So do you remember when the Y2K crisis was all the rage? People were hunkering down, going to great lengths to prepare for what many thought would be the “end of the world” (at least the computer world) as we knew it. Then more recently 2012 was all the rage. Based on some kooky prophecies and some “opportunists”, all this stuff was brought out about the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, and other (what I consider) non-sensical junk. Sadly, we have a much bigger issue to deal with. And this issue is right at our front door and/or back door.
I suspect by now many of you are probably thinking, “He is going to say AIDS.” And you know what? You could/would be right. The AIDS pandemic is bringing down many houses of cards these days. But I have something else in mind. But first let me tell you a story:
I grew up in West Mifflin, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. My grandfather worked in the steel mills as a welder. My father worked on the railroad as a clerk until he was laid off. He was unemployed for several years and my mother went to work at a mom-and-pop grocery store called Algeri’s. Eventually, my (great)aunt paid for my dad to go to Pitt and study computers. This was when computers were as big as a house and housed in a room that could freeze your you-know-what off. He eventually went to work for Irwin Works, a steel mill he drove close to an hour to get to. This was in the late ’50s/early ’60s when the mills were blowing smoke 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Black smoke filled the air. Many were flush in green stuff and began to buy, buy, buy. Trying to raise 3 boys (soon to be 4) was no easy task and so mom hunted for bargains. It wasn’t easy but going to WalMart wasn’t an option back then. Neither was a mall (they didn’t exist). So we would go to the downtown streets of McKeesport, PA to shop. Shoes at Samuel’s. Glasses at Dr. Braverman’s. Clothes at Gimbels (thanks to my aunt). And while we were at it-walking from store to store outside- a healthy dose of reality, least to my young eyes. Beggars on the corner with their cups asking for help. After being told to quit staring several times I got the hint: look away and keep walking. It wasn’t because my mom was heartless…far from it. She would have given the coat off her back if it was up to her. Sadly enough: she didn’t have it to give. She often wore out-of-tune- clothing so we could wear clothes. But she also taught us a lesson-one that I hope I have never forgotten: while you may be down-and-out and may not have the finest and the best, there is always someone worse than you. Be grateful. Be appreciative. Be sympathetic not critical. Be empathetic if you can. But never forget “there but for the grace of God go I.” (Those weren’t her exact words but you get the drift I am sure).
That brings me to the point of this post and one that John Berger (quoted on page 95 of The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearn) makes: “The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” It is true that AIDS is for real a pandemic. But so is poverty. While I may not have always had what others had, I had a roof over my head, a full belly (of government surplus food), and clothes on my body. You don’t have to go half way around the world to know there are many who do not have that today. I admit some skepticism when I see people standing on street corners with signs (especially after expose’s of them). But there are real people with real hurts. How much of that am I missing?
I guess I need to ask you today: how aware are you of poverty around you? More importantly: what are you or do you plan to do about it?
This is part of the book discussion of The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, hosted by Jason and Sarah. You can purchase the book here or here for a special price. Please visitJason’s blog for the widget to catch the other great posts.