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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Poor and Politics



I don't love politics.  I don't love national politics.  I certainly don't love church politics.  However, it is hard (and probably irresponsible) to ignore politics, completely, as we approach an election year, so I have somewhat lazily been observing at least bits and pieces of the presidential candidate debates, leading up to the primaries.  I would be lying if I said there are things I don't understand and, quite frankly, some things about which I do not care.  On the other hand, there are some things about which I care very deeply, and these things often come back to our treatment of the least of these (no surprise there). 

Yesterday I was thinking about this in view of systemic sin, and it occurred to me that our systems are so broken it will be difficult to find a way forward.  In fact, it will be impossible for one person... or even one group of people... or even one nation.  I was thinking about the polarizing issues that we face and how everybody thinks they're on the right side, but maybe we're all wrong.  It's heavy stuff for a Monday morning, but let me explain.

There is the far left.  At best, these people desire to care for the poor by creating government programs that meet basic needs.  We can all argue until we're blue in the face about what those needs are.  I would certainly welcome discussion on this topic.  On the surface, a community that pools its resources and meets the needs of all its members (see: early Church) looks very appealing.  Unfortunately, this philosophy is tainted by power struggles, and systems such as these often end up enslaving the poor.  I don't think we want to head down a path that leads to the kind of oppression we see in communist countries where basic needs are (in theory) met, but the people are still impoverished. 

There is the far right.  At best, these people desire to care for the poor by creating a chance for them to meet their own basic needs.  On the surface, a community that provides ample jobs and educational opportunities looks very appealing.  Unfortunately, this philosophy is tainted by power struggles, and systems such as these often end up falling short, because generosity doesn't run as deeply as we would like to believe and limited resources are often exhausted on those who already have influence.  I don't think we want to head down a path that continues to oppress the least of these by counting them out, based not on merit but on history.

In both systems, we have created a stigma regarding the poor.  I know what it feels like, firsthand, to offer up a Medicaid card and immediately be made to feel as if I am not intelligent enough to read the medical intake forms or sign for the care of my children.  Because of this, I also know what it feels like, firsthand, to just avoid going to the doctor's office, myself, even if I am really sick.  I know what it feels like to run a food stamp card and to cringe when I realize that the cashier has observed that in addition to healthy meats... and fruit... and vegetables... I also let the kids pick out candy bars at the checkout lane.  Because of this, I also know what it feels like to refuse food stamps and simply learn to make as many things out of eggs, flour, and water as possible and to say "no" to the extras.

Honestly, I am tired of hearing about how everyone who really wants a job can get one.  It's not true.  If anyone feels the need to vet how hard I've been trying for the past 3 1/2 years, be my guest.  I'm also willing to talk about the year I took a temporary overnight shift at a Target that was 2 1/2 hours away from my home and dropped my kids off at Grandma's house for 5/7 days every week, if you really want to go there.  And then there are the countless hours of volunteer work (often far more than a full time job) that I wouldn't trade for the world, because it has actually made a difference in the lives of people.  I hate putting my personal garbage out there like this, but we have to stop assuming that everyone who is struggling is lazy.  We have to stop assuming that government programming is enough.  And we have to stop assuming that there are opportunities available to everyone if they just work harder.

I don't want to live in a world where we have to "steal" from the rich to give to the poor.  I also don't want to live in a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and everybody feels like that's OK, because you deserve whatever you get.  So, how about generosity?  I'm not going to stand here and pat myself on the back, because I'm probably not nearly as generous as I should be, but what if we all gave, not only out of our excess but out of our deficit?  What if we gave generously, not because we were forced to do so, but simply because it is the right thing to do?  What if we stopped talking about it and actually did it?  Because honestly, I am tired of talking about the same things over and over and over again. 

Be the change...  Gandhi...  That'll probably go over well...

L.

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