Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Least Of These

I heard most of Terry Gross's interview with Canadian journalist Ian Brown the other night, and was moved by what I heard. It also led to some questions that, in the light of our usually quite stupid, and occasionally cruel, public discussions on matters of public policy, I think need to be confronted.

First, I want to make clear I am addressing this to those "Christians" who would insist that the kind of stuff Jesus was talking about, and the churches that bear his name occasionally teach, doesn't apply to our public life. You know, the kind of folks who think we should rely on charity to help out folks who are down and out because, really, most poor people are poor because it's their own fault; giving them public assistance only pays people to be lazy, right? Why should we create a health-care system that covers everything for everybody, when I'm not gonna use those services? I mean, come on, that's not taxation, that's theft, right? Besides which, all that stuff, even civil rights, it's all unconstitutional anyway, because I should be free to do with my stuff, my business, my time, and my energy and commitments what I want, not have it dictated to me by a bunch of pointy-headed, do-goody bureaucrats.

This is the attitude Walker Brown challenges simply by being alive. Lucky for him he was born in Canada. His father, Ian, says that so far, in his fifteen years of life, his care has cost the nation around $2 million. The home where he has resided for the past six years costs, Brown estimates, $50,000. And it is paid for thanks to Canada's generous social welfare and health care system.

Walker Brown would face a much harsher reality south of the border, as it were. His parents would be hard pressed to afford care. Walker would be uninsurable, so everything would have to be paid for out-of-pocket. There are certainly group homes here in the U.S. of high quality that cost, roughly speaking, the same as the one where Walker now lives. Obviously, one has to earn quite a bit of money in order to send one's child to such a facility. The alternatives are grim for all around.

What kind of society do we want? Do we want to live in a society where we close our ears and eyes to the sounds and sight of people like Walker? Do we insist that, while we certainly sympathize with the Brown family's dilemma, it isn't our problem, and shouldn't be dealt with using our money? There are currently no, or at best few, alternatives for families with children like Walker here in the United States, and an entire segment of the body politic who insist, over and over again, that the cries of the needy, the voices of the silenced, are of no concern to them, nor should they be to the rest of us.

Like Ebeneezer Scrooge who wishes the poor would die to decrease the surplus population, the notion that there exist human beings outside our sphere of concern is morally vicious. Walker Brown, whose life has been and continues to be hard, nevertheless also lives a life of wonder, filling those who love him with joy and awe at all the things they can experience because he is alive, challenges us to ask what kind of a society we wish to have. Do we want one in which people like Walker are of no value, cast aside? Do we turn a deaf ear to the Brown family and their needs, as an undue burden on an already over burdened populace?

Walker is the "least of these" about whom Jesus spoke. We need to remember that.

Virtual Tin Cup

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