During my first pastoral assignment at a rural church in Eastern Washington State we lived near a stop for freight trains. Transients riding the rails would occasionally hop off trains, walk across the road to our house, knock on our door and ask for water and something to eat. We would invite them to sit near the door and bring them a meal. Our 4 year-old daughter delighted in eating and talking with them until they left to hop on another train.
I think of that often as I wonder about solutions to hunger and food scarcity in the midst of abundance. Most people I know are generous and compassionate and would always feed a hungry person at their door. But we don’t respond with the same urgency when human suffering is distant.
I recently drove through a busy intersection, past a dad, mom and three children huddled at the curb holding a sign asking for food. I still don’t feel good about continuing on my way. It was the children. Should I have turned around and stopped to inquire and offer to help? I don’t know.
That’s about as near many as of us come to any contact with destitute people. Most of us who care are comfortably distant from people in need. We know about hunger and poverty yet we are not close long enough to get involved.
In his recent lament over Donald Trump’s popularity, New York Times columnist David Brooks confessed that he has been too distant from working class and poor people to understand and feel the pain and fury welling up in American society fueling the politics of resentment.
I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.
However difficult, he intends to change that.
It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years.
He invites us to join with him.
We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.
Years ago when I was teaching urban studies the students were required to leave the classroom and spend 24 hours in the city with no money and then submit an essay about the experience.
One of those former students, now in mid-career, told me recently how that one activity changed his life for the better. It gave him fresh eyes to see and to respond to a world of poverty and disadvantage he had not known before.