In today’s Columbus Dispatch there was an article describing the current status of poverty in our town of Columbus, OH. The picture is grim. Of 50 of the largest cities in the United States, Columbus, OH ranks 19th in poverty. There are 13 neighborhoods in Columbus that are considered “extreme poverty” defined as 40% of residents living in poverty.
We often hear poverty statistics quoted, but seldom do I, and probably most others, really stop and consider what they mean. Maybe you are like me and don’t think too often about it: out of sight . . . out of mind. But, just for giggles, do a little exercise with me.
According to the United States federal poverty guidelines for 2005, Mary Beth, Clark and I would need to have an annual income of $16, 090. [See where you and your family would fall at http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/05poverty.shtml.] Now I am not too secretive to tell you that the three of us make more than twice that amount (just short of three times that). And you know what . . . I’m dying for a raise. I’ve asked our church for a raise (basically told them that I really, really needed to have one). We’re struggling financially. I reported a few posts earlier that our mortgage payment went up 10% (after a recent escrow adjustment, make that 15%) and our health care went up 15% forcing us to double our deductible. So . . . I need a raise. Wait a second . . . something is out of whack!
Here’s the facts. We live in Westerville, OH – a moderately affluent northeastern suburb of Columbus. The median house in the city probably is around $125,000 and in our neighborhood it’s more like $170,000 (sorry to our neighbors for making that average sink a little on our property). Our church is located in a suburb further north – really the northern edge of suburban growth – and it’s really hard to find a house that is less than $200,000 anywhere around there – the new subdivision they are putting in next to the church’s advertise houses beginning in the $270,000’s. Wow!
I drive a 1999 Chevy pickup truck that is paid off and Mary Beth drives a 2003 Pontiac Aztec that’s nearly half way there. We intentionally bought new cars so that we could drive them forever and ever. Mary Beth’s school loans are neary paid off, and mine we’ve got awhile . . . a long while (wonderful what a graduate education brings).
When we bought our house we wanted to be close to our church office and close to our church families. God graciously blessed us on both accounts. But, the longer we are here, and the more I consider the poverty statistics, the more I question how right things are in this world. The question that I am really wrestling with is: In finances, how are Christians salt and light to the world? When I read the Minor Prophets from the Bible, I shimmer. Tough words there. How often does that get preached from our pulpits?
God’s message for the rich in the Bible was always harsh, always blunt, and always severe. Amos was disgusted at those who had two homes and whose lavish ivory inlaid furniture scoffed the poor, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions, the Mosaic law had constant provisions for the poor among Israel, and for the alien. God is on the side of the poor . . . but white, suburban, upper-class churches are on their side less and less.
Our church is fired up about helping the folks in LA rebuild after Katrina. Great. There’s a church in town spearheading an effort (http://www.springroadcoc.com/Katrina/) and I am so proud of them and all the time and energy they have put into this effort. But I am also appalled at the work that congregations of Churches of Christ do in the city of Columbus. Most of the congregations in Columbus are in the suburbs and pretty much remain there. It’s time for someone in these churches to get as excited about doing this work here at home instead of always having to leave town. I’m not picking on them because our church is just as guilty. “The rich people need Jesus too,” is what I often hear. True . . . but how many churches do the rich people need to hear that from?
I am appalled that I am apart of a system that can allow 13 neighborhoods in my city to live in “extreme poverty” while I make three times the amount that poverty “fits” and still complain. I am embarrassed and ashamed. We send money here or there to feel better about ourselves, but it’s time we live, breathe, and work beside these people instead of allowing ourselves to remain distanced.
Father forgive us for our insensitivity for the poor around us. Forgive us for the way we have abandoned our cities. Move in our churches. Prick the hearts of our leaders. Create in us rich ideas and new methods to rescue the poor from starvation, poor health care, and inexcuseable educcation systems. We have failed our job of tending to those who are sick. Forgive us.
If this doesn’t convict you check out the American Pictures link in my sidebar. It is one of the most moving stories I have ever seen recorded. I would love to see the presentation.