St. Thomas' Parish at Dupont Circle – Washington, DC

the least

Posted by WayneFloyd

I’m not ‘religious’ about reading JIm Wallis’ “SojoMail” missives; sometimes they sit in my inbox, beckoning, until like old lettuce lost in the back of the refrigerator drawer they get purged for the sake of the ‘fresh’ stuff.  Today, however, I bit.  To shift the metaphor, Sojourners dangled the bait in front of me, a subject line in Outlook mail that said, “What Would Jesus Cut?”  And like a fat, lazy bass on the bottom of a safe, still lake, I took it “hook, line, and sinker”!

Asking why I read today’s email-missive, and not yesterday’s, is like asking why “the big one” takes the lure when you jig it to the left instead of the right.  When you get a strike on the end of that slender rod, lure-lore fades and all eyes are on the fish.

Jim Wallis wrote:

Right now Congress is considering a budget plan that would make a 9 percent cut in discretionary spending while giving a 2 percent increase for military spending. This would be devastating for domestic programs that provide basic nutrition, health, and opportunity to poor children and international aid programs that save lives every day.

As a country, we face difficult financial choices, but one thing that should not be on the table is to abandon the poor and vulnerable while allowing more military spending.

As Christians we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” to make sure our actions reflect our deepest held values. So when it comes to decisions about our national budget, we ask, “What would Jesus cut?” …

The biblical prophets make clear that a nation’s righteousness is ultimately determined not by its GNP or military might — but by how it treats its most vulnerable people. Jesus says our love for him will be demonstrated by how we treat the “least of these.”

The scene shifted for me — almost thirty years back in the mid-80s at the start of the Reagan Revolution. I was writing my doctoral dissertation and working as a “crisis intervention counselor” for the Region X mental health association, with services provided from the emergency room of the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville.  The stories I can tell.  Another time.

What Jim Wallis made me remember, first, was that I lost my job due to Reaganomics.  But everything isn’t about me, I’ve learned.  So my memory refocused a bit, and I recalled with startling clarity that it may have been “morning in America again” for some, but in the mid-1980s U.S. government services for “the least” of God’s children saw the sun set.

Already state mental hospitals like Western State across Afton Mountain from Charlottesville had disgorged most of their entire population onto the streets of towns and cities, and what had seemed like such a humane beginning turned into the inhumanity of people with chronic mental disorders being left on the street with nothing to take the place of the hospital setting from which they had been ‘mercifully’ discharged.

“Crisis Intervention” many times meant taking care of society’s “scratch and dent” people who had been through so much, had so much to give, and yet were being tossed out to fend for themselves.  “Crisis Intervention” was necessary because without the structure of someone simply to help them take their medications, bank their disability check, and pay their rent, many chronic cases started inexorably falling through the cracks, into unending crisis, which for some was like a Groundhog Day from Hell.  When “morning in America” dawned in the 1980s for those who made enough to have taxes to cut, the sun rose  on towns like Charlottesville, were even the slim resources for people who had been forced into crisis were being cut back or eliminated.

Losing my job wasn’t even a gnat on an angel’s wing for God, I came to imagine; I would get another job, but “the least” of God’s children were going to get the least that America could get away with giving them.  So the remainder of the time I lived in Charlottesville, I saw many of my former clients on the streets, slowly devolving into chronic-crisis as a way of life.

I saw their faces today as I read “What Would Jesus Cut?”  And all I can say for sure is that, like Jim Wallis, I know what Jesus wouldn’t,

So the question for me now isn’t about what Jesus would do, but “What Should I Do, Jesus?” — knowing what I do, and who “they” are — the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers, whose faces look, too, like children caught in inner-city drive by shootings, LGBT teens being taunted and bullied, or the millions in the global south dying from the lack of malaria-preventing mosquito nets.  Let’s save them, even a few at a time, and add their faces to the balcony at next year’s State of the Union, or to the End Zone at next year’s Super Bowl.  It’s “the least” we can do.

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