* 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:
- Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …
- Carol Kuniholm – Wondering About Wealth
- Glenn Hager – Shrinking The Gap
- Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution
- Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem
- Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses
- K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice
- Abbie Watters – My Confession
- Steve Hayes – Obscenity