For those that do not know. I write a column once a month for a local paper called the Lockport Legend. The following is what I wrote in this week's paper.
Over the last 4 months I have spent more time among the poor in our area than I have in the entirety of my 12 years as a minister. I've not been running a food bank or a mission or any other such thing. I have been driving a cab. Some of these people are passengers and others are people you just meet along the road.
Along Chicago Street in Joliet was a homeless woman. Her name was Willie Mae. She loved to sing and would often try to get some cash and a few cigarettes from people near the train station and then go to her favorite chicken place. Willie Mae and I got to be friends in the night. During some of my slow periods we would talk. The conversations were often scattered, but she had a laugh that was infectious and a smile that knew no lies. When she smiled, her whole face beamed. I got to see that smile often. She appreciated that I took the time to talk with her if I had a few minutes.
On Sunday, January 20th, I got to see that smile for the last time. She walked up to my cab and asked me if I had a cigarette I could give her. I had an almost full pack someone left in the cab earlier. I gave her the pack. She smiled broadly and wandered off into the cold night singing. Two nights later, due to the extreme arctic chill we had, my friend Willie Mae died of exposure.
She died near government centers, churches, homeless shelters and others places. She did not have to die. But she did. We all knew she was there, some of us even loved her, but not enough to care for her save a few smokes and loose change. There are arguments about whether or not Jesus approves of food stamps, poker machines or gay people. We are building nice church buildings with really cool sound systems and state of the art video equipment and ergonomically designed chairs. While we pontificate and build and market, a song in the night has ended. I miss her and it hurts.
I once heard a minister say that if someone dies of exposure or starvation in your town in the wealthiest nation in the world, then the church is guilty of murder. I am not sure if I agree, but I know something is wrong and really broken. I see the homeless, kids who do not get three meals a day ,single moms barely hanging on and worse. Much worse.
God said some pretty harsh things in Isaiah. I will share them in a moment. I wanted you to know about a woman with a lovely smile and it is my hope that the residents, government and churches of Lockport look after its most vulnerable residents in the night. Now for the passage from Isaiah where God says what matters and what doesn't.
“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows....Once so faithful, you have become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness, you are now filled with murderers. Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows.”
God forgive us.