Thursday, December 18, 2008

what will you do?

Please read Isaiah 10:1-4
It was one of those comments made that you take and stick in the back pocket of your mind. I can't remember if I heard it or read it somewhere, but an executive director of a social service agency recently observed, in response to announced cutbacks in services through Medicaid and Medicare, "the elderly are the new poor."

Well, duh!

Older folks have always been one of our 'most vulnerable' groups. And not just in our time and our culture, but more or less in every generation, in every community. That's why one of the ten commandments given at Sinai had to do with the elderly. According to biblical scholars, 'honor your father and mother' is not about being civil to your folks and eating your vegetables, it is about how a society takes care of its aging population.

The director's comment, though stating nothing new, is a reminder to all of us, but especially to those of us in faith communities (and those of us who believe we live in nations guided by belief in God), that in those uncertain and increasingly frightening economic times, it is the most vulnerable of our society which will be hit the hardest. Why? Because economic suffering always trickles down until it hits those folks who have no one below them to pass on that suffering.

Those who are homeless, hungry, and helpless are finding more people joining them in the lines at the food banks, at the soup kitchens, at the shelters. And those organizations are finding their sources of funding and donations (food as well as dollars) decreasing exactly at the time when the need is so dramatically increasing.

Those who have no health insurance are finding health clinics closed, or one has to travel a greater distance to find an open clinic which, of course, puts a greater strain on those who have no ready transportation choices. And, if one has children, then the stress of trying to find some health care, any health care, for a sick child increases.

Vulnerable individuals like Teddy, who resides in a state developmental center, may not even be aware or able to understand why a lot of their friends are being moved out, and buildings are being closed, and staff (all those familiar faces who make them feel so safe) is being cut. In Ohio, families recently received a letter that the state has mandated that 725 inidviduals will need to be placed 'in community settings' (a phrase which basically means 'we don't know where they will end up'); this comes on top of previous 'decreases in population' which took place several months ago because of the economy. This means each of the ten centers will need to 'outsource' an average of 72 residents. And with the most profound, the most damaged, the most medically fragile being affected, this will have a major impact on these children of God, especially for those who do not have families or advocates to fight for them.

And any one who is looking for assistance, be they already 'in the system' or those who are just discovering that such a system is in place, they will find tighter, stricter regulations; fewer case managers; more hoops to jump through as the social service agencies deal with less and less funding, and more and more job cuts.

And, to no one's great surprise, there will be no $700 billion bailout for developmental centers, group homes, respite care for already-exhausted family caregivers. There will be no governmental loans to keep social workers and care managers on staff at the agencies that open their doors each morning to longer and longer lines. And the $1 Trillion (!) amount being considered for rebuilding our 'infrastructure' will not be used for health clinics, for ERs, for food banks, for soup kitchens, for shelters for homeless families.

I know, because I hear them on radio and TV, and get mailings about their seminars, that there are those folks who are convinced that God was speaking about us and our current situation in books like Daniel and Revelation - you know, all those 'hidden codes' about the end times coming, the apocalypse just over the horizon, the four horsemen throwing the saddles over the horses.

But for me, if God uses any writers in scripture to speak to us and our current situation, it is folks like Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. Folks who tell about those times which will come when our compassion decreases as our fears increase; when our generosity falters as our income diminishes; when we turn away the poor and needy because whatever is in the cupboard is needed for us.

Prayer: As uncomfortable as it may make us, or as frustrated, you have always been clear that it is what we do for the most vulnerable in our midst that demonstrates our belief, our trust, our commitment to you, O God. So continue to speak those uncomfortable words, and hopes, to us through such folks as Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. Amen.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

No comments: