I've spent the week driving a summer school route - in fact, I drove it three times a day for five days. What I saw was stuff not usually seen by middle to upper class America. My route took me through the heart of south Dallas and through very poor parts of a section of Dallas known as Oak Cliff. Let's face it...the privileged very rarely see the ravages of poverty up close...and we like it that way. But I couldn't avoid it. Here are some observations:
In my world, transportation is a given. I open the door to my garage and there are always two vehicles there, ready to roll. In very poor neighborhoods, having a set of wheels may mean you own a bicycle, and that is how you get around. I saw older women on bikes this week and they weren't tooling around trying to lose weight. It was their way to get to the laundromat.
One day, I saw an elderly lady walking down the sidewalk, holding six or seven plastic bags filled with groceries. She was in poor health and was struggling. For a second, I was puzzled. There are no grocery stores in her neighborhood, which is, by the way, one of the drawbacks of living in a blighted area. Then it hit me...she had done her food shopping at a convenience store. No telling how much extra she had to pay for the items she bought, and if there's anyone who shouldn't have had to pay too much for anything, it was this woman.
Mental health is a huge issue in poor areas. On Monday, for example, I came to a busy intersection in a black part of town. There was a white guy standing in the middle of the intersection - he had positioned himself perfectly to avoid being hit by the traffic heading in four different directions. He had struck a pose. He had his eyes shut and his right arm was pointed straight up with a closed fist. It had all the trappings of a catatonic trance. He didn't move a muscle during the time I was able to watch him. On Tuesday, I drove through the same area and there he was. Only this time, a cop had him over to the sidewalk and was writing him a ticket. I don't know what his particular problem was/is, but I can guarantee he is unstable.
On my early morning run, I saw many individuals who sleeping outdoors. One was on a filthy mattress that lay in the shadow of a liquor store. This morning, I saw another guy curled up in the doorway of a business that hadn't opened yet. My house is about 30 miles from this area, but it may as well be on a different planet.
Jesus mentioned that we will always have the poor with us. That wasn't him giving us permission to ignore them, because he also talked about feeding, clothing, and helping those less fortunate. I also know all the things said by those of us who are "successful" - like how hard we worked to get to where we are, the sacrifices we made, the correct choices we opted for...all of those being true. Those in the cycle of poverty may be totally responsible for their status in life...but that doesn't absolve me as a Christian of my responsibility to share what I have. The ways I choose to share are probably not important...the act is. All of which was made clear to me this week. I'm glad God rattled my comfort zone a bit.