Rise & Shine - February 18
What is our responsibility to those living in poverty among us?
The Rise and Shine discussion group meets Sunday mornings at 9:00 am in the Parlor. Adults from the 8:00 & 10:00 services gather for discussions that are relevant to their lives through the lens of a current topic and scriptural references. This week's story can be read or downloaded below.
Severe Poverty Impacting More Americans, Report Says
In the News
"The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion." That was the finding of a United Nations special report by Philip Alston, released at the end of 2017.
Alston based his conclusions on a 15-day fact-finding mission his team conducted in California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico, in cooperation with the present and previous administrations.
The team sought to learn whether people in poverty are able to live with dignity, and to discover what governmental agencies are doing to protect those who are most vulnerable.
Alston admitted that it was not within the purview of the brief report to fully address all the causes and consequences of poverty. The team's research led them to conclude, however, that many social ills, such as homelessness, unemployment or employment without adequate compensation, lack of adequate sanitation and access to healthy food and medical care, criminalization and stigmatization of the poor, appear to stem from and reinforce a cycle of deepening poverty.
People who lack the means to pay rent or a mortgage may lose their housing, which can lead to conviction for "crimes" they would not have committed had they not become homeless. Some of these "low level infractions" include sitting, sleeping, or defecating in public places when they have little to no access to bedrooms or bathroom facilities.
Such behavior often results in greater incarceration rates for the poor who can't pay burdensome fines and high bail. Extended imprisonment and the stigma of a criminal conviction can lead to loss of employment or greater difficulty in securing or keeping jobs, possessions, housing and even children. All too often, poverty breeds deeper poverty.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40 million Americans (or more than 1 in 8) lived in poverty in 2016. The rate of those living in deep poverty (with an income below one-half of the poverty threshold) rose from 40 percent in 1999 to 46 percent in 2015. Today 1.5 million American households live in extreme poverty (subsisting on less than $2 a day per person), nearly double the number in that situation 20 years ago.
Many of the poor are women, children and the elderly, who may live in urban centers or rural areas. One in four children live in poverty in the United States, the worst rate among the 37 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). One-third of all poor people are children.
People of color are disproportionately affected by the rise in poverty, but white Americans also feel the impact of inadequate income. 17.3 million non-Hispanic whites live in poverty, compared with 11.1 million Hispanics, 9.2 million African-Americans, and 1.9 million Asian-Americans. The highest poverty rate (22 percent) belongs to blacks, while non-Hispanic whites have the lowest rate (8.8 percent). Even when working full time, many of the working poor can't make ends meet, live paycheck to paycheck, unable to save up for a rainy day.
Alston argues that depictions of the poor as "wasters, losers, and scammers" and the rich as "industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success" are inaccurate stereotypes at best and caricatures that give politicians the cover they need to justify defunding programs designed to alleviate poverty.
But his investigation led him to conclude that the majority of poor people "had been born into poverty, or … had been thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unlivable wages, or discrimination in the job market."
Alston's final report on his U.S. visit will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.
What is our responsibility to those living in poverty among us?
More on this story can be found at these links:
Statement on Visit
to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on
Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.
Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, United
U.S. Poverty Statistics. Federal Safety Net
U.N. Investigator On Extreme Poverty Issues A Grim Report -- On The U.S. NPR
'American Dream' Quickly Becoming an 'Illusion,' Says UN Human Rights Expert. UN News Centre
Extreme Poverty Returns to America. The Washington Post
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
Jesus said, "... You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." (For context, read 12:1-8.)
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." (For context, read 15:7-11.)
Shortly before Jesus was crucified, he was honored at a dinner in the home of siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. No doubt filled with gratitude for the recent restoration of her brother, Mary anointed Jesus' feet with a pound of costly perfume.
Judas Iscariot was offended by her action, ostensibly because the perfume could have been sold for a large sum of money to be given as alms to the poor. But, as the biblical narrator tells us (John 12:6), Judas' criticism of Mary hid his lack of love for the poor and his love of money. John said he used to steal from the common purse to line his own pockets.
In a sermon on this passage recorded in his book Palm Sunday, author Kurt Vonnegut commented that Jesus intimated that one reason the poor would always be around was because Judas' hand was regularly in the cookie jar where funds for the poor were kept.
Using the saying from Jesus to suggest that we have no obligation toward the poor, Vonnegut said, frees us up "to say that the poor are hopeless because they were so lazy or dumb, that they drank too much and had too many children and kept coal in the bathtub, and so on." If we believe that people are to blame for their poverty, or even that poverty is God's judgment upon people for their bad choices or their sin, we might convince ourselves that it would be wrong to try to contravene God's judgment by trying to alleviate poverty when we see it.
But Jesus' statement in John 12:8 recalls Deuteronomy 15:11, where God's people are told that there will always be needy people on the earth. In that context, we learn that the people of God should "not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward [their] needy neighbor, but "open [their] hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be." They were not to "entertain a mean thought" or "view [their] needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing" but instead "[g]ive liberally" without begrudging their neighbor what they might need.
Questions: How does the love of money impact love for God and others? How do you see that impact in the life of Judas Iscariot?
What reasons do people give for not helping the poor? Are these legitimate? Why might we seek to rationalize withholding aid to the poor?
Mark 10:21-23, 25
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (For context, read 10:17-27.)
A wealthy man came to Jesus, asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The man believed that he had already kept the commandments of God, but the hold of gold upon his heart kept him from fulfilling the two greatest commandments of all: to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:36-40).
In this world, we tend to see wealth as a key to happiness. Yet this man "went away grieving" even though he kept his possessions.
Elsewhere Jesus said it is impossible for a slave to serve two masters; "[y]ou cannot serve God and wealth" (Luke 16:13).
Questions: Jesus told the man to go sell all his goods. Did he mean that to be a universal answer applicable for all wealthy people or was he simply identifying this particular man's problem and sin and a solution to it?
How and why can wealth become such a hindrance to entrance into God's kingdom? What does it mean to enter that kingdom? How do we gain admittance to God's kingdom?
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (For context, read 2:14-26.)
This passage follows James' teaching about the error of showing favor to the wealthy while dishonoring the poor (2:1-7).
Questions: Where do you see this kind of behavior in our day? How are the poor dishonored in our society? How can we show the poor respect?
What kind of works does James indicate should accompany our faith? How well are you doing in this area of your own discipleship? How well is your local church doing in this area? How can you grow in these kinds of works? When is telling someone "I'll pray for you" a cop-out?
Prayer for the Poor and Neglected (BCP p.826)
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you
all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us
to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick,
and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those
who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow
into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for
our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.