We live for things that are disposable: diapers, napkins, containers, cleaning products, and the like. These items are just so darn convenient because we no longer have to fix anything. Instead, we throw it away—no clean up, no preservation, and no care. Lose something? No big deal. Just buy another.
The problem with this trend in society is that it has extended to things that are not disposable. We let homes get boarded up and rot on neighborhood lots. We throw away relationships and marriages when we get in an argument instead of forgiving and working through grievances. We throw away unwanted children when they are unplanned or too burdensome.
We also throw away the poor so we can live in “safe” communities with good schools and pretty landscapes. We cut programs and aid, hoard the jobs, skills, and education market, and attempt to create ideal communities by excluding those who do not make the cut.
BSL recently watched the gates rise along a large portion of the Cabrini Green row houses, one of the last sections of public housing left in the area. We watched as one of our dear friends was thrown away to make way for the wasteland of abandoned buildings. Will the homes be rehabbed or torn down in order to build mixed housing? No one knows for sure; the only thing we do know is that this community has been hastily scattered among the sub-par Section 8 housing that remains. Our friend in particular, a grandmother with hard-working honor roll students, was ignored for months until one day before her Section 8 voucher would expire. She was pressured into taking the first apartment available, in an area notorious for its drug dealing, and then forced to move through the night, being harassed by phone by the very people who would not return her phone calls previously to help her. Rather than a human being treated with dignity and compassion, she was a nuisance that had to be removed before the plans for the row houses could continue.
This is the reality of the poor; they are pushed around and thrown away. The truth is that it is inconvenient to fix things like housing, education, healthcare, or job opportunities for ex-convicts. It costs a comfort that we are not willing to sacrifice. However, the landfill is overflowing. The smell of the problem will waft towards the ideal community; the chemicals will leak into the good soil. The landfill will expand.
And it has.
Poverty has spread. Countless issues such as violence, under-education, and unemployment continue to grow and gain complexity. We cannot throw people away. Their needs do not disappear. Our friend, while removed from the premises of the row houses, still has the same needs in her new home, only exacerbated because she is left without a community to help her.
I often get asked, “How do you solve the gang problem?” The answer is that you solve poverty. Gangs kill and dispose of people because they are treated as though they are disposable themselves. Litter marks the streets and lawns of the neighborhoods because the land has not been deemed to have any worth. Teenagers drop out and throw away school because that school has not resulted in jobs for their parents and siblings. It has resulted in welfare, jail, and death.
Until we treat the poor with dignity, how can we expect that community to succeed?
The time has come to see the value in things broken. It is time to sift through the various parts of society that lie in ruin and heal the wounds. Christ came not to throw away a tradition of Judaism and start over, but to heal it, and refocus the efforts of the pious towards the Kingdom. He did not come to throw away the lost, but to save them and redirect them towards God. So too, must we use his example of courage to stand up for the poor and redirect society towards loving our neighbor.
You will be tempted to throw away something today that could easily be fixed, reused, or recycled. What can you do to take care of it instead? You will also be faced with the choice to throw a person away today. Whether it’s the homeless individual on the corner whom you ignore, a child with signs of abuse that you don’t report, or a neighborhood where you refuse to go, you will be tempted to dispose of people when it is inconvenient to help.
With God’s grace, may we have the courage today to love our neighbor instead of throw them away.
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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