Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. [Mother Teresa]

When I woke up this morning there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground. Did Punx Phil see his shadow? I don't even know.

I've been mulling over a lot of (interrelated) things lately. It comes down to
Filling out these service applications and answering questions like "What draws you to direct service?"
Sitting in on a guest speaker for a Human Dignity class.
Reading a book on one man's quest to live a completely sustainable lifestyle.
Visiting a local homeless shelter for my own Poverty and Social Justice class.
Reading a book on poverty in the aggregate for P and SJ.

I'm drawn to direct service because even though everything I read and see screams "No Hope!" I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.
Because when Dr. John Perkins gave his Three 'R's'(which in his Southern accent sounded like "Three Auras") he shook up my previous belief on socialist thought.
Because the people who seek warmth, comfort, a shower at the homeless shelter don't even have the bootstraps with which to pull themselves up.
Because no matter how much our society believes that working harder or being smarter will guarantee eventual success, the facts say otherwise--the problem of poverty in America is not caused by a lack of education or manners or determination. The problem is the structural breakdown in politics, economics, culture, and society.

I wish I could just take all of these things in my head from the past two days and share it with everyone but I know there's just too much to say.

Dr. Perkins' 3 R's were Relocation (knowing another's problem as if it were your own, like how Jesus relocated to Earth to know us), Reconciliation (getting back to 'right' with God and others), and Redistribution. NOT the communist, socialist version, which I have sometimes thought would solve many world problems. You know, the "It's not a matter of lacking resources, it's the unequal distribution of them" argument. No. Dr. Perkins had this to say about that: "If you took all the rich people's money and gave it all to the poor, the rich people would have it back by tomorrow night. [pause] The poor people would just use it to buy a Cadillac from the rich people." His redistribution is more of our own feelings and emphases. Put more value on people, not possessions.

Colin Beavan, in No Impact Man, restates this people-centered sentiment with his own environmental twist. What if our single-use, throwaway lifestyle was not making life easier? What forgoing takeout and television not only helped the planet but made us happier and brought us closer to those we loved? I highly recommend everyone read this book, but don't worry, there's a No Impact Man movie documenting the entire project!

Today at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter we learned about the history and background of the shelter. It's pretty much the last stop for the homeless of Green Bay, meaning they have exhausted all other avenues. Other shelters require people to be alcohol and drug free with little to no criminal background; St. John's basic requirements are that you are 18 or older. Other shelters run 24 hours a day, year round; St. John's is only open from 5pm to 9am November to April, the coldest and harshest time of the year. It's an emergency shelter with a max capacity of 50, and lately they've been seeing numbers in the 40s. For my Poverty and Social Justice class we also have to complete 15 hours of service at a place of our choosing and St. John's is where I plan to do mine.

The book Poverty and Power: the Problem of Structural Inequality sounds intense, but it's ideas are so basic I found myself 200 pages in within three days of reading. Why does the US have the highest rate of poverty and, in general, the highest level of economic inequality among rich nations? According to Royce, individuals within poverty cannot take the blame for the entire concept of poverty. The question isn't always why is HE poor, but why is ANYONE poor? While Conservatives deal out tough love and moral uplift and Liberals focus on more training and education so the individual can better his or her self, few people are left to focus on creating jobs and investing in poor communities.

What's hardest is knowing nothing I write will get anyone off the streets and into housing or the job market. My sudden and increased passion is useless if the entire system is broken. But I don't want anyone thinking I have no hope--no, I've actually been in a humbled, grateful mood the past few days. "The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all." [Proverbs 22.2]

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