“I thought it was a different day.”
“I lost the number to call the office.”
No doubt, Brother Jim and I are used to excuses. Our friends have a tendency to become paralyzed by poverty and look for reasons that they must remain in their current state. They legitimize their inaction through stories and circumstances.
One of our friends is notorious for this. A young mother has had the support of BSL to receive rental assistance, food assistance, weekly visits and general support. A local community center has found babysitters for her to find a job, tutors for GED classes, and many other solutions to help lift her out of her poverty. Each opportunity is quelled with an excuse. The smallest obstacle is met with hesitation.
Excuses do abound among the disadvantaged, and many more affluent members of society like to highlight this behavior as the reason why people choose their poverty and must learn to help themselves.
What others do not seem to notice is that this statement is in and of itself an excuse for not helping the poor. The privileged often fear the poor, are overwhelmed by the complexity of their struggle, or simply do not wish to sacrifice their own comfort in order to address the problem. So while the argument of the privileged is grounded in a basic truth, I’d like to turn the finger around for a bit and discuss some of the inaction I’ve witnessed this week from the privileged.
First, on a local scale, BSL has met with various community members in order to discuss the closing of the Row Houses in Cabrini Green, and the alleged “Recalibration” plan by CHA which includes breaking a promise to public housing in the area. The reactions were fascinating. Community members began the conversations with enthusiastic spirits. They were concerned for the residents’ futures, and questioned where they would find future housing and what safety nets would exist if they faced financial trouble in the future. As soon as the focus shifted from talk to action, however, the enthusiasm vanished from the room faster than air out of a deflating balloon. Whereas before there was a clear need to solve the problem, the weight of action created a litany of potential concerns. It immediately became more important that voices were consistent with their values, and associations were made carefully. Some questioned whether or not the residents themselves (most often helpless, confused, and desperate) were asking for our help or coming together in some organized way on their own.
This pattern of behavior is identical to the behavior that we criticize in the poor. When faced with action, we hesitate, seeking excuses that legitimate our inaction.
This is not just a local problem in Chicago. News reports have recently highlighted Jason Russell and the backlash against him for his “Kony 2012” campaign to oust Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel leader using child soldiers and other terrible criminal methods to maintain control. Russell released a video that went viral, calling for action and awareness to bring justice for the international criminal. Instead of adding their support, many voices critiqued Russell’s methods, calling them ineffective and blaming him for taking funds from places where they could be better used. The criticism became so unbearable that Russell suffered from a mental breakdown and is recovering in the hospital.
I have to ask those who criticized: If you can do better, why haven’t you?
In both these cases, it becomes apparent that it is much easier to criticize a plan than to face the need to execute it. As long as concern remains, no one needs to act. However, the Christian call to love does not imply easy. Our Gospels are not full of calculated decisions and rationing of support. When there were crowds of 5,000, Jesus took his loaves and fishes, and he fed everyone. I don’t recall him saying that he just didn’t have the resources to help the poor. When he dined, I don’t recall that he needed to dissociate with prostitutes and tax collectors to make sure he was consistent with this religious values. He loved, and he loved unceasingly, always acting for justice.
Before we point the finger at the inaction of the poor, let us all take a look at our own lives. We love to talk about justice. We post items to Facebook, wear ribbons, and state our political beliefs among friends. But who will act? We cannot just have an opinion about justice. We must love it. And that love must consume our hesitation and inaction.
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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