December 30, 2009

The Bum's Rush


There are many who live in the northeast who experience hundreds of lose-lose situations that our laws, policies, and cultural practices help create and maintain. I recently read a letter that Mother Teresa wrote urging both George Bush Sr. and Saddam Hussein to consider their poor and the ill effects war would have on them if violence were to ensue. She talked of all the poor having no place to go, all the displaced persons being rendered poor, and all the soldier’s families being torn apart by violence.

This simple letter gave me pause. My mind then turned to those I call sister, brother, and friend. I thought of all of the people in our neighborhood caught in an endless cycle of catch 22’s and how we, the privileged class, have played a part in it. After a year of accompanying our guests as they go to court, rehab, ER, or to city hall it has become clear to me that there is much work to be done to break the yoke that is enslaving the poor of our city.

Below are a few simple reflections on the hardships our friends and guests live and endure on a daily basis, as well as some of the ways the privileged class experience the “deep poverty” Mother Teresa speaks of often in her writings.


The poor receive our leftovers—our clothes, our food, our work, our shelter.
The poor are concentrated in the ghettos.
The ghettos are dilapidated.
The poor are treated as sub-human.

The poor do manual labor for work.
The poor work and sometimes don’t receive money.
The poor panhandle and sometimes receives money.
The poor become unemployed when economies crash.

The poor experience daily violence.
The poor are robbed.
The poor are beaten.
The poor are raped.
The poor are exploited.
The poor are criminalized.

The jobs move away from the ghettos.
The poor don’t have cars to get to work outside the ghettos.
The buses don’t run out to where the jobs are.
The poor can’t find work.

The poor lose their homes when property taxes rise.
The poor move deeper into the ghettos.
The poor search for homes.
The poor sneak into abandoned homes to get out of the cold.

The poor are told they can’t sleep in parks.
The poor are told they can’t sleep in abandoned houses.
The poor are told they can’t sleep in the woods.
The poor are told they can’t socialize on sidewalks.
The poor are told they can’t ask for money.

The poor get arrested.
The poor can’t afford to pay fines.
The poor serve jail time.
The poor get felonies.

The poor with felonies can’t receive food stamps.
The poor with felonies can’t get work.
The poor with felonies can’t get housing.
The poor with felonies spend more time in jail.

The poor are killed or displaced in times of war.
The poor die due to inability to pay for health care.

The poor can’t afford to run for political office.
The poor can’t afford to lobby.
The poor can’t afford to be a shareholder.
The poor live at the mercy of others.
Then the poor are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

The poor in our neighborhood end up being treated like unwanted animals. Thankfully, Christ told the poor they would be first in the kingdom of heaven. That is a reason to hope.

The rich are told to give to the poor.
The rich are also poor.

Poor because of riches.
Poor because of greed.
Poor because of loneliness.
Poor because of strategic relationships.
Poor because of aggressive competition.
Poor because of isolation.
Poor because of rugged individualism.
Poor because of performance evaluation.
Poor because of busyness.
Poor because of fear.
Poor because of hoarding.
Poor because of materialism.
Then the rich are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.


Jesus says something astounding in his Sermon on the Plain—that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor. Not only that, but repeatedly Jesus calls the rich into a life of giving and service to the poor in our midst. As Cherith Brook CW struggles to break free from the pursuit of wealth, the scramble for security and our obsession with individualism, something new bursts forth. When we learn to share more radically, serve more humbly and love more completely we are always taken aback by how much we end up receiving. A simple thanks, a shower curtain, a box of oranges, food salvaged from a dumpster, moonflower seeds, a couple of dollars for our water bill, a hug. When we begin taking concrete steps to break through the economic and social barriers that exist in our society, we will surprisingly discover the chains of oppression being broken. Not only that, but we will also find ourselves calling our “enemies” friends and discovering the beauty and brokenness within all of us.


  1. Thank you. Check my blog please, you inspired a post.

  2. Mother Teresa knows how to say it! As do you. Thanks for sharing. Always.

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