This is one of those emotional and drifting posts I do apologize that it is not one of my more witty, pithy or more well researched posts, but it is what it is.
I have become much more cognizant of the plight of the poor and suffering in the course of my adult life. Over the past few weeks and months, probably due to the nastiness of the election campaign and some of the things said about the poor and the less fortunate have caused me to notice the poor around me as well as others that suffer in mind, body or spirit. I have met some of the poor and even the homeless in my area. The ones that I have met all work, but don’t have enough income to pay for a place to live and live in their cars. I remember working in the projects of San Antonio and with the homeless in the Dallas Fort Worth area in the late 1980s. I remember the crush of humanity in the emergency room waiting area at Parkland Memorial Hospital while doing my residency there. I am drawn to the plight of the people who I met that were victimized by war, violence and oppression in the Middle East and the Balkans. The sight of refugees in camps in the middle of the desert wanted by no nation still gets to me. The sight of children that have been wounded by terrorists, insurgents and supposedly friendly fire made a deep impression on me.
Some comes from my own experience of poverty and often not knowing where the next rent payment, tank of gas or meal would come from after I left the Army in 1988. I understand what it is to be uninsured, to work hard, have a better education, training and experience than people that I worked for and to be treated as if my work and value as a person was of no significance as opposed to their personal or corporate bottom line. I have experienced the humiliation of having to ask for help between jobs, and believe me until you have not employment and have to work 2-3 jobs to have a place to live while going to school to hopefully achieve your dreams all the while dealing with the illness of a family member as you pursue your calling and vocation you may never understand.
When we were in the second year of seminary we were losing our home, our cars and being bombarded by calls from often hateful and uncaring bill collectors. At that time I felt that I had sacrificed everything and come up short, a failure facing the end of my dream I called a prayer line. The house we lived in was in a dangerous neighborhood, old and dilapidated only a couple of gas space heaters worked during on of the coldest winters the Dallas area had seen in decades. With the temperature of -8 degrees outside and with ice forming on the inside of the house windows and the landlord refusing to make repairs to the heating we huddled in our bedroom with our two dachshunds. I just wanted to have someone care, maybe offer a word of encouragement. Instead I was told by the lady on the other end of the line that “I must not be in God’s will because if if I was he would be blessing me.” I was also asked if I wanted to donate to that ministry.
Somehow I don’t think that is the answer that Jesus would have given.
Eventually I did get through seminary and did pay off every bill instead of declaring bankruptcy. When I got my first hospital chaplain job after my residency it was a a full time contractor that made less than staff chaplains at the hospital and had no medical coverage. It is really hard to believe now that I was caring for people in that hospital’s ER and had no medical coverage myself. Of course when I was mobilized as an Army Reservist to go to support the Bosnia operation my contract was ended.
I guess when I hear politicians, pundits and politically minded preachers more guided by the principles of Ayn Rand than the Bible, or the Christian tradition it bothers me. When I see the Social Justice tradition of the Church, that referred to by Pope John Paul II as the “preferential option for the poor” mocked openly by leading political and religious figures I get upset. When I hear someone at a Presidential Primary debate yell “let them die” in regard to someone with a serious illness and no insurance or ability to pay I get concerned. We I see poverty and suffering in my own community, few social services and limited employment or educational opportunities it troubles me. I do what I can but it really isn’t enough.
I try now to listen to suffering people knowing that I cannot fix much of anything. I guess that one of the biggest issues that I see is that when people are down and out that a lot of people treat them very disrespectfully and never take time to either get to know them or understand their situation. Instead it seems that as a society we tend to want to lecture people about all the ways that they have failed, how they have screwed up their lives and how they are lucky that we either give to some charity to help them or to blame them for being a burden on society.
Like I said, this is all emotion and meandering thoughts brought on my some recent experiences with people that have triggered painful memories of what it was to be in similar situations and memories of other peoples suffering in this country and overseas.
So since I am so emotional right now I will simply close with a prayer to close the night.
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.” From the Book of Common Prayer