Wednesday, 12 May 2010

who are the "poor"? really? wondering about the realities of caring for the poor...

May 11, 2010

Who are the truly poor? Do you ever wonder about that? Do we really have “poor people” here in our Canadian communities? I mean, “poor” compared to, say, the millions (billions, maybe?) of poverty-stricken people in “third world countries” and such?

Certainly, we hear about the high levels of poverty. Of how a lot of children go to school hungry. Of how many families are living “below the poverty line” (which, of course, would likely be considered a “well-off” line in a lot of other places…). Of ever-increasing line-ups at food banks and soup kitchens. Of people who can afford either (low-cost) housing or heat or food – but only one of those at a time. Of the numbers of people “living on the streets.”

So, yes, I’m wondering. Who are the truly poor, right among us? We are called, as believers, to care for the poor. In fact, it is one of the most repeated commands/ directives/ principles in all of scripture. How do we fulfill those?

Who are the poor? The “working poor” who, even though they work hard, don’t earn enough to cover even the very simple necessities (simple housings, a few clothes, a bit of nutritious food, etc)? Children who don’t get enough to eat? (But what about the ones whose parents use up all the income feeding their own addictions? Are those families “poor?” If we help the children by feeding them, are we inadvertently encouraging the parents to carry on with their negative behaviors? What if they have a “good reason” like mental illness, or childhood abuse, or other forms of victimization? No doubt most people would agree that we should feed hungry children, no matter what, because they are children, after all – But then, what about the adults themselves who engage in those behaviors? Should they themselves be fed and clothed with free handouts?

What about single moms struggling to feed and house and care for their children, while dead-beat dads earn good incomes but don’t take responsibility for their children? What if the mom won’t let the dad be involved or help out? What about dads raising their children, after mom has run off? Or grandparents raising their grand-kids when both parents have copped out?

What about seniors struggling to live on tiny government pensions, not even enough to pay low-cost rent, even if it was available (which it often isn’t)? Shouldn’t their families take care of them? But what if they don’t have families to care? Or their families just won’t or can’t?

What about people who’ve lost their jobs? And can’t find work in these times of recession? What about the ones who decide to stay on Employment Insurance until it runs out, and then collect welfare because it pays better than the only low-pay, part-time jobs that are available? What about the ones who refuse to take any employment other than in their chosen field and at their preferred pay level? What about people who lose their job because they have an accident or illness, and now have a “disability,” and choose not to retrain and take other work they can still do?

What about people who have “grown up on welfare” and have accepted it as a viable lifestyle or have grown up in situations where a good education and encouragement and good health – building blocks to “bettering oneself” – have not been available?

What does it mean to help the poor, right here in our communities? Make a donation at the food bank at Christmas time (or occasionally at other times)? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Take sandwiches to people living on the street? Pay your taxes and let the government solve the problems? Donate to charities? Help build “Homes for Habitat”? Have an open-door policy, feeding those who knock on your door, like folks did back in the Depression? Taking in that family in your church who’ve lost everything due to job loss, or illness, or whatever? Making your kids share bedrooms so those other people can have bedrooms? Share your food, your television preferences, your computer, your car, your sheets and blankets, your clothes, your dishes? Or simplify your own lifestyle, downgrade to a smaller home, sell your car and walk, grow a garden instead of buying your veggies, eat at home rather than eating out (especially on Sunday after church with all your church buddies…), so you can give more “alms to the poor”? Maybe sell the church building and the sound system and the costly Sunday School program materials? (oh dear).

And what about all those truly poor people out there, those nameless faces across the oceans? (Or just south of the border … or, yes, on the “other side of the tracks” in our own communities … maybe in our own neighborhoods). (What about the little old man or lady living in your condo complex who has been there for 40 years, and is being evicted so that the landlord can raise the rent?) What about children starving to death every day all over the world? Dying for want of a few cents worth of medicine?

Where do we draw the line? How do we “judge” who the “poor” truly are? Or do we? Can our best efforts finally overcome poverty? Or is it true, as Jesus said, that we always have the poor with us? Do we choose to help some poor but not others (the early church did, to some degree, in regards to widows with families vs widows without)? Maybe just care for the poor in the church – and of those, only the ones who “deserve” it? Who decides? Where do we draw the line? How do we choose to spread our own limited resources around? How limited are our resources anyway?

Is caring for the poor really the work of the church? (And if it isn’t, what do we make of all those scriptural injunctions?) (And how does the world see the church if we don’t?) (And how does our Father see us?) Hmmm?

What do YOU think? (Seriously) (Please comment!)

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