Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How far removed from poverty are we?

When was the last time you…

• Didn’t have a hat, coat or gloves to wear on a cold winter day?
• Worried about your electric being shut off before your next paycheck?
• Sent your child to school in the same clothes as the day before, without changing him or washing even his face?
• Stole something and sold it so you could buy food?
• Relied solely on walking, public transportation, or the chance kindness of others in order to get to and from work every day?
• Went to the Emergency Room (instead of the doctor) because you don’t have insurance, and yet couldn’t pay the bill?
• Were evicted?
• Didn’t have a phone number or mailing address where someone could reach you? (Which is usually essential for getting hired at a job.)
• Dug through a dumpster behind the local grocery store?
• Slept in your car… by necessity, not by choice?
• Got a paycheck-advance loan?
• Couldn’t afford Christmas presents for your family?

If you’re like me, your answer to every one was probably “never.” But how would any number of those things be different if you…

• Grew up without a father, or mother, or both?
• Were illiterate?
• Couldn’t speak the dominant language of the culture in which you live?
• Had a spouse that left you?
• Became disabled?
• Had a child who was disabled?
• Never finished high school?
• Became a single parent as a teenager?
• Didn’t have any surviving family members?
• Were the victim of abuse or neglect?
• Were the victim of fraud or theft?
• Had severe depression, or some other psychological disorder?
• Had a substance-abuse addiction?
• Were the object of racial discrimination?

Perhaps one of these factors, or a combination of two or more, would be enough to change your life to a life of poverty, like the poverty many around us face. Or perhaps you have experienced one or some of these things, and have been or are now in some degree of poverty. Is it hard to see how those in poverty arrived there? Is it difficult to understand why they often stay there… or, are kept there?
Or does it seem like the above factors are so simple, they could easily be remedied? What would it take to rescue an orphan from poverty? Who would befriend a single parent and help him carry the burden of poverty? Why would you learn a language not your own to bridge the gap to someone else’s poverty?

When will we put a stop to inequality in the workplace so that everyone in poverty has a fair chance at getting out? How can access to education be supplied to those whose poverty is a lack of the basic tools of reading and writing? Is there hope for a depressed, schizophrenic, or addicted person to rise out of a poverty of mind?

Can we imagine an end to all kinds of poverty?

I think, not without a closer look…
a step inside… a willingness
to share in others’ poverty,
to walk with them
until we leave it all behind.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I have a sore throat, and this morning the only thing I could find to eat that "felt good" on my throat was some plain yogurt. And it was good. In fact, it tasted so good to my otherwise unwell-feeling body, that I thought: This is the best yogurt I've had in a long time. Since... and then I remembered when, a little over a year ago, I sat in a tent home in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank and ate a bowl of yogurt served by the Palestinian family that hosted us there on their native land. Since I can't eat gluten (and the best way our translator could explain that was by telling them I had a "weak stomach"), they brought me a special item with breakfast. While my friend Stephanie and our translator Jessica ate bread, I ate the most powerful, delicious, goat-milk yogurt. And I was blessed, I was nourished, by this family who let me sleep under the same roof (er, tent-flaps) as their own children and then went out of their way to feed me something I could eat. Even though we don't speak the same language. Even though they live in a remote village without electricity or plumbing (in very much the same way their ancestors have lived there for centuries) and I come from a rich, Western nation and wear pants and loose hair in the midst of their culture of more modest female dress. Even though they are Muslim and I and my fellow visitors are Christian. Even though they are struggling to keep their home and farm on their land in the midst of a terrible military occupation that my government continues to support and help finance. This family was indeed gracious in their hospitality to me. I will never forget that visit, and will always remember it as a perfect example of the kind of hospitality I want to be able to give and receive.
Walter Brueggemann puts it well, in writing about the importance of hospitality (in Sojourners magazine, May 2010, p. 48):
Perhaps the practice of hospitality is the ultimate outcome of the Easter season, when there is no fear of others, but readiness to host (see Romans 12:13)... God's readiness to take up residence in our habitat contradicts all the fearful aggressiveness of the world. The risen Christ came and said "peace" (John 14:27). Where he comes, there is peace. The news of Easter is that the enlivened Christ invites us away from the deathliness of the world, not to withdraw, but to listen and host and welcome, and so to reverse the vicious cycles that keep wounding nations, communities, and persons.