Do You Know the Poor?

Parental influence and involvement in political activities is one of the largest predictors of where their children’s vote will go.

So, this election I’ve been seriously pondering why my political tendencies are different from that of my own family. Politics were rarely brought up in my presence. In my opinion, this was great because I always relatively knew where my parents stood, but it allowed me to keep a very open mind and make a decision for myself.

I believe for most people, political preference simply comes down to personal life experience. When I think about my depression-era Grandpa who grew up in rural Iowa, a staunch Dutchman, man of God’s word, a tax accountant who had two or three kids by the time he was my age, it makes sense for him to vote Republican. When I think about my friend who is Hispanic, Catholic, left a gang when he became a dad of two, juggling a job at Wal-Mart and an auto-body shop while taking college classes to become an art teacher, I understand why he votes Democrat. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. And it’s a good thing, because America is a melting pot for a reason and we need to see things lots of different ways.

When I think about myself, I come from a conservative, hard-working, middle-class family. I chose to be a Christian and for me following Jesus meant loving the poor, homeless, orphaned, and broken. Not just sending them a check and prayers. It meant praying with them, touching them, smelling them, eating their food, sleeping on their floors, and attempting to see their life in the way Jesus so profoundly did (and I should still do a better job). And those people affected me and changed my way of thinking. I married someone who shared those thoughts, or actions. We got married young-really young. So we’re kind of broke and have had to live life in ways a lot of married couples don’t. But I’ve never been worried about being poor and desperate because we have networks. We have LOTS of family, friends, and churches that would cushion the blow if something devastating were to happen. So many people in America don’t have that. And here’s where my background and my current state divide.

I think a lot of people, perhaps some of my own family included, have a very inaccurate depiction of the poor. And this deeply, deeply saddens me.

First of all, to understand the poor, you must know the poor. If you want to talk to me about the poor I want to hear you say their names, show me their faces; tell me about their lives, and what your relationship with them has been like. Because if you’re going to tell me that volunteering to feed the homeless twice a year or donating your used clothing to a local mission is how you “know the poor” I think you have the Gospel all wrong.

If you think the majority of people on welfare abuse the system, if these people would just get jobs it would solve a lot of problems, or if you think tough love is going to change them then you don’t understand the culture of poverty. If my grandparents were poor, and my parents were poor, I’m going to be poor. And if by some miracle I make it through high school and into college and I make good money, my money goes to my family because they need help whether they’re in America or in another country.  If I have an influx of income, I spend it because it could be taken away at any moment. No one has sat me down and taught me how to save and honestly, you really can’t live off of minimum wage. Point being, if you didn’t grow up in poverty you have no way of comprehending what it is really like. I know I don’t! But I’ve tried hard to. You can get a better idea by building ACTUAL relationships with the homeless, orphaned, widowed, and disabled in your community. I promise if you do (and if you’re a Christian, you are CALLED to do this), your heart and your head might change a little or a lot.

I’m not politically savvy in the least bit and I choose to put my hope in God no matter who sits in office. I realize these conversations about poverty and politics and religion could go on for days and I really only skim the surface of a lot more I’d love to say. I understand it is not a black and white issue and am not claiming to be correct about everything. I just want to encourage people, especially my fellow Jesus-followers, to ask yourselves what your relationship with the poor looks like? Do you even have one? If you don’t, do you make judgments or have pre-conceived notions about the poor? Spend some time reading over scripture about God’s heart for justice. Justice for the physically poor, spiritually poor, homeless, widowed, orphaned, and foreigner.

Love,

Taylor

“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that wealthy Christians do not care about the poor but that wealthy Christians do not know the poor.”

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical