Summer is upon us. So much for the drought. If it gets any drier, I'll be building an ark. The flowers are beautiful, the grass is green and the ducks are happy. Aside from the leaky roof and the flooded fish pond, I'd have to say life is pretty good.

As it works out, that's not true for everyone. For millions, the struggle to survive goes on. In a time of plenty, little money is being used to help the poor and needy. The rich are getting tremendously richer, and the poor are just plain getting it. So this one's for you, Mr. and Mrs. rich, right-wing Christian soldier, wherever you are. May your days be filled by counting your money, and your nights filled with nightmares about someone taking it from you.

Something had to be done with the welfare system as it had evolved. It had become a demeaning dead-end road for millions. It was not providing any incentive to work to rise up out of the bondage of poverty. In fact, it was acting to keep people tied to a set of rules that rewarded poor decision making and produced no hope of bettering oneself. It was a system derived out of good intent but allowed to slowly wither.

The ''welfare to work'' program was not created out of good intent, but only for political gain and corporate greed. The right-wing Christian politicians in Washington wanted to appeal to the selfish tendency of their corporate constituents, those who have for the most part lost all semblance of Christian charity and compassion, who would have us believe their tax write-off charitable donations somehow excuses them for not paying their employees a decent living wage.

The plan was ill advised, not properly prepared, not adequately funded, and an appropriate amount of time was not given for its implementation. The President quickly joined in on the folly, seeing an opportunity to gain votes for his re-election. There are sorry provisions for job training; inadequate child-care; no transportation provisions were included; and for the most part, only minimum wage jobs made available. The result was a stunning lack of vision and a further tightening of the bonds that hold millions in poverty. Rather than so-called ''charity cases,'' they have now become ''the working poor.'' These are individuals who work a forty hour week but still cannot rise above the poverty level.

This is the system we have devised to replace welfare. It has the most detrimental effects on women and children. It amounts to producing cheap labor for America's corporations. We needed a way to compete with growing Third World economies. We were told this would be doing a favor for these charity cases who had become dependent on government handouts. The only favors done were lining the pockets of the rich with cheap labor, and helping these saviors of the welfare system get re-elected by persons who prefer spending money on missiles and electric chairs versus giving a helping hand to struggling fellow human beings.

The bottom line becomes ''now what?'' Who will correct this situation? Who will tell George W. and Al Gore to forget about the deficit and help the poor and struggling? It will clearly not be the politicians. They are bought and paid for by the largest benefactor of this scheme. It is going to have to be the faith community that steps forward and sounds the challenge made by Christ. Honest Christian employers need to pay their employees a decent living wage. Churches need to open their doors for day-care centers, for mentoring our young men and women who become parents at too young an age. We need to advocate for those who have no political voice, sponsor a person who needs a job, seek and/or produce affordable housing. There is much we can do. It is a daring proposition to fashion one's life after Christ versus interpreting text, or sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and believing the money you throw in the plate somehow can buy you absolution. It is a radical question to ask, ''Who is my neighbor?''

If this flub's for you, it's about time you got off your duffer and started giving rather than receiving. And if you are poor and struggling, take heart in knowing that Christ himself said ''blessed are you who are poor.'' He didn't say that about the rich.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 27, 2000

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