By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
30 March 2013. Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
Easter was one of my two favourite days once upon a very long time ago in a place now 7,500 miles far, far away. Contemplating Easter as it approaches, I can hear my father turning cartwheels in my head, but not in a good way. He's not happy. Not happy at all.
Easter Sunday churches across the United Kingdom and the United States heave with families feeling their way around a sometimes unaccustomed environment. Young women in fine hats join the regulars, the older women wearing Lavender. Men sport polished shoes & pressed suits, stretching necks discomforted by the tightness of neckties last worn Christmas service. The old regulars wear no tie at all. Both the regulars and the Christmas and Easter crowd eye each other maybe with just a little judgment (kept to themselves of course).
The faithful gather in plain wooden structures or in remarkable, richly adorned palaces called Cathedrals. They sway, singing the old hymns, performing the old, corporate rituals. Some smile those utterly vacuous, vacant smiles which more accurately imitate a drug ecstasy than a religious experience. Some plumb the depth of Easter's meaning with earnest contemplation. All churches smell of abundant flowers & orris root perfume. The social halls echo to the sounds of children eagerly anticipating Easter egg hunts & Chocolate bunnies.
All is joy & warm fuzzies ... except ...
... except for the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the widow, the “demobbed” (newly separated) soldier, the debtor, the redundant (laid off), the homeless, the mother without a husband and the children who would be without any food this Easter but for overworked food banks. These languish willfully unseen by officialdom, disconsolate and feeling abandoned by their neighbours, many of whom, this Easter, stuff the pews.
A host of draconian new measures go into affect in the United Kingdom the day after Easter. In the past benefits recipients were relieved from Council tax (a local property tax paid by the resident not necessarily the owner). Not as of April 1. As of April 1 they will also pay a penalty if they have a "spare" room, dubbed the bedroom tax. While inflation rises their grants are now capped below inflation. They are forced to accept any work that presents itself including without further compensation or suffer draconian sanctions. 680,000 thus far have been. The list goes on and on of the changes to welfare that grow the food banks, children on the streets, suicides and hate crimes against the disabled, but not the promised way out of "the welfare trap" to almost any.
The poor have not been forgotten by those who attend Easter services so much as targeted by a dysfunctional society despite the warnings of Archbishops Rowan Williams and Justin Welby, despite the exhortations of Pope Francis. The poor are our dysfunctional societies' current “designated bad child.” They are the ones at whom the self righteous and the abusive shout "get a job" or ... "if you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."
Too often lost amid the perfume, the flowers, the ritual candles, the organ music, the murmered prayers, the chatter & the smiles is the at least 2700 year old tradition the first Easter existed to fulfill. Core values are recounted and embodied here, here, and here. I challenge Christians in particular to read them again.
Suffer the little children ...
Father's message coming through this Easter with a remarkable and intense strength is -- this Easter, don’t just soak in the warm fuzzies in the church of your choice. Suffer the little children to have better than a food bank struggling to meet a tsunami of desperate need. Suffer the little children, the widow, the discharged soldier, the debtor, the homeless and the desperate the meeting of their very real human needs for food, shelter, medicine, care and an accepted place among their neighbours.
The next time you read or hear someone say, "I know my neighbour has X, Y, and Z I don't have," ask them politely to make a list of what their neighbour does not have that they do have ... to consider changing place with them for a year.
These -- society's designated bad children -- aren't "shirkers," "scroungers" or frauds living in shame "with blinds drawn" while all the "good people" work for the pitance management deigns to share. They are our neighbours, our daughters, our sons, our nephews and our cousins, many of them hard at work beside us or working hard in circumstances we would not want to experience ourselves. They struggle against lost dreams, overwhelming if realistic fears for their present let alone for their hopes for their futures, and a sinking feeling the only light at the end of this tunnel will turn out to be that of an express freight train headed straight at them.
Understanding this and acting in accordance with that understanding -- not pretty clothes and smiles for "the worthy" to see -- is, after all, what "Love Thy Neighbour" is all about. Sympathy is the calm, low voice in empathy's divine breeze, but acting in accordance is the G*d particle. This is the meaning of the as yourself in that great, timeless commandment.
In both the United States and the United Kingdom, the "Conservative" war on the politically isolated and vulnerable poor is far more real an offence to Judaeo-Christian values than gay marriage or women priests and bishops, issues which so obsess some in the pews this Sunday. This Easter my father challenges Christians everywhere to prioritize instead the awful and dark war on the welfare of the poor.