Cotton for the ears

“He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).

What does it mean to “hear” the cries of the poor?

(Full disclosure: God help me, I’m a middle-class white suburban homeschool mom – so, yes, I’m looking at this verse from this perspective.)

I think it means we pay attention.

I think it means we actually look at the homeless person standing with the cardboard sign at the intersection. It is a person, after all, not a droid.

I think it means we notice the woman with a stroller walking down the six-lane, sidewalk-free suburban shopping boulevard. Would she walk her baby along such a road if she had a reliable car?

I think it means we watch the hard movies – Selma, Hotel Rwanda, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, The Pursuit of Happyness, etc. Yes, they’re heartbreaking. Yes, they are difficult because they show our cruelty and callousness towards one another. But if they call out our latent courage and compassion, if they inflame our hearts toward advocacy and justice, they have worthwhile, redemptive value.

I think it means we pay attention to the news. (And by “news” I certainly don’t mean our Facebook or Twitter “news” feeds.) It means we stay educated about the lives of the poor in our own community (not just the local homeless shelter but also access to fresh food and quality schools and decent healthcare). And stay educated about the lives of the poor around the globe. Who speaks up for child labor laws, for poor farmers, for residents of slums in world cities, and rural residents with little to no access to education, healthcare, or a justice system that actually honors rule of law? This requires watching and reading beyond the Sports and Lifestyle pages or channels.

I think it means listening to those who work with them day in and day out. The employees and volunteers at the shelters, the Salvation Army, the Department of Social Services, the state-run nursing homes, the emergency room – what do they see, do, and say? They’re in the trenches – we need to give extra credence to their input.

It means my ears should be open. That is, I can’t go ostrich and stick my head in the sand. I can’t live in my safe (gated?) community, stay behind my 8-foot privacy fence, only be friends with people who think and shop and value and vote and raise their kids like me.

suburban poverty

I’ve got to be outside my own comfort zone – not for the length of a church-sponsored activity (mission trip, anyone?) or the forced confines of hopefully brief jury duty obligation.

How can I hear the poor if I’ve surrounded myself – even unintentionally – with the non-poor?

The answer is, I can’t. If I have any expectation of hearing the voice of the poor, I will have to intentionally get out of my middle-class bubble.

And how can I hear the poor if I am too busy? If I’m piddling from this store and that errand and this meeting and that event, consumed with myself and my family, I can’t. There has to be some margin – i.e., quiet – in my life so that the tired voices of the poor can reach my distracted, selfish ears.

And then, heaven help us, I can’t claim ignorance, and I’m responsible to respond in some Christ-like manner.

Which is a good pressure to be under.

Also – I want my cries to be heard, too. Don’t you?

Crucial Note: I have SO SO far to go in this. I mean, SO far.

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Published in: on January 27, 2016 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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