The Perpetual Poverty Machine

gearsWe have a different attitude in our land today. There is a meanness. A lot of this meanness has even crept into some of our churches. People think that some children don’t deserve to eat because their parents can’t find work. Somehow we can afford to spend more on the military than the next eight countries combined and our richest citizens can get away without paying taxes, but we can’t afford to give healthcare to the working poor or raise the minimum wage. I have even heard clergy arguing in support of eliminating the minimum wage. To do away with the minimum wage is tantamount to bringing back slavery. Of course, unpaid internships already are slavery. Every time the minimum wage was raised in the past, the middle class grew and the family was strengthened. People have gotten angry at me for getting too political. They think I am just supposed to shut up and feed the poor.

Let me say something about that. Warren Buffett’s son, Peter, coined the term, “the non-profit industrial complex” to refer to what he says is a ‘perpetual poverty’ machine. He is in charge of a large foundation to give away a large portion of his dad’s wealth. What he observed is that all of these foundations and charities are there to assuage rich people’s guilt, and give good PR to big corporations. They make no real impact on the problems they seek to address, because those same rich people and corporations keep abusing the poor and causing the problems that these charities are trying to address. It’s like using a teaspoon to bail out a leaky boat, instead of fixing the boat. For example, if you watched any TV in September at all, you saw Walmart commercials urging you to buy school supplies and drop them off at Walmart to be distributed to underprivileged school children, many of whom would be children of Walmart’s underemployed, underpaid employees. Of course, they are expanding their market for people buying school supplies with this ad. The horrible truth is that 80% of Walmart’s merchandise producers are in China and work in sweat shop conditions, sometimes 18 to 20 hour days, six days a week. These workers displaced American workers. Their American workers are continually held below the threshold to get any company benefits. According to a report in Forbes an average Walmart store ends up costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.7 million per year in assistance to their employees. The Walton Family Foundation boasts on their website that they gave $432 million in grants last year. Let’s look at this. They have 3800 stores, each of whose employees received an average of about $1.3 million in subsidies. This totals about $5 billion. So they haven’t even paid back 10% of what they stole from the government to support their workers. That is not even counting the lost jobs and lost taxes and Main St. blight that happens wherever a Walmart opens. Plus, none of the Foundation grants went to address poverty. They all went to cultural and art programs and institutions.

The point is that just handing out meals is not the answer to homelessness. The biggest cause of homelessness is not drug addiction or alcoholism. The biggest cause of homelessness is lack of medical insurance. A person gets sick or injured and has to go to the Emergency Room. Yes, the ER has to take them. They don’t have to charge them a reasonable rate. They charge an arm and a leg. In fact, the system is rigged in such a way that if you don’t have insurance, you are charged three or four times what an insured person would end up paying. The insurance companies have it set up that way. It’s really a protection racket. If you have insurance, the company pays 30% of what cash customers are charged and the hospital writes off the rest. What happens is, people cannot pay; they may be out of work for awhile, so they lose their apartment or lose their job and lose their home to the bank. The hospital ruins their credit so they cannot even rent a place. I have seen this scenario played out many times, so don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. So, are we doing this ministry just to satisfy our religious do-gooder spirit like the mayor and others accuse us of doing or do we want to seriously address the problem of homelessness?

To do this, we may have to get political. Just to be clear, Jesus was very political as were all of the Apostles and the Prophets before them. This is what got them killed. Jesus introduced his public ministry by reading Isaiah 61 in the synagogue and proclaiming that this was now fulfilled in their hearing. The hearers understood this as a threat to their entrenched positions of privilege, wealth and power, so they tried to stone him.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

With this proclamation, Jesus had proclaimed himself the Christ and had outlined the ministry of the Church. With the first several lines, one can hear the millennia tearing apart between what came “Before Christ” and what is “Anno Domini”: “Year of The Lord.” That we call it the “year of the Lord” is very significant. It harks back to this proclamation of the in-breaking of His rule and reign. It is revolutionary. It turned the Roman Empire upside down. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well was a political act. He was a Jewish man. She was a Samaritan woman of questionable morals. He allowed her to draw water for him and held a respectful theological conversation as only should happen among Jewish men. That conversation at the well cut through at least three areas of prejudice. It shocked and educated the apostles. It immediately elevated the status of women. She had been married four times and was now living with a fifth man, yet she became St. Fotini, Equal to the Apostles.

St. Luke was a slave, yet became an Apostle and a Gospel writer. Immediately, among Christ’s disciples there was a vast difference between them and the rest of the world. Women were honored. Motherhood was revered. Slaves were treated as equals. Women were treated as equals in the church and in the home. Samaritans were accepted. Jesus even accepted eunuchs as equals. (Matt. 19:12) He freed people from the fear of death and from the coercion of riches. This is a very threatening thing to an empire. Slaves who no longer fear death may be harder to control, even though they are serving cheerfully; perhaps, because they are serving cheerfully! Businessmen who can no longer be conned or bribed or entrapped by their love of money, for they value treasure in the heavenly kingdom far more, unsettles the earthly order. Doctors who share their methods for free and will help any in need as they are able,  whether they can pay or not, arouse jealousy and contempt and murderous vengeance from those who want their knowledge, but don’t want to be as compassionate.

Isaiah 61 is part of a “jubilee song” of which the people of Israel were very familiar. Many took these songs in a very nationalistic or parochial sense, thinking that the Messiah would come to finally vindicate the Jews and throw off the shackles of their oppressor, and show the world that they were God’s favorites, God’s chosen people all this time. There were many false messiahs that tried that route and brought about calamity, slaughter, and shame. There is a great temptation to be only political. In America, we see this disease all the time. It seems hardly anyone is Christian first. We are Red or Blue first, with a Christian gloss. This is a great shame. Neither major party cares about Christianity one little bit, but they are both willing to use Christians at the drop of a hat. I am of neither party, but I will speak out vehemently against the abuses of power that hurt the poor or take innocent lives. I will not be duped into voting for people who claim to be pro-life, but all they want to do is not pay for abortions, while at the same time, they are for every war, every weapon system, every cut to childhood healthcare, pro death penalty, etc. By the same token, I speak out against drone warfare, illegal detention, torture, endless war, and personal hit lists. I have done this, up to now on my personal pages and not, as an official position of The King’s Jubilee. These remain my personal opinions and not official positions of The King’s Jubilee. I only state them here as a demonstration, that I speak to issues and actions, not strictly along party lines. The gospel speaks to politics. People’s votes have had real consequences. Our state legislature has cut emergency aid to the disabled and to the poor. It has de-funded Philadelphia schools, while going into debt to build more prisons. Our state legislature gerrymandered the state in such a way that even though the state voted overwhelmingly Democratic for Congress in 2012, only 5 of the 18 seats went to Democrats, thus subverting the democratic process of our nation. Since then, the GOP has cut SNAP (food stamps) and Unemployment and shut down the government, hurting veterans and their families, and the homeless, and the poor.

I have said things about their despicable actions on my personal pages, and I have heard that people have stopped their support for this ministry as a result of my personal postings. That really gets my blood boiling. I guess you have to be rich to have an opinion! I already have had to bite my tongue about what goes on at church and the abuses I have endured there. People still support that, but will punish the poor and homeless, because I get riled over legislators and corporations abusing the poor and disenfranchising minorities. At this point, what do I have to lose?

You know how I live and how I have tried to do everything to perform and to build this ministry. I have been attacked by one mayor after another, and by several pastors through the years. I have never served money. If there is ever more than we need for a day or a week, it gets given away. “God is not a respecter of persons.” His blessings are to be shared. When we bought this house, the first, second and third considerations were to use it to facilitate ministry. I do not say this to boast. It apparently is nothing to be proud of, because I have been criticized and attacked for such thinking. I have been on the front lines of spiritual warfare for nearly thirty years. In last year’s battle with the mayor, I had no encouragement or advice or support from my pastor or bishop; no safe haven. I was alone. Over the last couple of years I have had an estimated 30 to 50 little strokes due to migraines, and am in chronic, severe spine pain due to damage done by an infection picked up on the street. Is it any wonder that I now suffer from PTSD?

But what I do is not valued. When I made icons, that was not valued. Sure I got lots of “attaboys” and plenty of grateful customers. I also got a whole lot of people who treated the icons like any other kind of widgets or consumer goods, and me like a sub-human, personal slave. It was disheartening, and it never turned a profit. I worked on it for 12-1/2 years. I would have done better working at McDonald’s. What I do for the homeless is not valued by the church. Again, I get “attaboys” and “you’re special” but  I have to constantly beg. When I suggest that racism is a factor in poverty and the “War on Drugs,” I get a lot of grief and support withdrawn. (Nixon’s tapes have now revealed that he designed the War on Drugs to target people of color, to replace Jim Crow to win the South for the GOP.)  I am told to be positive. I have tried that. It doesn’t raise any more funds and it doesn’t educate people about the real issues.

When I express an opinion, I am treated like a subservient; like I do not have the right to express an opinion or take a stand on an issue. I am told I deserve to be in foreclosure for expressing my opinion or standing my ground. So much for Christian charity. Again, this is America. Money is speech.

So I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and serve the poor and homeless. I will not be cowed by priests or bishops or mayors. Serving the homeless has been the one thing I have been most sure of for the last twenty five years of my life. If you want to join me in this, great! There is plenty of work to be done.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!