On being poor.

August 11th, 2006

Good fortune allows me and my family to live in a comfortable little house in a quiet, safe neighborhood. My children attend good schools that stimulate and interest them. While none of my paying work is especially lucrative, I have more jobs than I can do, and the door seems to be always open for more. I am grateful for this abundance.

It can be easy to forget that a lot of folks face poverty that puts them many rungs below my level of comfort every day of their lives. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck for long stretches, and I know what it’s like to look at your bank balance and wonder how there can’t be enough to cover all of the bills fully this month. But I’ve never been poor.

This compelling statement by a formerly poor single mother moved me. Too many of our political debates forget that there are decent, hard-working people like this who face long odds and try to make the best of it each day despite those odds. These are not slackers or layabouts — they’re just poor. As the writer says, “I think its time I wrote another round of letters to my elected officials, to remind them that being poor isn’t a character flaw.” Give this a read and re-think what you do — and what you could do — to improve the lot of the working poor.

(Tip of the hat to John Scalzi, who’s “Being Poor” remains one of the most searing things I’ve ever read on the subject.)

I seldom quote the Bible here, but it is worth remembering that it refers to the poor constantly, and it never says to revile them. E.g.,

“. . . for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

“Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

For another perspective on this, see Prof. Randall Balmer’s recent essay, “Jesus Is Not a Republican”. (“The Bible contains something like 2,000 references to the poor and the believer’s responsibility for the poor. Sadly, that obligation seems not to have trickled down into public policy. . . .”)

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