pawn shops, empty refrigerators & the long hill up

pawn shops empty refridgerators and the long hill up* this post is part of the february 2012 synchroblog on economic inequality.  i originally wrote it in 2008 but right now i am out of town with no internet, so i thought i’d share it again with a few small tweaks.  it might not fit exactly with the theme but i hope it points to what i think will bridge the gap more than any other strategy–relationship.  other bloggers are writing on this topic today, too.  when i get back i’ll include the link list or you can get it at the synchroblog site

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when our refrigerator is empty, i go to the costco and buy what we need.  when my gas tank is empty, i drive down the street, swipe my card and fill up my gas tank.  sure, times are tight and we pinch pennies now almost as much as we did when we first were married.  but our reality is this:  because of education & circumstance & all kinds of things, we will most likely never live in poverty in the US.

today’s synchroblog is focused on economic inequality & it’s implications. poverty has always been a very real issue, but with continued economic shifts, it’s a lot more real for many people.   poverty. when you think of poverty, what do you think of? my first thought used to only be africa, asia, people who live on the streets or in the projects of our major cities.  i mainly associated poverty with the poorest of the poor.  while that is so troubling & so true, i thought i’d share about what is most in my face in the moment:  domestic poverty in the suburbs.  single mommies & families living in average apartments and condos and houses in foreclosure.  friends on disability & medicaid & food stamps who scrape by month after month with empty refrigerators & trips to pawn shops to try to make ends meet. it’s called relative poverty, but the bottom line is:  they just aren’t making ends meet & no relief’s in sight.

statistic after statistic will confirm that millions and millions of people around the world are dying every day from the lack of food, water, shelter, and adequate health care.  these deaths are preventable.  there’s enough resource in the world to meet their needs, but the resources are not adequately distributed. this is why i am so thankful for the thousands of men & women who have dedicated their lives to fighting for better systems & structures & care for the poor around the world.  as christ-followers, we cannot escape the many scriptures that point us to caring for the poor.  i love that there seems to be a bit of a re-vival within “the church” right now to become more missional, to quit being so self-focused and start caring for others around the world and in our own backyard with resources & help. at the same time, we have a long, long way to go.  resources are wasted on the dumbest of things while our neighbors are grasping for a glimpse of relief.

in the world i live in–when it comes to poverty in the ‘burbs–it’s not necessarily a matter of life and death.  most of my friends won’t die from living below the poverty level.  i am thankful for that, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that i can just carry on and not be concerned with their situation & trust “the government” to take care of them.  the government won’t take care of them.  sure, they try, but there’s no doubt that the government leaves many a family with an empty refrigerator & dignity stripped by the end of the month.

so what’s the solution? oh, i think it’s so complicated & clearly there are no easy answers, but i think we need to be very careful that we don’t buy into the belief that “if (they) just worked hard enough they could get ahead.” this is what i believed for many years, thinking poverty was just a bootstrap issue.  and while i do believe it can be true–that hard work can shift circumstances– i don’t think it’s a universal truth.  there are forces that are sometimes never going to change:  health issues, mental issues, generational stuff, etc., that ensure that there’s probably not going to be any lasting relief.  i have also seen the crazy cycle of people working 3 jobs to make ends meet but never being able to get ahead because of mounting health care bills & defaulted student loans & all kinds of things that mean that getting out from under appears impossible.

at the same time, i do believe that for many, the brutal hill up toward self-sufficiency is possible, if there’s proper support, care, and long haul love, a beckoning toward something more.  but that won’t happen overnight. it will take the mobilization of people who are willing to invest in relationship with someone on the journey & then be able to stay in the long haul through the ups and the downs of life change.  to access the needed resources.  to pray and cheerlead and encourage and never, ever give up on what is possible.

what it boils down to is relationship. i am idealistic enough to think that if somehow, some way, every person who lived below the poverty line had brothers & sisters in Christ to journey together with  for the long haul that over the course of time  life could be different.   hope would be more present.  the refrigerator wouldn’t be as empty.   i think it takes more finesse than we are prepared to do. it’s easy to dump clothes & food here and there, but long haul relationship among people with very different socioeconomics is tricky.  when i look at the biblical principles of community that is what i see.  a radical sharing of resource.  a crazy mix of diversity so that those who have share with those who need.  an incarnation of the life of Christ that is full of all kinds of weird sacrifices that are utterly contrary to the ways of the world.

oh i know it can all feel quite overwhelming and sometimes the overwhelmedness can make us feel guilty & paralyzed.   there are no easy answers or solutions, but sometimes when i’m stumped i default toward the path of least resistance & give up.  part of tackling poverty and bridging the gap of economic inequality is to fight against our tendency to throw in the towel and actually pick up one instead, no matter how small & inconsequential it may feel. to ask God to show us:  what are you asking me to consider, ponder, do about this issue in a very tangible way?

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ps: thanks for all the great responses to my last post–plant new trees.  i will definitely write more about it when i get back. meanwhile, rachel held evans asks some great practical questions in a follow up post called let’s plant some seeds together…

link list, other bloggers writing about economic inequality this month:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy – thanks I needed this. This issue is heavy on my heart and doing some research as I wrote my post was quite discouraging. I needed someone to tell me to hang in there – to keep fighting the good fight – to not throw in the towel. One of the tangible ways that I have felt led is to get people talking about this issue – to see the problem for what it is – to confront the reality that these extreme gaps between the poor and rich are bad for everyone.

    • oh i so get that feeling of discouragement. the stats stink, reality is brutal, the grooves of inequality so deep. God, we need your help!! thanks for organizing this one, i am looking forward to really reading through all of the posts today.

  • There will always be poverty,but as long as those with, or know about, available resources are silent, then there will never be a cure for poverty.

    • thanks for sharing. yeah, i always say “there’s enough.” because there is.

  • Um, did this come at an unusual time.

    I read this this morning. We are a family living in the suburbs and we go paycheck to paycheck and manage which bills to pay and which ones not to pay and play the juggling game.

    Well, today, I go home and the gas has been turned off. It was a bill that slipped through the crack; I really had no idea on this one. I called to get it restored and it can’t be restored till we pay the past due, the future bill that is coming out and because our credit is bad (due to million+ in med bills)and we missed the payment; our reconnect fee was $230 in addition to the two payments.

    Thankfully, I had it in the bank to cover and pay and pray other bills will not hit our account till payday. But even with paying and how busy they are, it will not be turned on today. If you drive by us, you will never know.

    So, as I was driving around this afternoon, I was wondering how many more are struggling behind their nice house closed door.

    When we lived in Wooster, a smaller, poorer, downtown community; it was expected that many that you meet go through this and I know because of being connected to them and the church office phone ringing for assistance.

    At the same time, as I read about community and the community that you describe as a biblical community; I am not sure if I could pick up the phone and call someone to help. We have a wonderful family that assists us each month already; so I know there are folks who would probably be willing to help but where to start ???

    Thus, that comes back to what got me thinking, not just about me and my family. They will bundle up tonight and all will be fine 9I hope) tomorrow. But, how do we as a church community have open, honest discussions so we know who are hurting and in a pinch and really be the body who helps.

    Well, probably was more transparent than I should have been here 🙂

    Another great article Kathy.

    • jeff, thank you so much for sharing such a real example of all of this. i think you nailed it “how do we as a church community have open, honest discussions so we know who are hurting and in a pinch and really be the body who helps.” it requires so much relationship & connection, i think the kind of Body-connection that paul talks about in the scriptures when one part hurts, we all hurt. but oh it is so much easier said than done but i believe it starts with what you said–creating safe spaces for open, honest connection with one another.

  • “if somehow, some way, every person who lived below the poverty line had brothers & sisters in Christ to journey together with for the long haul that over the course of time life could be different.”

    Yup. I was on the phone this morning with a covenant friend 200 miles away — a single mom with two boys with special needs, on a limited income which is, because of child-support, just above the limit for public assistance of any kind. I, or her church community, could just make up the difference, but that would be paternalistic — we would be putting ourselves above her. That would be charity misapplied doing more harm than good.

    What works better, I think, is that we have worked together to reduce her car payment to a third of what it was (by getting a different car), cut out the cell phone and cable completely, and found a way to use the free library programs instead of after-school day-care. I will be heading down to her place a couple times a month to teach her and her boys how to cook in ways that will cut her food budget by more than half. With all of that, she’ll make it … on her own … with a little help from her friends (cue the Beatles song).

    A sacred friendship … journeying together for the long haul. I love love love it!! Keep preaching it, Kathy. It works!

    • thanks, jim, such a beautiful example you shared. the difference between the two models is so important to notice. the first one, much easier. the second one, much better. sacred friendships bridge all kinds of gaps. thanks for reading & taking time to share!

  • “what it boils down to is relationship.”

    We’ve almost given up on giving much of anything to organizations. It is almost impossible to know if what you have given actually ends up reaching the people who need it. Often a hefty cut is used for “administration”.

    Knowing people and building relationships with them tends to give us a handle on not only their immediate needs, but also, as in Jim’s story above, ways to help that can actually be more effective long term than a quick infusion of cash or stuff. Perhaps giving someone money to pay their cable bill isn’t really much help.

    Simply throwing cash at a problem, apparently contrary to popular belief, seldom solves it. Sometimes we do it because we don’t know what else to do; sometimes because we aren’t willing (We’re too busy?) to invest in other people. Just an observation, perhaps unrelated, but I have noticed that almost everyone I know who is too busy to invest time in other people is able discuss in detail a long list of current television shows and movies and has been to Disneyland, Seaworld, Knotts Berry Farm and so on (this is Southern California) at least six times in the past year.

    • thanks, sam. you embody this so beautifully. i like what you said about time. yeah, the “too busy” card gets pulled all the time, it’s true, many of us are too busy, but like resources, there’s enough of them & enough time, too they’re just not distributed properly 🙂 plus, like so many other things we underestimate, a little goes a long way.


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