Taking Care Of One Another – More Than Just a Nice Idea
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
It goes without saying that we are now living in a world which seems to be imploding on itself. As I write this, over five million middle class American jobs have been exported overseas by US multinational corporations, and they are never coming back. As a result, we have well over 20 million Americans who are either unemployed or who are working part-time when full-time work is needed. An increasing number of these workers are juggling 2 or 3 part-time jobs just to make ends meet. The US government’s official unemployment rate, according to the mainstream news media, is said to be around 5.5 percent as I write this. This is a complete joke to those persons like myself who have been following current events, because those workers who have used up their unemployment benefits and who have been out of work for more than the maximum of 99 weeks are no longer being counted. Also not being counted are so-called “discouraged” workers who have dropped out of the job market and are sharing living quarters with immediate family. Without this family safety net in place, people usually wind up homeless through no fault of their own sooner or later. I know this to be true because I was one of those unfortunate individuals a few years back. Despite my best efforts to find full-time work in my field, which was computer/IT, I could only find temporary jobs of short-term duration. I spent roughly a third of my time searching for more work. By the time I finally wound up homeless my health soon simply collapsed and I wound up taking early retirement. I have learned the hard way that being homeless and on the street with no transportation or income permanently damages people. It breaks the spirit, it wounds the soul, and it fractures the mind in ways that most people can’t even imagine. The one positive thing about my homelessness is that it brought me closer to Christ, just like Jesus said: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. Chapter 8, verse 20 NIV)
The evaporation of these millions of US jobs is having severe repercussions for the overwhelming majority of Americans. There were about 5 million foreclosures in the US by the end of 2012, and about 3 million more since then. Cars and trucks are being repossessed at record rates, and an increasingly larger number of college graduates who cannot find jobs are defaulting on their student loans. Record numbers of these unemployed college graduates, some of them in their 30’s and 40’s, are moving back in with parents or siblings due to their being victims of foreclosures or evictions. They simply have no where else to go. All the rest, the multitudes of disillusioned, disenchanted and disenfranchised US workers who lost their jobs and careers, their housing and their transportation wind up in homeless shelters or sleeping under bridges. The more fortunate ones in this group of people that capitalism has discarded still have their vehicles, so that’s where they sleep. Yet if we study the four Gospels, we find that it was to this very group of poor people that Jesus gravitated towards the most. Houses of worship and charities are supposed to be helping these most unfortunate people, but too many of them use their ‘501c3’ tax status to remain tax-exempt, and so they can get grants from the government. Who are they worshiping first, Jesus or the IRS? Jesus prophesied against these kinds of organizations in Matthew chapter 23, verse 23 when He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.”
As we are living in these last days before Christ’s return, we would do well to emulate Jesus in this regard – His compassion and unconditional love for us all. It used to be that when I encountered a homeless person asking for money, I would walk on by them without saying a word. Having since experienced homelessness myself for a few months, I find that I can no longer walk on by without stopping and witnessing to them about Christ, and how He has brought me all the way back from the brink of oblivion. As I talk to them I inquire of the Spirit whether I should help them or not. Usually I give them whatever spare change I have. Occasionally I buy them a burger and fries, particularly if they are in really bad shape or when the Holy Spirit encourages me to do so. It’s just that being a follower of Christ has filled me with compassion, and I allow His peace to overshadow any anxiety I may have about whether the homeless strangers I encounter pose any threat to me, or if I can afford to buy them lunch or not. Jesus always comes first with me, others second and myself third. That’s what it takes to be a true follower of Christ. We are to emulate His example of unconditional love for us by showing that same love for others. And as hard times continue to get harder and meaner, an increasing number of folks from all backgrounds find themselves emulating Christ in one way or another whether they realize it or not.
As a rapidly growing population of long-term unemployed begins to congregate regularly at shelters, churches, soup kitchens and food banks, a good number of them volunteer in order to help give back what these charities have given them. In so doing they are finding themselves interconnected in ways that they may not have been previously. It is one thing to be connected on Facebook or Twitter, but being in groups of people having direct contact with others is another thing altogether. The exponential growth of the Internet, along with computer and information technology, has an increasing number of us spending more time in front of our computers and flat screen TV’s than we do with other people. Of course, that is only counting the people who still have the means of acquiring the trappings of being solidly middle class. As I write this, an increasing majority of unemployed American workers are putting these items into storage or dumping them at pawn shops in a desperate attempt to get some money in their pockets.
What do we do to solve this dilemma? What are we going to do with all these displaced workers who desperately want to restart their careers and their incomes, but can find no way of doing so due to a complete lack of opportunity that is beyond their control? First, we have to come to the realization that our economic system is broken and in need of replacement. Not just fixing it, mind you, I’m talking about starting all over again on a clean sheet of paper. For some detailed commentary on this subject, you may order a copy of my first book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”. For now all I will say is that the entire concept of profit and its benefits needs to be reexamined. When we have literally trillions of dollars in liquid wealth or assets of one kind or another in the hands of so few people, any claims of democratic government by this tiny but extraordinarily powerful group of people becomes completely ludicrous. We have been stuck in worn-out concepts of representative democracy that worked much better when the population of the earth was far lower than it is today, which has caused us to believe that it’s by getting the government to do things for us that we progress. The Internet and information technology have made these concepts obsolete. If we can interconnect directly with one another, then who needs big government? Big government clearly creates more problems than it solves in the 21st century. And I think that we’ve reached the point now where we’re stuck with a whole lot of antiquated concepts, so that when Michael Moore speaks about the relatively small number of people who make all this money while so many other people don’t, it sounds as if we’re struggling for equality with them. We don’t want equality with the rich, we want equality equally for everybody. Who wants to be equal to the rich? Who wants to imitate people who hoard billions while formerly middle class people are living in vehicles, shelters, and in cardboard boxes under bridges? I think we have to be thinking much more profoundly than mere capitalism and the empty acquisition of material wealth for its own sake that accompanies it. The earth’s population has become so great that we would all be far better served by spending our time helping others instead of helping ourselves. The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few.
Actually, if you go back to what Marx said in The Communist Manifesto over 150 years ago (and I’m no fan of Karl Marx, OK?), when talking about the constant revolutions in technology he ended his explanation by saying, “All that is sacred is profaned, all that is solid melts into air, and men and women are forced to face with sober senses our conditions of life and our relations with our kind.” We’re at that sort of turning point in human history right now. And I think that, talking about recovery, talking about democracy, we too easily get sucked into out-of-date notions of what we want. So I’m expecting massive civil unrest in the near future. I don’t mind protests, in fact I encourage them at times. But what happened in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2011 in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and England, plus the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, that is when people have gathered to say another world is necessary, another world is possible, and that we’re all longing for something better. It’s already started here in the US with the Occupy Wall St. and the “We are the 99%” Movements. These movements are the new civil rights marches of the 21st century by Americans who are becoming aware that our governmental – and particularly our economic – systems are broken. In Detroit, for example, – or what is left of it – people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another. This could easily happen in your city or town too.
We are collectively arriving at the conclusion that greed is bad and that excess profit always equals equally excessive greed. Human progress, on the other hand, depends on pursuing goals collectively for all our mutual benefit. In so doing we are evolving as human beings. Jesus commanded us all to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to “love your enemies”. Natural disasters tend to draw people together, with volunteers flooding into the hardest-hit areas where the need is greatest. The current economic instability we are experiencing is turning out much the same way. More people are volunteering to help the poor and the less fortunate, which now includes much of the former US middle class. So in closing I would encourage each of you to find something or someone that needs help and go and find out what you can do to help. By the same token, if you are in dire straits, take heart and do not be afraid. Your guardian angel and Jesus himself are right there with you. You are not alone. “Be of good cheer,” said our Lord. “I have overcome the world”. This means Jesus hasn’t just mastered your situation, it means He has overcome all the bad luck on the entire planet, including yours. Remember, if you are in need of help, there is no shame in asking for it. And, if you don’t need help, there is no shame in showing it. So show it by helping someone else, even a total stranger. God is watching you and you will be rewarded.