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Our Brother’s Keeper

September 2015
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Orlando Union Rescue Mission Sign against the background of Downtown Orlando, FL

Orlando Union Rescue Mission with signThe contrast is striking. The sign stands atop of a rescue mission only blocks away from the opulent buildings of a major metropolitan city in America. It could be any city. The contrast is still the same. The disenfranchised blanket America in ever increasing numbers. And mostly, the rest of us turn a blind eye to them. We act as though they are not our problem. We go about our days as if they don’t exist. We trade in our iPhones for the latest model to arrive on the scene. We buy a new vehicle every three or four years just because we can. We move into bigger houses. We worship money but we claim that we worship God. And the truth is so apparent that it blinds us to them and to it (the truth), so we look the other way and continue on in our own lifestyles. After all, we aren’t them, are we?

That is not to say that there aren’t outreach organizations and various churches and other groups that exist to help the disenfranchised and destitute in America; but far, far more is needed. And it’s not just the government’s problem, either. It is our problem. It is America’s problem. And it has been our problem for a very long time now. But we still insist on looking the other way and dreaming of having a lifestyle of “the rich and famous.” Nobody seems to be satisfied with what they have in life anymore. We always want more. And we can’t even imagine (and don’t want to, either) ever being in the shoes of the poor or the homeless. So we look the other way and grab all the “gusto” we can get while we can get it. And we blame them for their lot in life.

Really?

In Luke 6:17-49, Jesus had some words to say to his disciples that we need to heed in our day:

Blessings and Woes

He [Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Love for Enemies

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

A Tree and Its Fruit

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

The Wise and Foolish Builders

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Now before you think I am just pointing fingers at those of us who have more then we even realize, I lived much the same way most of my life–going to a job, paying my bills, and buying what I needed if I could afford it. While I’ve never been particularly greedy nor have I ever had the pressing need to have the latest product to hit the market or a new car every three or four years (I’ve owned two cars in the past 19 years), I have always been able to keep a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, my bills paid, and have a bunch of nice extras along life’s way. Like most people, I primarily lived paycheck to paycheck and managed to save some money over time, too. But I didn’t pay attention to the poor all that much. To be honest, when I did think of them I didn’t exactly know what I could do to help anyway.

Orlando_Union_Rescue_Mission_(Orlando,_Florida)_001I think that this situation is probably the same for most of us who have enough to get by on to keep us from becoming one of the disenfranchised in our society. However, many of those folks were born into it, and they didn’t get even the slightest chance that many of us take for granted to overcome their circumstances. Mind you, I didn’t come from a privileged background, and after my parent’s divorce when I was a child my mother struggled working in minimum wage jobs with very poor health just to keep a roof over our (e.g., me and my younger brother) heads, and we lived in some pretty dumpy apartments at times, too, because it was all my mom could afford. But as I reflected on that area of downtown that I drove through yesterday afternoon, and the stark contrast between how they live and the how the rest of society lives, most of us have never lived in that level of poverty.

And, I have to admit that while I drove through that area looking at the stark poverty in front of me against the backdrop of an opulent downtown skyline just a few blocks away with fancy apartment complexes I couldn’t even afford to live in when I was working, the contrast stunned me. And I felt anger and frustration. . . . I was angry because I can’t do anything about it, and most of society lives just like I did–not paying any attention to what is really going on in those places we don’t ever want to go to ourselves.

Six and a half years ago I lost a job that has sent me on a journey that I never expected to go down. Over these past six plus years I’ve been stripped of much of what I had before when I was working. And I’m still being stripped little by little, day by day. I’ve come face-to-face with a society that tends to keep it’s disinfranchised “disinfranchised.” No wonder they can’t get out of it. Neither can I now that I’ve found myself living on the fringes of it. And it’s because nobody seems to care as long as they aren’t in this situation. They turn a blind eye and mock what they haven’t a clue about nor do they seem to care or even want to try to understand.

For over a year now I’ve been forced to live in hotels I can’t afford (but I thank God I have had the money to pay their exorbitant prices or else I would be homeless) because in our “Land of Opportunity” here in America I can’t even find affordable senior housing on my Social Security income that doesn’t come with waiting lists years long in some cases (at a minimum, as I’ve been told repeatedly, it is a one-to-three year wait). So what are low income seniors supposed to do who need housing NOW?

Yesterday, I left my hotel room to, once again, go searching for affordable senior housing, and ended up at three places where, basically, I was told (once again) that “there is no room at the inn” for someone in my situation. I was given a HUD Section 8 application at one place (the intrusiveness of the information required for HUD housing is appalling to say the very least) and told that it would be at least a year before anything “might” be available. So what’s the point of filling out an application where most of the information required isn’t anyone’s business, especially an employee sitting on that application for a year or longer.

the homeless are hereThe irony that Pope Francis happens to be visiting America at this same time (see article titled, Pope Francis, in New York, Takes On Extremism and Inequality,” published September 25, 2015, in the New York Times) hasn’t missed the mark of the very huge problem we have in America. His message is one that America really needs to hear and pay attention to. He is called the “People’s Pope” because he is a friend to the disenfranchised in this world, and he speaks in a very clear voice of just how much we, in this world of ours, ARE our brother’s keeper. But apparently America is reluctant to receive that message. At two of the three senior housing communities I stopped at yesterday, I did have delightful conversations with the two women who happened to be at the front desk at each place (both women were in my age bracket) who totally understood where I was coming from, but the system they worked in prevented them from doing anything to be able to help me in my plight at this present time. I joked with one of the women by saying that I should mail Pope Francis a copy of the HUD housing application required by poor Americans in order to try to get adequate housing so that he could see how America treats it’s poor, it’s disenfranchised, and it’s low income seniors (not to mention making them wait a year or longer to actually get a roof over their heads).

Folks, we have a lot of work to do here in America and it’s not going to be solved by voting in a different set of politicians. I think we’ve seen how that has worked over the past few decades to know just how much it doesn’t work. And if we don’t do it, who will? And if we don’t care, who can we blame if it eventually happens to us? Too many folks don’t think it could ever happen to them but what happened to me six and a half years ago proves that it can happen to anybody. And only the foolish will ignore that fact to their own peril.

Either we care or we don’t. And if we only care about ourselves, God help us.

Enough said . . . 

And yes, God help us . . . .

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Shirley Caesar:

Photo #1 credit here
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