Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

in god we trust

Jonathan Kozol, in Ordinary Resurrections, describes his visits to the afterschool program at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Mott Haven in the South Bronx. The book focuses on the lives of a group of grade-school children who, because of the neighborhood where they were born, will not have the same opportunities many Americans take for granted. Toward the end of the book, Kozol reflects how his own father had a life-changing experience when traveling through Europe one summer during his college years. Kozol's father, who had already been accepted to Harvard Law School, met some prominent physicians in Europe and decided on a medical career instead.

Kozol then reflects on how he would like for some of the Mott Haven children to have the same opportunities, and how he is unable to even discuss such an idea with those who work with the kids every day:

Reasonable people might observe that scarcely more than 10 percent of children from Mott Haven even graduate from many of the local high schools with degrees that could enable them to enter any four-year college and that very, very few of these survivors could conceivably get into colleges like Harvard, let alone go on to Harvard Law School. Hypothesizing aspirations for these children from my father's life, or from my own, therefore, seems utterly romantic to some people. Even some black and Hispanic educators whom I've known for years just smile at me when I say things of this sort. They put their hand quite firmly on my elbow, as if they're affectionately checking on my mental health, and look me in the eyes and tell me that I'm dreaming.

"These children are not going to be lawyers and psychiatrists," I'm told. "They'll be very lucky to get jobs as medical assistants or as sanitation workers with a union and some good health benefits." (Yes: Black and Hispanic educators do say things like this to me, and not only political conservatives, but lifelong activists and intellectuals who have the deepest loyalties to inner-city kids but also know the outer limits of the possible or what they view, at least, as outer limits.) Several of the inner-city school officials who are close to me politically, and personally, have told me nonetheless that they regard it as unrealistic, even overreaching, when they see me juxtaposing aspirations and ideals from regions of experience that seem to come out of two different worlds.

Statistically speaking, those kids have a better chance of going to prison than graduating from high school. They don't have enough adult role models to help them make wise choices. While St. Ann's and other churches do everything they can to help, they only have the resources to help a few kids, and even those kids face strong pressures from other influences.

* * *

Those are the sort of images that come to my mind whenever I hear impassioned pleas about keeping the words In God We Trust on American currency, or similar such displays of public piety. In truth, if the United States were a nation that did trust in God, we would not be a nation that turns its back on its most vulnerable children. If we were "one nation, under God," as the Pledge of Allegiance so blithely states, we would not be a nation where one's opportunities are largely determined by the place of one's birth.

While some TV preachers are pressing to have the United States officially labeled a "Christian nation," as if the measure of a nation's faithfulness is in the appearance of its currency, children are dying. Does that make any sense at all?

If one of the Old Testament prophets could be dropped into 21st century America, he would be outraged at the superficiality of what passes for faith in this country. Outraged, but not surprised. We're not so much different from the people the prophets were first sent to:

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without revelation.

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

God doesn't care what is engraved on our coins, not if our hearts are callous toward injustice.


At 2/16/2006 12:43 PM, Blogger Andy said...

May I add...

Jeremiah 22:13-16
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages; who says, 'I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms,' and cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion. Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the LORD.

Good post.

At 2/20/2006 9:07 AM, Blogger Gerry said...

Thanks for your post from Kozol. He and I shared a hour-long 700 Club special on the homeless years ago, and he is a dear man who cares intensely about children and all our disadvantaged.

He and I agree that something has to be done, but part company on what should be done and how.

He responds to what he sees in the schools - as I do.

But I focus more on what WORKS in helping the poor, and what does not - based on my 18 years of experience in starting and running 2 large homeless shelters - 65-75% success rates - plus a charity to help people exit welfare - 76% success rate. Altogether, we helped over 5000 poor people move up.

Results are what count, especially when you are poor. There are ways to "help" the poor that actually harm them instead! Ways that make no difference at all. Then there are ways that help them move up. Which should we use?

If all we care about is ourselves - simply feeling we are doing something - then we will not trouble to do what truly helps them. If who we care about is them, we will use ONLY what helps them.

You might want to see how. I wrote a book about it. It is posted at and can be read for free. (listed on left side by individual chapters.)

Bless you for caring.


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