Thursday, September 16, 2010

Subverting poverty through sharing

The Chicago Tribune just released an article revealing that 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that this is the case for such an "affluent country," and I do agree that sometimes as Americans we throw pity parties for ourselves about being so poor. Many of us don't actually know what it means to be poor - especially if you've been to some really poor countries. But at the same time, I don't think there are enough Americans out there who realize just how poor some of our pockets of America are. Not just that, but how close poverty actually is to us.  That may be something that is surprising to people, and it may also be something that many of us ignore. But that is the exact reality that I hope people would begin to recognize.  Namely, that poverty is much closer to us than we think. That would include poverty being close in proximity (where you live) and relationship (who you know), but also experience (you!).

I'm always floored by people I meet in our Fresh Market Food pantry who would never have thought to find themselves being jobless and unable to buy groceries, and here they are in a food pantry, painfully and pridefully holding back tears of embarrassment and insecurity.  But the thing is, you never know how close poverty is to you.  In this sense, life is very delicate.  And for some people, also despairing and absurd.

What is just as tragic, though, about poverty, is that it just seems like our quality of life and the scope of our service to others depends so much on the economy.  Meaning, it's as if a good economy means we'll be happy and that we can do good things in the world, but a bad economy terrifies us and we restrict the good we do in the world. In the back of my mind, coming from a non-profit/ministry environment, I guess I'm thinking about how sad it is that so many good ministries and non-profit programs (for the poor!) have had to close down because of the economy.  And it seems like we base our entire lives on financial stability. And that our quality of life and our benevolence are directly proportionate to the state of the economy. Granted, while I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I realize that I have never been that poor, nor have I been laid off from a job, so I say this, as Arloa Sutter would say, with my hand over my mouth. But I just feel like that quality of life:quality of economy proportion is false - that the economy shouldn't paralzye us from living joyfully, and should not determine our ability to keep doing good. 

And it makes me wonder - "Can simple sharing subvert poverty?"

I think the right thing to do to for some immediate poverty relief is not just rely on the government to create programs to stimulate the economy or to increase public welfare programs, but for neighbors, friends and family members to do little things like sharing to subvert the realities of poverty. It's not a democratic or republican issue - at the root I think it's a sharing issue.

When someone you know needs to pay for school, but will need to take out a loan and live in debt to do it - can you help them out? When someone's car breaks down and they can't afford the costs - how can you come alongside of them? When someone needs to work two jobs and still pay for day care - will you be there for them? I can go on.  But what if you become that person in need? Will you let someone help you?

Unfortunately, two things happen that should never happen in a place where they should never happen. In a church, 1) people are too prideful to admit that they have hit rough times - it's that good old American can-do spirit, and 2) there are people who do actually request prayers to others for God to meet tough financial needs, and friends will pray sincerely, but they will not answer that prayer by simply sharing.

So that above-mentioned economic paralysis confronts and threatens sharing in two corresponding ways: 1) Someone who newly experiences poverty is usually ashamed to receive help - so it's hard for them to accept it. 2) People who are not poor (or people who are in a position to help) are often either blind to those in need, or become too tight-fisted (because of money being tight) to help others in need.  So no one gets help.

I know povety is a big issue that needs to be resolved in a multifaceted way. And I know that organizations need money to keep their programs open. But I wonder what difference it would make if we, the regular Joes and Janes, just had a posture to share - just like they did in the old days. (They did that in the old days, right?). Because a posture to share is a currency that we can always control.  Aside from well advised economic development and policies, which are needed, average people like you and me can still make a powerful impact through a simple gesture and posture.

Jesus told his followers, "you will always have the poor among you."  But Jesus also would have said that not everybody is poor. Meaning, there are always going to be people who have and who do not have.  And sometimes those nearest to you are the ones who become poor. And sometimes the one who becomes poor is you.  So what role will sharing play in your life when poverty comes a knocking?

On my way out of here, I will speak to both crowds:
1. If you're in tough times, bon't be ashamed to let someone else share with you, especially from people who are near to you. It's a spiritual practice that helps them draw nearer to God and become a better human being in His image. helps you. So stop being stubborn!
2. If you're in a stable economic situation, Be prepared and willing to share with those in need, especially those who are near, in whatever way you can.  God has given to you freely, so you should freely give,'s not yours anyway. So stop being stingy!

I think it's that simple.

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