Friday, July 24, 2015

I should have posted this on Father's Day...

Our food pantries help all kinds of families, including single parents raising children. Most of those single parents are women, but a small percentage are men. This summer we've helped two of these men, and both families were abandoned by the mothers.

The first was a father of four, with children ranging in age from eight to twelve. They were living in their car, and the father did odd jobs to earn money for gas and food. At the time they walked into our facility, the Dad had found a permanent job, and a church was providing six months of housing so he could save his money. We helped with food, clothing, and personal hygiene items. This father has a college degree, but his wife walking out was the tipping point in the family's overall well-being.

The other father was also deserted by his wife, leaving him as the sole provider and nurturer of six children. His wife had stayed home to care for the children, which meant when she left, his modest income had to be stretched to provide for child care expenses. This father also came for food and clothes, and we enrolled the children in our Back To School program.

The women and men who are single parents have it tough enough just parenting alone. Tossing in financial insecurity and spousal abandonment (as well as helping your children cope with the abandonment), seems like a heavy burden to bear.

I did not meet these men, so their stories were shared with me. When I take in all the volunteers told me, I imagine both men as quietly sad but resolute in doing right by their children. I imagine their children as adults, reflecting back, and seeing their fathers as men of steel: men who could keep the family marching forward until the road of life softened a bit. I'm glad CCSC was there for them.

Monday, July 6, 2015

This is a long one, and it ends with a Baptist and a Catholic

I was speaking to a group earlier this year, and a woman came over, introduced herself, and let me know that she regularly reads my blog and wondered why I haven’t addressed “the judgmental tendencies some Christians have with the poor”. Ouch. “Probably because I don’t want to touch that,” I thought.

But her question has stayed with me, and I understand what she’s saying. There is a view out there that says the poor have done something wrong and kind of deserve the situation they’re in.  

I’m not a researcher so I have no intention of writing a blog noting the latest research and statistics on the poor. Instead, I’d like to share what I’ve seen firsthand in 20+ years of running this ministry as well as what the Christian faith says to us about the poor.

I believe the poor are like any other group of people in that some are Type A while others are laid back; some are optimistic while others are pessimistic; some have an exceptional work ethic, often holding two or more jobs, while others will do the bare minimum to get by. Get any group of people together and there will be different traits, behaviors, and outlooks; we are all unique. So I don’t believe the poor are any more likely to take advantage of others or any less likely to work hard.

In sitting across from hundreds of clients over the years, I’ve seen everything one can imagine. I’ve seen clients cry at their life circumstances while others had a more stoic view. I’ve seen people accepting of their situation because they’re working to make things better for their children, and I’ve seen people who can’t think beyond tomorrow because the crises they’ve endured have shut down their long-term planning abilities. I’ve seen great faith in God’s love and care as well as anger at God. I’ve seen hunger, despair, gratitude and hope.

Over time, I’ve learned to resist the natural human instinct to judge, even those who are unpleasant, because I don’t know how I would react to the situations others experience. None of us know exactly what it’s like to live another person’s experience, whether that experience is positive or negative.

But more than that, I try really hard to apply the lessons of the gospel: forgiving others, giving generously without expectation of reciprocity, and not judging others, even people who are unfair to me. Let me be clear: these teachings of Jesus are difficult, and I fail much more often than I succeed, but it’s a rudder for who to be and how to be in this world. So the Gospel holds me accountable for my own behavior.

Regarding the Christian scriptures, I’m not a biblical scholar, so I reached out to some local clergy to hear their perspectives on the poor.

Reverend Clint Reiff, Senior Pastor of Rice Temple Baptist Church, says to ignore or deal unjustly with the poor is a sin. Reverend Reiff states, “It is not an option or an addition to our faith, but a command from God: it is part of His nature to love and defend the poor. When Jesus fed the five thousand, he did not question them to see if they would be his disciples, donate to the cause, or even ask the cause for their hunger. He simple extended grace in the form of food. I don’t think we should search for a reason not to help the poor, but should simply err on the side of grace.”

Reverend Reiff refers us to the following verses of scripture:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? "- 1 John 3:17

"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” - Proverbs 29:7

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” - Proverbs 31:8-9  

Catholic social teaching is clear that followers of Jesus are to care for the needy and those forgotten by the world. Father Phil Lloyd from St. Theresa Catholic Church also reminds us of how important it is to care for the poor. He lifted up this verse of scripture for reflection:”Your abundance at the present time should supply their needs. So that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”  2 Corinthians 8:14.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Are you rich in what matters?

If he were alive, today would be my father's 76th birthday. I miss him a lot, and as the years have passed, my gratitude for having him in my life has grown. He not only took care of my basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), but also encouraged me, modeled an authentic life of faith, and taught me many lessons including how to budget and save money, how to persevere when life is hard, and why good friends - and being a good friend - matter.  

I share this because most poverty experts know that escaping poverty is not solely about financial resources. It's also about having emotional and spiritual resources as well as people in your life who model good behavior, teach you life lessons, and support you unconditionally.

Conversely, there are people with lots of money, who may be poor in spirit or in friendship. Money can make life run smoothly, but it doesn't absolve you of loneliness, give you internal fortitude when times are tough, or enrich your life with faith, joy or love.

A client we helped several times over a period of years lived with fragile financial resources, but had a happy spirit and the tenacity to keep going and push her children to achieve academically. She also had a firm faith in God's daily presence in her life. She was poor in one thing - money - but wealthy in so many other ways.

Sometimes I think it's healthy to pause and account for all the non-monetary blessings in our lives and to set goals for accumulating more of these riches: patience, compassion, joy, friendship and love.