As I sit here tonight thumbing through "A Spirituality of Caregiving" (2011), I have to ask myself: just who are the uncared for?
"Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgement creates distance and distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other" Nouwen, p.19.
Our little town is preparing for another mayoral election. One particular candidate, before he was a candidate, made public statements about his beliefs about our local homeless population. He wrote a letter to the editor which was published in our weekly paper. I remember sitting stunned as my eyes tried to force some more absorption by my brain. His letter just wouldn't sink in. His words were cruel, reeking of the bootstrap mentality — "God helps those who help themselves, and dammit, you'll accpet the help I determine FOR you!!"
"What's the incentive for a guy to get work when you offer them a warm bed to sleep in?" (from his letter, Lac La Biche Post, July 15 2014, p.4A). He also stated flat out that if these fellers weren't going to play ball, they could freeze to death in the alley. It was an odious letter, one that reflects privilege and the idolatry of taxable income.
"They have money for cigarettes, they have money for booze, they have money for drugs," he declared at the Mayoral Forum last Thursday. "they can afford a room… don't expect taxpayers to support these people." (Lac La Biche Post, July 15 2014, p.4A).
I've mulled around on the blog before about compassion fatigue — helping to the point where one simply can't give anymore, one doesn't see change in the people or world around him/her, and being overwhelmed at the sheer precipice of need in our backyards (never mind the whole world!). I've already admitted the helping the poor isn't glamorous. The poor don't owe me anything. I haven't lived their lives. I haven't walked a mile in their shoes, much less a step.
Mind you, they haven't walked in mine but that's not an expectation I ought to be putting on anyone, is it?
These homeless people… here in Lac La Biche… they are obviously uncared for in many ways. Sure they've got a slowly growing men's shelter, the food bank, day labour jobs, addictions counseling, anger management groups, the list goes on but…
Do we love them?
There's care. And then there's care.
Do we love them?
I ask that of myself each day, because their lives are on display for all to see.
But then there are those blowhards who make such bold and unfeeling statements. I know where this mayoral candidate is coming from: offer all the options in the world to give someone a hand up, but you can't choose for anyone. If someone says "no", let 'em die. Sounds a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge, don't you think?
"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?!" (can you just hear Alistair Sims' booming voice as he accuses two poor do-gooders collecting extra money for the poor at Christmas time???).
"If they would rather die, they'd better do it, and decrease the surplus population!" (Charles Dickens, Scrooge).
Of course, we all know what happened to him.
Someone still cared for Scrooge. Thrice, I might add, not counting Jacob Marley's ghost.
I know I've judged this candidate, at least politically. I wouldn't vote for this man if he was the last mayoral candidate in the cosmos. His words are mean. They echo a life ethos built on personal wealth and gain by the sweat of the brow.
Does that make him one I ought to care for? According to your definition, perhaps he is the least of these now (at least in my world).
What do I do? Do I pray for the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future to come haunt him? Where does care come for him?
I certainly don't want to offer him any. Not a drop. If he's got it all together to the point where he can hold his own self up as an example of: "If it worked for me, it should darn well work for you too!"… or else die… I have no inkling to be sending him a fruit basket.
But there will always be people who hurt the downtrodden or the oppressed. There will always be oppressors… even oppressors who think they're speaking the truth.
And the truth is: he's not the only one to think as he does; his words aren't 100% lies (it's hard to keep offering help and care to people with chronic struggles); and he's still a human being needing care like every other human being on earth.
It's just tonight, I think I need Scrooge's Ghosts to go look after him for a time. My judgment is still clouding my compassion a bit too much.
Until next time,