Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being Concerned about "the Least of These"

I wept out of sympathy and anger reading Arianna Huffington’s post, The Story that Made Me Tear Up My Prepared Speech at a Big Education Conference. The new speech dealt with homeless children while Wall Street banks that are "too big to fail" got trillions and do nothing to avert an increasing catastrophe. I know the problem of homeless children intimately, having been faced with the problem almost weekly over the last two years. I have met countless solid middle class parents who have lost their homes and their children fear being homeless. Many would be homeless if we didn’t reduce the rent or do away with late fees. Can you imagine Wall Street banks that have a gazillion times more than us and were able to survive because of the trillions collectively given by average taxpayers without which they would have failed, doing the same?

Wall Street banks, instead, actually fought not to contribute to the health and wealth of children as Arianna noted by employing lobbyists to defeat legislation that would keep hardworking homeowners in their homes. I cannot tell you how many situations I have seen where solid middle class parents have lost their jobs and are in situation that they would have never imagined. One college-educated mother with two young boys owes me thousands of dollars. She pays what she can every other week. I always talk to the kids and see how I can help with school supplies, shoes or whatever. It's heartbreaking. Others were kind to my mother who raised twelve kids alone. We have all made it through valiantly, thank God, having graduate degrees and serving as executives in Fortune 100 companies, missionaries in developing countries, serial entrepreneurs and pastors.

When I meet these parents and children for the first time who have been foreclosed on, it is the look in the kids' eyes that tell the story of hardship. I always, after dealing with the parents, talk to the kids directly, looking into their eyes and affirming their value. This makes a difference; it eases their concern. I do the exact same thing repeatedly, seeking to give stability in an unstable emotional and physical environment. Initially, the kids often think that I am the wicked witch of the east or the bogey man; they have seen much too much for their young age and these are the kids of solid middle class Americans who once held industrial and white-collar jobs.

Arianna's points are so true: "It's important to remember that many of the people losing their homes now are not people with crazy sub-prime mortgages or who took out massive loans they couldn't afford. They are hard working, middle class Americans who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet." Here in Michigan I see these people often. Her second point is just as important and true: "It's equally important to remember that these are the same banks that used bailout money -- our money -- to hire lobbyists to kill legislation in the Senate this spring that would have saved over a million-and-a-half people from losing their homes." As a culture of character how can we allow this to happen?

One mother that we rent to has ten kids living in the house, her four and her brothers six, totaling eleven people in a three bedroom house. She struggles to pay the rent and the increasing utility costs. The lease allows for five, the mother and her four kids. When I go over I do not even acknowledge the agreement, speaking to all of the children just the same. They range from two to fourteen. The oldest always look like, "are you going to put us out?" I wear the gentlest smile I can and am careful of my words and tone. They are so sensitive to these things.

Thank you Arianna for the post and speech on behalf of homeless children and thanks to all of those, including corporations, who consider "the least of these." (A special thanks to the Gates Foundation and Viacom for their present effort on behalf of children.) On "that day" many will ask the Lord when did we see you in desperate situations? He will say, "for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you took me not in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you visited Me not. They will answer him Lord when did we see you, hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or in prison and did not minister to you? Inasmuch a you did not do it the least of these. You did not do it to Me"

Let's all, individuals and corporations alike, do our part in this difficult season to help others. We should be helpers one to another.


septembermom said...

Judith, those children will always remember your kind words, gentle approach and genuine attentiveness. God bless you for all that you do for the struggling within your community.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that our country needs a boost of compassion and understanding in order for our children to feel that they are not forgotten. My heart aches for all those who are in such scary circumstances now.

Judith Ellis said...

Thank you, Kelly, for your blessing. I receive it kindly.

The questions to each of us should be:

1) What are we going to do about this situation in and around our communities? (I refer here to situations of properties we own that are all in the suburbs.)

2) When are we going to call and write our representatives in Congress and demand action?

DB said...

Judith, from one who never had a real home, it is hard to feel sorry for the middle class, white collar worker who lost his. The evidence and reality of homelessness and poverty have been staring people in the face for decades. I early on grew tired and angry hearing from those same middle class people about the homeless that they refuse to do any work.


Judith Ellis said...

DB - I hear your anger. But it would not matter, for me, who it is that was homeless. This is something that I would not wish on ANYBODY. Moreover, the post is mainly about children. Can you justifiably say that it is THEIR fault?

Your comment is reminiscent of those who say "well let's give health insurance to the kids and not the parents. It's the parents' fault." Well, who's raising the kids? Are they raising themselves? And will they be forced to do so if their parents got sick?

I also think many times we are so caught up in our own stuff--anger, envy, regret, etc.--that we cannot see the pain of others, deservedly or not. This is limiting and narrow. It also does nothing about our situation. I would hope that such could be looked beyond at some point. These types of held emotions engender bitterness and prohibit our own progress.

By the way, DB, dear sir, wanna come and live with me? My home can be yours.

DB said...

Thank you for your offer Judith. About my comment, I merely said it is hard to feel sorry for those people. It is not hard to feel sorry for their children.

People are in need of help and should be helped. Those who have been overlooked by the government, plundered by banks and other big businesses and laid off, are in trouble. Let's face it, there are too many people in need these days. I'm in need. I wish I weren't because I would do more than I can to help people.

I've been a beggar. But before that I helped to scrape homeless men up off the sidewalk, got supermarkets to donate food to feed people and given money generously to the charities that showed some results. I bear no malice toward the middle class. I try not to hold any malice at all, even toward the banks that have caused me to pour money into their bottomless pits causing me to be poor once again.

Life comes with lessons. I don't need to learn about poverty, homelessness, insecurity and despair. But if some white collars need to learn about it, so it will be. They have no right to cry about it but it doesn't mean they don't deserve our compassion.

Would that the wealthy vacuum heads who run things also learned the truth.


Judith Ellis said...

Thank you for your follow-up remarks, DB. They're appreciated.