When I read the local newspaper (yes – I am a dinosaur), I am often touched by the generosity of our community. On Thanksgiving – and the days that followed – I saw the many places that had meals for people in need of food. I think this is a beautiful thing – but it is also a problem. Like so many things in life, we put band-aids on wounds while not addressing the systemic problems. Feeding someone for a day is great – trying to solve hunger systemically is better.
Our congregation, like so many others, sees the pain and suffering of people who are struggling every day. We are serving Christ in the poorest city in America, and this is hard work. We try to help everyone generously, but what we are able to do is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. And yes, sometimes we get ripped off – that is the price of serving God and giving people loving responses, I guess. I would estimate that 98% of the people I, and the churches I have served, have helped over the last 34 years were truly in need, and it is a terrible thing to tell them that there isn’t enough in our coffers to help.
Don’t get mad, but I think that, too often, that Thanksgiving or Christmas day we take to help may actually make the problem worse. We give out of love and believe in charity, but not quite enough to challenge the “why” of poverty. As people of faith, we are very careful to not bring politics into it, but, really, the funding and decisions needed to go after systems are resources that our congregations do not have. It is only through our government’s budget process that we can fix the systems, and that seems to be a lost cause. Not because it can’t be done, but because we might not care enough to do it.
I watched a video this morning that reported that we in America throw away 40% of the food we produce. We spend vast amounts of money caring for the poor, yet have made little progress in our war on poverty. Some cities have started to build tiny houses for the homeless and have found that this not only saves money, it gives people better lives. Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, and no truer thing has ever been said. But that doesn’t mean we give up on doing everything we can to minimize poverty. We need to have the moral and political will to care for the least among us. Maybe a couple less bombers and tanks? Maybe more equal education? Maybe less for prisons and more for schools? We could make feeding the poor on Thanksgiving Day a thing of the past – but we would have to change the way we truly feel about them. It is far easier to take a day to help than to spend our time changing our world for the better. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).