War of our world

Bill Such is executive director The Jesus Center

While watching the film War of the Worlds recently I was reminded how tenuous our grasp of the future can be. Not that I expect an alien eruption on Main Street, but that I recognize how, metaphorically speaking, monsters from without (drugs, bankruptcy, unemployment, illness, divorce) or from within (bad decisions, uninformed choices, fickle attitudes, weak wills) can rob us of what we have achieved in the present. The advent of rampaging Tripods intent on the annihilation of suburbia is a good reminder that for some people it’s not that “the Martians are coming,” but that they have already arrived and the present is in ruins.

I am thinking of the homeless among us. Like Mr. Cruise in the film, their survival is a rootless existence, dependent upon chance fortuitous circumstances. Unfortunately, in the Chico region today, too many vets, single parents, young people, unemployed men and women, mentally ill and substance abusers know the anxiety of a night on the streets in dilapidated cars and the doorways of vacant buildings, or the fear of insufficient funds for a first and last month’s rent—let alone the security deposit.

For those of us who return to the comforts of home after a mere two hours of cinematic fodder of a world torn apart, we can insulate ourselves by mentally conjuring up stereotypical images of skid-row drunks and bag ladies at the thought of “the homeless” or we can rationalize their predicament with our own self-serving clichés: “It’s their choice … living out their mistakes …, lazy …, need a good day’s work …, just looking for handouts, etc.” Or we can do something to alleviate their predicament.

Churches can preach on how Jesus is found in the sunken faces of the destitute. Synagogues can meditate on the provisions for the poor in the Deuteronomic code. Mosques can wrestle with the implications of zakah for responsibility to the destitute. Businesses can find at least entry-level jobs and risk employing someone needing a gracious hand to regain a footing in society. Politicians can fight for low-income housing. The rest of us can volunteer our professional services at community shelters, donate food, clothing and hygiene supplies to local agencies, share our wealth with organizations we believe can make a difference in the lives of the poor, and perhaps, most of all, we can change our thinking; that is, talk to homeless people with courtesy and respect.

Mr. Cruise’s character could do nothing to stem the alien destruction of New Jersey—but in Butte County you can do something.