It is easy to love the people far away.
It is not always easy to love those close to us.
It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve
the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home.
Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.
~Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I introduced my students to the label of the 'convenient' and 'inconvenient' poor. The convenient poor are those we don't really have to deal with in an immediate way: we see them on television news, we hear about them, we take up on occasional second-collection on their behalf. They are removed from our vision and, in our imaginations, often romanticized.
The inconvenient poor, on the other hand, are the ones we have to deal with daily. These are the poor people who stand on the corners begging for money, those who frequent warming centers, those who sleep atop steam vents. They are inconvenient because we have to engage them, deal with them: either give them money, avoid eye contact, step around or over them. It is hard to romanticize these women and men...how often do we bear some resentment against them, muttering inwardly, "Go get a job"?
The recent Kony 2012 video - a YouTube phenomenon with almost 75 million views - may serve as a good example of this. The problem of invisible children isn't new. How troubling that it takes a slick video to call our attention (if simplistically) to Uganda when we are so blind, in our own country, to our own invisible children. Our own 'home' country is so frequently without love, without concern for the least of our citizens, yet the jump-on-the-bandwagon types are clamoring to send money to Uganda as they turn a blind eye to our own nation's problems.
I'm not saying that we need to ignore Uganda. Indeed, I think we need to turn serious attention to this and engage in serious social analysis to isolate and grapple with some of the intricacies of the problems facing that nation. My concern is that the fervor to send money to the 'convenient' poor is a way of masking, or ignoring, our responsibility for the inconvenient poor who sleep on our doorsteps. This is not an either/or humanitarian situation; it is, rather, a both/and. We must address issues both here and abroad, both the poor we can see/smell/hear and those out of sight.