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?

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