I was watching Morning Joe this morning. Paul Krugman was a guest on the program promoting his new book, End This Depression Now. Joe Scarborough asked Krugman why he called what we're in a "depression". Krugman's answer was, and I'm paraphrasing some, a recession is when the economy is on its way down, but a depression is when it's at the bottom and that's where we are now.
Maybe I've been living in a bubble and completely out of touch with reality, but I can't remember things ever being so bad in my lifetime. My affiliation with the Clothes Closet has really opened my eyes to how bad it really is and how people are coping.
A tiny blonde woman, maybe in her mid-forties, came into the Clothes Closet yesterday. She had just finished getting groceries at the Food Basket next door. She handed me her card and I noted the 2/0 in the upper right hand corner - 2 adults/0 children.
"So, you'll be shopping for yourself and....?" I prompted.
"My twin sister," she replied.
"Yes, but she's a little bigger than me," she said with a smile.
I showed her around a little, then she headed to the rack of women's pants in the middle of the room.
"We need some black pants. We have to wear them to work," she said.
"Where do you work?" I asked.
"Kentucky Fried Chicken. We both just got jobs there. They give us the shirts to wear, but we have to wear black pants with them. My sister is working there right now or she'd be here with me. I'm not complainin'. We've both been outta work a long time, but now we at least have a job. We need the money. We're gonna to move into an apartment. We're livin' in a tent right now."
She said it with a smile. They are living in a tent. It made me feel ashamed of myself. The last time I was in a tent was three years ago when we camped at Yellowstone and I vowed never to do it again.
How can she even smile, I wondered to myself. My thoughts went quickly to the downpour we had a couple of weeks ago. I'll bet everything they owned was soaked and they were beyond miserable. And there she was smiling and happy to be working at KFC.
I live in a county with a population of about 125,000 people. As of the last census in 2010, 15.3% - nearly 20,000 people - live below the poverty level. Two years later and well into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, I can only assume that the number is higher.
This same county prides itself on being a Christian community and boasts of 124 churches of almost as many denominations. Many of the church buildings are beautiful. The church grounds are immaculate. The sanctuaries and classrooms are plushly carpeted and painted soothing colors. All the buildings are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. The massive industrial kitchens are fully stocked and at the ready to serve hungry parishioners. The children's playgrounds are equipped with the latest designs and colors. Millions are spent creating inviting, beautiful and comfortable environments in which to worship.
But, but, but....
- "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." Luke 14:13
- "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:9
- "Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" Matthew 19:21
- "'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD." Jeremiah 22:16
- "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" Isaiah 58:6-7
- "If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10
I'm sure there are hundreds more bible quotes like those. But I couldn't find one quote that sanctioned blatant extravagance and self-indulgence while displaying complete indifference to those who live without enough food, clothing or shelter. It's hard to care when you isolate yourself from the ugly realities around you.
I don't think sitting in a nicely padded, comfortable pew in an ornate, air conditioned sanctuary on Sunday and uttering a brief prayer for the most disadvantaged among us is what Jesus had in mind. I think we're supposed to actually do the work.