I was thinking about the poor this morning. I think we can agree that allowing poverty to go on without some kind of attention is wrong but we cannot seem to agree upon the who-what-where-when of helping the poor. First of all, I don’t think helping the poor is a command only for those who believe in God. One doesn’t have to be religious to share in this responsibility. I think that caring for the needy among us is a human imperative. I think the main reason we have so much poverty is that too many people think the problem is not theirs. Who is responsible for poverty isn’t important. The solution is everyone’s.
As for what to do about poverty, well, there are a gazillion ways, as many as there are people who are poor. Some people are poor because of their lack of education…so educators need to step up to the plate, and governments and churches who fund education need to step up to the plate, too. Education takes place in numerable ways besides in schools so there are others that can help educate: those who work with children in clubs, scouting, and sports, for example.
Some people are poor because the jobs they hold pay wages too small to provide a living for them and their families. So…employers need step up to the plate and provide a living wage. No excuses. And if you think you can renege on this, then maybe there needs to be a penalty imposed by the government…yes by the government…city, county, state, national – whatever! If you can’t fork up, you’d better be able to justify it. Are you keeping too much for the uppity-ups in your business? Do you need time to adjust? Maybe, but think about this: there are thousands of businesses who do pay a living wage and they can because it was a commitment they made before they went into business in the first place. They may have grown slower than your business and they might not have as high a percentage of profit as you do, but their employees are happy and they are not poor because of poor wages.
Some people are poor because of some bad things that have happened in their lives, an illness to a family member, a catastrophe that wiped out their home, a loss of a job. Well, whose problem is this? Everybody’s! So we pitch in and help through our neighborhoods, churches, organizations, employers, and governments. We help in the moment or we work together to be sure people are prepared to take care of mishaps when they occur. I am talking about affordable insurance or structures created so that there is a plan in place for when problems occur. In my mind, “citizen” is to a “country” is what a family member is to a family. We take care of our own.
Some people are poor because they were born into poverty and don’t know any other way to live. They are used to the life and may even have gotten used to getting some things without working for them. Let me tell you what I think is the solution to this situation. Those of us who are “in the know” need to get to know them. I believe that the most powerful component in fostering change in a person is through relationship. Alas, this is just not how we are willing to live. “Give me your tired, your poor,” Lady Liberty says. Well, that may have opened the doors for the tired and poor to come into our country, but God forbid we should invite them into our homes! Yet it is in relationships that those who can’t find the straps to their boots can experience real transformation. Too much work, too much time, too much commitment we say, and too much vulnerability. Well, then we should stop complaining about all the programs the government creates to help the poor…it is, after all, something, even if the least efficient and least productive way to help people.
Some people are poor because they are sick in mind, body or spirit and they will remain so as long as they are on this earth. I think these are the ones Jesus was referring to when he said, “The poor will always be among you.” Sometimes all we can do is make room for them…provide shelter and food. But we should do that and make sure they are treated with dignity…not just because of their humanity but because of our own.
I realize there are many who would argue with what I have said. Truth be known, I am overwhelmed by the reality of poverty and suffering in the world. I really don’t know the answer. But sometimes it seems that arguing about whose problem poverty is and what to do about it, especially among our government officials, is the problem in itself. If they can talk about it long enough, they can reject or postpone any efforts. Do they enjoy the process of debate just a little too much? So it seems. Meanwhile, the poor stay poor and the rest of us get to go our merry way until we ourselves fall into the dark hole of poverty.