Another great piece from Vermont Edition on VPR; Thursday, November 19, 2015. Creating Pathways from Poverty.
There was a great segment on VPR’s Vermont Edition yesterday, November 18, about hunger in our state and what is being done to address it. Listen here: http://digital.vpr.net/post/checking-hunger-state
In the words of Dorothy Day, originally published in February, 1940.
For the sake of new readers, for the sake of men on our breadlines, for the sake of the employed and unemployed, the organized and unorganized workers, and also for the sake of ourselves, we must reiterate again and again what are our aims and purposes.
Together with the Works of Mercy, feeding, clothing and sheltering our brothers, we must indoctrinate. We must “give reason for the faith that is in us.” Otherwise we are scattered members of the Body of Christ, we are not “all members one of another.” Otherwise, our religion is an opiate, for ourselves alone, for our comfort or for our individual safety or indifferent custom.
We cannot live alone. We cannot go to Heaven alone. Otherwise, as Péguy said, God will say to us, “Where are the others?” (This is in one sense only as, of course, we believe that we must be what we would have the other fellow be. We must look to ourselves, our own lives first.)
If we do not keep indoctrinating, we lose the vision. And if we lose the vision, we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.
The vision is this. We are working for “a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth.” We are trying to say with action, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are working for a Christian social order.
We believe in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. This teaching, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, involves today the issue of unions (where men call each other brothers); it involves the racial question; it involves cooperatives, credit unions, crafts; it involves Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes. It is with all these means that we can live as though we believed indeed that we are all members one of another, knowing that when “the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered.”
This work of ours toward a new heaven and a new earth shows a correlation between the material and the spiritual, and, of course, recognizes the primacy of the spiritual. Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul. Hence the leaders of the work, and as many as we can induce to join us, must go daily to Mass, to receive food for the soul. And as our perceptions are quickened, and as we pray that our faith be increased, we will see Christ in each other, and we will not lose faith in those around us, no matter how stumbling their progress is. It is easier to have faith that God will support each House of Hospitality and Farming Commune and supply our needs in the way of food and money to pay bills, than it is to keep a strong, hearty, living faith in each individual around us – to see Christ in him. If we lose faith, if we stop the work of indoctrinating, we are in a way denying Christ again.
We must practice the presence of God. He said that when two or three are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms. When we pray for our material needs, it brings us close to His humanity. He, too, needed food and shelter. He, too, warmed His hands at a fire and lay down in a boat to sleep.
When we have spiritual reading at meals, when we have the rosary at night, when we have study groups, forums, when we go out to distribute literature at meetings, or sell it on the street corners, Christ is there with us. What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.
And why must we see results? Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest.
When we write in these terms, we are writing not only for our fellow workers in thirty other Houses, to other groups of Catholic Workers who are meeting for discussion, but to every reader of the paper. We hold with the motto of the National Maritime Union, that every member is an organizer. We are upholding the ideal of personal responsibility. You can work as you are bumming around the country on freights, if you are working in a factory or a field or a shipyard or a filling station. You do not depend on any organization which means only paper figures, which means only the labor of the few. We are not speaking of mass action, pressure groups (fearful potential for evil as well as good). We are addressing each individual reader of The Catholic Worker.
The work grows with each month, the circulation increases, letters come in from all over the world, articles are written about the movement in many countries.
Statesmen watch the work, scholars study it, workers feel its attraction, those who are in need flock to us and stay to participate. It is a new way of life. But though we grow in numbers and reach far-off corners of the earth, essentially the work depends on each one of us, on our way of life, the little works we do.
“Where are the others?” God will say. Let us not deny Him in those about us. Even here, right now, we can have that new earth, wherein justice dwelleth!
In reflecting upon the readings for this past Sunday, October 25 — the story from Mark’s gospel about the blind beggar Bartimaeus — America Magazine’s John W. Martens poses the question, “Who do we tell today to shut up, to stop bothering the Messiah?”
It is, in fact, one of the most common themes in the Gospels. If the religious authorities, the other disciples, society at large, has deemed a person inappropriate for Jesus’s attention, it’s a good bet that’s exactly the person He’s going to seek out.
We live in an entitled society. Those of us with the dumb luck to have been born into the wealthiest nation in the history of the world are too often blind to just how much privilege comes from the random chance of birthright. Like the crowds surrounding Jesus, it can be all too easy for us to look down on the blind beggar in our midst, to assume his misfortune is due to some sin or character flaw. And when he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” we might, like the disciples, be tempted to rebuke him for being too outspoken or for seeking special privileges that he doesn’t deserve.
But if we allow ourselves to think that way, we are judging by worldly standards, not by God’s. Jesus gave to all who asked, and especially to those who refused to be silenced. To quote a popular sentiment that Dorothy Day certainly believed, even if she never actually said the words as attributed to her, “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”
Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of another blog post I’d written some years ago. First published March 27, 2013, it is presented below.
On Saturday, October 3, 2015, the United States military launched an attack on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
They said at first it was “collateral damage.” Later on they called it a mistake, the fault of Afghan soldiers who called for the attack, and the work of US Special Forces. In most cases where careless military action results in civilian casualties, they go with “collateral damage” and leave it at that. If the victim this time weren’t a large international medical organization, we probably wouldn’t have heard so much about it and the US military wouldn’t have been put on the defensive. When people start looking at exactly what “collateral damage” was done, it becomes painfully obvious what an inadequate and even obscenely callous response it is.
In September of 1945, in response to the Hiroshima bombing, Dorothy Day noted, “…while we went for obliteration bombing, Russia was very careful not to bomb cities, [not] to bomb civilian populations.” A month later she wrote:
What to do?
We can only suggest one thing — destroy the two billion dollars’ worth of equipment that was built to make the atomic bomb; destroy all the formulas; put on sackcloth and ashes, weep and repent. And God will not forget to show mercy.
Instead, we have done the opposite. We celebrate war, we take pride in the fact that we can obliterate people without ever needing to see them or know who they were. When a gunman randomly kills ten people in an Oregon college, a major Presidential candidate shrugs it off — “Stuff happens,” he says. Does human life really mean so little to us these days?
Whenever another of these all-too-common mass shootings occurs — whenever this “stuff happens” — there are those who are quick to blame it on an epidemic of untreated mental illness. They’re right, I’d say, but not in the way they think. The illness is cultural. It’s a glorification of violence, a disregard for the value of life. I recall an online discussion recently about the word “invaluable.” The word means above and beyond any measurable value, and remarkably a lot of people seemed to have trouble grasping the concept. We live in a world where a thing that can’t be commodified has no value. Even human life, increasingly, is only as valuable as its earning potential.
The Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was by no means the first of our military missteps in the years we’ve been at war in the Middle East. Just a quick google search of “Wedding bombing” reveals what ought to be a sickening number of results. If another nation were arbitrarily bombing our civilians at such a rate we’d be clamoring for war against them. And yet so many of us don’t understand why we’re so hated in that part of the world.
A great man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The fact that it comes from a Spiderman comic-book does not in the least devalue the truth behind it. Comic-book heroes are part of our mythology — the source of cultural wisdom for the modern age.
There is a longstanding tradition in the comics that Superman does not kill his adversaries. As powerful as he is he could easily kill without thinking about it, so he has taken it as a moral imperative to exercise some self-control and to find a better solution. I can’t help but think that the world’s most powerful military force could stand to learn something from the Last Son of Krypton.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a statement for Labor Day, 2015, detailing the importance of work and the current state of labor in the US.
The majority of jobs provide little in the way of sufficient wages, retirement benefits, stability, or family security, and too many families are stringing together part-time jobs to pay the bills. Opportunities for younger workers are in serious decline.
Labor has become one of the more politicized issues in the US, and as usual Catholic teaching straddles both sides of our political spectrum. It stresses what conservatives like to call the “Right to Work” …
Labor is one important way we honor our brothers and sisters in God’s universal human family. In the creation story, God gives us labor as a gateway into participation with Him in the ongoing unfolding of creation. Human labor, at its best, is a deeply holy thing that ought to honor our dignity as we help God “maintain the fabric of the world” (no. 124, citing Sir 38:34).
… while also demanding the dignity of a fair and livable wage for all.
In demanding a living wage for workers we give hope to those struggling to provide for their families, as well as young workers who hope to have families of their own someday. Unions and worker associations, as with all human institutions, are imperfect, yet they remain indispensable to this work, and they can exemplify the importance of subsidiarity and solidarity in action.
Labor Day is a time to reflect, and in reflecting to take action toward improving the labor situation in our country and in the world.
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. ~James 2:1
“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” ~Dorothy Day
The first quote, taken from today’s second reading, reminded me of the second. I’ve posted before some thoughts on giving as generously as possible, and without judgement. “Freely you have received; as freely you should give” (Matthew 10:8). We should all strive to be more God-like in our dealings with one another.
As Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si points out, we continue to squander one of God’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. This world we live on, entrusted to us as a gift to all humanity, is being plundered and squandered for the short-term selfish gain of a few at the expense of millions of others. God entreats us to share our world’s bounty among the global community. We of the First World generally ignore the call, but God still graces us with enough wealth for all His people around the world, hoping in love that we will share while knowing that ultimately we will not.
As Catholics we understand that God has given us not only a wealth of gifts and blessings, but also the free will to use them (or misuse them) as we see fit. God does not withhold His gifts in the fear (or even the foreknowledge) that we might misuse them. Rather, He gives His gifts freely in love, in the hope that we will use them appropriately. And this — this free, optimistic, and loving generosity should be our guide as we deal with our brothers and sisters in this life.
Which brings me around to recent events in the news. It occurs to me that a county clerk who refuses to grant marriage licenses because she feels they go against her own morals is perhaps not giving as freely as she has received. We are told to “give to everyone who asks” — not to judge them, not to decide for ourselves what they may want or need. Just give; pray for them if you feel the need, let them make their decisions for good or for ill, and hope for the best. It’s how God treats each of us, after all. And unless we claim to be wiser than God, it’s how we should treat each other.
Among the richest nations of the world, the United States has one of the worst child poverty rates. A 2014 UNICEF report ranks us 36th among the 41 countries studied. Some reports say as many as 44% of our nations children currently live in low-income or poverty situations.
Poverty in this context refers to living at or below the Federal Poverty Threshold (FPT), or $23,850 for a family of four. Low Income is defined as at or below 200% FPT — research has consistently shown that families in the US need about twice the FPT to meet their most basic needs. This Low-Income threshold is currently estimated at $47,700 for a family of four. See this link for more details.
To make the numbers a little less abstract, consider the following. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At that rate, a person working a full-time (forty hour per week) job will make $15,080. A two-parent household, if both parents work full-time at the federal minimum wage, will bring in $30,160.
In fact, at the current federal minimum wage a family of four would need to work approximately 136.5 hours per week, or 3.16 full-time jobs, just to reach the low-income threshold. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of child-care while Mom and Dad are working all those hours.
For Additional Reading:
There’s a lot written about poverty and the people who live in it — nearly all of it written by those on the outside looking in. That’s why I found it refreshing to come across a post from a couple years ago, written from the perspective of someone actually living through it. It is an honest, thoughtful, heart-breakingly forthright meditation on being poor in modern-day America.
“Rest is a luxury for the rich,” author Linda Tirado tells us. “You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves.” Later on she says “It’s best not to hope.” Hope too is a luxury for the rich.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
“Nobody likes poor people procreating,” she says, “but they judge abortion even harder.” It’s a perfect summation of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” attitude we so often take with the poor.
The article does contain a few profanities, but it’s definitely worth a read. Check it out at the link: Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense