Poverty is Mortifying
sneer at the poor,
useless bums who will never understand the
value of a hard day’s work.
Those lazy loafers milking the
hard-working taxpayers like
you. They’re just cheating themselves and the
government, just waiting for someone
else to do their fair share
It’s absolutely disgraceful how some of them
work themselves to the bone, yet still
have to quietly steal toilet paper from the
stalls at work
to get them through to payday.
How some of them live on peanut butter and
water after the bread
It’s horrifying how these beggars have too much
pride to beg at all,
how they silently scrape by, concealing the
indignity of being
under your dismissive middle-class
I had a completely different idea to write for this week–had it laid out on a Post-It note by my bedside, because right after the lights have gone out is when I do some of my best thinking. But God had some serious ideas for me yesterday on a number of levels–it was a bad day. It was a yelling at God, throwing metaphorical things, stomping like a fourth-grader day, a day in which I got so damn tired of this life that I’m living in without any idea of what’s next, what’s now, what’s available to me to walk the path He seems to understand but isn’t sharing.
Resources are so incredibly all-encompassing. We talk so often about the haves and the have-nots, the Occupy Wherever movements, the percentages that are no longer people but Internet-driven voices in an age when we’d rather Tweet about you than talk to you. We see the terrible commercials on TV about the children starving in other countries, and they are, and that’s horrifying, and there has to be something done about this, but other countries do not have a monopoly on the poor. There are people in this country who are doing their best to go to work every day to make nothing, to become less with each paycheck that stretches less and less, to swallow the pride that those who have never had to beg say they have too much of, say they have no right to want to shield the humanity they have left, say there is no shame in accepting handouts while this culture is created that the less are just that, the less, the voiceless, the ones who would love to be able to buy gas and bread and paper towels in the same week, the same month.
I have never been totally poor, homeless-poor, and even now I am surrounded by things. I am the under-the-poverty-line, I am the more-month-than-money, and yet I have more than three bookcases worth of books, a closet full of clothes, a CD collection lovingly built through every Christmas and birthday for a decade. What do I know? What can I ever know?
Does one have to know to understand? When the up-and-coming businessmen of the world reach into their pockets to minister to The Poor and shudder at the thought of being with Them, when the established workers who have earned their retirement cast away those who are trying to find that first opening as too lazy, too proud, too entitled to understand that you can’t start out with everything, where are the 99%? We can’t talk about fair, Interpreter always tells me, nothing is truly fair. But justice—justice is another concept all together, justice is looking at the person who can’t ask you for money because someone told her once that it would cheapen the friendship and telling her that friendship is worth more than green linen; justice is actually seeing the man who finally understood that asking the food pantry to help him just this one week isn’t making himself less than anyone but only admitting that sometimes there isn’t enough, that that is never going to be a reflection on his worth in the world, in his life, in yours.
God calls us to this kind of justice, this kind of humanity, this understanding that He never created us to be bought and sold on the market of economic opinion, of value in numbers rather than soul, of worth based on being a productive member of whatever society decides that productive must have a tangible, monetary definition. I have to believe that there will be months where the money is there, but in the meantime I have to learn that there are those around me who understand this kind of justice, and I have to learn to understand this kind of justice for myself, to myself, of myself because there are always those who are entrusted to my care, whom I see as The Poor, the less, the secondary.
God save me from my own categorizations, and show me that even two copper coins are enough, that things are never more important than the people who own them, that there has to be a moment for me to grasp the concept that poverty is mortifying because it is an outrage, not because those who are poor are embarrassing to have in a society attempting to right itself in a world that doesn’t work per its original instructions. God save me from thinking that I live in two worlds when I live in one, with one people, a people who are desperate for so much more than money, for the currency of humanity that we all so easily deny each other.
[The young man] said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:20-22, NRSV; emphasis mine)