Thursday, January 23, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Book of Job

Yesterday I put up a post about it being a hard day at Faith in Action. It was. Some days are harder than others. I got a lot of comments (most on Facebook), which I really appreciate, but it's difficult for me to accept the ones that say, "You are so fantastic to be helping people!"

I am not fantastic. I know I'm not, and that's part of the reason I work at FIA, part of the reason I need to be in that ministry. It's not self-abdignation; it's reality. I live a life of ridiculous privilege, and yes, I work hard, and so does my husband, and we made a lot of good choices, but, on the other hand, we were born into situations that enabled us to reap the rewards of hard work and good choices. I will tell you now that if I'd been born in the slums of Bangladesh, I would not be typing these words on my laptop.

Sure, you say. Third-world poverty. Obviously, being born in America or Bangladesh or Norway or Ghana is just chance, what one writer calls, "the birth lottery." But, if you're born in America, you've got the same chance as anyone else, right? Isn't this the land of opportunity?

It sounds great, because then we can all take credit for our comfortable middle-class lives. I did work hard; I got good grades. I graduated from high school and got married before I became pregnant, which are two of the big things you can do to avoid poverty. And, as I've alluded to on these pages before, my childhood wasn't all a bed of roses. I had stuff to overcome. But I never in my life went hungry to bed. I never worried about becoming homeless. (There are 300 homeless schoolchildren on the Bristol, VA, side alone.) I was never forced to chose between moving out on my own at age 16 or letting my mother's current hook-up attack me (I read yesterday that children living with a mother and an unrelated man are 90 times more likely to be abused than children living with both parents.) Nobody did drugs in my house. Nobody sold drugs, or passed out on the couch, or ignored whether or not I attended school. My parents were (and are) of above-average intelligence and curiosity, in good health, and not crazy. None of these things are my doing.

Every week, I meet people who have triumphed by completing their GED, or getting a job at McDonald's, or by being able to feed their child and sent it clean and dressed to school. Every week I meet people battling far greater odds than I will likely ever face. I am humbled by their courage.

Every week I meet some batshit crazy mean liars, too. I mean, I want to keep it real. But you'd be surprised, most of you, reading this from your comfortable home, how many people really don't get much of a chance, not even here in America. How few choices some people have.

I'm not doing anything profound. I'm listening. I'm trying. But I fall very short, and I'm not saying this to get anyone to disagree with me. I read a book recently about the genetic origins of human morality. It pointed out that most of us would ruin a pair of expensive leather shoes to wade into a pond and save a child from death by drowning, and yet most of us would not forgo buying those shoes in order to donate the money to save a child from starving. And yet, from a philosophical point of view, the two situations--no shoes, a child saved from death--are equalt.

I have so many pairs of shoes.

I wanted to comment on my friend Mark's comments to yesterday's post. It's always great to think out of the box and I always would love to hear suggestions from anyone. As far as installing solar panels to help with the elderly person's electricity--since they live in an apartment, I don't think it would be possible. For the dying couple, we are trying to make sure that custody for the children is arranged, and we want to start a relationship with whoever will have custody, so that we can keep an eye on the kids (FIA is soon to be hiring a social worker so that we can develop more relational care for some of our clients.) In the meantime, we hired a client who wants more housecleaning work to go clean the house of the dying couple, because the woman is so ashamed of not being able to keep it nice. That's not the sort of thing we usually do, but it felt right to us.

Some clients really do only need a check--if we can pay the light bill the month they have to buy new brakes for their car, that's great. But some need more, and some we might be able to help become self-sufficient. Some, we might be able to give hope. That, believe me, would be worth the shoes.