November 29, 2013

Black Friday

First, a confession: I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I have not come even close to that. I am often a traitor to the God I claim, and I further that betrayal by my satisfaction with our paltry efforts to soothe our own conscience, which is all too easily soothed. As part of an ongoing process of repentance, I call us, all of us out on our collective bullshit. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Today is a day to reflect and to repent. Forgive me for the brashness to follow, but I have to do this.

An adaptation of Amos 5:21-25, framed in the context of our holiday charity:

"I hate, I despise your token meals,
     and I take no delight in your perfunctory saying of grace.
Even though you feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
     I will not ascribe treasure in heaven to you;
And the handshakes and hugs with the homeless,
     I will not consider as friendship with the beloved of God.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
     to the jingles and slogans I will not listen.
But let every day that sees the sun rise be your day to feed the needy
     and let them be not "the needy", but rather your friends.

"Did you bring to the hungry good things to eat and drink during the other 364 days of the year, O house of America? You shall align with the politicians, your kings and the celebrities, your gods, and I will send you into exile beyond the third world nations whom you pity, and of whose pity you are not worthy," says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

Do we think that the hungry are impressed with our overflowing of love on the one day a year when it is in keeping with the theme of the day? Is that what they are to us, a token calendar item like the Easter bunny or Valentine's Day decor? How very dehumanizing, thank you so much, God bless, go away. 

Why do we even do this? Do we seriously think that this is helping the hungry or the homeless or the struggling? To show up to help feed people on the one day a year when there are way too many people showing up to help feed people? That's like when a four year old kid helps his mom make breakfast; it's cute, but not at all actually helpful. And we know this, right? I know that you can't always tell just by looking or talking to someone if they're household doesn't have enough food, but as a subtle hint about the state of things, THERE ARE HOMELESS PEOPLE ALL OVER THE PLACE. Or do they only become visible on the one day when we will acknowledge their need, their existence, even? And then the rest of the year they go invisible again? I've heard of the super power of being able to make yourself invisible, but being able to make an entire segment of our city invisible? And without their consent? That's downright incredible.

So who is this for, if it's not really about all of our long-standing and deeply-invested concern for our brothers and sisters across the economic spectrum? Is it for the church folk, that crowd of pseudo-do-gooders that like to make a cute outing of petting the poor? Is it for the cameras and the Instagram pics or the local TV news cameras? Is it for our parents or pastor or boss? In whose eyes are we trying to look good, because God the Father sees right through that shit. I guess that only leaves each of us, doing it for our own sake. We try to feel good by looking good, and we bypass the hard work of doing good, of living good, of embodying good as a way of life. 

Please can we leave the poor out of our vanity? Please do not take advantage of their desperation for a meal to feed our desperation for approval, for appearance, for self-medicating lies. In doing this, we perpetuate token activism and sanctimonious sentimentality.

Do we want to really be a friend to the friendless and a help to those in need? Let us do what we do on Thanksgiving Day the other days of the year. When it's not popular or cool or a public relations opportunity. And on Thanksgiving Day, stay at home, enjoy dinner with your family and friends, and include among them those who have no home in which to celebrate the day. Give someone a living room to doze off in after eating too much. Give someone your ear and your heart, and save your pity for your own soul. 

Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.
Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia

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