The abrogation of self

stories of a self-cannabalistic mind…just another wordpress web blog

  • November 2006
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But it’s okay to let the non-Christians starve?

Posted by mneme on November 10, 2006

Notes about this entry: This was a post I wrote for a local community board a few weeks back. It appears “food cupboard” is a local term for a place which offers free, staple food items to low income people, or people experiencing a temporary financial crunch. Some are organization specific, intended for the members, while others are “public” as long as you meet their guidelines.

Also, Lifeline 211, is a local phone number where people can call for a variety of referrals including poision control, suicide or abuse hotlines, emergency clothing or shelter referrals for the indigent population and, as I utilized it, for referrals to charity organizations for food. Many of these charities are sponsored, housed and/or run by volunteers from a specific church but offer services to the public.

RG&E is our local gas and electric monopoly, which I’ve recently learned is one of the highest priced energy suppliers in the nation. They’ve also adopted some very strict guidelines this past Sept. for people having problems paying their bills; the new rules mean a lot more people face having their utilities shut off this winter then ever before, even in the middle of severe weather and cold. Many people have been wondering publically whether these new rules are going to force them to choose between eating or heating in what has been forecasted to be an early onset winter with a lot more snow and much colder temperatures than we’ve experienced in a few years (basically, since the energy prices here skyrocketed).
Here’s the article:
Last week I made a very difficult decision, I contacted a food cupboard to request a little help. Now, bear in mind that the Bethesda Church food cupboard is listed both by Foodlink and Lifeline’s 211 as a food cupboard open to the public. I was advised I’d have to prove my financial need and meet conditions such as being within their territory (which is usually determined by zip codes).

Today, over a week later, I finally got a return call. If I would like to avail myself of the occasional opportunity to acquire a few extra food items, I will need to attend their church; at a minimum, I need to agree to go to church in order to be fed.

“We have conditions you must meet in order to be served. You need to prove your need, bring identification and attend our church services.

“I need to attend your church in order to receive any help from the food cupboard you listed with 211 as a public food cupboard?”

“Yes. You need to at least attend the Sunday service on the day our cupboard is open, then you can get food.”

“But to do so would conflict with my own spiritual beliefs.”

“Then you don’t qualify and we won’t help you. Goodbye.”

Now, I’m expecting someone to flame me and go into a graphic and most likely misspelled diatribe of how I deserve to starve if I’m too lazy to make money to purchase my own food. So go ahead, get your kicks, I’ll simply ignore you.

But here is my rant, how is it an act of Christian kindness to offer charity with conditions? If you’re not a Christian and not willing to consider converting then it’s okay if you starve? Are only Christians worthy of life in America?

After I recovered from my incredulousity of being denied food because I deny Christ, I become indignant. Then, I remember back and find myself standing on the other side of the line; I am the one begging to the Christians for a meal and turned away. I was once on the other side of this line. When viewed in the continuum of my life story, it’s irony befitting of the moral parables often hidden in western literature. It seems more the punch line of an evangelical bible tract or a poorly thought out parable; a grave warning the heathens of the dangers of life without Jesus. It’s like the prodigal son without the happy ending. If I weren’t feeling so depressed, the absurdity would make me laugh.

I was a Christian growing up. I saw tv commercials requesting donations to feed starving children in Africa and at 5 informed my mother I would become a millionaire so I could buy helicopters and food and go feed them myself. I came from a low income family, but we worked hard and made honest money. We believed in giving food to the homeless, taking in troubled foster kids on the weekends from St. Joseph’s and always offering help to anyone in need. I earned money selling greeting cards and making baked goods for neighbors. I worked in one family business or another from the time I was old enough to reach the mechanical stapler in the print shop, about 6 or 7 years old. My father got saved when I was about 8, and my Christian beliefs grew in furvor as I heard of opportunities to go overseas and making a difference, just as I’d always dreamed.

I spent my summer vacations going overseas with church youth groups (with money I raised all year to pay for it) as a Christian missionary. I rolled bandages in impoverished third world hospitals, helped build a church in remote village, handed out first aid supplies to the poor, taught drama, music and English to children in villages where not much other education was available, and of course, spread the love of Jesus to anyone who would listen and helped force feed it to those who didn’t care to. I wanted to make the world a better place by improving the conditions of the lives of the people in it.

I believed the Christian church and I had the same ideals; making every life we could reach better for having been touched by us. I thought they meant it when they spoke of giving your shirt to the stranger and idealized the Good Samaritan as the epitome of Christianity. By travelling and living amongst poverty I’d never imagined, I came to realize that the bodies and families of the poor needed a lot more than Jesus; they needed food, clean water, warm clothing, shelter and simple medical treatments much more gravely than they needed to have their soul saved.

Converting them to my religion became secondary to my mission, but not to the various churches which sponsored these trips. Their primary mission was to save eternal souls, then and only then, would they attention be given to the fundamental, human needs. I watched people in ragged clothing, with faces gaunt fram malnutrition and children with crippled limbs sit and listen to an hour or more of sermon, then personal evangelizing sessions, all for a single hot bowl of rice and lentils and fruit juice and clean water. I watched others turned away after a few meals because they didn’t seem to be “getting the message” and turning to God. I watched people with no other options listen to fat, healthy, happy American Christians tell them how much better their lives would be if they became a Child of God; I watched some accept, but I didn’t see a single one get a better life because of it. Against orders from the leaders, I spoke privately with many of these people and offered my mailing address to write me when I returned home. Inevitably, I got heartwrenching letters of these newly minted Christians trying to continue to believe in God after their village got hit with flood, fire or famine. No one else in my missionary groups got penpal letters and continued with their religious delusion they’d helped people get a better life, and I’d broken the rules maintaining contact and would be censored from other missions if I let it be known.

At 18 I questioned this practice. I stood up to the board of the seminary training school and voiced my belief that the withering bodies of the sick and malnourished were a more urgent a need than where the soul spent eternity. I stated I would first tend to their needs on earth regardless of whether they would listen to my proselytizing. The response? I was asked to leave seminary training and re-evaluate my commitment to God. I was informed, by several other ministries I applied to, that my radical thinking disqualified me from service. After several years, I quit applying. I was told I sought too much self glory and not the glory of god. My own church leadership said I was too mired in sin to even have the ministry of sweeping the floors after services. Then it was discovered the pastor of our church had been privately counseling the women of the church one on one, against advice of the counsel; one day, his 12 year old daughter accidentally walked in on a session and discovered the pastor doing something more than counseling. I had longed since given up on being a missionary, after this, I slowly gave up on being a Christian too.

I chose to go into public service and travel overseas as a diplomat and help people that way. I entered a community college and won a coveted position as an adult transfer student into both Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. I was offered generous scholarships but had to earn my own boarding expenses and supplies.

I took a year’s deferment at Georgetown a set a goal to work hard and save enough money. But life decided I needed to understand the less fortunate more intimately and during the months I was working to save the money for school, I lost my home to a fire, my job and my health in one strong swoop of fate.

It took me years to rebuild a life and I had to give up the deferment placement as college was now well beyond anything I could afford. Since then, I’ve worked the types of jobs open to people without a college degree; baking, restaurant help, customer service, telemarketing and others even less glamorous. I make do, I get by. I found happiness where I could and continued to educate myself on various subjects with library books and discarded textbooks I found at library book sales. People have often mistaken me for having a Masters degree or being a teacher, but without the degree behind it, the knowledge has a lot less monetary value in the job market.

Then, a couple years ago, the health issue returned with a vengeance. I’ve become too fatigued to hold even a part time job. I’ve been given Disability and told by the government I will probably not be able to work full time ever again. I’m not certain I want to accept that fate. But for the time being, I accept it in order to get the medical help I require and without which, I have no way of reclaiming a full, healthy life.

I’ve trimmed the fat to make ends meet; I’ve found other homes for pets and rarely go out to socialize. I haven’t attended the RPO or any other concert which wasn’t a gift from a friend in years. I came from a poor family; I’m amazingly adept at stretching pennies and not feeling sorry for myself because of it. I turn the heat down to 60 and wear warmer clothes. I cut wherever I can and make up for the lost luxuries with piles of books and great music borrowed from the library. However, now even quality, nutritionally dense foods are becoming a luxury. The energy surges are burgeoning prices of fruits, produce, whole grains and low fat proteins. Yet, nutritionally empty foods such as Mac and cheese, hot pockets, instant rice and potatoes and other “instant” foods are what are available to the financially challenged.

Friends suggested food cupboards, if only to supplement the staples so that I can stretch my budget and afford healthful foods. I’ve already had to succumb to assistance with medical bills as my private insurance ran out long ago, but I had always given to food cupboards, not requested help from them. This was a difficult and humbling request to make. But healthy food will enable my health to return, which may enable me to work again, climb out of the murky trenches of poverty and even contribute to society once again. It is a major stepping stone to becoming a whole person; pride has become too costly a luxury for the urban poor and I must accept that I rank among them.

But the food cupboards are run and organized by Christians. And I’m turned away because I don’t want to be evangelized by the Christians. I respect my own beliefs and theirs to some extent, to act hypocritically for a handout. I could lie and pretend to listen, pretend to share their faith or have the potential of ‘being saved’, in order to obtain the healthful food I need. But I find it disrespectful to pretend something for my own gain; it’s a type of deception I can’t stomach.

But I say to you, Bethesda Church Food cupboard, Boooo! Shame on you. What good is a fed soul with an empty, withered body to house it? Of course, demanding I become a reflection of your spiritual beliefs is much more compassionate on the eternal level. But I won’t lie to you, not even if it means I starve. And you promise me hell? Well, should I wither and die, perhaps I will find myself in the eternal hellflames where, according to you, my current suffering of hunger and illness will seem trivial. And don’t forget, in hell, I can look forward to being warm in winter without the nagging worry of how to pay the RG&E bill.

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