In The Ghetto

As a reader of the 4thday letter you most likely already know that I love music. The other day as my wife was driving the car, I was scrolling through the stations on Satellite radio and I stopped on the 60’s station. The song IN THE GHETTO by Elvis was playing. As I listened to the familiar verses I reached for my iPad and began to take notes. I knew they were destined for a 4thdayletter one day. Today is that day. The song is old, the singer famous, and the message timeless.

The recent shootings of several young black men in the United States has brought our attention back to the poverty that exists in our country and other countries around the world. Sadly violence is closely tied to poverty. These recent occurrences make the words to this song as important today as they were when the song was written.

Please read through the words of the song before reading my comments:

In The Ghetto”

As the snow flies On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’ A poor little baby child is born In the ghetto And his mama cries ’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need it’s another hungry mouth to feed In the ghetto People, don’t you understand the child needs a helping hand or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day Take a look at you and me, are we too blind to see, do we simply turn our heads and look the other way Well the world turns and a hungry little boy with a runny nose plays in the street as the cold wind blows In the ghetto And his hunger burns so he starts to roam the streets at night and he learns how to steal and he learns how to fight In the ghetto Then one night in desperation a young man breaks away He buys a gun, steals a car, tries to run, but he don’t get far And his mama cries As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man face down on the street with a gun in his hand In the ghetto As her young man dies, on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’, another little baby child is born In the ghetto

A few of the verses really strike me. We hear that his mama cries because she knows they are poor and he will go hungry. The song writer challenges us by asking us the question, “are we too blind to see and do we simply turn our heads and look the other way.” We are told that the child’s “hunger burns.” Sadly the song ends with the death of this once beautiful little child, who grew up to be an angry young man that turned to violence on the streets. The song ends just like the headlines from our recent news.

I am going to address the poverty issue not the violence and I am placing my emphasis on the indifference that still seems to exist even amongst Christians towards those in real need.

Long ago, the Hebrew prophets announced God’s special love for the poor. Ever since those days of old we have been called as God’s people to a covenant of love and justice. Jesus Himself taught us that He came “to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind.” (Lk 4:18-19)

My friends we are a communal church. We all make of the body of Christ. We know that Jesus identified Himself with “the least of these,” the hungry and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:45).

As Christians we believe in a triune God. God by His nature is in perfect community with Himself. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one. Because we are made in God’s image we too are called to live out our lives in Christian community. We are called to a life of love and justice.

The trinity we are called to consists of God, ourselves and others. Too often we live life in the narcissistic trinity of me, myself and I. As the song says we often turn our heads and avert our eyes from the problems of the world. Not just in America, but especially so here, we get drunk on our wealth, toys, gadgets, comforts and outright luxuries without ever stopping to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Every human life has dignity and every human being is created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our respect. Human dignity comes directly from God, and it is not something that any of us earned or the result of some earthly accomplishment that we did. If we are not currently living in poverty ourselves then we need to recite that familiar phrase: “but by the grace of God go I.”

If we have a deep relationship with God and if we have truly experienced a conversion of heart then we must respond to God’s call to love one another as God has loved us. Indifference towards the poor is not an option for Christians. I believe we can get so caught up with what we think is urgent in our lives that we forget to act on what is essential for being Christian; love God and loves others as He loves us.

When Jesus encountered people in need, He looked into their eyes, He loved them, He touched them and He healed them. He changed lives one life at a time. We are called to do no less. How are you interacting, on a one on one basis, to change the plight of the poor? It is so easy to say the government needs to fix the problems associated with poverty. It is so easy to say our churches need to fix these problems. It is easy for this to become a political football and blame the other party. The reality is you and I, as individuals, are called to give of ourselves to make a difference. Are we?

To live as Christians means to live sacrificially. We are called to alms giving. Alms giving is so much more than just giving money; it is giving all of ourselves to those in need.

My point today is about indifference, it is not about race. The statistics below show that even though the percentage of blacks in poverty is larger than the percentage of whites, the sheer number of whites living in poverty is greater. So poverty is a problem that crosses all races and nationalities. Although I only have United States statistics here, this issue is even worse in many other countries around the world.

Basic Statistics

  • U.S. poverty (less than $18,552 for a family of three; less than $23,834 for a family of four): 45.3 million people, 14.5 percent of U.S(2013).
  • African American poverty rate: 27.2 percent,11.0 million people (2013).
  • Hispanic poverty rate: 23.5 percent,12.7 million people (2013).
  • White poverty rate: 9.6 percent, 18.9 million people (2013).
  • Native American poverty rate: 29.1 percent.
  • People with disabilities poverty rate:28.4 percent(adults ages 18-64) (2013).
  • Children in poverty:14.7 million,19.9 percent of all children under 18 (2013).

There are over 14 million children living in poverty in the United States. We can choose to bury our heads in the sand to the problem of poverty in the world. We can choose to remain indifferent. We must remind ourselves that to be Disciples of Christ means to follow His teachings. If we remain indifferent and lukewarm to His teachings then we need to re-read Revelation 3:16 which tells us of our Lord’s teaching on the attitude of indifference: “But because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”

We must all ask ourselves today if we are doing all we are called to do to help the poor. I encourage you to pray over this.

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Brian Pusateri
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