Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you really looked for the needs around you? When was the last time you saw the needy?
Honestly, I can't answer that question. I am far too blind to the real needs of my friends, far too likely to give offense instead of aid. I hesitated before writing this blog post.
But something needs to be said about how we talk about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, specifically about how much we're talking about his death.
On Sunday, I checked the New York Times and found it thoroughly covering Hoffman's death. On Monday and Tuesday The Atlantic covered concerns surrounding heroin addition. Today is Thursday, and at the gym this morning two separate channels had an announcement about the ongoing investigation; there was also a (presumably related) announcement about the rise of heroin. I hit my breaking point when I logged onto one of my favourite blogs, written by a pastor in Oklahoma who usually shows good sense, and found a post on the tragedy of Hoffman's death, as well as the deaths of other rich-and-famous from drug addiction.
You know what frustrates me about this? I'm not actually frustrated that the media is talking about Hoffman. After all, Hoffman's death was tragic. I'm frustrated that we're showering attention on Hoffman and sparing almost none for those who are not famous, and yet still suffer.
We are doing the very thing St James warned us against, lavishing attention on the needy rich and overlooking the needy poor, the ones whom Jesus remembers.
I write this post from New Beginnings, a center for moms in poverty where I volunteer. Some of our clients are facing the burden of an unexpected pregnancy. Some of them have only a few hundred dollars every month to feed a family of four. Some can't get a job.
Just down the street from us, the Maria House shelters women from abusive situations.
Last week, a colleague of mine lost a close friend and mentor late last week.
Last week, one of my students returned home to be with a deathly ill family member.
A few days ago, an elderly relative of mine had emergency heart surgery.
My point is, all around us real people are facing real troubles. Do we pay attention? Or can we not hear their cries, drowned out by the media hubbub of Hoffman's death?
Henri Nouwen, a world-renowned theologian and lecturer, lived out his final years caring for a mentally- and physically-disabled man named Adam. Adam was not famous; he was not rich. Yet in caring for Adam, Nouwen exemplified Christ. To Adam, Nouwen's caring hands were the hands of Christ, and Nouwen's love was the love of Christ, which reaches from heaven to the very humblest of earth's creatures.
Our Lord was not born in a palace, but a stable; he did not call the wealthy to himself, but the impoverished; he did not choose the Pharisees for his disciples, but uneducated fishermen. St Paul wrote that the very thing which believers were called to do was remember the poor.
Do we really remember the poor? Do we pay any attention to suffering, make any effort to relive it? Or do we only pull our heads out of the sand when the person who is suffering was wealthy?
To our shame, I think we have forgotten the poor. This is to my shame, as well: to my shame that I get more upset when I am stuck behind a slow car on the way to work than when one of my students is hurting, more concerned about how icy weather will affect my heating bill than about the people who are cold and hungry and homeless this winter. I do not write this as someone who has caring for the poor mastered, only as someone who is frustrated by our failure - by my failure - to care for the real poor.
Let us mourn Hoffman, by all means.
But let those of us who are Christians remember that he was rich and powerful, and that around us there are those who are poor, who are marginalized, who are powerless, and that it is these people who desperately need us to bear the light of Christ for them.