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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fighting Father Rob Burgess reflects on Easter, homelessness, and mental illness

Today is Easter Sunday. The sun is out and it is a beautiful spring day in Michigan, although there is a hint of spring rain in the air.

My wife and I just left church not too long ago. In the Sunday meal after the service, it was nice to see that literally every chair was taken in our church's basement meeting room as folks shared a meal. However, I must confess to not having been in a social mood today. So, I volunteered to count the collection in my pastor's office with a couple other gentlemen from the congregation.

My pastor today talked some about the resurrection, but mostly he talked about Jesus' ministry and life. He reminded us that Jesus throughout his ministry sought out and ministered to the social out castes, the immigrants/foreigners, the lepers/the blind and those who suffered mental illnesses (which the gospel often calls folks who Jesus "caste out demons" from), etc. Certainly, Jesus' apostles were not the cream of society. They were tax collectors and prostitutes, fishermen and the lot. In short, Jesus ministered to the least, those that society shuns.

The great American poet of the 20th Century, Langston Hughes, once wrote a poem called "Down and Out". It starts like this:

Baby, if you love me
Help me when I'm down and out.
If you love me, baby,
Help me when I'm down and out,
I'm a po' gal
Nobody gives a damn about.

Mr. Hughes brought to our attention with his poem a poor woman who society neglects and too often forgets. My pastor talked about such a woman who had come to our church's food pantry, a woman who spent time in jail, as a result lost her job, for lying on a federal application so that she could get medical insurance for her family.

I had brought Mr. Hughes' poem to church this morning to encourage folks to sign up to work at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen this coming Saturday morning where it is our turn to serve a wholesome meal to the less fortunate.

After church, driving home I saw someone hitch hiking on the side of the road at her usual corner. I asked my wife, "Do you mind if I pick up Cathy and give her a ride to the store?"
Some call her Chatty Cathy. Seems she talks a lot.

Cathy is a learning disabled adult who lives in a foster home for similar learning disabled adults. I would guess her IQ would put her at the level of a 2nd or 3rd grader, maybe 8 or 9 years old.

After her room and board are paid by the state, Cathy has $44 a month left over to buy personal items: shampoo, tissue, underwear, etc. Since it is close the end of the month, and Cathy gets her $44 at the beginning of each month, she has exhausted the $44 and has nothing left until the beginning of the month comes around again. (I realize that in some countries, the poorest on our planet, $44 a month would be all that a family would have for everything.)

So, as I picked up Cathy, I helped her into the front seat of my Ford pickup. Cathy also has physical health problems along with her mental health issues. We had a pleasant chat as she rode the couple miles to the "big box" store, where she will spend her afternoon chatting with customers as they enter the store, and perhaps begging for a dollar or two to buy more of the personal items that I mentioned above that her $44 does not afford her.

Langston Hughes is not in the bible. Or is he? I suppose many of the psalms are poems of anguish.

So, let me conclude with the rest of Langston's poem as I ponder what Jesus' ministry was all about:

The credit man's done took ma clothes
And rent time's nearly here.
I'd like to buy a straightenin' comb,
An' I need a dime fo' beer.

I need a dime fo' beer.

As I helped Cathy down from my truck, so that she could take a seat on a bench outside the store and spend the rest of Easter Sunday greeting folks as they arrive to buy groceries or clothing or other sundry items, I open my wallet and gave her $3. (I probably should have given her the remaining $20, but did not.)

I think I would like to read a little more Langston Hughes this Easter Sunday. Looks like it will be a good day for it. The sun has just gone behind the clouds. The rains are closing in.

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