Poverty in My Eyes

This post is from my perspective encompassing what we witnessed on Thursday regarding the people left in poverty in Chicago. Though these are my views, my intention is to incorporate things we’ve learning in class and how they relate to my personal beliefs.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39b.

Watching the situation of the people in the city of Chicago who suffer from poverty broke my heart. The people who were shanghaied by the government in section 8 housing was tragic. When the documentarian Schodorf speaks to one woman there about the cycle of poverty as something that traps the kids especially, leading them to truancy, and then often drugs and crime. However, what affected me the most, was perhaps the area where I am the most passionate the suffering of the people.

The documentary and myself are more inclined to see the human level of these people. The man at the end of the documentary, named Brian, was seized with joy at Schodorf’s remembering of his name. It is that human element I am concerned with. Shklar spoke of the need for welfare, and that it is called so in error; she states that it’s a need, not a want, like roads or bridges, but is demonized as a handout (Shklar 100). She and I agree that relief is needed for the people who are in such straits. However, her focus still seems more on the definition of citizenship. The need for sacrifice is real, regardless of why different people feel that way. The need for people to help is real. Many believe the government is needs to be the abiding helpful entity, and I do believe that is part. The divergence is, that I believe the desire to help should be a conviction, especially for Christians. I am called to be willing to share my possessions fearlessly. Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” (Matthew 19:21).

This is pastor and author Francis Chan:

The idea of the Mission could be a great aspect of Christians who have showing the love of Christ, but I feel it is warped into a coercive religious organization. The idea should be to love people where they are. It should be to give the men who come in what they need. The Gospel is a choice. Many of the men found that they would rather live outside or in some shanty rather than in the Mission. Apparently, treatment there is more brusque and oppressive than the people who work there admit. As a future pastor and Christian, I can tell you that this aspect of the Mission is not particularly Biblical. I am called to love people and present them the choice of the Gospel. I’m called to treat them like brothers and sisters.

These people need care. They need people to have compassion for them. I’m not saying that only Christians can care; far from it. I’m saying that all real Christians should really care. There either is a lack of willingness to give, not because people are bad, but because they get comfortable (the people who ignore the need), or a tendency to treat religion like a profession (the coercion of the Mission). To quote the movie ‘Robots,’ the Christian thing to do would be to “See a need, and fill a need”: no agenda, no complacency, just love.

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13 Responses to Poverty in My Eyes

  1. zacha90 says:

    In this case, I almost feel like a good summary would be, in order to be “citizen” of Christianity, you must help your fellow man and do right by them. And certainly as the Christian theological view goes, in order to be a citizen in the Kingdom of heaven there are certain things you must do.

    I also agree with the see a need fill a need sentiment in Robots. And in regards to your comment about the mission, I think one of the main things that turn many people off, including myself, to religion is the need to push guilt on to the individual and make them feel like a bad person. Who would want to enter into a moral system where in the beginning they are made to feel bad?

  2. brt001 says:

    There are a few things I’d like to unpack here in zacha90’s comment:
    I disagree that there are things one must do to be a “citizen of Christianity” (I love that phrase, though!), because one is “saved by faith through grace,” not works, as the apostle Paul articulated. The idea is that God moves you to desire what He does. He does not make you do anything, but rather the change He incurs in your heart makes you desire to change the world and help the brothers and sisters, His sons and daughters (i.e. every other human being). However, that said, people who are truly citizens of the Kingdom will be compelled by their own hearts to act, to help the helpless.

    And in regards to your thoughts on the Mission trying to shove faith down peoples throats, you’re absolutely correct. Faith is a choice, and coerced faith is worthless. To leave people feeling condemned means you judged them. Judgment is the prerogative of God himself and no one else. You sin against people when you judge them. So, Zach, I fully agree with you on this one. Just fill the need you see: that would be the real Christian thing that the Mission could do.

    • bah2011 says:

      I agree that faith should be a choice and no one should not have it forced upon them. I feel truly grateful that I was able to develop my faith on my own. I think it leads to a much deeper faith in the end rather than if someone shoves religion down your throat. That being said, no one is forcing anyone to go to a homeless shelter. The people that run the shelters feel that they have been called to help the less fortunate. If they want to preach in their shelter that than that is their right. These people have probably scarified a great deal in their lives in order to help the homeless. With all due respect, how dare we criticize them for the way in which their shelters are run. If you or I were to open a shelter I would hope we would be able to run it however we see fit.

      • czli2011 says:

        I left a comment here last week but for some reason or another, it’s not showing up. So I guess I’ll repost here, revised to fit in with the current discussion:

        In response to your comment, bah2011, there is a difference between forcing anybody to go to a homeless shelter and feeling the necessity to go to a homeless shelter. When your alternative to a shelter is sleeping on the street and risking getting beaten up, stolen from, god knows what else, most people pick the shelter out of common sense. Something is really screwed up when people willingly give up access to a basic need because they highly disagree with the way the institution treats people. The least the mission can do is to provide a space where people can be comfortable, and guaranteed some human dignity…most importantly some RESPECT.

        The people that run the shelters feel that they have been called to help the less fortunate, but is their intent more important than results? I think people have the right to preach in their shelter, but is it ethical to view the true goal of the shelter as spreading the word of God and using shelter and handouts as “bait”? To view service as a little game of tit-for-tat, relief in exchange for religion, is NOT what it means to give. In fact, it’s being extremely insensitive to the suffering of these people, almost exploiting their suffering for the interests of the church that ran the Mission. The people who run the shelter are doing it to make themselves feel good, and that in itself is a very selfish act. They are ignoring the opportunity to empathize with others because they are so blinded by the church’s goals to convert.

        I myself am not religious. But after four years of hands on experience working with these people, I know that the most important thing that helps break the cycle of poverty is to treat others with respect for their human condition. And especially when a shelter is run in a manner that has no interest or investment in those they are serving, there need to be questions asked about their service model. I hope you will reconsider your claim that anybody that opens a shelter can run it however he or she sees fit…

  3. Nicole Y says:

    I found this blog post really interesting and well thought out. I enjoyed how you tied together religion and people’s treatment of the homeless. I have often wondered how people justify a blatant disregarding of their formal religious texts when they are out in the real world and not simply in a place of worship. I also think this post could be tied in well with previous readings, such as Rand and Kemmis.

  4. Andrew Mack says:

    As stated by Nicole above, I also thought that this post was thought-provoking due to the connection between religion and the treatment of the homeless. Although homelessness is not nearly as prominent in Ann Arbor as it is in Chicago, I still encounter many homeless people on state street and see first hand how they are treated and overlooked. Most people simply walk right past them without even giving a look or a thought. The topic of section 8 was also very interesting to me because the process seems completely disorganized and unjust. How are the homeless supposed to be notified even if they are granted section 8 housing?

  5. Kirsten Meeder says:

    So I am going to rain on the biblical parade because I think there is something that is not being said here about morality.

    This post and some of the comments here suggest that people need to help the homeless especially because it is the “Christian” thing to do. When you follow that assumption to its root, it suggests that helping others is substantially important because Jesus/Matthew/Francis Chan/some higher power that has the ability to judge/punish you has said that you should.

    When people do good deeds to please something bigger than themselves they are little more than children trying to be sycophantically rewarded. I find this very problematic on a moral level because doing charitable deeds to placate a higher power is not noble or honest. It is important for people to have their own intrinsic moral system that they can reinforce with a religion, if they so choose, that holds the same beliefs. Religion and morality are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. When they are used interchangeably, it gives religion a moral monopoly that it in no way has.

    Also, I remained thoroughly confused by brt001’s comment that says that “(God) does not make you do anything, but rather the change He incurs in your heart makes you desire to change the world and help the brothers and sisters” Paradoxically, God cannot simultaneously have power which She uses both to bud desire in your heart and remain hands off. That sounds eerily like 1984 or Jedi mind control to me.

    • brt001 says:

      I never stated that people needed to do the Christian thing; I stated that Christians need to do the Christian thing. Additionally, I never claimed that Christians should do it from fear. Christians believe people are saved by the grace (literally “undeserved favor”) of God. Therefore, when people ignore the right thing to do, they do not pay for it, because their sins are covered by this grace. There is no obligation to do the right thing, merely a call to do it. The life of a Christian should be to glorify God, and showing God’s love to others by doing the right thing is a means of achieving this. There is no requirement. It’s not “if you don’t give that homeless man some help, you’ll burn in hell.” Rather, it is “your Lord and Savior would help that homeless man. If you would like to imitate Him, help the man.” However, if you decide not to help the man, GRACE covers for you. It is that a real Christian will desire to be like his or her Heavenly Father, not that they are forced to do it.

      As for the “heart change,” this is not a forced act, but one where God is invited to impart a change. One must first permit God to make the change. It is an entirely free process. One is free to not permit it or reject it. God refuses to force Himself on the people. What is love without freedom?

      • Kirsten Meeder says:

        In my aforementioned post I actually meant Christians doing the Christian thing, or a member of a religion doing its own thing etc, but I totally see how my wording was not clear.

        Also, regardless of if people “pay” for not helping the homeless or not (I actually think they don’t pay but, for brevity, will not even get into that one), there are many people who follow religions/governments/laws/the rules in order to get rewards or be safe from punishment. I am not saying that every religious person does this, but that various religions have historically spent a lot of time scaring people into submission with fiery brimstone (see the angry god of the Old Testament) and convincing people to believe in things like predestination which scares the pants off them. Religious morality can work in much the same way.

        I still don’t agree with your logic of the heart change issue, but it looks like we will have to agree to disagree as I get the feeling we are definitely not batting for the same team.

  6. brt001 says:

    I am not representing all religions, just my own, because I cannot represent anything from anyone else’s. My purpose was to state how I see things in my eyes, from my perspective. Insofar as the punishment/reward complex, that is certainly true for many religions around the world. However, my beliefs follow no such pattern. A faith of fear is no faith at all; it’s an insurance policy. Mine is a faith of love that doesn’t subscribe to fear. “Perfect love drives out fear,” as it is written in 1 John. God is perfect love.

    As for not batting for the same team, what would be the point of a baseball game if everyone was on the same lineup? 🙂

  7. Courtney M says:

    When discussing how to deal with the issue of poverty in America, religion could be totally excluded from the conversation, so it is interesting that this post tied the two together. From a religious perspective, it definitely is a Christian ideal to care for others and when you see a need, fill it. Christian intuition would lead an individual to see these needy people and want to help them because they are God’s people just as anyone else is. However, many people aren’t motivated by Christian values, and this is where I agree that there is a major distinction between morality and religion. For me personally, I am motivated by my own morals and values that I have developed from my family and friends, not from my religious beliefs.

    Religion in any context can be a very sensitive issue because there are those who are extremely passionate about religion and others who feel nothing toward it. I believe that regardless of religion, it is human nature to sympathize with these impoverished people, and because they are “technically” U.S. citizens, just as all of us are, we have an obligation and duty to help alleviate the poverty in our country.

  8. I must agree with your notion that people lack the willingness to give due to them becoming comfortable with seeing people with need. I am from the City of Chicago and I have seen homeless people on those streets ever since I can remember. When I was younger I would pay more attention to them and have more sympathy for their situation. Today, I do my best to ignore them, which is hard to do since many times in my neighborhood they will beg in the middle of major street intersections.

    As a person that considers himself a “real Christian,” I do wish that I cared more about their situation than I do now. I always tell myself that once I am able to become successful on my own merit, I will give back to my community and do my best to make sure that children growing up have adequate resources to ensure that they don’t have to be homeless in their lifetime.

  9. chrisjay44 says:

    I would agree with the original post that it is important to give to the need. The film we watch in class was very heart-warming being from Chicago myself then later moving. As far as the “Christian thing to do” I always found that a bit hard. Even growing up in the the church I never could understand how one could give up all their world possessions..

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