Saturday, December 10, 2011

We Ought to be Ashamed

Let me quote you something from Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet:

I've had no income and I've paid no rent for many months. My landlord let me stay. He felt sorry for me because I had no money. The Friday before Christmas he gave me ten dollars. For days I had nothing but water. I knew I needed food; I tried to go out but was too weak to walk to the store. I felt as if I was dying. I saw the mailman and told him I thought I was starving. He brought me food and then he made some phone calls and that's when they began delivering these lunches. But I had already lost so much weight that five meals a week are not enough to keep me going.  
I just pray to God I can survive. I keep praying I can have the will to save some of my food so I can divide it up and make it last. It's hard to save because I'm so hungry that I want to eat it right away. On Friday, I held over two peas from lunch. I ate one pea on Saturday morning. Then I got into bed with the taste of food in my mouth and I waited as long as I could. Later on in the day I ate the other pea.  
Today I saved the container that the mashed potatoes were in and tonight, before bed, I'll lick the sides of the container.  
When there are bones I keep them. I know this is going to be hard for you to believe and I am almost ashamed to tell you, but these days I boil the bones till they're soft and then I eat them. Today there were no bones.

Sound like the problems of a third world country? This woman was from Boston. Boston.

When I read this in Diet for a Small Planet years ago, I cried. Then I wrote it down in my journal so I'd never forget. But forget I did, at least until I stumbled across a story about a shooting in Laredo, TX, at a welfare office--a story that contained sentences like these:

Grimmer would walk down the highway after midnight and beg closing crews at restaurants for food they planned to throw away.  
Oscar Cuerrlar, a carpenter and neighbor in the Laredo trailer park where they moved in the spring, said he brought the family grilled fish and chicken after Grimmer's request for food stamps was denied ...
... the family was in clearly dire straits even by the standards of Webb County, where the per capita income of $13,600 is among the lowest in the nation. By most accounts, Grimmer didn't come close to scraping together near that much money.

 No, this is not an excuse for this woman shooting her two children and then herself. That will be between her and God. But will we not also be forced to answer for the abject poverty that goes unnoticed around us?

The Christmas season has always traditionally been the feel-good season, the season where you drop a check in the mail for charity and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But I realized today that charity is something we ought to be ashamed of, not proud of. I'm very guilty of feeling like a saint after giving a pittance to charity. Then I go and squander the rest of my money on useless items for myself. What a saint I am.

We're awfully quick to blame God for all the terrible problems in this world: "Why did God let that happen?" Have we lost all humility? What shameful pride! The woman from Boston and Rachelle Grimmer are our fault--MY fault. Since when is it God's fault that I live in a warm home with plenty of food and pay no heed to the desperately poor who may be as close to me as next door? Whose fault is it? The government's? The 1%? Adam and Eve's? MINE--MY fault.

You and I allow others to get so desperate that it's easier to shoot themselves and their children than go on living. 

The fact that charities need to exist is a terrible shame a black mark upon our world. The fact that we only care about the poor at Christmastime (often so we can get in those last-minute tax deductions) is nothing to get warm, fuzzy feelings over. I'm afraid I haven't written the hopeful, happy Christmastime message that we so gluttonously devour. What scares me is that I think I've written the truth. And I write it not just for other Christians like me (although I think we shoulder the biggest load in this), but for everyone of any and no faith.

Jesus said the poor would always be among us, but He left it up to me to realize that it's my fault.

1 comment:

Debra Sancer said...

i appreciate that you bring both stories to my attention. I often feel troubled about poverty that I hear about in 3rd world countries, but I never realized how much poverty we have in this country until recently. I'm thinking that somehow, some of us who are intersted, should begin thinking of a way that we as a church could contribute to the solution. In order to get gov. aid , people have to jump thru a lot of hoops and wait. If you just run a food pantry,based only on charity(with no government donations snd thus no strings & red tape), you can give food out to whoever asks without giving them the 3rd degree. I once belonged to a larger church that received about 100,000. dollars per year from members contributions that went directly to the food pantry. We would fill a big brown bag and give to to whoever came in. They could come 2x per month and the bags were filled with mostly non-perishables and a plstic bag of fresh fruit/vegies. whenver people would come in, I'd give them a bag of food then ask if they needed prayer. Then I'd say a prayer with them regarding whatever they'd ask and we'd thank God. It was such a blessing for those of us who volunteered there. I really felt alive. It would be nice if we could do something like that in Denton.