Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Solidarity with the Poor

Pope Francis designated this past Sunday as World Day of the Poor. It was the second of what will likely be an ongoing, and expanding, observance by the Roman Catholic Church. But the plight of the poor—and solidarity with the poor, which the Pope has often emphasized—is something all of us need to think about seriously.
The Poor
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report issued in Sept. 2018, there are nearly 40 million people in the U.S. living in poverty. That is 12.3% of the total population. For African-Americans the percentage is much higher: 21.7%. Sadly, the report also indicates that 17.5% of all children under 18 are living in poverty.
Worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where it is the worst, the percentage of people living in poverty is much higher. True, the poverty rates have been steadily declining in recent decades. But there are still vast segments of society, at home and especially abroad, that suffer daily from the effects of being poor.
Surely, people of goodwill must become more fully aware that domestic and international poverty is a shameful reality and be inclined to act to alleviate as much of that poverty as possible.
The Challenge
The Pope has, as have many other religious and also some civic leaders, been challenging people to be more aware of and compassionate toward the poor of the world. 
In his message for World Day of the Poor (you can read that message here), he used the word “solidarity” four times this year, as he did last year, and during his papacy he has often spoken of solidarity with or for the poor.
For example, in July (here) the Pope said,
"The proclamation of Christ, bread of eternal life, requires a generous commitment of solidarity for the poor, the weak, the least important, the defenseless. This action of proximity and charity is the best verification of the quality of our faith, both on a personal level and on a community level."
To make a generous commitment of solidarity with the poor is a difficult challenge. It is much easier to talk about being/living in solidarity than actually doing so.   
The Difficulties
To be in solidarity with the poor means, among other things, to be committed to “simple living,” as I have written about previously (see here and here). But living in such a manner is not easy.
It is easy, though, to rationalize, to quickly come up with reasons why we should buy or spend money for this or that, which would be out of the question for those who are poor.
Further, it is easy to engage in tokenism, claiming that such and such is done in solidarity with the poor when it is just a rather insignificant part of the totality of what we spend for things the poor cannot purchase or experience.
Part of the problem in trying to live in solidarity with the poor is that those around such a person, especially those who are closest, will likely not appreciate the emphasis on solidarity—and it is hard to talk about living in solidarity with the poor without sounding “holier than thou.”
In spite of the attendant difficulties, people who profess to be followers of Jesus—and all people of goodwill—must surely seek to live and to think more and more in solidarity with the poor.
And among other things, this also calls for supporting the politicians who are, and whichever political party is, conscientiously seeking to enact legislation that will be of greatest benefit to the poor people of our nation and of the world.


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    1. Thanks, John Tim, for introducing your Charitable Giving Foundation to the readers of this blog. I hope there will be many who logon to your website and consider linking to the service you provide there.

  2. The first response I received to this article was from local Thinking Friend Debra Sapp-Yarwood, who emailed me these thought-provoking comment regarding my statement, "Part of the problem in trying to live in solidarity with the poor is that those around such a person, especially those who are closest, will likely not appreciate the emphasis on solidarity . . ." Here are Debra's comments:

    "I think in the story of the Rich Young Man, this is why he goes away weeping. So many interpret the story to mean that he is not planning to give up his worldly goods, but then why would he weep? If he didn't believe Jesus and wasn't committed to following him at his word, he would shrug Jesus off as a religious nut and go back to his possessions, and possibly do one of those token gestures you speak of and continue life as usual.

    "Especially when I read Mark's version of the story, the one where it is explicit that Jesus talks to him in love, not the way he talks to Pharisees and other 'vipers.' From what I can tell, the man asks a legitimate question, Jesus gives him the answer, and he weeps because he knows the consequences will be so much more than losing his possessions. In choosing solidarity with the poor, he will lose his kinship group, all the people who love him and share his values (which include doing the right thing -- following the commandments, from birth). He will also lose the position of honor he has held, and which he feels he's done well -- he's been kind and exemplary as a rich man/ruler.

    "But Jesus says, 'Sorry. You have to go one more step.' That's why he weeps. This is incredibly hard."

  3. Here are brief comments (also received before 9 a.m.) from a Thinking Friend on the East Coast (of the U.S.):

    "Good blog on an important and very challenging topic. I appreciated you getting concrete and specific (in the space available)."

    1. I appreciate these comments, but actually I would like to have been more concrete and specific--and personal--but to have done so would have doubled (or more) the length of the article.

  4. And then there were these even shorter, and much appreciated, comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "Yes! Yes! Beautifully stated challenge, Leroy. To add to it would detract from the challenge."

  5. Solidarity is good, but not enough. In a democracy we have some say in how our government policies will affect the poor. America's record for the last several decades has been abominable as both parties have shifted towards more favor for the rich and powerful, while a swath of destruction lies before the poor.

    The three great crises facing the world today are anthropogenic global warming, overpopulation, and imperialism. The poor are usually the first victims of all three. Look at who was living in Paradise, California. Many of them are now in paradise because they could not get out of town fast enough. Nearby, while wealthy San Francisco shelters indoors from the smoke pollution, the homeless suffer in the smoky streets, and farm workers are expected to keep on harvesting in the central valley. Global warming is partially driven by overpopulation, which has many dangerous effects, and which America (and the Pope) chooses to increase by resisting comprehensive sex education, available birth control and abortion. Women (and men) will stabilize world populations when they are free to do so. We know because we have seen it in free countries. Finally, imperialist policies from the horrible war on drugs to failure to provide decent healthcare and housing are designed to make the rich richer, while displaying a sociopathic disregard for the impact on humanity. Ebenezer Scrooge has so many disciples today. Cheering for Tiny Tim is not enough. Just ask the Tiny Tims of Yemen as we "give" them exploding American bombs for Christmas. Come the judgment day, who will be asking, "When did we not . . . ?"

  6. I much appreciate these comments by local Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman"

    "Your piece this morning may be the most Christian act you’ve made in your lifetime of blogging.

    "Years ago, I added these words to my daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer: 'Bless the poor and the dispossessed.' That is when I was gradually becoming aware of the fact that poverty is not simply a matter of not having enough money, but is a pernicious state of systematic discrimination against poor persons.

    "One glaring example is how minimal work requirements for medicaid recipients keep multiplying this discriminatory bias in a snowballing effect in the lives of people that simply do not have the means to follow the myriad of rules imposed by public officials determined to end government welfare. When this practice is juxtaposed with government welfare through tax laws that favor wealthy Americans, it is evidence of the depth of this crisis."