking for a place to start? How about this . . . a lot less “looking out for #1” and a lot more compassion? Putting ourselves in others’ shoes is a good place to start. After all, we could find ourselves in their shoes someday in the not-to-distant future. And wouldn’t we want people to show us a little compassion in our time of need?
“There but for the grace of God, go I”
YouTube Video: “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg:
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