Saturday, August 30, 2008

God of the Forgotten

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
Luke 1:26-27
I've been thinking a good deal lately about groups of forgotten people. In particular, I've thought of a neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia and an island in Alaska.

The Philly neighborhood is one row of houses on one side of one block of one street. It's nearly surrounded by commercial establishments like car dealerships and the like, and it borders Kensington Avenue, which is a major commercial strip. Every four minutes the Market-Frankford El goes past overhead. Many of the people who live there are related, and in the past even more were.

About twelve years ago, prostitutes moved into the area. It makes sense that they would because, as I said, not many people live there. There isn't a whole lot the residents can do, other than call the police and hope they come. Their biggest concerns are for their children, and not just that they are exposed to such things at a young age; the prostitutes' used drug needles litter the sidewalks and the overgrown grass.

As powerless as the residents may be to drive this blight from their midst, the prostitutes for their part seem rather powerless themselves. Young prostitutes are too young - 15, 16 - and look a grotesque parody of little girls playing dress-up. Old prostitutes look too old. The memory of one limping past to take respite in her car without a license plate is particularly striking.

Angoon, Alaska is home to 500 or so Tlingit (pronounced Klinkit) Native Americans. The island has one gas station and one store, and approximately 25 people actually have jobs. The rest live off of two sources: money every month from the U.S. government, and an incredible abundance of marine life.

I don't know the history behind the money from the government, but I wonder at its purpose. What is it, hush money? It reminds me of a tagline from a game I used to play: "Sorry we shelled your village. Here's some gold."*

As often occurs among Native Americans and among people with little to do in general, alcoholism and drug addiction are dominant forces on the island.

I can't but wonder if "forgotten" people like these two groups actually outnumber the "remembered." How many suffer and no one knows of them, let alone cares? We are people who exalt the exalted, and humble the humbled.

And so, I think it not insignificant that Jesus was born to parents from Nazareth of Galilee. To get an idea of a modern day equivalent, imagine something like Hicktown, West Virginia. A small town in an insignificant region.

God remembers forgotten people all through the first chapter of Luke. All who are mentioned - an old priest, his barren wife, a young girl - receive enormous blessing, their prayers heard (v. 13), their reproach taken away (v. 25), and their lowly state regarded (v. 48). They were each in time filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 67, 41, 35) and received advance notice of the amazing work that Mary's baby would do (v. 69, 43, 32).

God remembers forgotten people today. He sends his people to them and stirs them to love them as he does. If this were not so, I would know of none of the things about which I write today.

I pray that the God of Nazareth in Luke would show himself more to be the God of Kensington and the God of Angoon in 2008. As he did then, I pray he would send his angels and his saints to prepare the way of the Lord.

Don't give up now.
A break in the clouds -
We will be found.

Rescue is coming.
Rescue is coming.

-David Crowder Band

*Wow, I was more right than I thought. From wikipedia:

In 1882, a whaling vessel's harpoon charge accidentally misfired and exploded, killing a crewmember who was a Tlingit shaman, or medicine man. Villagers demanded payment of 200 blankets to the man's family, as was customary. The Northwest Trading Company sought help from the United States Navy at Sitka. Angoon and a nearby summer camp were shelled and destroyed by the Navy Cutter U.S.S. Corwin.


In 1973, Angoon won a U. S. $90,000 settlement from the United States Government for the 1882 bombardment.

1 comment:

Sarah S said...

this is really interesting. Especially the story about the $90,000 settlement.