I’m sitting here in my office desirous of a pint of my favorite Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Imagine Swirled Peace. The only thing stopping me from having some is the fact that the grocery store in the village where I live doesn’t carry it. They have Cherry Garcia, but I don’t like that. Lucky me.
As a rule, I am a very healthy eater. However, I discovered that sometimes I fall off the healthy eating wagon and seek comfort from food, ice cream in particular, in times of emotional distress. The reason I am seeking comfort from my favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor is that I am angry. I am angry at our dysfunctional government. I am angry that someone who shouldn’t have, died the other day for lack of resources that prevented him from getting to his cancer treatments. I am angry at the cruel and uncaring, balance the budget at all costs, attitude of our elected officials. They don’t care about the people they are elected to serve. They don’t care about the common good. They care only about dismantling the government and serving their own special interests. They are not in the trenches of everyday life that I and others like me who are overwhelmed by the need we see around us. They don’t see the effects their decisions have on real people.
I pastor a church in a very rural community. We are fortunate here in the village where I live that has a population of just under 1000 people. We have a grocery store, a post office, a bank, two convenience stores, a lovely public library, a pharmacy, a K-12 school, and we are within 12 miles south and north of two hospitals. We even have a bowling alley. We can get gasoline for our cars at one of the convenience stores and there are several hair salons, a tavern, two pizza places, and an ice cream stand with a video store. There is no department store or movie theater, otherwise there would be no reason to have to leave town to shop for anything. It is amazing and surprising in this economy that our little village can support all of those things. We are fortunate. It is a quiet, safe little village. Just about everyone here brags about that. They stay here because of it and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. The young people don’t go far for college and look forward to coming back here to live and raise their own families when they finish.
Most people who live in our village have to travel elsewhere for work unless they teach at the school or farm for a living. Most have nice automobiles, mostly trucks and suvs, and I wonder as I see them fill up those big gas guzzlers how they do it. I drive a car that is 22 years old and have to stretch every gas dollar I have.
Underneath this idyllic scene is a segment of our population that is struggling mightily. They are underground as it were because their pride won’t allow them into the light. They call me after hours sometimes or stop by my office in the afternoon when no one else is typically there. Or they call and say, “Are you the church that helps people?” They are almost an underground network of people in need who pass the word along that we are the church that has a food pantry, gas vouchers, and vouchers for the grocery store for perishable items. We don’t have certain days that folks can come. We do it on an as needed basis as long as the resources are available. We have regulars, like the man who died the other day. I knew that the help I was able to offer him wasn’t enough and it saddened me greatly. I worried about him. I need not worry any more for now he is in the arms of God.
The people I help don’t want anyone to know they are in survival mode. They are humiliated by their circumstances and when they come to me for help I don’t ask them to fill out forms or prove they are in need. Jesus never said we had to qualify people in order to help them so I don’t. Sure, I’ve been taken a few times by people, but that is their issue, not mine. Most of the people who seek us out are swallowing every ounce of pride they have in order to ask for assistance. They come to me when they have no where else to turn. They tell me their stories because in their shame they feel the need to justify asking for help. Most don’t go to or affiliate with any church. I listen to their stories and tell them I will pray for them and I do. I am their along the way pastor. They don’t realize that, but in fact it’s true. They don’t go to church but they want to know God is with them in their struggles and pain. I do what I can.
That is why I am angry. I see this all the time. I see how the decisions to balance a budget affect the lives of real flesh and bone people. These are people God loves and cares for – people I care for as a pastor. These are people some of whom worked their whole lives and have lost their jobs, their pensions, their health insurance. They’ve lost their homes or they’ve been able to hang on to their homes but can’t afford the gas or electric bill, or food. They don’t have enough gas to get to the job interview 40 miles away or enough gas to last until the first paycheck at the new job. Some are relying on others to transport them because their car is broken down and there is no money to fix it. Their unemployment benefits have run out. They are women with children who’ve left abusive relationships. I could go on an on. There is blessing and curse where I live and serve. The blessing is that we are a small caring community fairly insulated from the rest of the world and the curse is that we are insulated, almost isolated, and too far away from the little help that may be available for those who struggle financially and otherwise. The nearest major city is over an hour away. When you have little or no resources that distance might as well be a million miles away. Today I feel overwhelmed by that fact.
I feel grief for the man who died and will have no service to celebrate his life. There will be no service to thank God for his presence in this world, to acknowledge that he lived among us and meant so much to those who knew and loved him. I found out through the obituary in the local newspaper that he was cremated immediately according to his wishes and that he had been an over the road truck driver for thirty years. I didn’t know that about him. I just knew he had lost his job and at 60 something years old he was having trouble getting another one. I know he was scared when they discovered his cancer. He told me so and I prayed with him. He told me he lost his pride by the third time he came to me for help. “I’m desperate,” he said. ” I don’t know where else to turn.” I’m glad he found his way to our church and that we were able to help even in a very small way, and I hope that there was some small measure of comfort in that for him. Now I am praying for God to comfort his family whom I have never met.
Today I am angry because in a country such as ours, no one should have to worry when they get sick whether they can go to the doctor or if need be get to their cancer treatments. No one should go hungry and no one should be without shelter. I agree that we need to get our fiscal house in order. But why does it have to be at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our country? Unfortunately, Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t make a flavor that can answer that question.