Tag Archives: Common Good

The Human Face of Poverty

 

I have stated often in my posts that to understand poverty, we must see the human face of it.  Here it is:   “Maria is a 53 year old woman who works two part-time jobs and is a key caregiver for her extended family.   She has diabetes, hypertension and recurrent bleeding from her uterus.   Most months she cannot afford her medicines.   She is beginning to have eye problems and nerve problems because of her diabetes.   She is at increasing risk of suffering a stroke because of her high blood pressure   She often needs to go to the emergency room with severe bleeding from her uterus; she is stabilized and discharged  and told she needs to have a hysterectomy.   She can’t afford this with no medical or health insurance.”

This is a composite picture written by Dr. Gerard S. Brungardt, a physician who I met when he was medical director of the hospice for which I was a chaplain.   I know the doctor as a caring and compassionate person who has worked as a volunteer physician at the Guadelupe Clinic, a local free medical clinic, for over 25 years and put together what he has experienced in this composite face of poverty and health care in an article in the Wichita Eagle .

Dr. Brungardt notes that “with access to KanCare, Maria would be able to have a regular doctor she could call with questions and concerns, one who would care for her diabetes and hypertension.   She would be able to get her medicines on a regular basis and get the surgery she needs.”    But what he says next in his article in the Wichita Eagle is what is important:   “Most important” he says, “she would feel like a member of the community—-someone who counts, someone her community recognizes as important enough to provide with the basis need of health insurance. ”   

Maria’s example highlights the key reasons why we should expand Medicaid in Kansas that has been blocked by the governor and the legislature, thus denying  basic healthcare to thousands of Kansans just like Maria.   Dr. Brungardt emphasizes that the most important reason to extend that care goes beyond just health care.   It confirms for people their dignity.    Brungard refers to Pope Francis, “who  has untiringly reminded us of the dignity we all carry within ourselves in communion with those around us.   WHEN WE ISOLATE SOMEONE FROM OUR COMMUNITY THAT PERSON EXPERIENCES A POVERTY MORE PROFOUND THAN MATERIAL POSSESSIONS.   They experience the poverty of being denied their innate human dignity, of not being recognized as someone who counts, of not being treated precisely as a someone.”

We have relegated almost a quarter of the population of Kansas t0 a position of inferior status as human beings.   How can those who did this, our governor and our legislators, look at themselves in the mirror every morning, knowing what their actions are causing?   How can we, as Christians and churches, look at ourselves in the mirror every morning that we do not demand that this change?

The Scandal of Poverty

 

In May of 2012 UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially living below the poverty level.   Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship had worse numbers.

Sasha Abramsky, in his excellent book on poverty, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives, emphasizes in his Introduction that poverty is not the  problem—-we have the means, technology, and ways to deal with it.   He says that in the United States poverty is a “scandal“. not a “problem“.   It is a moral scandal that a rich country like the U.S. produces the statistics reported above by UNICEF.

As Abramsky says:  “As long as people think “poverty” is the problem, they’re missing the whole point.   Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem….The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.”   Some refer to poverty  as being like the “canary in a mine“.    Such widespread poverty in such a rich country is a warning of severe problems with our democracy in not providing for the “common welfare” that is demanded by the Preamble to the Constitution.   It is a warning that something is terribly wrong with our political and economic system’s developments in the past few years that allows this to happen.

Pope Francis recently framed the moral scandal of poverty in the U.S. when he said:   “We have created new idols.   The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”  

Robert Reich, former Secretary  of Labor under President Clinton adds:   “The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion.   It’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.”

I know in these posts I  have pointed to poverty and homelessness many times and you may be tired of hearing about it —-So what are we as Christians going to do about it?  What can we do?     I make these recommendations:

First:   Read Sasha Abramsky’s book, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives.       This is a well researched look at Poverty and updates the work by Michael Harrington, The Other America,   that inspired the 1960’s War on Poverty.   Sadly, the situation is worse 50 years later than it was when Harrington wrote.  
In the first half of his book Abramsky’s details the statistics as well as the human face of poverty today.   In the second half, he gives well thought out solutions that are doable—-if the moral and political will is there.

We have been brainwashed by our politicians to blame poverty on the poor.   We have been told that people are poor because they are lazy, lack ambition, are drug users, alcoholics, etc.   Feature Governor Brownback, who during the last campaign said  that “People don’t have to be poor, they need to get a job?” That is Brownback’s cure for poverty—get a job!

While this may be true in a few cases, how about elderly poor?   How about those who are unable to work because of physical problems that limit them?   How about those who are mentally challenged?    How about children?    Many people are caught in a trap from which the laws and the economic system do not allow escape.

We as Christians and as a church must view the human face of poverty in all its aspects.    We need to establish a relationship with the poor of our country—-get to know them and the problems they face every day and how hard so many of them try to escape from poverty and seem to be thwarted at every turn.   One example-—the young woman who is laid off from her job, loses her apartment, is not able to find another job because of poor education and skill.   She has children—-and to improve her chances for a job she needs to go to a community college.   She not only can’t afford the tuition but also can’t afford child care?   And yet we let our legislators in Congress jeer at President Obama’s call for free tuition for those who maintain a C average in Community Colleges and free childcare while they are attending.  As Republican leader, John Boehner said—that bill will be “dead on arrival”.

Second:   As a church,  develop a sense among our members as to the causes and the extent of poverty in your community.    As a church and as individuals, take action to change the  climate that blames poverty on the individuals rather than on the fact that features of our present political and economic system do not help those in poverty, but make their problems worse.

Third:    As individuals and as a church find ways to challenge the present political system that, at present, operates on the principle that  those with money fund the political process and elect those who will favor their own selfish interest.     A democratic system will seek the common good—-those we now elect are manipulated by the money needed for advertising to be elected and in return will pass laws that benefit those who support them with the needed cash.   If you don’t have money you don’t have any political influence.   Those with enough money can manipulate the voters to vote the way they want them to with enough half-truths told enough times on costly TV ads.  Who speaks for the poor in the halls of the Kansas legislature and the U.S. Congressional leadership?   Very few!

When poverty flourishes as a direct result of actions taken  or not taken by political and economic leaders, then search for the reasons that is so.   How do the present laws and economic system keep people in poverty from helping themselves?  Hang around some poor people and they will quickly and accurately fill you in on this question.  We tell people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and then cut off the straps or take their boots away from them!

The above three recommendations should get the churches and Christians started to thinking about the scandal of poverty.  Christians and Christian Churches have a responsibility for maintaining the moral backbone of our people in this country.   If Christians and the churches do not stand together as a voice for the Way of Jesus today that gives priority to the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the homeless, the hungry of our society,  then who will be that voice?  Together, churches can make a vast impact on the scandal of poverty today.   It will not be easy—the causes of poverty are many and varied.   But the churches can work to end the needless scandal of poverty in the U.S. if they have the will and  love for God and for neighbor that is at the core of the Christian faith!

 

The Kansas “Herd”—the GOP, not Buffaloes

 

 

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “rugged individualists“, but in reality we are often like a “herd” that blindly follows the leader.   The problem of course with blindly following a leader  is that if the leader happens to be a “lemming” we will all be led over the cliff.

One of the lessons  I learned as a Park Ranger about directing traffic at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was that if you got a car to go in the right direction all of those behind that lead car would follow.   Sadly, the same thing was true if  the car went in the wrong direction!     The cars behind followed the car as it went in the wrong direction!

German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche had a name for that—“the herd mentality“.  He framed his philosophy of the ubermensch (the superman) on that premise—a strong leader could lead the masses in any direction that he desired and they would blindly follow—as the lead cow leads the herd.   That premise led to a further  premise that “might makes right” and that those who have the power decide what is right or wrong.    Adolph Hitler adopted this philosophy and proved it to be true, to the woe of the German nation that he led into World War II and disaster for their nation.

In Congress, the majority of the Republican Party exhibit a “herd mentality” as they blindly follow their leaders.  They do not consider the legislation they pass or defeat on any basis other than maintaining their power by re-election as they let the Tea Party and those who contribute to their campaign funds  tell them what to do.    Truth, morality, the common good, all suffer from this “herd” mentality when our law makers do not think for themselves.

This is what troubles me about politicians and their followers today, and specifically about Kansans who at present are being led into fiscal disaster by a leader and legislature that are convinced they are right, regardless of the facts,  and are using their power to decide what is right and good for everyone whether it is good or not for the common welfare.   And we just went through an election that proved Nietzsche correct, as Kansans blindly  re-elected them to another term, even though complaining that they had lied to them and that their situation financially and economically (except for the privileged businesses who received the tax breaks) was worse than when these politicians began their previous term.   Many Republican voters have confessed they voted Republican because that is the way they always have voted and regret that they elected these folk now.   But they are all in the same boat now—“lemmings ” following their leaders over the financial cliff for the benefit of an elimination of income taxes for around 100,000 “small businesses”, and are paying the price in reduced education funds, reduced programs for the most vulnerable of our state—the homeless, the children, the elderly.   Even Kansas roads are going to be full of potholes as the governor shifts funds to pay for an “experiment” in economics that has proven to be as unproductive and disastrious as most economists initially predicted it would be.

Recently I saw a poster on Face Book that speaks to this:    “Be careful when you blindly follow the masses.   Sometimes the “M” is silent!  

Angry America

We are an angry nation Everywhere we turn we see and hear hostility, hatred, fear and anger expressed from the front page news, to local news, to politics, and even the sports pages.   We are angry about a lot of things:  taxes, health care , immigration, abortion, birth control, voter registration, national debt, corporate greed, shrinking of the middle class, cost of living.    I am of the opinion that we need to seriously consider a revision of or salute to our flag.  We should replace the current version of  “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  The final words should perhaps read“an angry nation, denying God’s love to those who don’t agree with us, severely divided, with liberty to do what we want regardless of the common good, and retribution toward those who threaten us; and with justice for those who can afford the high price!”

Our front page news and TV news every day  tells about murders ,or shows angry scenes at the border towns as people shout hateful words and shake angry fists at young illegal immigrant children from Central America,   In Wichita,  it seems every news program begins with a “breaking news” report of some violence in the city—a shooting after a quarrel, a robbery, a beating.  It includes drunken drivers killing innocent people and the family members of the loved one who died reacting in anger and demanding punishment  and revenge for the killing of their loved one.

Even the sports pages contain a violent view of life:  For example,  football, a violent sport that is often reported in warlike terms with  sports analysts speaking of the potential damage that those trying to get on a team are likely to do to their opponents—“hard hitter”  a “vicious tackler”, etc.

In our political arena, after the primary elections, the candidates now statethe battle has just begun!”   And the character assassination mud is already in the air for the November general election.   Fear and hatred are the hot-buttons that are being pushed, and as Yogi Berra once said:   “it’s deja vu all over again!”    Hostility towards opponents, hostility toward immigrants, hostility towards anyone and any issue that the candidate doesn’t agree with is the way the political opponents work these days, it seems, and if you don’t agree with the person about the issues then you will be slandered, vilified, and be subject to character assassination.   There is little discussion of the issues—it’s all personal and hostile and  an attempt to appeal  to the fear and hostility of the voters in this angry nation.

In all of the above, it seems it is always the “other person’s” fault. It seems it is “us”, the pure and above reproach against “them” who deserve our contempt, hatred and retribution because somebody must be blamed for the bad things that happen. It is always someone else’s fault. A recent example of this is an article about an interview with Kansas Governor Brownback, in which he explains the reason for his poor showing in the primary election (Brownback got 60% of the vote and his opponent, an unknown and poorly financed got 40%) is all to be blamed on President Obama! Really??!!

What goes out the window in an increasingly hostile and fearful and angry nation is any desire to strive for the “common good” of all the  people.   It is always “ME” and never “WE” that wins out in the midst of the hostile and fearful times I have described above.   There is a better way.   The hatred and fear mongers among our politicians and political party activists need to go back to “the founding fathers.

The Founding Fathers that conservatives like to appeal to had a lot of disagreements—-often very vigorous disagreements.  But when they came together to write a Constitution that would govern our country they made sure to include in the Preamble these words:  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, promote domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

Those in our present Congress would do well to examine and try to explain how they are keeping the oath they took to uphold the Constitution!   With their hostile and partisan bickering the “common welfare”; i.e. “the common good” goes out the window.   Instead of seeking common ground on any of the issues above they continue to name-call, shake fists, assassinate character, etc.    It is “ME” instead of “WE”.   WHEN “ME” RULES INSTEAD OF “WE” THE COMMON GOOD IS NEVER ACHIEVED..

Those in our national and state legislatures and those who elect them might well take heed of the wisdom of the founding fathers and work for the common good of all the people of this country.

Only when “WE”  the People, and not ME the  individual, come together to solve our nation’s problems can we truthfully salute our flag, saying:   “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

 

Living the American Dream or Nightmare?

Living the “American Dream” is defined these days as to “be rich in material things.”  And our society is blessed with comforts and material things that are  the envy of the world.    However, the “American Dream” may also become the “American Nightmare”!!  These may be the “best of times” but they are also“the worst of times” for our American Culture.

  • Never has a culture experienced such comfort and riches or such massive poverty and lack of opportunity.
  • Never has technology given us so many household conveniences, or such terrible instruments of destruction.
  • Never have we been so able to communicate in so many different ways, and never felt so disconnected from others and so lonely.
  • Never have we been so free and never have our prisons been so full.
  • Never have we been so sophisticated about relationships, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.
  • Never have we had so much self-knowledge and the desperation to search  for “who we are.”

It  unfortunately has always been true that the church has mirrored the culture and it is true today,.  As a part of the church in this culture, we who are trying to be disciples of Jesus are struggling  to establish our identity as his disciples and as his church.   We are doing so  and searching for “who we are” as Christians and for what is of ultimate importance for us to build our lives upon and meet our needs.   As we search, all around us we are hearing the cultural  message “look out for  Number 1”,  the message to “buy, buy, buy” to fulfill the needs  of “number 1”.      Yet, if we heed those messages we find less satisfaction, less joy, and less happiness than we were told we would have.     People who have based their lives on “bottom-line living”—where the only thing that counts is the bottom-line tally—are finding themselves “bottoming out”.   Gradually their devotion to a “god of more” just doesn’t seem like enough!

The “Me Generation” that leads our culture  needs to discover that it is “not about me”!    As Max Lucado writes:  “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy.   Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness?   I want a spouse who makes  me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion.  I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me (but doesn’t cost me any taxes).  It is all about me.”  (Lucado, It’s Not About Me”)   Italics mine.

There are some basic questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • To what should we be committing our life?
  • What is worthwhile and lasting?
  • For what should we strive?
  • What is worth giving our life for?
  • How can the church change the culture rather than reflect it?
  • What is my role in this change as a Christian?

Culture can be compared to a symphony orchestra.    When all of the players play  their parts to perfection, beautiful music is produced under the watchful eye of the Great Conductor—God.  Each of us contributes our part to making that beautiful music and if you’ve ever been a part of a musical group you know what a pleasure that is.   But if the symphony orchestra decides that “it is all about me” then the result is not beautiful music but a monstrous noise!   Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook held by each separate musician?   Tubas blasting nonstop.  Percussionists pounding on their drums to get attention.    The cellist shoving the flutist off of the center stage chair.   The trumpeter standing on top of the conductor’s platform tooting his horn.   Sheet music disregarded.  Conductor ignored.    Would anyone want to be a part of this group?   Who would enjoy contributing to a monstrous noise that makes people wish to hold their ears?

And yet, we as Christians are tempted to buy into the American Dream that is turning nightmarish.   This dream of material success is based on the “Me Principle”.

Do we want to make beautiful music with our lives or just monstrous noise? Much of the American Nightmare is based on the “Me Principle.”    When we buy into materialism  as individuals and churches we help continue the nightmare.   When we elect politicians that refuse to compromise and work for the common good, we help continue the nightmare.   When we turn away from the problems of our society and turn inward for self-protection we help continue the nightmare.   Is that what you want to do?   Is that what I want to do?   

We as individuals and as churches need to ask ourselves this question:  “What kind of orchestra are we playing in—the one making beautiful music or the one making monstrous noise?

Faceless, Nameless, Homeless

Every time I see the Kansas Secterary of State, Chris Kobach grinning and crowing about how easy it is for everybody to obtain necessary identification to vote, I think of this story….

It’s a story about a young, homeless man we’ll call “Don” (not his real name).   About a year or so ago,  I met Don when he came to the dinner the church I was pastoring served every Friday to the homeless and needy.    He was a pleasant, rather shy, thin  young man.   He had fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and somehow ended up being laid off and jobless and on the streets in Hutchinson, Kansas.   As I talked to him and asked if there were any way I could help him, he asked if I could help him get a driver’s license in Kansas.   He had a recent job offer, but he was required  to have a Driver’s License to be hired and the only picture I.D.  he had was a Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired a couple of years previous to the current time and when it expired he had no money to renew it.

Actually Don had several problems:   First, he had no permanent address to give—the streets of Hutchinson, Kansas would not qualify.   I had the solution to that problem—we could use the church’s address as his permanent address.   Second, and more serious, to get a Driver’s License from Kansas required a current picture I.D., a birth certificate, or a passport.   That was a problem, as Kansas  would not accept Don’s Louisiana Driver’s License as picture identification.   So we sent to Louisiana to get his birth certificate, sending the fee and the necessary paperwork, including his old Louisiana Driver’s License.   Back came the reply, minus the fee sent, that they couldn’t furnish a birth certificate without a picture I.D. that was current, like a Kansas Driver’s License.   Here’s the problem:   to get a Driver’s License in Kansas, Don needed a birth certificate or passport, etc., but to get the birth certificate from Louisiana, he had to have a valid picture I.D. from Kansas.   They wouldn’t accept his old Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired as picture i.d. for his birth certificate.!   In a nutshellno birth certificate, no driver’s license in Kansas—-no Kansas Driver’s License, no birth certificate in Louisiana.   It was an impasse that all my letters and phone calls could not overcome.

The last time I heard from Don he was in Nebraska, had a job offer–again depending on a driver’s license, and called to see if I had been able to break the legal  Gordian Knot—-I was so sorry to have to tell this young man that I had not been able to get his birth certificate!!    It wasn’t a problem of the bureaucracy, it was a problem of the laws passed.

This barrier  to re-entry to our society is only one of many  that the homeless face.   Don didn’t just want to get his I.D. to vote, he needed a driver’s license so he could work!!

Don is one of many, many faceless, nameless, homeless people in the United States.   We should be ashamed!!

Promoting the Common Welfare?

Those in our Congress who have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States should take a look at the Preamble which states:   “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

How can the politicis of obstruction, the politics of political advantage, the politics of fear, and the politics of greed and money  which are practiced by many of those who have taken the oath to support this Consitution  be explained?  How many of our Congressmen and Senators have abandoned their oath in favor of party advantage and political office by appealing to fear and greed of corporations  rather than the GENERAL WELFARE?

Think about this Americans, because your democracy is  becomeing  a theocracy and a plutocracy and the General Welfare is not being considered or achieved!!

The general welfare is only achieved by “loving your neighbor as yourself” and how many can honestly say they are doing that in the political arena today?