I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
-Poet Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again
Here in subcity life is hard
We can’t receive any government relief
I’d like to please give Mr. President my honest regards
For disregarding me . . .
I guess they never stop to think
We might not just want handouts
But a way to make an honest living
Living this aint living.
-Singer Songwriter Tracy Chapman, Subcity
Wall Street, Capitol Hill, the comfortable, the arrogant bereft of compassion, are taking the nation in precisely the opposite direction from justice for all. It is an injustice policy that animates the rich and powerful.
Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan as constituted as late as March 2013 makes the poorest, the weakest, and most vulnerable people among us take fully two thirds of the cuts affecting programs millions of women and yes, children depend upon for life. That same budget provides 5.7 trillion dollars over ten years in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations. That budget also still is the best one of our two political parties that share power can do. Even President Obama’s attempt at a grand bargain would both seriously cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid that will do grievous harm to the most vulnerable people.
46 million Americans live in poverty. That means $22.000 or less annual gross income each year for a family of four. The U.S. Bureau of the Census reported this information in 2010 along with the disturbing statistic that an additional 17.2 million households were food insecure—meaning that they did not have any consistent and dependable access to adequate food. Fully one in five of us and now more, are among the disinherited of this land. The previously comfortable middle class should not be the least bit complacent. The ups and downs of our economy and the manner in which employers contemptuously treat even the most talented and hardworking people should be cause for concern.
How can we be so complicit with our leaders and with the wealthy? What justifies literally taking the crumbs of food out of the mouths of children to enrich those who already have more than they could ever need? What does that say Congressman Ryan and your GOP cohorts about your budget plan? What does that say Mr. President and those good people in both parties of good will who do not stand strongly enough for what is just? And most of all, what does that say about us?
Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ, of Allah the Just and Merciful and Compassionate, of Yaweh the God in Holy Covenant with the People of Israel are all commanded to show the greatest compassion and act to stand with the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, and all those who are among the disinherited.
Howard Thurman, one of the great popular theologians and civil rights thinkers of the mid Twentieth-century said famously that Christianity as it was expressed by Jesus of Nazareth was and remains “a technique of survival for the oppressed.” That comes directly from the notion that Jesus stands with the weak in close communion with them as surely as anything where he says “I tell you truly.” God keeps his promises. That communion via the Holy Spirit—that ability to feel and see the presence of God and understand his desires for us is what Jesus taught and what Thurman is talking about.
The Holy Bible’s book of Proverbs with the power of brevity provides the Wisdom of Solomon on this great social question of what our proper relation toward the disinherited should and must be:
“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” Proverbs 14:31
Does that mean that Paul Ryan and so many arrogant comfortable people who assert that the poor are lazy, unworthy of help, and do not wish to work or be responsible and who seek and get the largesse of government and those who dispense justice in our society to shift wealth and influence upward insult the Creator? What do you think?
Like the Prophet Amos we must insist that justice be brought to all so that it may “roll down like the waters of a mighty stream.” There ought to be no shortage of protecting the weak, doing what is right and good, and standing with the disinherited on the part of those who fear God.
But so many of us can do so much more. We nod in agreement at this biblical wisdom which is so powerful and righteous. But we often sit on the sidelines and let those who lead us and those with the greatest wealth ignore the weak.
Martin Luther King Jr. in his great Gospel of Freedom, Letter from a Birmingham Jail observed that “we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
It is this silence of the “good people” that rings in our ears and so defines the American people who can do the most to make our injustice policy, our injustice system a justice system yet again. And how much greater has that need for repentance, which in this context is the raising of our voices for justice and demanding it for the weak from the mighty become since King’s famous letter of 1963?
Howard Thurman yet again has made a key observation about our place in this universe and essentially the wages of sinfulness that God tells us plainly is death. Every single one of us must pay the closest attention to it:
“Unwavering sincerity says that man should always recognize the fact that he lives always in the presence of God, always under the divine scrutiny, and that here is no really significant living for a man, whatever may be his status, until he has turned and faced the divine scrutiny. Here all men stand stripped to the literal substance of themselves without disguise, without pretension, without seeming whatsoever. No man can fool God. From him nothing is hidden.”
I suppose that is comforting when we know we are in honest communication with God, when we do all we can for justice we have no fear of facing that divine scrutiny. The Creator knows when we have fallen short of what she commands and as we are made aware of it we ask forgiveness and become restored in right relation to our Lord. Those who deny the existence of God could do much merely recognizing that what the great principles of justice and good espoused by great thinkers though all of human civilization have told us about being in alliance with the disinherited of this land, and all lands, remains “true and righteous altogether.”
So we must truly open the eyes of those poor white men who are fooled and pulled apart. We have to find a way to feel black slavery’s scars upon our very own backs. We have a moral and mortal responsibility to welcome the ignored indigenous people of this land back to their true inheritance with joy. We need to rekindle the hopes and dreams of the immigrant and honor them. We must reject the status quo, that same old stupid plan of mighty crush the weak Langston Hughes, one of America’s select and greatest of poets, tells us is the problem.
Let justice roll down like a mighty river and fill the powerful as well as the weak, the rich as well as the poor, the favored of human society along with the disinherited of this land.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
For Struggles for Justice