race & class

Following the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, I have read a number of opinion pieces and social media conversations suggesting that the heart of the matter involves not only race, but also class. Economic disparity between the races has been adjudged as pronounced an impetus as racial animus for the clamors for justice.

A Jesus story comes to mind…

rich man & LazarusLazarus, a poor man, lays his famished, ulcerated body at the gate of a man who is bountifully rich, yet abundantly blind to human need. Both die. Lazarus goes to a place of succor. The rich man, tormented in Hades, begs first for comfort, then that a warning of agonies to come be sent to his brothers so they might mend their avaricious ways. The reply to each request: “No.” The denial of heavenly help is not for a lack of compassion, but rather because a cosmic impassable chasm separates the eternal abodes of solace and suffering.

This tale, for me, reflects current day circumstance, especially regarding the ever-widening gap separating poor and rich. One lens through which to view this worldly chasm is race. This past July, The African American Economic Summit, held in Orangeburg, SC, charting the rise in black unemployment and the decline in black homeownership and income, took particular note of a white-black wealth disparity of more than 20 to 1. However, regardless of the position or perspective, that old aphorism abides: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  chasm between poor & rich

As a follower of Jesus, the one anointed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, “to bring good news to the poor”, and the one who told a story in which the poor man is given a name (a sign of Jesus’ recognition of Lazarus’ identity and Jesus’ identification with Lazarus), I am called to stand on the side of the poor, continuing  his ministry of preaching, through word and deed, good news with my sisters and brothers in material need.

The cosmic message of Jesus’ tale holds fast. Between this world and the next (whatever that may be), a great chasm is fixed. Therefore this life is my time to act for the sake of those in need, for beyond the veil of death, I will have no chance and no choice to do anything.

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7 thoughts on “race & class

  1. Thank you for this, Father Paul. It is so important for all of us who say we love the Lord to show that love by standing with those who are in need. I could tell you stories… but I’ll spare you this time. Suffice to say that life can turn on a dime, so to speak. The poor are always with us and now is our time to be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to them.

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  2. I’ve never been in desperate need of anything, but certainly know I could be come tomorrow. As you well know, my Mom taught us to help others whenever possible, even if it meant you had to give your last dime. Race & class, you’ve put it so well for us, and they are two topics we will be talking about until the end of time. I stand with you to help the poor and all those in need!

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  3. Loretta, your Mom’s teaching parallels the life’s message of Pontheolla’s grandmother, Geneva’s mother, Mazarine. I know, too, that my parents taught a similar lesson about being ready and willing to assist others in need. Still, I wrestle with my sense of self – in this case, that I spend the majority of my resources on myself. Of course, in some instances, concerning the provision of those necessities of hearth and home, food, transportation, yes, these are costly items. Still, I wonder will I…can I get to a place in my existence where more of my relative wealth is freed – literally – to serve others in addition to the deeds of service I, for a lifetime, have sought and do provide. As always, I thank you for your commentary.

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  4. Paul — I think we all struggle with that basic issue. We have so much while others have so little. One way I try to deal with it is by including my SELF as one of my resources and by trying to share that — by paying attention to people I know who are sick or suffering, by spending time with people who are lonely etc. I find that this is as hard to do as sharing one’s financial resources because just as we all want stuff for ourselves most of us also want time to ourselves to do what we want.

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    • Yes, Stephanie, I, with you, believe the wrestling with sharing substance with our sisters and brothers who have less or little is a life time, life long enterprise. I, too, share your view of the value and virtue of counting one’s self, one’s person – time and talent, energy and expertise, verily, care and compassion – as material (literally) goods to share with others. Still, I oft wonder about my personal economy. Though I am not materially wealthy, when compared to the rest of the world, I am and I find myself continuing to spend most of that resource on me and my personal concerns. And whenever I recall encounters with those who live with less – I think here specifically of our sisters and brothers in Central American and South African lands – my sense is that they seem to live with a greater abundance in hospitality than I ever could imagine, much less practice.

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  5. There are a series of good books that I read such as “Culture matters” , “Race matters”, “Class matters”, “Money matters”… and then you hear “Size matters”, especially when you play sports! In all fairness, EVERYTHING matters!
    It has been very painful to see the shooting death of Michael Brown and the turmoil in the community that lasted for many days in a row. I thought that we live in a post-racial era in our 21st century and many of you has pointed out “how little things have changed” since the movement of civil rights. People do wrong because of their sinful nature and when given a choice that God has not given us the main question should be: will doing this go against my conscience? There will always be corrupt and racist cops in the law enforcement because there will always be corrupt and racist people and that is not going to change.
    I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Being a police officer is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Police officers on the street get up every day knowing that they might not come home at night. Many have families like us as well. They are frightened to go into very rough neighborhoods when dealing with violent crime. In extreme situations, they are often tense, and that may lead to aggression and poor judgement.
    I don’t have a magic wand to solve this problem, but the government needs to pay attention to inequality in low-income neighborhoods and CREATE jobs and train the unemployed youth to give them a chance to get out of a directionless and self-destructive path.
    They should invest twice as much money as they do in wealthy areas and help impoverished students’ parents by expanding the social safety net and provide funding for day care, etc. High-poverty schools must finally receive more money than school in wealthy districts because combating poverty is extremely expensive. The corporate educations reformers are doing the opposite!!!!
    It has been said that “it takes a village to raise a child” and it is true…but it takes parents to raise a child and education always begins at home as I am finding out myself. You have to make sacrifices for your children and not leave them at the mercy of a materialistic society and a greedy media. If there is no moral shield millions of children will fail.
    Communities need to work through the churches and report violent crime. Curfew on teenagers should be enacted and enforced in local communities and zoning laws should be imposed. I know that this is easier said than done.
    Thanks Paul for all your inspiring words and calm demeanor.

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  6. Pablo, you’ve said a great deal. I agree with many of your observations about our society, its ills, and methodologies and strategies for improvement, even advancement. As for police officers, yes, I agree, a tremendously difficult vocation. I think of my dear friend, Tim Veney, who served on the DCMPD for over 20 years. I’ve heard Loretta talk about her concern, at times, fearful that one day or night he may not have come home. I also have heard her speak of the care with which he went about his labors, holding his temper in check and, even more, his biases. Yes, there always will be corrupt and racist cops for so true it is of our common humanity. Still, in Tim, I know one who wasn’t. I thank God for that in knowing, believing there are many like him. Peace always, my dear friend

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