Something for Nothing

There was a candidate who ran for senate in my state this summer; he was eliminated by the primary, as expected, but he serves as a useful example of a common phenomenon in the United States these days. He is a farmer of sorts, and stood with the Tea Party in saying that he and his fellow agribusinessmen of Eastern Washington are taxed far too highly and receive nothing but grief from the government in return. Yet his farm is watered by the Grand Coulee Dam, a New Deal project, and he receives government subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. In short, without the Federal Government his farm, and all the others between the Cascades and the Palouse, would not exist. Not profitably, anyway. So his insistence that he pays more in taxes than he receives in benefits is puzzling. His distaste for taxes is understandable; I even share his dislike. Yet the Feds are undoubtedly pouring money into his farm, not taking it out, in the form of subsidies and water–and both are paid for by taxes. In short, until recently we had a candidate for senate who swears he owes DC nothing, when in fact he owes DC everything. He, the rest of the Tea Party, and often the rest of the GOP as a whole, seem to expect something for nothing–and how often does that work? Continue reading

Hear the Word

I would see justice done.

I would see the long labor of the poor rewarded at last, rewarded as it has never been even acknowledged in full. I would see the return of investment and the fruits of harvest benefit all who sweated for them, not merely those with their names on sheets of paper.

I would see children fed. I would see the sick tended. I would see the prisoners and the impoverished remembered as human. I would have it so that no one has to stand on the sidewalk and beg for scraps. I would see us remember that all who live on this earth are our kin, our family, no matter the color of their skin, the language of their tongue, the riches in their pockets, or the faith of their heart. I would see justice done as it has never been done, not since some few thought to exalt themselves at the expense of the many.

I am done with this misery. I am done with this suffering. I am done with laws and codes and customs that claim it is fitting that the poor live in pain. I am done with “deserving.” I am done with “They are lazy.” I am done with “Don’t coddle them.” Do you hear me? I love all, and deserving’s got nothing to do with it. In this I follow my god, the One, and the words that the Holy One gives to me. Continue reading

Observations on Colors

Three men shared the back of the bus with me. By their talk they seemed to be homeless, discussing where they’d encountered each other before: Workforce, the Millionair Club, various street corners. They were dressed for hard work, and looked like they had been doing it. They discussed the times: loss of jobs (one man was laid off from a position he’d held for 14 years, and was only hanging on thanks to the second job he’d had for much of that period) and a black president. Being black themselves, they expressed their continuing astonishment: “Never thought I’d live to see the day,” one said repeatedly, and the others agreed.

And then one of them said something which blew me away: “Maybe we’ll get another one.”

It really shouldn’t have astonished me so much. After all, the walls have theoretically fallen, yes? It’s now been clearly demonstrated that a mixed-race child of a single mother can grow up to be president. Obama is our first president of color: that means, surely, that there can now be more. But it’s a thought that had never before entered my mind. Had I already begun to think of Obama as our token president? Or is it just the case that we’re not thinking about the next one because we’re still grappling with the president we’ve got — and because those who hope to take power from him don’t seem likely to run a person of color as their contender?

I was tempted to enter the conversation myself, but I did not; instead, to sort of indicate my openness, I broke out my copy of Real Change. (For the non-Seattle readers, Real Change is the homeless newspaper in town, very focused on social justice, and sold by the poor and homeless on street corners around town. I buy two copies, one for me and one for my parents.) I thus flew my flag as a sympathetic ear. Two of the men got off before long, and silence fell.

As we were crossing Lake Washington, the remaining man tapped me on the knee and pointed to the western horizon. The sun was setting. It reached just under the rain clouds, setting the atmosphere on fire in startling shades of gold and purple. It was astonishingly lovely, and I said so. The two of us watched the sun until it slipped behind Captiol Hill and the Madison radio towers.

I glanced north, and now it was my turn to point something out to him: the sunlight still fell on the north lake, and so did the rain. A rainbow, colors as vibrant as the sunset, was arcing up out of the water. It had a faint double bow further north; and, as my eyes followed it, I saw it was a perfect bow, running the whole north-south length of the lake, from Juanita to Renton.

My friend and I sat in awe and spoke of our wonder to each other.

“This is why I never moved away,” he said, and I said it was the same with me.

He got off at Montlake, and clapped me on the arm as he did, saying, “Good talking to you, man.”

“You too,” I said, and I meant it.

On the Street at Christmastime

There have always been homeless people standing by the highway ramps, begging for change from the stopped cars. But this year there have been many more of them. I see them in increasingly unlikely and unlucrative places, clearly forced there by desperation when all the other decent spots were taken. It was in such a spot that I saw a first for me, as I rode past on my bus to work: the cardboard sign read “Pregnant and homeless.”

The bus drove on before I had a chance to give the woman anything but a blessing, and one for the man who had moved more quickly than I and dropped a bill out of the window into the gutter. I hope they both fare well this winter.

Something about being pregnant and homeless at Christmas feels deeply, deeply wrong to me; some resonance with “no room at the inn.” So pause a moment, and think on what we do to the homeless in this society of ours.

Continue reading