So - I am wondering something. Did you believe the story that swept through Facebook recently about a little girl who was severely mauled by her grandfather’s pit-bulls? As the story went, according to her grandmother, she took the child to a local KFC and they were asked to leave because the child’s disfigured face was “scaring the customers”. An aunt put the story on a Facebook page and, of course it went viral, and there was an outcry against such cruelty and an outpouring of money from people all over the country, and even outside the country. The last I heard, the family had received $135,000 in donations. Well, apparently it was some kind of media stunt as an investigation was launched and the whole story unraveled - the grandmother and child never even ate at a KFC that day.
I didn’t believe it the moment I read it.
I refused to believe people would be so cruel and callous. Seriously, who would do that to a little child? Of course it would be outrageous and wrong - so outrageous and wrong I thought it was a ploy. I think we are far too easily manipulated by media. It was bad enough in the past when the “professionals” - journalists and reporters - were the only individuals spreading information. Now, armed with a little knowledge and a Facebook page - all sorts of things can be shared. And sometimes it seems to me we are too quick to jump on the bandwagon if the purpose is to vilify a person or a group of people. What ever happened to giving our fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt?
I have encountered a lot of people who have very firm beliefs about poverty - and they perpetuate them when they talk to me. Some insist there are no people living in poverty in the local area. I have been told repeatedly I should take my truck to Flint or Detroit. I had a conversation with a gentleman recently who was actually a person who was willing to admit his ignorance and was curious to find out more. He truly believed there was no poverty in the community. I pointed out that many people seem to think that - but it is important to open our eyes and look around us. Sometimes we need to step outside our own comfort zones to see the real world. It’s out there. I was one of those invisible people living it. Those who deny its existence are contributors to the reason it is hidden; people in this area are often shamed into silence about their struggles.
There are also some very annoying perceptions among people in which they lump every individual who lives in poverty into the same category. I get so sick of people who talk as if every single person who lives in poverty is living some sort of great life off the hard work and sweat of everyone else. Yes, they sometimes have cell phones, and yes, they sometimes have large TVs. Did you ever think about why? We live in a culture where people are indoctrinated to believe THINGS are the answer to life’s problems. We find some materialistic comfort in possessions - but, even for those who can afford the credit to buy them, they only offer temporary peace of mind. Why would somebody who lives below the poverty level believe any differently - or desire less of the materialistic diet this entire society is spoon fed?
There is also an assumption people who live in poverty don’t work. I am finding most of the people I encounter do work. I have held a job since I was fifteen and a half years old. Quite often I have worked two jobs at the same time. I NEVER expected I would find myself with ten dollars in my checking account, nothing in my wallet, and nowhere to live. The problem is life is very expensive, and even making a few dollars more than minimum wage does not bring in enough income to support a family. I have actually encountered some individuals who don’t work - and often they tell me they want to work, but they can’t find jobs. Well, with a Master’s degree and a diverse amount of experience I couldn't find work for a long time, so I totally understand.
I do know there are some who don’t work, and don’t appear to be trying hard to find work. It would be easier to make an indignant judgment about them and assume they are not working because basically they are lazy, rather than to try to dig a bit deeper into their lives to find out why. And the why can be very enlightening. There are people who don’t know any different lifestyle. A lifestyle of poverty and looking for a free ride is all they have known, all they were raised to believe they are worth. They have little or no self-esteem, and often little or no education. And if you dig even deeper I think you will find there is a lot of fear. As ugly and uncomfortable as our comfort zones might be - they are still our comfort zones and the familiar feels much safer than stepping into the uncomfortable and unfamiliar world where we might fall flat on our faces, and where, frankly we don't feel like we belong, anyway.
Then there are those who don’t work and know they should, but they tend to sabotage themselves. We need to ask why that is happening. Clearly you don’t think much of yourself if you continually make yourself fail. And what about those who think everyone else owes them? Somehow they have gotten into a mental state where every hurt and offense of their lives must somehow be paid back by society. What events brought them to that place? We aren't born with opinions and self-perceptions - they are formed as we grow and develop and are hurt and affected by life. Another group of people I have met are those who live in poverty and just seem to have given up on ever getting out. They are grimly resigned to knowing they hold a low place in society, and their pride is long ago forgotten, if they ever had any in the first place.
As I dig deeper into people’s lives I learn more about humanity and human nature than I ever realized was there. Life is not simple. My calling as a Christian is not to stand around and point the finger and judge and then move on. That attitude changes nothing, uplifts no one, and fails to glorify God. It would certainly be easier not to get involved so deeply into other people’s pain. It would be easier to look at what they have or don’t have and make a judgment about why they are where they are at, and comfort myself by throwing a few dollars at someone else who might be trying to help. Or to make a blanket judgment on them all and announce it loudly on Facebook so the whole world knows this Christian works hard and isn't going to support the freeloaders, by golly! Then I could move on, circulating through my Christian circles and thanking God I am not those people. But that doesn't work for me - and I think we are on a very slippery slope willingly jumping on such a callous bandwagon.
The problem, you see, is I am called to love. I am called to understand. I am called to compassion. I am called to care. And I am called to serve. There is a very scary passage in the Bible - it is found in Matthew 7:21-24:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!
Matthew 25 talks about people being separated as they are ready to enter heaven - and one group is commended for caring for others, while the other is separated out for ignoring the needs of those around them - and Jesus says they don't make it. I don’t think we can dream up enough Christian programs or teach enough Sunday School classes or lead enough Bible studies or go to enough church services or read enough of our Bible or pray enough to make up for judging those who are hurting, and excusing ourselves from helping. It seems like heaven will be full of surprises. Matthew 7:21-24 is not one I hope to encounter.