2nd Opinion: The vulgarity of blindness toward poverty

(Photo: C. G. P. Grey through Wikipedia)

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People cheered when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, was banned from participation in the NBA for life for his racist rant. Sterling’s comments, which he acknowledged, were vulgar, unintelligent, without compassion and narrow-minded.

glen schmucker130Glen SchmuckerMany people who change the diapers of the rich in hospice are people of color. They do what they do with compassion, professionalism and a total disregard for the color of the butt they’re wiping. Many people of color are nurses and doctors who know more about organic chemistry than I’ll ever be able to spell, much less understand.

Jesus almost certainly was a person of color and commanded us to be color blind. No way Jesus was Caucasian! Was he still good enough to die for us?

Sterling is one thing. It’s the vulgarity with which we are willing to live that ought to frighten us. That to which we turn a blind eye speaks more of our character than it does the character of the guy standing on the street corner holding a sign.

Kobe Bryant, a man of color, signed a two-year pro basketball contract extension for $48.5 million, making him the highest-paid NBA player in history. Dallas billionaire Jerry Jones built a $1 billion stadium a few years ago.

Bryant’s contract got funded and JerryWorld got built because people like you and me, who are offended by what Sterling said, will pay handsomely for it. It ultimately won’t cost those who underwrote the salaries of those who play in the football cathedral a dime; they’ll die wealthier than any human beings who ever lived. They’re good business people. They’re using our money to get wealthy.

One in five children go hungry

Yet while we’ll pay so insanely for others to entertain us, we’re willing to allow 20 percent of American children to live in poverty. One in five! In San Antonio, one-third of school-age children go to bed hungry at night—in a city with some of the largest mega-churches on the planet. That’s vulgar.

We may toss a buck or two in the church offering plate to fund a community-feeding program now and then. But until we get serious about addressing the systemic issues that keep people locked in pockets of hopeless poverty, we’re just whistling Dixie about poverty and thinking Jesus doesn’t know the tune.

All this while consoling our consciences in worship before pigging out at the buffet after church, almost certainly prepared and served in large part by people who themselves live in poverty and can’t go to church because they’re feeding us.

Some of the patients I serve in hospice live in the shadow of downtown San Antonio, one of the wealthiest business districts on the planet in the seventh-largest city in the United States. The downtown hotel rooms cost more per night than their neighbors in the shadows pay for groceries in a month.

Neighborhoods in the shadows

Before you write me off as a bleeding heart, come take a ride with me to those neighborhoods in the shadows. What you will see is children shackled to generational poverty with chains no one notices or seems concerned with breaking. Once in a blue moon, one of them learns how to play a sport and breaks out. Most of them, knowing no better, just perpetuate the cycle.

Houses just a stone’s throw from these pockets of poverty sell for tens of millions of dollars. We keep the cruise companies sailing, packed full. Caviar and champagne flow freely as cruisers curse Obamacare.

Come with me to the downtown charity hospital, will you? The other afternoon, I was there at 4, and the place was packed with people waiting for hours for basic medical care, the Affordable Care Act or not. Without exception, the only people from whom I’ve heard about Obamacare curse the presumption it will make abortion more available to the poor. In fact, young middle-class white women have the most abortions, not the poor who crowd downtown emergency rooms. People of color tend to keep their children.

Either that, or those who curse Obamacare are concerned their taxes may go up by such a paltry amount they might have to take one less cruise. Not one of them, not one, has offered a better alternative.

If you think I’m advocating a political viewpoint, you’re reading through blinders you choose to wear. I’m talking about vulgarity. The kind Jesus mentioned in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man recorded in Luke 16.

Reading the Bible with skewed vision

We have a strange definition of vulgarity in this country. We’re thrilled Sterling got what he was due. Yet we do our cheering while living in houses worth hundreds or thousands of times more than 100 houses in which the poor live. People in my city help make the luxury-car dealership in a neighboring county the most successful in the nation and take summer vacations worth a year’s college education for a student who will go without instead. We do this while turning a blind eye to the inexplicable poverty all around us. All we’re proving is we’ve read the Bible with a skewed vision.

We’re also proving we don’t know history. What caused the 1917 Russian revolution was the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor to which the wealthy were indifferent. The cancer killing this country is not Obamacare. It’s the skewed definition of vulgarity with which we who claim to be Jesus followers live.

Sterling isn’t the only vulgar man on the planet. He just got caught.

Glen Schmucker is a hospice chaplain and member of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio.

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