Dear Friends and Family,
People often ask me what I do. I usually give a weak answer instead of being gutsy and saying “I’m trying to imitate Jesus.” So what does Jesus do? Jesus is a carpenter and “the savior of the world.” (Jn 4:42) He saves the world through love.
Saving the world with love is different than saving the world with science or with stuff. Jesus could have arrived with a heavenly dump truck full of things. Instead, He arrived as an infant, and He left us still wanting and working on our problems.
There is a Christian principle called “subsidiarity.” The idea is that people should do what they can for themselves, and if you take away their responsibilities by doing too many things for them, you hurt them. Nevertheless, not everyone is able to manage all of their needs and responsibilities. Mental illness, misfortune, temptation, and injustice can interfere with someone doing what they need to do. In addition, people can find themselves in a hole too deep to climb out of alone. When someone can’t fulfill their responsibilities or they have gotten into a deep hole, friendship and love is Jesus’ response – the Christian response.
Everyone needs love, and no one can make or earn love for themselves. Love must be given and received as a gift. The poor and the wealthy alike need love, and the needs of the poor and the blessings of the wealthy create an opportunity for authentic love. Realizing this opportunity is the work of A Simple House.
The Jackson family is poor. They are six adults and ten children living in a three bedroom house. They recently moved into the house by pushing a shopping cart and a broken SUV from their old house. After they arrived, they discovered a gas leak. The landlord did not fix the leak, and they had to turn off the gas. Without gas, they shower with cold water, and they use the oven and space heaters for heat. This inefficient heat made the electric bill sky high. When they gave a relative money to pay the bill, he took the money and moved out.
The leader of the house is a grandmother in her forties. She asked us to help them find a new place to live. When we arrived to help the grandmother, her brother was burning sticks and leaves in a grill to cook a warm meal.
As we visited houses with the grandmother and her daughters, they received a call from home. A water pipe had burst in the basement. To make matters worse, someone broke into our car and stole one of their purses. The woman lost her ID, seven children’s social security cards, and a food stamp card. Despite the catastrophic day, the three women were in surprisingly good spirits. We did not fulfill all of their needs, but they were thankful and upbeat about the help and friendship.
When we left them that night, I thought that some of the people staying in the house would go somewhere else for the night. Despite the conditions, no one left. They had nowhere else to go.
Some days the members of the Jackson family seem like victims, other days they seem to be at fault, and most days they seem like survivors. The truth includes all of these things. The real issue is not how to assign credit or blame (that is a judgment for God), the real issue is how to love.
Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, Love in Truth, is a play on the biblical words “truth in love.” (Eph 4:15) Loving the poor, and even our family, in truth means not being guided by oversimplifications. A simplification like “the poor are always victims” is abused to create an emotional response, and “the poor are always at fault” is abused to excuse inaction. Neither of these approaches give dignity to the poor. Loving in truth means asking the straightforward question, “What is the best way to help?”
The Jackson family’s situation sounds like a problem that needs a lot of money to solve, but I don’t think this is the case. The Jackson family needs someone to work with them, give them rides, love them, fix a few emergencies, and shield the children from some of the harm. We want to move them into a new home by Christmas. We also want to make sure that the children have shoes, coats, food, and indestructible toys for a happy Christmas. Your generosity makes this possible. Ms. Jackson and all of us owe you a tremendous thank you.
Before the Christmas season is over, you will hear at least a dozen rants about how consumerism is ruining Christmas and how stuff gets in the way of “the Christmas spirit.” All of this talk puts presents at odds with love.
Presents are supposed to embody love. I love getting and giving presents! I think that is part of the reason God made A Simple House. He gave me a job where I get to give a lot of presents. A Simple House is trying to give Christmas presents to 182 children and Christmas baskets to 250 needy families. We need help to make this possible.
Thank You and Merry Christmas,
Clark Massey with full-time volunteers Sylvia Artiles, Laura Cartagena, Erin Fortenberry, Ryan Hehman, Danielle Howard, Bianca Tropeano, and Sarah Wishall.