In 2016, Phill Mastrocola and I attended a Convocation on Homelessness and Affordable Housing at the Catholic Diocese of San Jose. At the initiative of Bishop McGrath, a group of about 30 people came together; we were representing churches, mosques and synagogues, faith based social agencies, City and County officials, the art community, and other interested parties.
We worked hard participating in different discussions and organizing working groups to continue into the future. We identified three areas of need within the general topic of homelessness: public policy, direct services, and a much-needed change of attitude in the population at large.
I chose to participate in the small group working on change of attitude. We started by attempting to define the problems we encounter when working on the general issue of homelessness (same as advocates, others in direct services) and came to the conclusion that we are facing a huge moral crisis. When we don't care for the "least of these," when we complain about the homeless ruining the view we have from the living room of our million-dollar house, when we are afraid to pass the right legislation and take risk, we have a moral crisis. As people of faith, we are called by God to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Who are our neighbors? Glad you asked! Our neighbors are those who show compassion, those who are different, and those in whom Jesus lives.
Three conclusions came up from the Convocation: first, we needed to work together because we have a voice and a conscience that can influence attitudes, politicians, and neighbors. Second, we needed to foster knowledge and relationship by organizing events where people can re-humanize the homeless, dialog together, and recognize ease their fears. Third, we needed to start a media campaign, both in social media and mass media (radio, TV) to inform people that these human beings who don't have a place to live are our neighbors too; that they deserve our support and respect, and that we are accountable for how we treat them.
In the afternoon, after the Convocation was over and I had committed myself to working in 2 or 3 new groups, I reflected back to the kind of power that was in that room at the San Jose Diocese. We had the power of prayer, we had the power of thought, and we have the power of action. Not bad....!
This is an important time in our national scene; a time to ponder what is the best choice of president for next year's elections.
In view of that, we may very well review what is the criteria we must follow when managing our time, investing our resources, and making our decisions. When I was in Business School, one important part of my dissertation had to do with decision-making. How do we opt for the "right thing" without betraying who we are and what we stand for?
If we put our act together and learn how to do things right, then we'll be on the right side. The problem is the understanding of being on the right. For centuries now, humans have fallen into self-righteousness by understanding that if we take care of ourselves, make money, live well, look good, feel great, and go to church every Sunday, heaven is our lot and there's no way to fail.
The problem is that self-righteousness is not the way to go. Voices from the past come to us today to tell us what is required of us. We are not required to have a tidy lawn in front of a freshly painted house with a nice car in the driveway and a white picket fence.
We are not required to hold a 40-hour-a-week job where we are able to climb the corporate ladder and, in turn, oppress someone the same way we were oppressed, and access privileges that are reserved just for a few good men.
We are just required to do justice. Notice that this is an action item: do! We are called to act on behalf of the disenfranchised and forsaken. Yes, the widow, the orphan and the stranger; but let's be specific. We are called to be advocates for the immigrants who are looking for a better future for their children, the houseless people who struggle with belonging and being safe every day of their lives, and the people of color who are killed by police everywhere in this society. We are called to do justice to the environment and preserve the planet he gave us for future generations, to the workers everywhere who need more than one job to support their families, and to endangered species and abused animals at home and abroad. We are called to end all wars, to surrender all weapons, and to provide healthcare for all people under the sun.
How can we think that others don't have a right to the same things we enjoy? Why wouldn't a houseless person be entitled to have the SAME medical coverage you and I have, or to drive a working car, or go to the movies? In what universe is it fair or just that I may wear diamonds because I can afford them, in spite of the many lives that are wasted in the diamond industry? Why can I access the best medical care if I have cancer, but a young mother in welfare has to die for lack of access to treatment?
Then, we are asked to love mercy. Now, loving is an attitude. Can we see people who are different from us and love them? Mercy is what we have when our hearts are moved to compassion and care. Mercy is shedding a tear for those who suffer beyond measure in this world. I believe that as a society we are losing the capacity for mercy. We are unsensitized by the news. We see images of terrible pain and we keep eating lunch like if nothing was happening. To develop this love for mercy we need to practice it. Stop and think, ponder and pray for those who are agonizing through their everyday lives.
Finally, we are required to walk humbly on Earth. With humbleness in our minds and hearts, we ought to walk our journeys.
If we use these words as the criteria to think, act and make decisions in our lives, chance are we'll be on the right side.