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Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Poverty in America Part 13

Where do we go from here?

For those who feel entitled to handouts

This is where our biggest challenge will be.  I once met a man who showed me an x-ray of his broken pinky finger (just the tip looked broken).  He insisted that this should qualify him for disability.  The truth is that his disability is that he was lazy.  He expected his live in girlfriend to bring in the bacon, care for the kids and clean the house while he would hang out with his friends and play basketball in the backyard.  What can we possibly to with men or women like that? 

As long as his girlfriend supports him there will be little that we can do.  This man will call every church in town (using his smart phone) to plead, beg and ask for help in order to supplement her income.  The poverty mindset is that as long as he is a lover and fighter he is a keeper.  Eventually, though that woman will come to her senses and will want to be with a man that will take care of her.  She deserves more and when she realizes it than we can help him out with job training, etc. 

Assuming that he rejects that, we must allow him to feel the pain of his choices.  A safe and secure group home where he has limited rights and privileges might be in order.  While living there he would be offered opportunities to overcome the disease of laziness. With work will come freedoms and more opportunities to live a good life.  By the way, we already have these, they are called prisons.  What I am recommending here for those that desire to be a drain on society is that they get compassion and help but that they pay for that care by giving up a portion of their rights.

For those ready to move ahead

Now these are the people that most excite me!    

Imagine that they move to a life recovery home.  There would be separate wings for married couples, single men and single women.  This place would offer food and shelter in a safe and secure environment.  During the day they would attend classes and participate in job training.  At night they return to their home.  They would still have curfews like the other homes but this location would have more variety of food.  They would have a later curfew.  Along the way house parents would help them learn basic life skills to include parenting, home cleaning, budgeting and other important skills.  Graduation requirements would require them to have a job along with good attendance and participation in all training.  Most people would need to spend 18-24 months in this training.  But those that graduate would be entitled to apply to the tiny houses program listed below.

Tiny Houses

Imagine a small gated community where the neighbors all know each other.  Each home is owned or is being paid for by those that are living inside.  The houses are not very large.  But they all provide a kitchen, bedrooms and a living room for family times.  This community requires everyone to attend a weekly community meeting to resolve conflicts and any other issues.  Drug and alcohol use is strictly prohibited in this little community.  Neighbors watch out for each other and encourage each other.  In the back yard of each home is a small vegetable garden growing the owner’s favorite veggies.  Close to the house lining the sidewalk up to their homes are rows of flowers that highlight the fresh flowers growing in flower boxes below the windows of the home.  In the center of the neighborhood is a large hydroponics plant where some of the residents work.  Others work to sell the vegetables and the fish to nearby restaurants and grocery stores.  Profits would be used to make neighborhood improvements.  When the family has stabilized and is doing well they can choose to stay or if they desire they can sell their home to others who are graduating the program.  This will give them the starter money to purchase a home in the regular world.

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Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Poverty in America Part 12

Time Banks

    Imagine a fairly standard neighborhood.  Within this neighborhood are businesses, churches, schools and residents.

    The churches take the lead in reaching out to their neighbors.  Pastors would no longer simply be a pastor to those who walk through their doors, but instead would serve as a shepherd for the entire neighborhood.  Most neighborhoods here have multiple churches.  Regardless of denominations pastors could choose to work with other churches on this portion of the community.

    As they get to know their neighborhood businesses and residents they would assess the needs.  The churches could act as a connecting service.  A resident needs a job, they would connect the person to the business.  The business needs employees the churches would connect the residents to the business.  If a resident needed help with a broken appliance.  The church would examine the ranks of their members and connect the expert to the problem.

    Churches would encourage everyone in their neighborhood that they are valuable and can add something to the community.  The residents would be encouraged to work, be employed and serve the neighborhood.

    The churches would also adopt the local school and again provide connections between resources and students.  This might include tutors, school supplies or after school care.  This would also include celebrations of students graduating or preparing to go to college.

    As part of this process the churches would serve as the central connection point for the time bank.  What this looks like is that in the neighborhood is a single mom who is really good at house painting.  She would paint the house of the mechanic down the street who works too many daylight hours to get to the task.  The mechanic buys the paint. The Mechanic fixes the car for the widow around the corner.  Again the widow buys parts but the mechanic puts her car all together.  The widow watches the single moms kids so that it is worthwhile for her to go to work.  Everyone is giving and everyone is receiving.  It won’t always be that clean and some work will be put into the bank to be used at a future time but the church can manage a single neighborhood.

    An important note is that the churches are not to provide all of the resources but rather to serve as a simple connection to the needs.

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Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Poverty in America Part 11

Health Care Programs

    Much of the conversation around health care in the United States has revolved around health insurance.  Health insurance only helps if you get sick.  But that is only part of the problem.  Have you ever had to deal with insurance companies?  They can find a loop hole and they use more tiny print than any other industry.  If they can find a way not to pay out they will do so.  Recently I learned that it is not much better from the doctor’s side of things as they deal with these insurance companies.  Additionally the concept of using insurance to solve our health problems is increasing the demand.

    There has got to be a better way to help people who are sick get well. 

Among the concepts with promise is community or neighborhood clinics.  These clinics would be staffed by medical and nursing students.  In essence grants would pay for their education and in return these students to include doctors that have recently graduated would operate the clinics.  These doctors get to know the neighborhoods most common issues.  Which health issues seem to be environmentally related?  Is there something that we could change that would make the neighborhood healthier?  This medical staff could provide annual training for people in the neighborhood to provide a multitude of prevention information.  This concept would increase the supply which will lower the overall cost of health care in our nation.

    Better than working to treat those who are sick I present the following as areas that we can focus on to reduce the number of sick people in the first place.  This would more honestly represent health care instead of sick care.

“He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything.”

– Proverb

Nutrition

     While there are multiple ideas on what constitutes good nutrition there are some basic things that are agreed upon.  First is that processed food is generally bad for your long term health.  Yes it can feed the hungry.  But in the long term much of it leads to obesity and a whole range of other health issues.  Take a moment to look at the ingredients list on most of the processed foods.  How many of those ingredients can you easily pronounce?  That should make us nervous.  In truth most of those in the middle and wealth class eat some of those foods but also have the resources to experience fresh foods and meals where one can easily pronounce all of the ingredients.  Overall the impact of processed foods for these two classes is reduced.  What about those in poverty?  When you look through most food banks a large amount of the food that is given away comes from this processed food category.  Unfortunately we as a society have now trained the taste buds of these men and women.  They now prefer this food to the detriment of their own health. 

    At the shelter where I work we will put out vegetables and fruit with meals and with snacks.  Very few will even look at it twice before passing on the veggies and heading for whatever else might be served.  We typically get around this by serving soups where most of the food groups are covered in one bowl.

    This will take time but we must make the adjustment to fresh foods for those in poverty.  Yes it will cost more up front but it will save us a great deal in the long run.  Think of this in terms of these facts.

  • Those who eat healthy are better employees.
  • Those that eat healthy have fewer colds and take fewer sick days.
  • Those that eat healthy have more emotional control.
  • Those that eat healthy have fewer heart related illnesses.
  • Those that eat healthy are less likely to experience the unhealthy effects of obesity.

    Thinking of nutrition in this way will enable us to help people rise out of poverty by helping them get into the work force and stay there.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Exercise

    I once knew a woman who would go to church on Sunday and then spend most of the rest of the week in her recliner.  When visiting with her it was obvious that she rarely moved from the chair.  Her fridge was right there within arms reach and she had a hot plate and microwave also within arms reach.  If she had thought of a bed pan I started to believe that she would never get up from that chair that also served as a bed.  The lack of activity ultimately took a toll on her body and she did not live to be very old. 

    Lack of movement is at a critical stage in our nation.  In the past people would walk most places and enjoyed an abundance of fresh air.  With all of our modern technology we can order in food, watch movies on demand and never leave the comfort and safety of our homes.  Too many maintain a job where they are stuck behind a desk. 

    We must get moving again.  Most that do choose exercise do it through an appearance motive.  But exercise does much more than that.  Exercise enables your heart to grow stronger.  Your lungs take in fresh air and start to pass that oxygen on into your blood stream.  With a healthy diet your muscles and bones benefit greatly from this exercise and you will experience more joys in your older years.

     I have a friend who is still active at 92 years old and is living life unlike the kids of 81 and 85 that he routinely visits.  While he is slowing down and definitely does not move as fast as he once did, he is still an active man who is enjoying his life.  Compare that to many that I see at nursing homes.  My young niece had her first experience at the nursing home to visit my grandfather.  When she walked in she noticed all of these people sleeping in their wheel chairs and she asked if they were all dead.  That is what awaits someone who does not get and remain active.

    For those in poverty the impact of losing mobility can even be life threatening.  They are more likely to be robbed, hurt and left for dead.  Think back to the story of the Good Samaritan.  Additionally, loss of health may prove costly if they are younger as most are working for an hourly wage.  Less hours of work equals less pay.  We need to encourage those in poverty to exercise at least 30 minutes a day.

Healthy Lifestyle

    Healthy eating and exercise can take people a long way toward an overall more satisfying life.  However, consider other areas that will make for a healthier lifestyle

.       Offering incentives, encouragement and training to help people quit smoking can help them rise out of poverty.  A majority of those in poverty may not be able to afford food and healthcare but they find a way to buy a pack of smokes.  What if that money could be used for something that won’t lead to future health issues? 

    Clean is free.  Having a clean and orderly home can also lead to good physical health.  Since this may not have been a part of the culture of poverty this would be a good place for a mentor to step in and teach and then offer accountability to come back and make sure that they are keeping up with their cleanliness.

    All of these things and likely more thoughts are really about health care and in most cases would save a great deal of money and time. 

Application Questions

1) Develop a health protection plan for yourself.  Include all of the areas listed above.  Develop one for your family. 

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Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 10

    Education needs to quit proselytizing kids into a humanist world view and focus on the life skills that are going to help these young people grow up to be great workers and citizens.   Currently we push kids to attend twelve years of school and then encourage them to consider trade school and college.  I read recently the following thoughts.

    What if we made athletes always practice but never have a game?  Would they sense a purpose?  Most athletes will push themselves through drills and practices so that they can get good at the game. 

    In the same way we need to prepare kids for the real world.  Testing needs to replicate some real life situations in order to be effective.  Consider this idea.  The school year starts out with a basic science lesson on plants.  The kids learn some things about the plants and how they grow best.  There is also a discussion on the economics of plants.  How much one can expect for a seedling or even the fruit or vegetables.  The kids would then use math to figure out what plants the class should invest in.  An informed teacher could also include history of certain plants and how cultures have risen or fallen on the prosperity of these plants.  As the plants grow the kids are learning more about math, science history and economics. 

     Along the way the class could elect leaders that will help make some of the decisions and a good teacher could even replicate unions and corporations into the study.

     At the end of the year the kids would sell the plants or the produce of the plants.  As a celebration if the kids make a profit they could have a celebration dinner or donate the money to charity.  There are multiple ways to even improve on this simple concept. 

    I read of one school that put together trials regarding critical historical events.  The kids dressed up in period costumes and took on all of the standard court appointed roles.  The kids learned much about the actual historical situation and also about the court system.  This was done in an actual court room where a judge met with the kids and helped them through the process.  By the time the project was done the kids had a great understanding not only of history and the court system, they had fun doing it.

    It is critical that we remember that schools were designed to prepare kids for the work force.  By a well rounded curriculum as spelled out above this would be possible.  Regardless, all education based programs need to include the following if they are going to effectively help kids prepare for life above the poverty line.

Develop Sense of Purpose

    At about eleven years old a young man decided that he wanted to play baseball for the New York Yankees. This purpose shaped his entire life.  Even as a teenager he recognized that the choices he was making could enable or disable that dream.  He chose healthy food and exercise.  He chose to avoid crime figuring that jail would not help his chances of making the big leagues.  In those difficult teen years he was concerned that he could get a young lady pregnant and then have to quit baseball to take care of a little family.  As a result he chose to not date much in High School.  There is much more but ultimately this young man played shortstop for the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. 

    The point is that a destination and a hopeful dream can make a huge difference in people’s lives.  School and work seem to have no meaning unless there is an ultimate purpose.  In college I was a dishwasher.  On the surface it seemed meaningless.  But really it was teaching me servant hood and humility.  Additionally it was keeping me on campus and out of trouble.  Finally it was giving me some money that got me through college with much less debt.  This seemingly pointless job had a great purpose in making me the man I am today.

    Help students find purpose in even the most mundane tasks will benefit them when they are adults. 

Develop Healthy Self Esteem

     Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes on this one.  But hear me out here.  I am not talking about giving everyone a trophy. What I am saying is that everyone has something they are good at, go find that thing and encourage that thing.  People, ALL people have value.  Unfortunately, for too many they fail to discover and find that value.  That is a task that schools are uniquely designed to do.  Too often in schools there becomes a focus on what a student fails at instead of focusing on their strengths.  Now there may be a need to help someone that is failing in one subject to master the basics, I am not suggesting we ignore those things.  But what is this person really good at, how can we help that person to succeed.

    I once read about a chronically poor student who seemed to be doodling and  goofing off in most of his classes.  One day the teacher caught a glimpse of what the student was working on.  It was a fantastic picture of a shoe.  With a short conversation the teacher discovered that this student had designed several different styles of shoes.  An idea blossomed in the teacher.  Soon after the teachers were incorporating foot related elements into the lessons.  History, math, science and even literature came to life for this young man.  Today that young man is working for a major shoe company as a designer.

    In the standard school there would have been simply a focus on getting him to pay attention  and to do his homework.  Instead finding the young man’s dreams and adjusting the lessons to connect to that dream made him feel good.  That feeling good translated into life success.

Develop a Sense of Discipline

    Too often in schools we get stuck on the actual academics of educating the boys, girls, men and women that attend those schools.  But what we often forget is that school also trains us for the work world.  You must be in a class at a specific time.  That sounds like most jobs that I have held over the years.  At school you have expectations in homework, attendance and tests.  In the work world you will often have to conduct research, show up on time and present yourself to customers.  At school you will also need to work around tricky relationships.  That also happens at the work place.

    We live in a quitter society that quits the moment things get too difficult.  It takes discipline to push through the difficulty and get to the prize.  In passing a difficult exam it is rarely comfortable staying up late and digesting incredible amounts of information.  The stress of the test also takes a certain amount of discipline as you focus an consider how best to answer questions. 

Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

    Gaining in discipline prepares one not simply for work but for life.  Marriages, parenting, healthy living all require discipline.  Our schools need to focus on helping kids move from external motivators to internal motivations for discipline.

Develop a Vision of Opportunity

    I was working at a shelter for women and children.  One afternoon I was visiting with one of the teenage boys that was staying there with his mom.  We engaged in lots of small talk about school, sports and girls and then the conversation shifted to the future.  Curious, I asked the young man what he wanted to be when he graduated High School.  There was a long awkward pause and after a few moments he shrugged. “I don’t know maybe I can get a job at Taco Bell.”  Now don’t get me wrong, Taco Bell is a fine place to work.  I do love to eat there when the opportunity rings.  But for a High School boy full of potential and promise dreams of working at Taco Bell it threw me off.  This was the best he could imagine for his life.  He did not dream of managing or owning a Taco Bell but simply hoped to maybe someday get a job there. 

    This is where schools must get busy and develop dreams for our young people.  Help them to imagine what can be.  Dig deep and help people find their passions that maybe have died.  Challenge our young people to rise up and solve the problems of our society. 

    Too many like the young man that I was visiting with at the shelter have learned to settle.  We can solve the problems of our nation and our world.  They will not be easy to solve or it would have been done already.  We can solve poverty in our community.  We can solve racism and discrimination in all its forms.  We can solve any problem that we can imagine.  But it is going to take us dreaming and hoping and wanting more for the future of our world. 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

-John F Kennedy

Develop a thirst for knowledge.

    For most of the past twenty years I have had a stack of books on my dresser or on my desk.  The pile never seems to shrink though I read a book a week.  But let me tell you what happens.  While reading a book the author will quote someone else or tell a story from history and suddenly I get excited about that person or place or time.  I do some research and order some books from the library or the online book store.  I want to know more, learn more and be more.  There is so much interesting information out there.  I wish that I had more time to learn it all, to experience it all. 

    I have traveled all over Europe and have been to South America.  I knew some things about history and culture of the places I went to.  I learned a ton while there.  But sometimes a book or article will point out some fact that I missed in my travels and I want to go back to take more in.

    What would happen if we made learning so much fun and so exciting that movie cinemas would find it difficult to fill the theater?  Open the minds of our young people to research history and discover all of the incredible and different ways of thinking that are out there.  Let them learn from history and other cultures more than from social media. 

    If knowledge becomes exciting enough we might need to move toward 24 hour libraries instead of all night shopping.  Create a passion for learning and I am believing that someone might stumble on the cure for baldness, cancer or any other illness that is wrecking our society.

Application Questions

1) What are the factors that keep us from making the recommended change of focus?  How can we overcome those factors?

2)  Conduct a study to discover a person in your community that developed a dream from childhood and made it into a productive life. (Like the Derek Jeter example above)

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Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Homelessness in America Part 9

A better Safety Net

     In many circles there is a call for strengthening the safety net so that men and women who are experiencing poverty have a safe place to land when those difficult times come.  There seems to be a movement to include more and more people that can be caught in the net and in theory lessen the damage that poverty typically inflicts.

     However, in truth the cost of keeping this safety net in place continues to escalate every year with few tangible results.  Yes the net does keep many people from hitting the solid floor, however, it also does not tend to let them go and climb back to the heights from which they have fallen.  So the net becomes more and more full and as a result the costs will continue to escalate until eventually the whole system will crash leaving many hurt, disillusioned and society in a crisis.

      A better safety net is the family as the first net.  When parents need extra care, instead of dumping them at nursing homes what if we helped families to care for their loved ones?  What if when a mother loses her husband that there is an extended family to help with childcare or offer temporary support?  For the most part this also keeps folks from getting hurt.  There is greater accountability because the funder and caregiver (the same person) is closer to the action.  They know for example if help is being squandered by drug use or wasted in other unhealthy behaviors. 

     A second level of safety net that can help when people burn the trust of the family safety net would be the church.

      With just a little bit of training the church can step in to help in those cases where relationships are strained.  If churches work together they could keep rescue missions and treatment centers running for those that seep through the family safety net.

     Even with these two safety nets that again cost the government very little there will be those who refuse to make changes to be a positive person in our communities.  This is where the government safety net could actually operate in a way that benefits society.  For those that choose crime the safety net would be jail.  For those that refuse to work then the old fashioned concept of a poor house with little in the way of comfort could be the answer.  The message to those in the poor house would be, “If you want to work we will help you get training, clothing and transportation.  When you work you get to have freedom of no curfew, extra nice things, better entertainment, etc. If you choose not to work than society needs to care for you with the least amount of expense possible.

 “The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power. And the people who stand to gain from change have none of the power”

– Niccolò Machiavelli.

Only Together

     Only together can we hope to make a sustainable difference.  Great programs often come out of private and social and even government sectors that really can make a difference in people’s lives.  Unfortunately many of those programs are short lived due to changes in funding or change of leadership.  In one community that I was working in they had an incredible program that was designed, funded and worked through a community action organization.  It included personal mentorship and lessons on many basic life skills courses that were flexible enough to help all of their clients succeed.  I saw firsthand the success of those who completed the six month program.  They were either self reliant or in the worst case scenarios they were well on their way.  Most had started out as shelter hoppers but ended up moving into a place where they were paying at least a portion of the rent.  One young woman was even in the process of buying her own house.  Yet the program only lasted one year.  Reasons given for its elimination included a loss of funding (The community action organization received a majority of its funds from government program.) and also a new direction being brought to the organization that had changed leadership.  Yet this program was succeeding.  I have read of many others that showed much promise for impacting generations of folks living in poverty but when elections take place or when passions run cold the programs go away. 

Only together can we hope to build sustainable programs that will work.  I see five divisions of folks that if they were able to work together could make an incredible difference in the lives of people who are experiencing poverty.

Government:

Since elections happen routinely in this nation at all levels of government we should be cautious in depending on their funding of these projects.  Two additional reasons to be cautious of the government’s involvement on the funding end.  First they don’t produce anything.  The only way they get money is to take it from others. In order for them to offer any money they must take it from someone who is working.  This seems to be the current trend of our government.  “Let us tax the rich and give to the poor,” is say the modern day Robin Hoods.  This will never be sustainable since in truth most taxes will be collected from the middle class and will result in pushing them into poverty.  When most of us look at our paycheck and notice the money being taken out and then later drive past a panhandler who is flying the sign we feel angry with them.  Isn’t this what those deductions are supposed to be preventing.  No one should be living in a cardboard box while they are taking my money.  Secondly, money collected from the government tends to come with political leanings.  In studying the New Deal programs does it not strike you as strange that nearly 90% of the programs did not go to those in the most destitute poverty but instead to swing states that helped FDR get reelected?  This will always be the case when government is responsible for the funding.  So what role does the government play in the whole process? 

     First they need to cut all welfare programs slowly over the next several years.  They must be careful not to do it all at once but must start with a deliberate plan to eradicate government support.  Dropping the support too quickly could lead to riots and wide spread panic.  We must focus on a plan to slowly drop the aid over the next five years across the nation.  As long as the hand out system lives we will have poverty infecting our nation.

     Money could better be used as a portion of programs similar to the WPA and the CCC from the Great Depression era.  This would enable us to get trained workers for minimum cost and also get key infrastructure built across the nation.  With a little creativity we can have cleaner parks, streets and people welcoming us into government buildings and hospitals.  The possibilities are endless.

     Second they need to get out and focus on incentives to encourage businesses to hire more people.  The role of government is really more one of infrastructure.  Build the roads, utility systems and other pieces so that business can thrive.  Government should drop things like the minimum wage and over regulation that makes things difficult.  I remember having a conversation with a business owner who had to pay an employee just to manage the paperwork that was connected to his business.  In this modern era paperwork should be minimal but it only seems to increase.  One government based program that once worked with required the exact same form filled out for each program.  This form was over 20 pages long.  By the way because they were going through a digital transition I also had to fill out the paperwork online.  It was time consuming and a waste.

     Third government should look at all laws.  There are actually programs and systems that they must overhaul like court systems, department of corrections and other agencies that must be examined and changed.  Some of these programs actually create poverty.  It is critical that every local government take a look at laws that might be causing some to be in poverty.  In my own community there are laws that limit the number of people living in an apartment.  While for safety reasons this makes some sense, could we be keeping the extended family from being of service to each other?  Could local laws be established to better protect businesses that donate already prepared foods to local shelters and free public meal locations?  There are likely laws in your community that may be contributing to poverty and homelessness. 

     Many communities are allowing tent cities and many advocates fight for the rights of people to live on sidewalks and such.  These ideas are short sighted and actually enable men and women to continue to make poverty creating choices.  Government could step back into an ancient idea of work houses for those who find themselves homeless.  Minimum accommodations, safety focused, training focused and as much inspiration to move folks forward as possible would define the workhouses.  The goal would be getting folks to work.  For those that actually have disabilities there would be a special place for them where they can receive the medical care they need.  Most men and women have disabilities that might make some jobs nearly impossible but most can contribute regularly.

     At a federal and state level, things like raising the minimum wage, more money for housing and other ideas all sound like a solution to poverty.  That is until you get up close and check into what these men and women actually need.  I will recommend that instead of simply signing off on legislation that our government officials might need to take a closer look at these bills.   Granted, there are hundreds of issues at stake at all levels of government.  For this work I will only address these three. 

     As a student of poverty and leadership I have spent much time considering these topics.  For the person who is serious about wanting to really help the poor I challenge you to study the topic and spend time thinking through all of the possible ways to help.  That is how we, “go to him.”  We study the culture of poverty and we look for ways to help.  But if you don’t take time to examine the culture and the true situation you could actually be hurting the people you claim to love.

     Raising the minimum wage is proposed by many as a solution for poverty.  On the surface this makes sense.  Pay the people more and they won’t be poor.  Simple right?  There is much logic of this on the surface of this idea.  However, without getting too complicated consider this.  When you raise the wages of the employees the employer really has two options.  They must hire fewer people or charge more for the products or services they offer.  The raises will not simply go to the new comers and those who are currently being paid less than the most recent minimum wage but ultimately to all employees.  The reason for that is simple.  You must pay the experienced and more educated staff members more or they will leave.  It is unfair to pay good workers the same as those who are slackers.

    If the company hires fewer people; then there are more unemployed and more poor people.  If a community has fewer jobs the hope for employment can be devastating.  Look at small towns that once supported mines that are closed up or the American textile industry towns.  These towns are ghost towns and hopelessness reigns.

  However, the company may choose the second option and raise the price of items.  Ask yourself, “Where do the poor shop?”  They shop and receive services from companies that have a majority of their staff being paid minimum wage.  That will automatically raise the cost of living for the working poor as well as the non-working poor.

Regardless of which way the company goes we will all be negatively impacted.  Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the minimum wage and let our community to start voting with our dollars?  A store might choose to pay more and charge more.  The quality of the service would be higher.  Since they are paying premium they are more likely to have premium staff.  Another store might pay less and charge less.  Some who are poor might choose to shop there simply because of price but the service might stink.

Gradual Move Away from Welfare Style Programs

We need to be careful about moving too quickly.  Every few years well meaning social workers warn their clients about changes coming that may end housing.  They prepare these men and women for the worst.  Then suddenly through some miracle of legislative action the funding is saved and again folks do not need to go look for a job.  They all breathe a sigh of relief.  This has happened enough that most believe that if the government needs money to keep these programs in place that they will simply go out and print some more.  Money is in unlimited supply.  My point is that people will not simply go to work because we announce that in five years there will be no more funding to the program.  There needs to be a ten year plan that every year a certain number of people are moved from dependent to independent lifestyles.  Funding can be switched to pay for job training instead of housing.  Those that choose not to participate can go into very restrictive public housing that will give a roof over the head but little freedom.  Freedom comes at a cost.

Court Reform

While this topic alone could make up a whole book.  (Maybe someday I will have the time to write that one.)  We must take a look at our current backlogged court system.  There has got to be a better way.  Some estimates have recidivism rates as high as 90%.  There has got to be a better way.  Consider this idea.  What if there was a way to know who was serious about life change?  I have no idea what that looks like.  But for the sake of an interesting concept let us say that we have a way to know who is playing and who really wants a new life.  Then what we could have is a court system that simply determines guilt or innocence.  No longer would we accept loop holes.  Loop holes in the system are dangerous for all of us.  The judges would then determine guilt or innocence and send them to the local prison if they are guilty.  The local prison would determine how long they need to stay.  Contrast that with our system today.  A person is found guilty and then sent to jail for a set amount of time.  There is no way to know if that person will change and if that amount of time is correct.  So when they are released we have to label them as felons and they find it difficult to get a job.  Under this new system we would somehow know that they are choosing a new life.  When they are released (if they are ever released) they are seen as ordinary citizens.  Of course if our system failed and they do go back to crime we would have learned something about this person. 

Community Courts

Another reform idea whose time has come is community court.  Here we see folks with donut crimes stand before a judge.  In a neighboring room are social workers and others who offer services of all types.  The judge would then sentence them to visit what ever agency would best keep them from committing those crimes.  If they go get those services they would no longer be in the system.  If they choose not to get the help that they say they need, they would then be sentenced to the prison system that will keep them until they have chosen a new life.

Finally, our local governments must look at local laws that keep folks in poverty.  I remember moving to Oklahoma and we could not find a three bedroom place to rent while we looked around for a home to buy.  There were plenty of two bedrooms but because we had three kids the law prohibited anyone from renting to us.  Here we were fully employed people, good citizens who were to be homeless because of a local law.  We did find a place before we had to move to the streets, but the point is the law can sometimes create a poverty situation.

Business

In order to eliminate poverty from any community we must bring business to the table.  They are the ones with the money and more importantly the jobs.  Typically that know what they need in their employees.  When Government gets out of the way and allows business to focus on creating jobs incredible things begin to happen.  In almost every neighborhood there are businesses. What would it look like if they were able to find employees (quality employees) that lived in the same neighborhood?  How incredible would that be?  Transportation issues that often plaque those in poverty could be solved.  What if local businesses were able to offer training on basic resumes, interviewing and dressing for success?  Couldn’t that make a difference?  Think of the pool of possible future staff you could create if you were training them when you don’t have a current need.

      Business also must be aware of the environment they create.  Do your customers create trouble for those living around your business?  What can you do to make that better?  Is your business a factory that is literally making people sick?  Wouldn’t it be better to work to find solutions for that?  If your business does not make your community better than you should consider moving to a community where you can make it better, or get out of business.

     Business can also partner with non-profits with special events that can help fund the programs that are going to be helping people get out of poverty.  Things like buy five items and we will give five dollars to the Gospel Rescue Mission, can increase your business and also help out those in poverty at the same time.

The Church

The church was the original social service agency.  Early church history has the church saving babies left out to die, caring for the sick and feeding the poor widows and orphans.  I wonder what the impact could be if the church returned to those original tasks?  Beyond that I also believe that the church can be the epicenter for neighborhood time banks. (see the section on that in chapter 9)  Churches should start by caring for the widows and orphans as mandated in the Scriptures in their own church first.  But when they are all cared for reach out to help others.  If the local church lacks the skills they should invite local rescue missions or other agencies to come and provide that training.  Together we can do more.

Social Service Agencies

      Social Service Agencies have if rough.  They have to do the impossible, document everything and help people in ways that they may not actually need because that is where the funding requires it.  Hopefully, we can convince funders where the real help is needed and encourage them to find ways to decrease the amount of paperwork required.  But beyond that, social service agencies must stop competing with one another.  Just recently I had two different organizations come and request partnership on very similar projects.  They were so similar in fact that they were hoping to acquire the same piece of property for the projects.  When I brought up the competing project they insulted the founders and changed the subject.  Almost every week, I have people come to my office with some great idea on how to help those in poverty but they refuse to do so under an umbrella of another organization.  It is as if everyone wants to be the lone ranger.  Let me say this again in case you have missed it.  Poverty solving is important.  Poverty solving can be done.  Poverty solving cannot be done by any single agency, organization or person.  We can do this together.

Application Questions

1) What would it take to get business, government, social service agencies, the community and churches to develop the sense of trust that will enable to set aside personal agendas and take on this focus of ending poverty in their community?

2) Who in your community has the influence to bring together these disparate groups of people?

3) Working with a group of representatives from all of the above mentioned divisions and develop a ten year plan with markers to be reached each year.

Categories
Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Homelessness Part 8

The Exodus gives us another pattern that works for those in poverty

     For over 400 years the descendants of Jacob and his twelve sons were living lives in slavery.  It most likely started subtly.  They say that if you want to boil a frog that you must put it in cold water and slowly heat it up.  It is likely that these Hebrew men and women were living in slavery long before they realized what had happened.  Eventually the realization set in and they cried out to God for freedom.  Freedom is the call of all men and women who are enslaved.  The Bible tells us that God heard their cry and set in motion a plan to set them free.

     Starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s and most prominently during the Great Depression and then most disruptively with President Johnson’s war on poverty, imaginative programs came on the scene that were designed to end the suffering caused by poverty.  Maybe that was what was in the hearts of some of the lawmakers and social workers of that era.  Others had in mind simply stopping the riots that had begun to happen between the two world wars.  There are even some that could be said were deliberately trying to bring socialism or communism into our nation.  Regardless of the hearts of those that introduced these programs we continue to pay a price for their choices today.  One of those is the eradication of the family. 

     Statistics show for example that the African American family (husband, wife and children) survived the era of American slavery.  Where possible they stayed together and in most cases when slavery ended they searched for each other with the hope of keeping the family together.  Statistics also show that the African American family survived pretty well the era of Jim Crow laws that were prevalent in the south but had their own variations in the north.  These laws made life difficult and painful for the family and they drew together.  But after the war on poverty campaign took place the family disintegrated in record numbers.  Similar stories and statistics can be found on families of all races being negatively impacted by these new “welfare” laws.  How did these programs encourage the dissolving of the family?  Essentially this issue like much surrounding poverty is too complex and we could get bogged down in it.  But the essence is that no longer was it required that anybody work.  Without the need for workers there was no need for the family to stay together and offer support.  You see that is what makes a family work effectively.  One or two go out into the labor force.  Others stay at home and care for the children, maintaining the home base so that the workers have a safe and encouraging place to return to after a day of labor.  All are essential for making it come together.  We will explore the family more, later in this book, however for now it is enough to recognize that the family collapse started with these laws that were passed with the intention of helping those in poverty.

     Without the family to support and help there needed to be a safety net, Uncle Sam came running to the rescue.  But in order for this safety net to work there needed to be thick manuals written and too many rules to grasp and keep people confused and trapped in poverty.  Many have been told that if they look for a job they may lose the government assistance.  In some cases this may be true.  But really Uncle Sam has set a trap to capture those who are willing to hold onto the little bit they are handed out rather than work with the potential to excel.

     Every time there is a change of leadership in the government the administration of these welfare programs also changes.  Sometimes folks are thrown out on the streets and they come to our shelters.  Other times the mere threat brings them online.  History shows clearly that Franklin D Roosevelt used these programs to encourage folks to vote for him or for others of his political party.  While not as blatant in most cases it still happens today.  Men and women are trapped into thinking that they need the government to help them survive.  If they vote for one party or the other they may lose their funding.

     How are they to doubt that as a fact?  Everyone they know and hang out with is in the same boat.  Anxiously they all await the coming of the monthly check and dread those times when they must go to the government office to renew or make corrections to their current status.  A poverty mindset overwhelms them and the cycle continues.  While many look up to those who find a way out of poverty, most will assume it can never happen for them.  They feel trapped so they continue in their slavery to the government just like all of their family and friends.

     This is likely how the slaves in Egypt felt.  They had been slaves for over 400 years and they knew no other life.  They had hopes and dreams and every once in awhile a slave might become an overseer and was doing better than the rest, but they were still living without freedom.

     God though was preparing to set His people free.  He had a plan to send a fellow Hebrew who was eighty years old to the Pharaoh to get the slaves released.  Pharaoh though liked having the slaves and resisted all efforts to let them go. 

     Today, Pharaoh has been replaced with a democratic government that will use those in poverty as a bargaining chip in elections and as a tool to accuse and blame the opposition.  Many government programs like minimum wage and other labor and welfare laws actually work to create more slaves.  The hunger for the blood, sweat and tears of the oppressed is unending for government.

     Recently I was in a meeting where it was shared by an elected official that one department was opposed to make it easy for citizens to pay their bills because if it was too easy than they would not be able to charge fees or fines for paying late because of the revenue they would lose.  This not only deeply impacts those in poverty but it also hurts all of us.

     Today we come like Moses and ask, demand and plead that the slaves be set free.  However, unlike those times we strive to do this in a way that is slowly and well thought out.  Releasing all of the slaves at once would only bring riots and untold suffering. 

This release must come gradually and deliberately.  Those on the front lines will be tempted to make exceptions; they must not be allowed to waiver if we are to eventually get everyone free.  A quality assessment and a plan to move folks from Egypt to the Promised Land needs to be developed for everyone.  There can be no excuses for we long for everyone to be made free.

Note this will not be done without push back, name calling  and underhanded manipulation  by those in power.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

— Niccolo Machiavelli

Assessment: We must not lump all of these men and women together into one pool.  Each individual family is starting at a different place in their journey.  Again to compare it to the Exodus from Egypt some were packed and ready to go.  Others I am sure had taken  a “Wait and See, attitude” so were not quite ready when the call came.  Take some time to assess where they are physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. The assessment will help us determine how we can move them toward the Promised Land.  There is no point in this assessment where we are determining that they cannot move to the Promised Land, remember no one is to be left behind.

  • Physical:  Where is their current health?  What choices can we help them make to get healthy?  If a food bank knowingly gives cake and sweets to a diabetic should they be held liable for essentially killing that person?  The assessment will tell us how to help folks get started.  We want to put them on the journey in a beneficial way.  What addictions do they have?  Do they smoke, drink and live a reckless life?  We need to find out where they are and train them up to make better choices. 

Regardless of what our assessment says it is critical that we not write them off as not being capable of being a contributing member of society.  Everyone has value and everyone can make a positive impact.  Consider what this person can give to the greater good.

  • Mentally:  We must educate these men and women on the value of work.  The media needs to portray work as a positive force in our nation instead of a negative one that is so often shown.  Carefully we must work through emotional issues with a plan toward removing medication and replace it with physical exercise and wholesome counseling.  As part of this we need to discover where there reading level is at and their education level.  Also assess what skills and knowledge these men and women have available.  Most of these men and women are highly intelligent and if we take the time to believe in them and encourage them, we just might discover that they have something to offer to our society if they are just steered in the right direction.

Here too, it may be tempting to write people off if they seem incapable of adjusting and playing well with society.  We must not do that.  Everyone has value and is capable of being a contributing member of society.

  • Spiritually:  We all have a spiritual component to ourselves.  Who or what are they worshipping?  Are they worshiping something temporary or more long term?  This is where the churches have their most powerful elements.  How can we feed the spiritual nature as much life as possible?  Today we talk of zombies and death like they are fun events.  We are feeding our families and loved ones death regularly. 

When we talk to folks we need to recognize that they are spiritual beings and we need to either nurture that ourselves or find someone else that can do that for them.  Love requires that we speak truth in love and help them to find their greatest value that has been embedded in them from God.  These are valuable men and women and we must not write them off, even if they are resistant to this element. 

  • Socially:  Is this person respectful to others?  Do they know basic manners?  Do they dress and present themselves as good members of our community?  Some will color their hair blue and wonder why the bank won’t hire them.  They are going out of their way to be non-hirable.  We must educate folks to look prepared to work and give to our community.

Here there is a thin line between mental illness and the choice to pick up anti-social behavior.  All are valuable and love requires helping those that are legitimately mentally ill and calling out those that are just playing games.  This is difficult and really needs to be done by a panel of professional therapists who have no personal benefit from their assessments.

    Now here some will begin to argue.  What if they don’t want to change?  If they do not want freedom then they will not get freedom.  In the old days they had a thing called debtors prison.  Children should be taken from those that refuse to do whatever it takes to discover freedom.  Adults should be put into a secure place where they have few privileges.  These would be non-smoking, no drug use facilities where there would also be no television.  These poor houses need to be safe, but not inviting.  Men and women that change their mind and determine that they want freedom would be given the option to be educated and moved along.  This all sounds harsh, but why should society pay for them to live life on their own terms.  Freedom comes with a price.

Ethics training

     Early on in the journey the Hebrew people were brought to Mount Sinai where they heard the Ten Commandments.  For the purposes of this book I will focus only on the final six that focused on values that are represented in one form or another in nearly every culture of the world.  These six values must be taught to everyone and reinforced positively and negatively.  We must not only teach them but we must become a community that does not tolerate violating these values.

  • Honor your father and mother:  Throughout most of history the family unit was the safety net.  It was the family that was able and willing to help when family had downturns or were caught up in addiction.  It was the family that provided care for the children and the elderly.  Grandfathers passed on values to their grandkids and spent time with them while father worked the fields or the factory to pay the bills.  The whole family did their part.  This whole system depends on the mother and father working together to make the house into a home.  Everyone must do their share and work together.
  • You shall not murder:  We live in a society that routinely glorifies murder either in abortion clinics or in movies.  This disrespect for life results in young men who attack police officers and mass shootings throughout the nation.  People must be taught to value life.  This would include those who are being executed by our justice system.  We cannot expect a nation to be free of poverty that so glorifies death. 
  • You shall not commit adultery:  We must teach that sex is reserved for men and women who are legally married to each other, who are committed to each other and to the family that they might choose to create.  In the best of circumstances the family has always been the best safety net ever created. 
  • You shall not steal:  There was a garden that I used to go to with my family that had a poster up that listed all of the things that you could not do to the plants.  You cannot touch, poke, caress, and rub, etc the plants.  They had to list all of the ways that you could not molest the plants.  Stealing is much like that, we have made it so complicated.  This is the point, if it is not yours don’t touch it, take it, borrow it (without expressed permission), move it or any other way that would entail stealing. 
  • You shall not lie:  Again this one is fairly simple.  Tell the truth.  I wish that this could be said of our media that consistently bends the truth in order to get exciting news stories.  Encourage the press, advertisers and others to simply tell the truth and let us decide what to do with it.
  • You shall not covet:  This one is tough to legislate.  What is the difference between healthy ambition and greed?  It is often hard to tell.  This is where we must train folks to be content with what they have, but if they want more they are free to desire and strive in the midst of that contentment.

    Now the question comes up and really must be discussed.  If we are not going to tolerate violation of these commandments, what are we going to do when they are violated? 

    Typically, government and society will lean toward punishment to correct behavior.  We must be cautious.  Our efforts must go toward redeeming people.  Remember, even if they are bitter, angry and viscous law breakers they have value.   People are motivated to change by either avoiding pain or seeking pleasure.  What can we do to educate these men and women?  How can we lead them to play well with others?  Of course these lessons are easier taught to children and then raise them with those lessons firmly established rather than try to teach those that are older these lessons.  Start early and do not give up on anyone. 

Community:

    Currently as you look out your front door you do not need those neighbors for your survival like you did in times past.  At one time we needed to work together because a neighboring village might attack or we might need to go on a hunt together in order to get enough food.  There is no crisis so we have no need to bond, no need to work together.  No longer are our neighborhoods built like a tribe with respect and love as the cornerstone.  This may be why gangs have become the guardians of the neighborhoods.  The gang creates a crisis and it draws the gang closer together as they defend one another.  I don’t wish for a crisis, but what if we were able to create a false crisis.  This false crisis could pull us together, force us to look at each other and protect each other.  The truth is that we really do need each other like our ancestors needed their tribes. 

     Notice in the Exodus story while there is the uniting factors of being Hebrews; they also are allowed to be tribes, families within tribes and individuals.  Can we create that feeling without the crisis of war or famine?  I hope so and we will discuss how this might happen later in this book. 

Health

     Liberty means that we often have to allow folks to choose their own lifestyles and sometimes this means making unhealthy choices like smoking, drug use and gluttony.  How then do we work together as a community in this area?  Again challenges await us.  When other people choose not to take care of themselves then insurance prices go up and even those who eat right, exercise and avoid risky behaviors must pay for the choices of others.  This does not seem fair.  We should look to education to help us with lifestyle choices and encourage one another in those directions.  It could be that you are free to choose unhealthy lifestyles but then your insurance is higher.  Better yet there are discounts for certain health factors being put into play so that we all are encouraged toward greater health.

    Health too is too complicated a topic to be faithfully covered in this book.  But let me say that all of the government based programs are based on insurance not health care.  Insurance is typically only good when you are sick.  Our goals need to be wrapped around preserving health and building an incentive based program that keeps people healthy.

Work

     Everyone can work!  I know that many disagree with me on this point.  With our modern technology everyone who desires to work has the ability.  Too many people choose to play the victim and receive money from government.  This again will lead us to difficult conversations.  We must reward work.

Freedom

    In America we love freedom!  What will we do with it?  I despise the socialist system that is espoused by so many.  We must encourage creativity and allow folks to solve their own problems.  Society can offer education and opportunity.  You will get more freedom through your own efforts than by waiting on some government agency to come and solve your problems.

    What we can do is create a ladder of how to move out of poverty and show everyone in poverty where it is at, how to climb that ladder and then step away.  If you want to be free it is up to you.

Overcoming Division

It is only through working together, everyone doing their part that we can hope to overcome the challenge to eradicate poverty from our communities.  The Hebrews wandering the desert needed to learn how to fight their enemies together or they would have been destroyed piece by piece.  What if each tribe as it wandered the desert not only had to scrape by on manna and water from rocks but also had to defend itself from other tribes?  How long could this new nation have survived? 

    Eventually, after entering the promised land this very division takes place and while some strong kings were able to bring them all together for short seasons, the nation never becomes a sustainable powerhouse that it could have been. In America we take great pride in a being a world superpower able to cause or prevent wars seemingly at our own whim.  Yet we are a divided people.   We are divided by age, race, gender, and politics among many others.  How long can we hope to survive as a nation if we cannot figure out how to work together and overcome our differences?  The solutions will take more talk than just some words typed in a rescue shelter on a nearly outdated laptop computer.  Solutions will require conversations and openness and  a willingness to disagree and still get along.  Can we live up to our name and again become the UNITED States?

Age

     Generations have been divided since Cain left Adam.  Those with experience in life want desperately to prevent the next generation from making the same mistakes they made.  The young want to have fun, they want to explore and they want to experience life.  New technologies that are promising and fantastic to the young are often overwhelming to our elders.  Some of our elders are stuck in the ways they were thinking when they were young.  The young are often willing to discard all of their roots and destroy their foundations.  Let us reason together as adults.  Even as we age we can still learn and grow.  New ideas should be investigated and explored until the day we take our last breath. 

     Of course as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I am sure that the first person to use a metal knife was a young person while an elder looked on in horror.  New technologies come with dangers and we should look to our elders to examine what those dangers might be without becoming frightened.  Together we can maybe save lives.  That young person likely cut themselves and the elder was able to help them by patching them up.  That elder was likely the person who came up with a sheath and wisdom like not running with scissors.  We can benefit from each other.  Society was better off with metal tools but the wisdom of the elders enabled them to do more with those tools.  What if in all things we sat and talked about the impact and the hope of new ideas and actually listened to each other?  We could accelerate progress in a sustainable and safe way.

Race

      I learned as a child that America was the great melting pot.  We have invited people from around the world to come and become a part of this great experiment.  As a result we have benefited greatly and have become a superpower.  It was the assorted ideas and dreams from diverse cultures and languages that enabled us to come with new technologies and new ideas.  Yet today we seem to be each other’s throats.  The church is divided every Sunday.  The community lives in constant tension waiting to hear the details of the latest shooting.  Protesters and looters alike are waiting their opportunities.  Too often the form of protest calls attention to the protest and not to the problem.  We do have a problem.  But like all problems this will not be solved without talk and action. 

    Fredrick Douglas while an escaped slave living in the north felt compelled to write a book highlighting what life was like for a slave.  This book “Escape from Slavery” was a critical tool toward the abolition of slavery in America.  But after the book was published many of his friends became concerned that his former master would come looking for him.  They feared for his safety and booked a passage out of America to England for a season.  Even though they had paid a first class fare for Fredrick, he was assigned to sit on the deck throughout the voyage.  He was black and as such did not deserve to have a cabin regardless of what fare he paid was the American mindset in that season.                                         

Maybe that is why Fredrick Douglas was so amazed when he got to England and was allowed to eat in the dining room of nice restaurants and he was allowed to ride first class on any train that he had paid first class fare for.  It was like race simply did not matter to the everyday person.  During this visit he met with the last remaining member of the Clapham society who had worked to end slavery in the British Empire.  Fredrick’s experiences were taking place less than thirty years after the end of slavery.  I am sure this gave him hope that America too would become such a place once slavery came to an end.  However, we are over 150 years without slavery and yet many of our fellow citizens are treated poorly simply because of the color of their skin.  I am curious when we will live up to the dream of Martin Luther King that men and women would be judged by their character more than by their skin color?  The problem is not only with Caucasians. 

      A study in Chicago sent four basically equal men and women out to auto dealerships.  There were no differences of age, dress or education.  Literally the only difference was their race.  What I find most interesting is that it did not matter what race the salesman represented he or she would offer the best deal to the white male and the worst deal to the black male. 

     We have a problem and we need to talk honestly.  I suggest though that we begin to refer to the American problem as white preference not white privilege. 

     We have a problem and we need to talk honestly.  While I believe that Martin Luther King would have gotten there, Nelson Mandela is our example forward.  He led a nation to reconcile and pull together beyond race and tribe.

     We have a problem and we need to talk honestly.  While there are cultural and worship style differences the church should not be so divided.  We must find a way to pray and worship together.

Gender

Really without the differences between the sexes none of us could be here today.  We need what each gender offers.  In truth the differences should be what should bring us together. 

Politics

Having a good mix of political extremists from both of the major parties as Facebook friends, it is very interesting to hear their response to the latest hot political situation.  It seems that no matter what the situation they are able to respond in the most exact opposite way.  President Bill Clinton said in his autobiography that he was not as good as his supporters made him out to be and he is not as bad as his detractors reported that he was.  I would hold that to be true.  Instead of simply siding with one party or the other maybe we should look for the best solutions and go with those ideas.  Maybe we should learn to talk with one another and look at bigger pictures than simply choosing A or B. 

     There are many different things that can separate us as Americans and as citizens of the world.  Overall our best plan has got to be to move us to become a nation where men and women will not be judged by the color of their skin (or body shape, gender, age, etc) but by the content of their character.”

Application Questions

Who needs to be at the table in your community to really take a stand against poverty?

What is the central message of a community that is really dedicated to helping people get out of poverty?

What are some possible solutions for those who would rather sit around and receive handouts?

What would it look like to have dinner with someone of a different race, culture or economic class?

Categories
Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Homelessness Part 7

The Game of Life

When I was a child my family used to play a game called Life.  It was great fun and was family time well spent.  However, as I have grown older I have learned to despise the message of that game.  The underlying message is that the purpose of life is to have the most money.  In the game that is who the winners are.  That is not a message that is good for society and definitely not for my descendants.  Instead let us develop the game of life to see how real life actually looks.

How do you define the purpose of life?  How do you communicate that to others?

    At some point in every life there are difficult moments.  Those moments might look like losing a job or a spouse.  It might look like an injury or a rejection.  Difficult moments come to all of mankind regardless of race, nationality, religion or any other man made divisional label that we place on people.  People of wealth and people of poverty all face difficult times.

    Disappointment comes to all people, dreams that seemed to be on verge of coming true die an untimely death.  Many days I work on a project and I wonder, “Why does this have to be so difficult?”  You are going to have good days and bad days.  None of these will define your purpose.

Take a moment and think about what you would do if life started to unwind.  Who would you turn to?  What are your likely feelings?  What is your next move? 

     It is much easier to think through an emergency plan when you are not in the midst of an emergency situation.  Take some time to brainstorm some thoughts and ideas on disasters that might take place in your life.  I realize that this is an uncomfortable exercise but should anything happen you will thank me later.  Additional note:  Don’t strive to make these things self fulfilling prophesies.  Our goal is to develop plans and structures to help you should an emergency arise.  I also recommend writing out this emergency plan since if it should arise you won’t be thinking clearly.  Another advantage to writing it out is that you can quit thinking about it.

The negative road:   Imagine the worst has happened.  You have lost your job; you have an injury or an illness that causes you great anxiety.  These could be minor or more serious situations like what happened with Job in the Old Testament.  Regardless when these things take place we have a choice of what we do with it.  Some choose anger, bitterness and negativity.  When this happens things in their lives will move to the negative side. 

    “It’s not my fault,” is a common refrain coming from the negative side of life.  They are constantly looking for a scapegoat.  In severe cases this is how hate groups get their power.  Someone else must be at fault so it must be them.  The “them” changes depending on your history or who you are spending time with.  But the theme continues to be, “It’s not my fault.”

    When self pity becomes the norm in a person’s life they will often times find unemployment or at the minimum will stay in low wage jobs.  They develop a self image that blocks them from success.  Unless they make some new choices the anger will begin to create difficulty in relationships.  Families can often break apart under the strain of poverty. 

     Violence often becomes the norm whether it is acted out in domestic abuse situations or just experienced as a pleasure in the media.  The heart is slipping.  Often the violence will start against property and may even stretch out to animal abuse.  Violence gives a sense of control and this often leads to abuse. 

    Abuse is all about control.  Typically we only think of domestic violence but really there are dozens of ways to control a person and violence is only one.  Control is what the abuser is after.  The negative road never hurts only one person.  Misery loves company so they will pull down as many people as they can.  Rarely will the abuser pick on someone that is in a position to fight back. 

As the heart continues its negative direction, the poverty and fear begin to take over and crime begins to make sense.  With this mindset there is a justification. The store makes millions, what does it matter if I steal a little bit.  Many will stay in that mindset for awhile.  Most have not been trained in crime.  What they do know they have learned from television and movies.  But the thoughts are a seed and unless something happens soon crime will become an option. 

     Addiction is another powerful seed that is planted firmly in those that are living on the negative side of life.  During the Great Depression many went to the cinema to escape the dreary real life existence.  But since media is already all around us, movies no longer create the same degree of escape that they once did.  So the more impactful escape can be found in drugs, alcohol or pornography (among other addictions). 

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     Addiction is not only found in the culture of poverty but it is there that it has its most debilitating effects.  Unlike those with a strong support network, getting free from the addiction is difficult.  Without money for lawyers or high quality treatment getting free of the addiction is nearly impossible.

Combine these addictions with the seeds of a willingness to commit crimes and prison is not a far leap. 

     Life feels as if it is over.  While in prison, there is time to rethink life.  Again a choice can be made here.  The choice for bitterness, anger, blame and self pity can take the person deeper into poverty.  But they could also choose life.

The positive road:   When that disability takes place a person can choose hope, love and family.  They can reach out for faith and dream of a better life.  If you look hard enough it is easy to find the treasure in the difficult times.  Those that grab onto that small treasure will suddenly discover that their family becomes a great source of strength.  For those who had been on the negative side they can see their family restored. 

     A family that works together and lives selflessly can do wonders.  The encouragement and love that comes from that family becomes a solid base to work off of for the rest of their lives.  The family is the original safety net and has prevented many from falling to the bottom.  True love within the family can keep one from addiction and crime.  Families that learn how to speak the truth in love can be a powerful force in our world.  The seed planted there become a positive attitude that becomes reflected in the work that is being done.  With a good work attitude work opportunities prosper and a mindset of constant and never ending improvement can take over.  With a taste of improvement in all areas of life success begins to take hold.  Alongside of this success comes a desire to grow your faith and a connection to something greater than oneself.

Guard your thoughts and see if you can discover any negativity or self pity that is holding you back.  If you are choosing to help people in poverty help them to do a u turn toward a life of possibilities and hope.  That is how you win at the game of life.

Application Questions

Write out the story of your life within the context of the game of life format?  What were the best roads traveled?

Describe the worst roads traveled and lessons learned.

How can you share these life lessons with those in poverty in a way that they will hear you?

Categories
Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 6

Good Samaritan Alternatives

Let us take a look at some different story lines and consider what we might think if the story had been told just a little different.

Scenario 1:  The man beat up had actually been one of the thieves until recently:  The Samaritan comes upon the man and remembers seeing him on television as a wanted man for robbery on this very road.  As in the original story the priest and the Levite are long gone.  Now the Samaritan is alone with this wanted man who is lying on the road, nearly dead.  What would Jesus have us do in that situation?

     Some would say right here and now that the man has made his choice and his lifestyle alone led him to this stage.  Even men and women in the church would suggest that it would be the justice of God to leave the man to die there in the streets.  They might say something along the lines of, “He made his bed, let him sleep in it.”  I am confident that others would come up with Scriptures to back up such a view.  However, the compassion of God (His Character) is unbelievable.  While the Scriptures do talk of turning a sinner over and that some have become too calloused to ever be redeemed, we in the flesh have no way of knowing if that has happened to this man or not.  Paul was at least an accessory to one murder that we know about.  Would we write him off?  Jesus invited the thief on the cross to join Him in Heaven.  Moses committed murder, we don’t have names for all of the witches and homosexuals that turned from their sin to follow after Christ.  God can use anyone and we are not to be the ones to write them off.  As a caution I do say that if this man is a known murderer than it might be a good idea to use wisdom in your handling of him.  As men and women of God it is critical that we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit.  He might direct us to patch him up and take him to the inn.  The Holy Spirit might direct you to call in the authorities.  Just maybe the Holy Spirit would have you take him to another place where experts can work alongside of others to serve him and lead him to a place of being restored to community.  If he returns to a lifestyle of murder, thievery or other crimes allow the authorities to deal with him.  Our role is to care for him and show him a better way regardless of his past.

Scenario 2:  The man is healed but the Samaritan finds him again in the same position the next time he is on that road.

Many months later as the Samaritan moves along down the road he was reflecting and remembered that the last time he had been here the relationship that he had started with that poor man that had been beaten up.  The Samaritan began to wonder whatever happened to the man when he looked up and saw a body and could hear some faint cries of pain.  Investigating he discovered that it was the same man.  What would Jesus have us do in this situation?

Maybe this same scene happens dozens of times.  Each and every time the Samaritan continues to help the man.  Should there be a limit to his compassion? Is the Samaritan only enabling the man to live foolishly by continuing to help him out?  Again many could make the argument that the foolish man no longer deserves compassion.  I would agree.  None of us really deserves for strangers or others to show us compassion.  The problem is that this man continues to waste resources and does not seem to be learning his lesson.  Consider that the man has not learned his lesson.  Has the Samaritan tried a different program of healing?  Maybe a different inn could teach him some martial arts so that next time maybe he could defend himself.  Possibly the program could teach him a different route to take to Jericho.  We have many options that we must try to help this man.  We are blessed with a certain level of creativity.  Consider options and keep trying new things.  Eventually the Samaritan won’t be there to rescue him and the problem will be solved in a horrendous way.  Letting the man know and understand that so far he has been most fortunate would be of benefit. 

    One other thing that might help, is teaching the man the art of journaling.  Having seen this multiple times in many and diverse situations most folks coming out of a traumatic situation will vow not to go back to those situations.  This often happens with women coming out of domestic abuse situations or with those coming down from an addiction.  The pain is great and they will resolve never to allow themselves to get into that situation again.  Unfortunately the pain heals and they forget all about their vow and return to the cause of their pain.  Friends and others try to call warn them and desire to help them but they will no longer listen.  By journaling they can tell themselves not to be foolish.  Maybe they will listen to themselves when the pull of going back down that dangerous road becomes too strong.

Scenario 3:  Every day someone is beat up alongside that road.

    Many weeks after the Samaritan has returned home he picks up a newspaper and notices a story about another man beat up alongside that road.  This one had nobody there to rescue him so he died.  The Samaritan is heartbroken.  Over the next several days he notices it again and again.  Nearly every day someone is being robbed and left for dead on that same portion of road.  Never in his life has the Samaritan been overly involved in politics and really would rather not be involved but he can’t help himself.  He must do something.  What would Jesus have him do in this situation?

     Now this one is much more complex.  This is an issue for society to address.  Today that person beat up and robbed was a stranger but if we remain silent eventually that person could be a family member, friend or even ourselves.  We must take action before anybody else gets hurt. 

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

     Working with government will take time; we should start any process to increase police or other protection forces.  We will need to consider increases in taxes or repositioning law enforcement.  It will take time to determine the most cost efficient and effective course of action.

    However, we must take action now.  Churches could come up with a force to simply walk the road with folks during peak crime hours.  Leadership in local organizations could begin patching roads and making the whole stretch more easily used.  Maybe an outreach to the criminals that consistently work on that stretch of road would be in order.

    Now in this scenario it was crime that we were looking at but oppression and society based injustice is rampant in our nation.  Many reading this may think that I am overstating things.

    I love to watch my boys play basketball.  When the game is over they will often point out several terrible calls by the officials.  The ride home is filled with details of how the bad calls cost them a shot or even the game.  What they failed to notice were the other calls that also hurt the other team.  Some of them were also bad calls but since they benefited them they did not notice those calls. 

     Here is the point that we need to take home with us.  We tend to only notice unfairness when it strikes us personally.  Take a moment and walk in the shoes of others who are different than you.  I once went to the mall with a friend of mine who happens to be African American.  After a short time of walking through a department store I noticed that the store security happened to be watching us more carefully.  He was dressed in nice clothing the only thing that really set us apart was our skin color.  Now this did not happen in every store and did not even happen every time in that store.  But if I had not been with him that day and he would have told me about that sort of prejudice I might have doubted it. 

     Our society needs to take time to listen to one another and not simply write each other off because the world looks different through our glasses.

First They Came for the Jews” By Pastor Niemoller

 First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Application Questions

What are some more scenarios that might play out?

Are there any people in poverty that are beyond helping in your community?

What might motivate others in your community to come out and help?

Categories
Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 5

 Going to the Poor

He came to where he was (Luke 10:33)

 In order to help the hurting and the wounded we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones and go to them.  Remember that they are hurting and wounded they will not come to you.  In nature we often see wounded animals isolate themselves and hide.  They will not be coming to your church.  It is more likely that they will close up their house, pull the shades tight and will not be heard from.  We must get out into the poor neighborhoods and reach out to them.  Because they are hurting they will not trust you.  Do not be offended.  They are only being protective. 

   I love history and I particularly have been fascinated with the history of World War II and have read much about the soldiers, sailors, politicians and so many others impacted by the war.  However, I must confess that much of what is described in pictures, maps and words made little sense to me until I went to Europe and saw the cities, the battlefields and the homes represented in those stories.  It made much more sense when I put my own eyes on the places of history.  My understanding grew substantially.   The same is true when we strive to impact poverty.  We must go to them and see for ourselves what is really happening.    

    I once heard a story of a church that every year would organize and plan a trip to some remote element of the world to serve the poor.  These trips required weekly prayer and information meeting, great expense and training.  When the months of preparation were complete, with bags packed the group of short term missionaries would take church vans to the airport.  On the way they would be careful to avoid, that neighborhood.  You know that one neighborhood that every city has where there is more crime, more poverty and more need.  The church faithful would take a wide route and make it to the airport so that they could change the world for Jesus.  While on the trip they would see Jesus in action.   Lives would be changed on the foreign mission field and within the team.  Jesus would be glorified.  When they returned they would again avoid “that neighborhood” as they returned home.  A week or two later they would be giving testimonies of what they experienced so far away and encouraged others to do the same.

    Now I wish to make clear that I have no issues with short term mission’s trips.  I think that they can be very helpful for encouraging the faithful to support missionaries who are serving abroad.  But my thoughts are with that “neighborhood” the one that you avoid.   If you believe that a one week trip can impact lives and change the world for Jesus; how much more could Jesus use a dedicated man or woman of God who is willing to reach out into the inner cities of our nation?  

    When you go there, and it might be a rough neighborhood or a local homeless shelter, you will learn that the men, women and children  there are people not so different than you or me.  These are men and women who once had hopes and dreams but had them crushed or delayed.  You will meet moms who deeply love their children and have dreams for them doing better.  They will complain about the cost of milk, the latest sports blunder and look forward to the next blockbuster film.

    Additionally, they live on the edge and as a result have developed some incredible survival skills.  Over the years of working with them I have become amazed at their ability to get a high tech cell phone, keep food on the table and clothes on their body with no income to speak of.   They will be able to tell you all of the free things that are out there in the world that can be yours if you just ask.  They are more than willing to tell you about programs in your community that they like, don’t like or have heard things about.  Very few will hold back on their opinions.

The ingenuity of those in poverty is outstanding.  On any given day they can take ordinary objects and turn them into tools.  With a phone call they can find someone to help them through a short crisis.  Again and again they will make calls and be rejected; yet keep going on.  There is a fire within them that simply needs to be kindled.

    Many will say that education is the key to getting these men and women out of poverty.  However, among the poor you will find people with no diploma, high school diplomas, bachelor degrees and all manner of masters and doctorate degrees.   You would not know this unless you sat down and got to know them.  Those that hold that education can save them are like an eye doctor who after the exam simply hands his glasses over to the patient without testing or even conversation.  The odds of those glasses being the exact right prescription is long; yet these educators are making that call without taking time to get to know those who are living in poverty.  They believe that somehow a diploma will make a difference.  As you get to know those in poverty you do learn that education is a key, but not in the school and higher education form.  Instead those in poverty must be educated to know that they are valuable to society when they contribute.  They must be taught a love of learning and a passion for life.

    Education is important and multiple studies show the earning power that a degree can get people.  But if someone feels that they do not have value then an education is not going to lift them out of poverty.  They will not even seek an education.  School is full of negative memories of failures and boredom.  Help them find the passion within them and they will learn and grow and be set free.

    Studies continually show the lack of reading that takes place outside of school.  Why is that?  Men and women don’t have a passion for learning.  We live in an information society.  Our world moves fast and if you don’t take time to learn you will fall behind very quickly.  What I often tell people is take time to discover what your passions are and dive into books on that topic.  Take time to watch videos on that topic and attend seminars.  With a little bit of effort you will quickly become an expert on that topic.  I read once that if you read more than five books on any topic you will know more on that topic than 90% of the world.  You can only help those in poverty discover a passion for learning if you get to know their passions.

     All people have strengths and limitations.  For too long we have allowed people in our society to get away with the excuses that their limitations create for them.  I have met men and women who have incredible disabilities where they are missing limbs.  Yet these men and women work for a living.  Others have mental disabilities and though it is unlikely that they will be doctors or lawyers they can use their strengths to overcome their disabilities.   Yet, social workers will often focus on the weaknesses that will get them the most hand out.  There is a common thought that if you focus on a weakness the weakness grows stronger.  If you focus on the strength the strength will grow stronger.  We must help the poor learn what their strengths are and how to use them to succeed in our world.  Again you can only do this if you take time to get to know these men and women.

   Currently in society there is a fascination with death.  Zombies, skulls and other symbols of death permeate the clothing and decorations of the poor.  Where does this fascination come from?  There are many culprits.  The media for one has developed a blood lust in movies and television.  At any given moment you are permitted to view a killing, a rape or some other horrendous scene.  For many in poverty television and movies is the great escape.  They cannot afford to go see theater or listen to symphonies.  Television gives them a break from the pain of reality.  A second culprit is abortion providers.  In most major cities you will find the abortion provider focusing on serving those in poverty.  They love to take the lives of these babies and call it choice.  Because these services are directed to those in poverty they continue to develop a taste for death that haunts them from the cradle to the grave.  All life is special so let us reach out to these men and women and show them the value in life and what roles they can play in it.  We can only show them the joy of life by spending time with them.

     The point of this section is that we must go to them.  That includes politicians who want to vote for or against spending plans and are working on bills that will impact those in poverty.   The politician who votes either way without going to the people they believe they are impacting should be voted out of office and replaced with someone who is truly educated on the plight of the poor.  This includes the well meaning social worker and the local church pastor.  Go to the people, learn from them.  The truth is that these men and women are the real experts on poverty, because they live with it every day.

Seeing the Poor

He saw the man (Luke 10:33)

   I am sure that you have seen them, the guys in scruffy clothes with a poorly constructed cardboard sign offering to work for food.   Many times I wonder if they really would work for a sandwich.  It is easy to judge these folks and assume that they are lazy, drug addicts or con artists.  It is also easy to assume that they represent the homeless and the poor of America.  But with all of that going on in your head, do you really see them.  Can you look past the judgments and look into their eyes and see the human being that is standing there?  For most of us we look away, we don’t want to see the hurt.  Maybe it is because we realize that we are all one or two choices away from being there ourselves.  Maybe it is because we don’t want them to ask us for anything. 

   We long to be invisible and if invisible not responsible for the hurting in our community.  But in order to ignore them we must assume that they are less than us, less than human.  Now I am certain that if I were to ask you if you felt that way about those in poverty that you would deny that accusation.  I am not trying to be difficult here.  But do you not look away?  Do you silently hope that they don’t see you?   You may even silently thank God that you are not in their shoes.  You are not evil; but I would say that you are unfortunately far too normal.  To see the man is to become more than the priest or the Levite. 

    Regardless of the reason that the man or woman is there we must look at them as human.  They are a human that is in need of proof that he or she has value and is important. Too often the homeless are marginalized to such an extent that they feel that they are not even human.  If they get to this point of feeling like an animal the thought becomes, “Why not act like an animal?”  It is amazing that when a person is recognized as a person that they are much more likely to act like a human. 

    Additionally, we need to recognize that these men and women do not represent all of those that are in poverty.  They are a minority of those in poverty.  Many more are filling our shelters, couch surfing or living in places not meant for habitation.  Many of these are struggling and hoping for more from life.  But how can you know that if you don’t stop and see these men and women.   Look into their eyes and see the hope that you will see them.  All humans long to be known and accepted. 

     Don’t get me wrong we don’t have to accept the excuses or any immorality.  What I am calling us to do is to accept that this is a human that is in need of a kind word, polite affection and at the least a smile.  Later we will address the issues of immorality, but realize the immorality is in full bloom in all levels of society.

    What does it look like to see those in poverty?  It basically begins with not looking away.  Now that you have gone to them, go learn about them.   Hear their stories without judging truth and lies.  As relationships build you can address discrepancies in their stories.   Simply listen to their upbringing, pay attention to their language.  The words they choose can give you a glimpse of life as they know it. 

    Recognize that we feel uncomfortable with things that are suddenly different or sound out of the ordinary.  These men and women are the same as you and me.  Maybe to you getting up, going to work, paying bills and sometimes learning to keep your mouth shut is normal.  To them your “normal” may feel freaky or weird. 

    Seeing the poor is also different from feeling sorry for them.  Many in our government will fall prey to this tactic.  Programs our developed and in this nation our government has decided that these men and women cannot run their own lives so they have taken over as absentee parents.  They control and manipulate these men and women and make them slaves to a system that is cruel and poverty building.

    When we look at the poor we will see a strong and proud people looking to be set free.  But to get free they will need to learn new skills and be given the encouragement that they can achieve their dreams.  But to get to their dreams they will need to drop away from the feed table of the master.

NOTE:  Some that are living in poverty have become so embarrassed by their situation that they will do what they can to look like monsters.  This is so that you will definitely look away.  The more someone disfigures themselves the more that we should strive to honestly see them.

He had Compassion

He had compassion (Luke 10:33)

     For much of our nation’s history compassion was seen as a virtue.  Maybe we have been fatigued from all of the world’s needs.  It used to be you might have heard about hunger in Africa.  Eventually these men and women and children got faces through television.  But still these were presented in infomercials and could easily be avoided or turned off when we had enough.  Today we are bombarded with needs all over the world.  It is nearly impossible to avoid the stories of disasters and suffering in the world.  Add to that, the fact that some stories are exaggerated or even made up and it is easy to see how many have become overwhelmed. 

     Some of these are crises; others have been painful for these people for years.  With all of these desperate faces our there around us, what are we to do?  My heart breaks for people in remote parts of the planet.  Shouldn’t we do something?  What can we do?  The needs are too great.  So we do nothing.  The common man is paralyzed by the overwhelming needs and turns on the heater a little warmer, looks out at the snow outside and praises God that he is warm.

    But shouldn’t the man or woman of God do something.  Sure some will send money.  This is needed and many non-government organizations deeply appreciate the help.  Most of these agencies cannot function without your financial help.  Unfortunately the money is more like a compassion stoplight.  We hear about the needs and we send money to ease our consciences.  It stops us for just a moment, a distraction in otherwise comfortable lives.  Eventually the light turns green and we go about our everyday lives.  We are no different.

    Even though I consider myself a compassionate person, I find it difficult to find compassion for hundreds or thousands.  But I do find it easy to find compassion for John, Mike or Sue.   I can ignore the damage from a storm unless I know someone that is living in the path of that storm.  I can feel sorry for those affected; but to experience honest compassion I must know the victims.

    Compassion though requires a change.  We have gone to the people, we have seen the need and now compassion demands that we do something.  This is different than feeling sorry for the poor or homeless.  They do not need our pity.  They need our compassion.  We reach out to them and recognize these men and women as human beings with innate qualities that the world is losing out on.  We seek to compassionately show them their value and call that value out of them.  We love them where they are at, but we also love them too much to let them stay stuck where they are living.

   This compassion shows itself in terms of respect and politeness.  We do not fake this belief in these men and women.  We really believe that inside of the dirty coat, beyond the outward appearance is a human being that is struggling to come out and change the world.  I believe that cures for the world’s worse diseases and problems are sitting in the mind of a homeless man or woman that has been rejected by society.  I believe that we, the people, are losing out because society has rejected these men and women.  Compassion demands that we politely lead them to the truth. 

“We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.”
-George Macdonald

    The truth is that there is incredible value in every human soul.  At one time we understood this.  Ancient ship manifests counted the number of people on board in terms of souls.  A soul is of great value.  Compassion means that we must remind people of this great value.

    Now this is the difficult part.  In the story that Jesus shared, we know next to nothing about the man that was robbed and left for dead.  The only thing that Jesus gives us is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Maybe this guy was a murderer running away to Jericho.  Maybe at home the guy beats his wife and views pornography consistently.  Just maybe if we knew who this guy was we would secretly be happy that this man got what he deserved?  What if the man was Muslim, or a devil worshiper or a homosexual?  Should the Samaritan stop and help?  Would we?  Jesus tells us nothing about the man except that he had a need.  That is all that matters.  Christian love demands action.  Faith requires action. 

  He went to Him

He went to him (Luke 10:34)

  It is actually pretty easy to feel sorry for some people.  You see the wounds, hear the agony and can sense the desperation.  When you see a homeless person at the stop light you might feel the compassion.  But how about interacting with the poor and the homeless? 

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds James 2:16-18 

     Once, in the neighborhood where I lived, medics responded to a woman who showed all of the signs of a drug overdose.  To back up this hypothesis there was drug paraphernalia all around the room where the woman was laying.  From a distance what should be done for her was obvious to the medics.  That was until they got up close and examined her.  That is when they discovered that she had been shot.

     From a distance many lawmakers and social workers will make decisions that sound wise and helpful for the poor.   There are many ideas on how to best help the homeless.  But if you don’t take time to study the issues and more importantly to look at the long term impact of the laws and programs that are being supported you could be making the problem worse.

    The need to look long term is a failure in our nation.  Bills are passed with the idea of being reelected in just a few years.  What if bills were passed with the future in mind?  One example from the state of Washington is a housing program that I read about online.  The idea was that instead of paying rent for a season; the program paid the same amount into the mortgage of a house for these men and women.  The funding was decreased over time similar to a standard housing program but when the family took up payments at the end they were moving toward ownership.  The beauty of the program was that the next generation could eventually move into the paid off house.  Again long term solutions.  The programs offered over the past several years are more of a band aid to the problems than a real cure.

    The point is that we must up close and personal with the issues and the difficulties of living in poverty.  Try to see the world through their eyes.  One way to pull this off is to try to live one week on what you get from a food bank or one month on what you get in food stamps.  Try warming your home on a poverty level budget or try to simply live your life for a week without a car. 

   Going to them is doing whatever it takes to understand their world from a lens of poverty.  We must quit looking at these problems from the lens of middle class or the wealth class.

  He bandaged his wounds (Luke 10:34)

     In this generation simply calling 911 makes it is easy to pass the work onto other people and walk away feeling as if we have done our part. Many will like a cause on social media and wax eloquent on the evils of our world without ever being involved.  The Samaritan in the story was involved.  It would have been unlikely that he had a Red Cross approved first aid kit on his donkey saddle.  No this man ripped his own clothing in his attempt to offer care to the man beat up and left for dead.  It cost him something.  In modern terms this would be giving up a coffee twice a week so that you can donate ten dollars to help those experiencing hunger, homelessness and hopelessness.  I know that it would hurt you do so.  If all the Samaritan did was to bandage the wounds, maybe I would say that you sacrificed enough.  But the lesson of the Samaritan includes going into his stock pile of wine and oil and using them for the man. He gave him what he needed.  He cared for the real needs because earlier he had stopped and really looked at the man.  As he looked at him he would have looked for evidence of life, he would have sought out what was actually wrong.  Maybe the person in poverty needs someone to believe in them.  Possibly they need someone to give them a ride to a job interview.  Often times what those in poverty needs is a friend who can mentor and coach them forward.  We often become like the people that we hang out with, who will they become if they hang out with you?

    Does a man need food when he is flying the sign with a cigarette in his hand?  He likely does, but he is unwilling to sacrifice himself.  Your bandages will be wasted on him.  The Samaritan only bandaged his real wounds.    This gets tricky because for many in poverty they like to demand their rights.  They fail to understand that you also have the right not to help them, unless they also are willing to be a part of the solution.

  • He brought him to an inn (Luke 10:34)

The Samaritan put him on his own donkey and took him to the inn.  There does not seem to be a moment where the Samaritan asks himself, “Should I be doing this?  I just had my donkey detailed and he might throw up on the upholstery.”  There seems to be little concern for the obvious issues that will possibly present themselves.  He is totally focused on helping this man and making sure that he will get every chance of survival.  There is no guarantee that the man will even make it to the inn.  If he dies did the Samaritan waste his time and resources?  Some would say yes, but Jesus is telling us no.  We must do the best we can with what we have.

    While it is critical that love and care for folks must start with us, it cannot stop there.  We must introduce them to experts that can help them with the things that have caused them to experience the crisis.  In this age of specialization it is unlikely that any one person or agency will be able to offer all of the help that this person will need.  They may need mental health help, spiritual development help, physical health help and much more.  This person may very well need help with an addiction, overcome legal issues and may have some family issues that will need help.  This is why it is imperative for agencies, churches, government and businesses to work together.  Every echelon of society can play a part in the healing of this person.  In essence the inn is a central place that can bring all of these Good Samaritan inn keepers together as needed. 

     Even beyond these specialists we must realize that we are all in this together.  If we really want lower taxes, lower crime rates, better customer service and in short a better community we must sit down together as a community.  This will not be easy, as many will come with their own agendas.  I have an agenda and everyone else in the room will come with theirs.  The key though is that we define what we want to accomplish and listen to one another.  Results will come quickly when we all put our hands to the plow together.

Application Questions

  • What are some other versions of the” guy beat up alongside the road” that you can think of?
  • What does real help look like?  (Do to, do for, do with?)
  • What are the barriers within your community that may prevent agencies, businesses or churches from working together?
  • What are the most common versions of the “man beat up alongside the road” look like in your community?
Categories
Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 4

All of our efforts toward ending poverty must begin and end with the individual in need.  Yes, there are many things that we must do as a society, but while we striving to make those things come to pass, we know that very real people are living and dying on our streets.  Others are living way below a standard that most of us would find acceptable.  We must start with the individual and get that person help, and then we can focus on society.

On one occasion an expert was stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher he asked what must I do to inherit eternal life?”           -Luke 10:25

     Jesus responds with one of the best known and least understood of all his parables.  The story of the Good Samaritan has become a rallying cry for many who would want to come together to help the hurting, the lost and the forgotten.  The critical task that Jesus gives in this passage is that we must do something.  Over the years I have been in multiple church services in a wide array of denominations and often there is a time of prayer and or a message that tells us that God loves the poor.  Too often these messages are met with polite nods, a smile and a look at the watch to determine how long we need to wait until we get to the buffet.

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

-James 2:16

Action is what impacts lives.  Many cannot and will not hear a message of salvation because their stomachs are growling too loudly or they are shivering too much from living out in the cold.  Jesus encourages us, even goads us to step up and take the risk to serve those who are in poverty.   

Through words and actions what we must communicate with those in poverty is that God sent His only begotten Son to earth and then Him (Jesus) living obediently even to death on the cross and then being raised from the dead to get us a shot at paradise.  But what happens to us when we accept that truth?  If it does not change us; was it real?  Jesus made the point that salvation should so overwhelm us that from deep within wells a feeling of compassionate action that impacts those around us.   The action does not get us into Heaven.  The action comes from within us like the tiny stream in Minneapolis that ultimately becomes the Mississippi.   Jesus starts this process and journeys with us through the process.  Along the way He will introduce us to people who will shape us and change us and help us to see Him more clearly.  This is the quest of the man or woman of God.

    If the man or woman of God would rise to the occasion than the church would be seen in all of its glory and society would be better. Instead the church of today builds big buildings, develops great programs, entertains the masses and then pats itself on the back.   Consider an alternate version of Acts 2 that is played out in many churches today.  If you remember, in Acts 2, the apostles are all in the upper chamber and the Holy Spirit comes upon them all.  A great worship service happens as the Holy Spirit shows up, prophesies and truth is spoken.  In the original story they tell the truth to the people who gathered because of the sounds coming from the upper room.  Over 3000 are saved that day, most of which did not come to the church service and did not intend to be a part of the events of the day. 

    But consider this version, the service goes on and the people gathered in the upper room are touched and blessed.  Afterwards, they all rush out for a nice lunch and an afternoon of watching football.  Over the next several years people who were at the service chat about that great service way back when.  What a waste that would have been.  We should gather in our churches, be refilled with the Life of Christ and then expend all ammo to share the Gospel with this world; when necessary use words.

Better yet, consider the following.  What if the man or woman of God took Jesus’ model of the Samaritan seriously and rose up in compassionate action?  While Jesus said that the poor will always be among you, He did not mean that people would always be homeless.  He meant that not all would be believers, remember the poor in spirit?  There will be the downtrodden, the hurting and the confused within the body of Christ.  Those are the poor.  Let us take compassionate action. 

The Original Model for Ending Homelessness

    “Who is my neighbor?”  Maybe the question was asked to limit the scope of who needed to be helped.  For others maybe it was a very real question.  Should we help anyone and everyone?

     Curiously, Jesus searched the faces of those around Him.  Some were focused and hanging on whatever words that He might use next.  Others were just passing by and seemed to hardly notice that He was even there.  Others were obviously watching very carefully hoping to catch Him in something that He might say that they could use to bring Him down.  Friends and enemies were all around Him as He carefully chose what story He would use to illustrate His next point.

    “A man was traveling on the road to Jericho.  Along the way robbers attacked him, stole what he had and left him for dead.”  The crowd nodded.  Most had heard about bandits along that road.  Some considered how foolish it would be to go along that road alone.  Others waited for the story to continue.

“While the man lay there bleeding, a priest happened by and passed by on the far side of the road.”  This made sense to many of the crowd.  If a priest were to touch this man and if the man died, the priest would not have been allowed to participate in the sacrifices.  “With the priest far up the road a Levite also happened by and saw the wounded man.  He too passed by on the far side of the road.”  This also made sense to the crowd.  Levites were focused on duty and did many unpleasant tasks.  He too would have been rendered unclean should the wounded man die on him.

“But along came a Samaritan who saw the wounded man and had pity on him.  His heart broke as he surveyed the damage on the man.  Reaching into his bag he pulled out some oil and wine and used them to begin cleaning the wounds.  A short conversation ensued but little the wounded man said made sense.  The loss of blood was getting to his brain.  Ripping his own clothing, the Samaritan worked to stop the bleeding improvising bandages and putting them in place.  By the time he was done the Samaritan was a mess.  He had dirt and dried blood all over him.  Using a piece of cloth that was on his donkey he wiped his hands as clean as he could get them. Quickly, the Samaritan laid the man across his donkey and took him to an inn.  At the inn he cared for him.  A thought simmered in his head that he needed to get his business done so he paid the inn keeper to care for the man.  He let the inn keeper know that he would be back and would pay him for any extra expenses.  The inn keeper happily agreed.”

     Jesus looked around at the crowd.  Several were still showing the shock of a story where a Samaritan was the hero.  How could that be?  Samaritans were traitors and half breeds.   But Jesus did not care for their racism and hate.  “Who was the neighbor to the wounded man?”

The only answer that anyone had was to say that it was the Samaritan.  “Go and do likewise.” 

    This story has been the lynch pin for the social Gospel.  How can we hear the heart of this story and not long to be the Samaritan?  Oh I want to be the hero that works to rescue the hurting man!  But how often do I fail like the priest and the Levite?  I choose duty.  Responsibility is right and good.  If I stopped and helped every needy person between my home and work I would rarely make it to work.  How often do I become annoyed when traffic stops because someone’s car has broken down instead of pulling over, getting out and helping?  It would only take a few moments.  It would feel good and I might actually get home faster.  But I would be inconvenienced.  I might get dirty.  But maybe that is the point of Jesus’ story.  His great grandfather David told the men around him that he would not present a sacrifice that cost him nothing.  Helping people will get you dirty.  It will make you tired.  It will cost you something.  But it seems to me that taking some time is loving your neighbor.

   What is clear in this story is the definition of who is our neighbor.  Anyone who is hurting, lost, confused and hurting is our neighbor.  This includes people of different faiths, different cultures and different nations.  Based on other portions of Scripture this also includes our enemies, people who would like to hurt us and people who would like to knock us down.  There is no thought by the Samaritan about the morality of the man.  All he saw was that there was a man in need and bent down took time and helped the man.

     What is not as clear is what does it look like to love your neighbor?   Let us look at some of the basic patterns of this challenging expression of love.

  • He came to where he was (Luke 10:33)
  • He saw the man (Luke 10:33)
  • He had compassion (Luke 10:33)
  • He went to him (Luke 10:34)
  • He bandaged his wounds (Luke 10:34)
  • He brought him to an inn (Luke 10:34)
  • He set him up for future success and left him (Luke 10:35)

Join us for next week’s blog where we will examine each of these areas.