Spend an Old Penny to Help the Many

poor-old-woman[2]What’s the old woman worth, who can’t afford to pay her bills and eat her meals?
Just o’er the poverty line, she wears a sign, “I’m not poor, and so benign.”
Cereal, one piece of toast, days to wait for medicine, and nothing to boast
On the heels of check so small, no one to call, while the rich stand oh-so tall.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

Millions upon millions pay the billions to keep afloat the boat of corruption
With no interruption or disruption in Washington nor Wall Street, and ne’er eruption
From the downtrodden mass of the poverty class, stumbling thru life o’er broken glass;
With in hand checks so small, and no one to call, and trump-rich standing oh-so tall.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

He makes painful sacrifice only to ride wind of change; to end and begin again,
New chapter, new pen to break the baneful chain, to live on peaceful plain;
His children running free in soft-falling rain, no fear of lack or broken back
Under load too heavy for any to carry ~ this, his dream shoved in a haversack.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

Crawling out from safety hole, little girl takes the park stroll, no one to console,
To see what she stole just to fill her breakfast bowl; ah! tis only a sweet roll
And lump of coal to keep her warm on winter night, safe from blight but not from fright;
They may take her yet, the seamy crowd so proud to do with her what’s not allowed.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

In God we trusted, divine love busted; justice burned, and charity’s court adjourned.

Hitting Right at 2,000!

As of this Sunday morning, at 11:10 (CST) exactly 1,648 individuals had signed my “Raise the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)” petition! Just yesterday, I was notifying supporters that we were approaching the 1,000 mark… Now! Now! Over 1,500 … no, over 1,600 signatures. By noon that number had reached to within 10 to 12 of 2,000! By 12:30 p.m. (CST) we’d reached past the 2,100 mark. Thank you sincerely and most genuinely once again, to those who have so graciously supported this movement! Let’s keep up the momentum.

https://www.change.org/p/raise-the-federal-poverty-level-fpl?recruiter=47928834&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

1. Share this awesome news, along with the link to the petition (found at the bottom, right-hand corner of the page) with your Facebook or other social media friends and family.

2. Call and/or e-mail family and friends and encourage them to sign the petition and spread the word, too.

3. If any of you blog, as I know many of you obviously do, please consider sharing a word or two about this petition on your blog. And, again, you can copy and paste the link to this petition at the bottom of your blog to make access for your readers very easy.

Once again, thank you to all of you! Love and peace, hope and blessings to one and all!

All Too Familiar … Cakes and All!

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“It’s my business! I’ll serve whoever the hell I want to!” And that’s really the core of the argument, cakes and all. It has been, too, at least since the early days of the Civil Rights movement. And the argument was really very clear, simple and straightforward:

Jim Bo owns the Flea Bucket Motel. His daddy and granddaddy built it and passed it on to him. He owns the building and the land it’s on, clear and free, so he asks, “Why the hell should I rent a room to someone I don’t wanna rent to? It’s my damn business, not Washington’s. This here motel belongs to me, Jim Bo, not Bobby Kennedy!” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Well … it does to Jim Bo. “The government’s not gonna tell me who I’ve gotta to let in my house! And the government’s not gonna tell me who I’ve gotta let in my motel!” And that’s it, period.

Sally owns the Downhome Country Diner. She started scraping and saving when she was 16-years-old. Twenty years later, she bought the old, abandoned Catfish Bar & Grill. She and her girlfriends washed and scrubbed every inch of the place, inside and out, top to bottom and from side to side. Her ‘Bo’ and some of his buddies did some plumbing work and rewiring, while Sally and crew repainted and refinished, ending it all with her brand-new sign: Sally’s Downhome Country Diner… But it didn’t say, “Everyone welcome.” Not everyone was welcome, but so what?

Sally asks basically the same question as Jim Bo – who’s really a good ole boy, all in all – and that is: “Why should I have to serve someone I don’t wanna serve? Hell, it’s my diner! I own this place! I worked my ass off for this here restaurant! This is my dream, my place, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna have someone tell me who I have to serve!” Fists on hips and Sally’s bent slightly forward, mind you. “I don’t have to serve nobody I don’t wanna serve!” Sally’s got a point, doesn’t she? Well, she certainly thinks so, and so do her friends and regular customers, too. And that’s it, period.

Ah, but in Oak Level, population around 500, there’s only one grocery, owned by Mr. Philpot. The next closest grocery to Oak Level is about 10 miles down the road, which would be a 20 mile round trip … or maybe I should say is a 20 mile roundtrip for all the blacks (African-Americans, properly speaking, of course) who live in Oak Level … or on the edge of Oak Level in their part of town. You see, Mr. Philpot – another good ole boy, who got saved at the First Baptist Church when he was eight-years-old – hates “niﺀﺀers.” It’s o.k. though, because Mr. Philpot knows they have no souls, so there’s no sin in hating them. Right?

So now we come to the crux of the matter: “Colored folk” have to drive 20 miles round trip to buy groceries, but most of them can’t afford to do this even once every two weeks because they’re poor. And they’re poor because, of course, they’re not paid well. And they’re not paid well because, of course, they’re just niﺀﺀers. So most of them carpool – and most don’t own a car – and make the 20 mile roundtrip every two to three weeks to buy staple items only, if they can even afford that much … all because the owner of the only grocery store in Oak Level is a bigot, who “won’t serve no damn niﺀﺀers!” And this kind of creates an unnecessary problem for black folk.

Then there’s Dr. Hackshaw, the only doctor in Oak Level, and he won’t take on any niﺀﺀers, even though he likes them well enough (at least according to Mizzes Hackshaw, who lets her maid take home left-overs at least once a week.) You see, Dr. Hackshaw has a reputation to guard, and the good folks of Oak Level just wouldn’t understand his taking on black folk as patients. Oh no! Besides, everyone knows “Aunty Bee” takes care of her own; she’s who all the colored people go to when they’re sick or hurt or both. (And, really, Aunty Bee’s at least as good as any nurse practitioner, thank God; except she can’t get the medicines and supplies she needs, but oh well…)

Now, Stan the Man’s smart. He owns the local feed store and doesn’t mind doing business with black farmers; no, not at all … especially when he can charge them ½ as much as he charges his white customers. After all, they’d have to drive about … well, two to three miles past that grocery store, and that’d not only take extra gas but valuable time that farmers just don’t have to waste. So Stan does pretty good business with his colored customers. And you begin to get the picture, don’t you? But, of course, medicine and groceries and feed are not cakes.

No. No, cakes are cakes are cakes, but somewhere along the line we as a society decided that if you were going to own and operate a business, then you would have to serve anyone able to pay for the services and/or product(s) you offered, and do so at the same price for everyone across-the-board, without regard to racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, etc. differences. We came to realize (and none too soon) that refusing to serve or sell to members of an entire group of people is not simply and only mean-spirited, but also potentially (as it often was) dangerous and detrimental to those people being slighted, denied, taken advantage of and mistreated.

Now, even in the 21st century, there are still people – and likely far more than I’d like to know – who would still say that at least Jim Bo and Sally have a point. They would, and do, offer a kind of modified argument – modified, that is, from the one offered in the early Civil Rights days – and it hinges on the difference between what is necessary, or essential, and what is not so necessary, or basically inessential. They would say, for example, that it’s not absolutely necessary for some Latino family to eat at Sally’s Downhome Country Diner, so Sally should have a choice – really, in their opinion, the Constitutional right – to determine who she will and will not serve.

They would, perhaps, advance the argument for Jim Bo but back off on the grocery store example. Certainly they would admit that medical care is an essential, at least in truly dire situations, and would probably even site the Hippocratic Oath. So thinking along these lines, what are we left with? Well, here is precisely the problem with this modified argument: Defining what is essential and necessary as opposed to what is not gets kind of fuzzy and grayish the closer you approach the middle, so to speak. It’s rather problematic to make firm and clear distinctions; besides, that Latino family may be transient, extremely hungry, and Sally’s is the only place to stop before they all literally collapse.

This family just happened to be able to work for some cash that afternoon, and now they want and truly need a meal … and this family includes three children under the age of ten years. Now with this in mind, is Sally’s Diner and the food she has to offer paying customers a necessity? This Latino family would probably say, “Si! Muy necesario!” They’re extremely tired, hungry and thirsty, and Sally’s Diner is the only restaurant in town.

Proponents of the modified argument might counter, “They could go to the grocery store and buy food to eat.” Well, yes, but of course it would have to be food requiring no cooking … but that’s a possibility. The question we’ve asked ourselves as a society is, though, “Is this a possibility we really want to live with? Do we really want to put members of an entire group in such an awkward and inconvenient position?” We’ve collectively answered, “No. No we do not … at all.”

So now come the cakes. First, selling cakes, whether for weddings or birthdays or anniversaries, is still selling cakes. What does it really matter who is buying the cake and for what purpose? If one claims the purpose does in fact matter, then s/he is obliged to ask each customer more about the purpose of the cake than is readily obvious “on the surface,” so to speak. In other words, if the cake shop owners are evangelical Christians, who want to faithfully live out their convictions in and through their business, then they might have to ask the little old lady buying a birthday cake for her grandson something like, “Ma’am, is your grandson homosexual? O.k. Is he Hindu, or Buddhist, or an atheist? Has he ever smoked marijuana?”

Second, if the customer is paying the full (and fair) price, then there is no logical argument for tacitly supporting something that counters one’s conviction by making the sale. This is only an updated version of the old barter system; money is being traded for goods. Nothing is being given away in support of anything at all. A cake is being sold at a certain preset (or pre-arranged), agreed-to price. The customer pays the cake shop money; the cake shop clerk (or baker, or owner) gives the man his cake. How much simpler could this be?

Besides, evangelical Christians might do well to recall that the Apostle St. Paul basically addressed this issue in the case of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. He noted, of course, that this bothered some believers … but it didn’t bother him. Yes, he did say, “if food makes a believer sin, I will never eat meat again, so as not to make a believer fall into sin,” but he obviously meant he was willing to give up something not really so vital for the sake of his sisters and brothers, who might not understand and, thus, “fall into sin.” Actually eating the meat was not the point; he makes that clear when he says, “Food will not improve our relation with God; we shall not lose anything if we do not eat, nor shall we gain anything if we do eat.”

Which leads to a third point, and that is one of where emphasis ought to be placed. Is the refusal to sell wedding cakes to homosexuals really an appropriate Christian emphasis? Surely, the Church has the right – some would certainly say responsibility – to emphasize the traditional, Judeo-Christian understanding and practice of marriage and family, which is what the current Pontiff, His Holiness Francis I, is doing even now … but not selling cakes? To ask again basically the same question above, but now in this context, do evangelical Christian cake shop owners sell cakes to Hindus, agnostics, hedonists, ruffians, porn addicts…? The point is clear, I’m sure. (Of course, I don’t believe fining someone hundreds of thousands of dollars for refusing to sell a cake is at all just, but that points more to just how convoluted jurisprudence is in our country now.)

In the end, if ever there is an end, there will doubtless still be those who argue that Jim Bo and Sally ought to have the right to serve whomever they please, and refuse to serve whomever they happen to despise, for whatever reason, solely based upon the libertarian philosophy of property rights and individual self-governance. This is not how we have decided to conduct ourselves as a society, though, and more importantly, this is certainly not how Jesus of Nazareth conducted himself nor how he taught his followers to conduct themselves. If the Christ accomplished anything, he broke down the barriers between humans and God, and between humans and humans.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The walls of division have already been torn down. Why are professing Christians constantly building them up again?

(Note: Article inspired by reading “To Unrelenting Opponents of the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling,” by Reject Reality.)

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All of the Bums and Other Para-Persons

Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.
– Helen Keller

ParaHuman[1]Taking into consideration years of manual labor, over six years of ordained ministry, one year as an information and referral specialist in social service, as well as my current situation; the idea that most welfare recipients are “on welfare” simply because they do not have the initiative, drive, and desire to work and, thus, “better themselves” has become increasingly unappealing to me. Point in fact, this rhetoric almost nauseates me; and it would completely nauseate me, except for the fact that there are, after all, what some largely ill-informed and rather coldhearted people refer to as “welfare bums.” I’ve come to wonder – especially given the numerous honest women and men of upstanding character and integrity I have known, who have received (or still do) some form of welfare – just how many “welfare bums” there really are in our society, though… I also wonder if the welfare naysayers have any firm idea.

Thankfully, the United States seems to be moving in an increasingly favorable direction, at least economically. The Department of Labor recently issued an encouraging report on employment:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 223,000 in June, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.3 percent. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, retail trade, financial activities, and transportation and warehousing.[1]

This is wonderful news – that is, that presumably over 220 thousand individuals are working, who were previously unemployed – but the downside is still the side that’s down; the side that’s been down for who knows how many years now, and can’t seem to “get up off the mat” so to speak, even when employed. Obviously we shouldn’t believe that everything hangs on economics (the corporationist mentality), but if “love of money is the root of all evil,” then money must be a rather powerful ingredient in life, whether an attractive banquet or merely left-over consommé. And other economic facts speak to the matter rather bluntly:

In 2013, there were 45.3 million people in poverty. For the third consecutive year, the number of people in poverty at the national level was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimate…[2]

And importantly:

Many families in America’s struggling lower-middle class – defined to include those with income between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or between roughly $15,000 and $60,000, depending on family size and composition – live in economically precarious situations. Though not officially poor, these families experience limited economic security; one major setback in income could push them into poverty…

Nearly one in five American working-age families with children lives in poverty, officially defined as being below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Approximately 30 percent of families have incomes that place them between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL. Federal poverty thresholds vary by family size and composition, meaning that families with the same income, but with different household compositions, can be in different positions relative to the FPL… These families’ proximity to the poverty line means that any unanticipated downturns in income could push them into poverty. For this reason, we could reasonably consider these families to be the struggling lower-middle class.[3]

Perhaps somewhat shockingly, although higher education does certainly make an overall positive difference, nevertheless:

Thirty-three percent of household family heads below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) attended at least some college, although just 6 percent of those family heads have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.[4]

Or, maybe, this is not so surprising; after all, education is not everything, especially in a society that has been and continues to become increasingly specialized, so that someone with earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees cannot find suitable employment because s/he lacks particular education and/or training for an open job position, (which is something personally understood and suffered.) This leads to the problem society has recently chosen to brand “underemployment,” although attempting to find, say, day-labor jobs when one has even an Associate’s degree can often be frustrating simply because stores, businesses, etc. deem the person “overqualified” and, thus, place their application into the infamous “file 13.” Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that “in May 2015, the U.S. underemployment rate was 14.7 percent.”[5] Now … how many bums do we have here so far?

Really, all in all, it’s fair to say there are millions of people in our society who would like, and are trying, to “better themselves” and their families. They’re not bums in any sense of the word, and “bum” means “a vagrant; lazy and/or worthless person, who gets along by asking or (perhaps more accurately) begging without any intention of working for his/her just desserts.” Again, how many bitter, conservative-types, who look down their long noses at the under-class, can really estimate how many individuals in our country actually fit this description. From my own perspective, though, at least part of the definition – and the centrally important part – could very well be just as genuinely applied to any number of wealthy people … say, the young dilettantes who’ve inherited all their worldly goods from parents and grandparents.

In the final analysis, a bum is a bum is a bum. Right? The only difference between a rich bum and a poor bum is the rich bum has money; yet s/he, too, has not worked for this money. Like the welfare bum, s/he has acquired money, albeit through different channels. One could swap their clothing and residence – mansion for ghetto – and society at large would probably never notice the difference, except for, perhaps, two relevant probabilities: 1) the former wealth bum would whine and cry more loudly than ever did the welfare bum, and 2) the former wealth bum would stand far less chance of actual survival. We are talking about bums, though, so one could also easily imagine the former welfare bum quickly depleting his/her resources, and so, once again, descending to the status of welfare bum. Either way, the bums are bums, but this likely does not include the majority of people living in these United States.

Really, it all comes down to this, an admittedly old aphorism, but “we rise and fall together.” Sure, there are bums, rich and poor, but the majority of people are generally like people are and have been most everywhere since the beginnings of recorded history. In some way or other, people strive not merely to survive – although most of humanity does do this out of sheer necessity – but also to thrive … not so much materialistically, but creatively, intellectually, aesthetically, spiritually, and communally. It’s part and parcel of being human, or at least striving to be human, to truly “find ourselves,” which is a joint venture, as the late and great theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, explains:

The element of being together, of contact with our fellow men, through which we can share ourselves with others and even be confirmed in our existence and personhood by others, is part of the structure of personal identity: authorization by others and by society that we, that I, may be, in my own name, in my own identity, a personal and responsible self, however distorted this may be. A society which out of so-called self-protection … leaves no room for the disabled person is not worth a fig.[6]

Amen and Amen. We might just as well alter the last sentence to read, “A society which out of so-called self-protection,” or betterment, “leaves no room for the” poor person or family “is not worth a fig.” And here even the poor, welfare “bum” is more than a para-person, or some creature sub-human; still homo sapien, not homo vilis. Borrowing from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “everyone deserves both to love and to be loved,” and from within this communal love to find the “I” of who they are and are intended to be, the unique and divinely-human person they are already. And this entails an awful lot of dedication and loving labor on the part of everyone, but part of this loving labor involves lifting up downtrodden, the nearly-forgotten strugglers, the oppressed and marginalized poor. And this involves an essential change of perspective, a paradigmatic shift throughout society, and the willingness to overthrow and incarcerate the “green-eyed monster” of greed in order to more justly reapportion our goods and resources. For in the last analysis, Helen Keller is absolutely spot on: “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.”

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[1] United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Situation Summary,” issued July 2, 2015, as posted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed July 4, 2015

[2] Carmen DeNavas-Walt and Bernadette D. Proctor, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013,” 12 (Issued September 2014)

[3] Benjamin Harris and Melissa Kearney, “A Dozen Facts About America’s Struggling Lower Middle Class,” as published December 4, 2013 and reported by the Hamilton Project, accessed July 4, 2015

[4] Ibid

[5] As reported by Statista, “U.S. Underemployment Rate From May 2014 to May 2015,” as accessed July 4, 2015

[6] Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord, 736-737

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Take Action: Tell President and Congress to Raise the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)