Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010 3:57 pm
The Messenger, September 23, 2010
By members of the Obion County Ministerial Association
There is an ancient Chinese saying: “Give a man a fish and he eats today. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
In Obion County, the number of people who have been reduced to asking for assistance in order to pay utility bills, rent, medical costs and other necessities has risen precipitously in the last year or so. It is also true throughout the nation. Recent research has shown that the percentage of people living at or below the national poverty level has crept up to 18 percent, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This cannot be attributed to the latest presidential election, but was evident before the current recession began.
Of some interest, five related areas of poverty-related concern improved in the last two years: the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate and the percent of teens not in school not high school graduates. But, three areas worsened: the percent of babies born at low-birthweight, the child poverty rate and the percent of children living in single-parent families.
As my childhood friends would say to me, “What does all this have to do with the price of eggs in China?”
I feel it has much to do with the charity, concern for our sisters and brothers, or “work of love” our faith communities have before us.
Most of our worship institutions (churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.), as well as our Community Assistance Organizations, have “discretionary funds” to be used for the needy. Most have adopted a policy of “one time annually” or “once in a set period of time” to assist a person or family. This is certainly reasonable, as funds and goods are not inexhaustible.
However, skills at coping with life are not honed and perfected by dealing with them once a year. To return to the Chinese adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him today,” but what about tomorrow and all the tomorrows until next year? Feed a man a fish one day, and not again for a year, and you may find yourself reading of a funeral, which is significantly more expensive than a fish, and much, much more permanent!
The operative term in this adage is “TEACH him to fish …”
How many of our churches, synagogues, mosques and various charitable institutions are also willing to sit down with the down-trodden, often the poorly educated, or the socially outcast, or the single-parent family, or sometimes the less-than-sweet-natured person, and take time to teach them methods of caring for themselves, their families and their possessions? And, while they are learning … give them fish so they may eat today and tomorrow, trusting they will learn to fish, and teach their families to fish, too.
This would begin a whole new opportunity to reset our American society and to combat, to whatever extent possible, the oft unbroken cycle of learned poverty.
How would this work?
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, (10:14) said, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear — without someone preaching to them?”
Another way to read this is to ask, “How can they get out of poverty if they do not know they can? And how can they know they can change their life practices if they haven’t heard they can? And how can they hear how to change their life practices unless someone teaches them?
The Rev. Donald E. Brooks
St. James Episcopal Church
422 East Church St., Union City