Recently, I went into my little kitchen to get my two cats, Solomon and Luna, a little treat. Luna had been lounging on one of the two cat towers that are stationed near windows in the downstairs floor of my home. This seemingly innocuous action, of me opening a cabinet door, set off a chain of events that left my kitchen a huge, wet mess in next to no time. In short, chaos ensued.
When Luna saw me approach and open the cabinet where the cat treats are kept, she jumped from the tower onto the dining room table. Luna landed on one of the place mats. Because physics is a thing (I know two people with PhDs in physics and they assure me its true) when she hit the red braided cloth place mat, her momentum carried her forward. This momentum propelled her into my blue tooth speaker which I use to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and Spotify playlists all on my phone. The speaker then slid off of the table and onto the hardwood floor below while papers that had been piled on the table also scattered into the air adding to the growing miniature maelstrom. The speaker’s impact on the floor resounded with a bang which caused Solomon, who was standing along side me in the kitchen, to instantaneously leap from the floor onto the kitchen cabinet next to the sink. Unfortunately, he happened to have a near-perfect impact on the pitcher of filtered water that is always next to the sink.
The pitcher was completely full so the spillage had maximum flood impact. Not only did the water spill, but some dirty dishes also got knocked around when Solomon landed, causing him to well and truly SPAZ out on the cabinet. He spun around to escape the water, knocking over the spice rack, and then leaped over the line of Mason jars that I have lined up above my stove. He hit the large jar of quinoa sending it crashing to the floor. In less than 15 seconds, my entire kitchen was a small scale disaster. Almost half a gallon of water had spilled and was flowing all down the cabinet, behind the stove, and running onto the floor below. The counter was covered in spice jars, dirty glasses, a sopping wet dish rag soaked by the upturned pitcher, and various other kitchen elements laid ruin by a googly-eyed, total spaztasic dork of a cat. None of it would have happened had I not walked into the kitchen and spontaneously decided to give my cute little kitties a treat. Yet, saying that the ensuing feline induced mini-quake in my kitchen was my fault seems a bit of a stretch given the entire context of the story. Yet, we often blame or judge harshly people for the situations they find themselves in without knowing anything at all about their circumstances.
What does any of that have to do with poverty? There are places within the canon of Biblical scripture that indicate that situations such as being in poverty, or experiencing an illness is brought on by being out of favor with God because of sin or moral failing. People with an authoritarian, fundamentalist bent seem to subscribe to this reading more readily than others. To be sure, people can make decisions that do not enhance their long term quality of life, but even those people do not make those decisions in isolation. There are often extenuating circumstances, some sort of chaos that is NOT of the person’s own making, that leads to people making bad choices such as those outlined in Proverbs 23:21 and 28:19. In the Gospels, Jesus overturns the notions some of his listeners held about a person’s station in life. God causes the rain (a tremendous blessing in an arid land where agricultural success ensured prosperity ) to fall on both the righteous and the unjust in Matthew 5:45. In John 9:2, he tells those who questioned him about whose sin caused a man to be born blind that it was not sin at all that caused the blindness, rather in this particular case it was so God’s work could be made known. Then even more so than now, a disability was often a sentence to abject poverty. The Book of Job in contrast to some passages in Proverbs, sees poverty stemming from exploitation from those in power. (1) These days that assessment is definitely true.
Chaos. We live in a globalized system of capitalist exploitation. Politicians and business leaders collude together to keep wages low in already impoverished places where many consumer goods are made, keeping sweatshops in business. Even in places like the U.S. where those goods are being sold, there are too many people who are working for far less than a living wage. People caught in a cycle of poverty can sometimes extricate themselves by working hard, studying, scrimping and saving, and eventually emerging with an education that may lead to a well paying job. Far too often though the reality is that conditions are so abysmal, so monumentally overwhelming, that mere survival is the goal. Any little moment of pleasure, whether healthy or not, that can provide even a respite from the crushing nature of abject poverty, hopelessness, and despair is welcomed as Orwell often pointed out in his writings. These situations can happen in urban American environments, remote villages in Central America, and ancient towns and cities in the Middle East. It can happen anywhere in a globalized world.
Chaos. It happens when Congress votes to raise their wages but consistently drags their collective feet or intentionally prevents legislation being passed that would guarantee a living wage for everyone regardless of how “menial” their livelihood. It happens when governments intervene in the electoral politics of other nations to prevent social, economic, and environmental reforms from taking place that would jeopardize some company’s profit margin or some nation’s strategic and economic dominance. It happens when militaries from powerful nations send troops into occupy nations full of brown or black people, and employ weapons of mass destruction to destroy infrastructure and all means of living a normal life.
Chaos. It happens when preachers pervert the Good News and sell the spurious anti-Gospel known as the Prosperity Gospel. These charlatans highlight certain verses that have been utterly divorced from their original context and twist their meanings to meet selfish consumer-based, materialistic ends. This perfidious, demonically malodorous, theologically and intellectually bankrupt school of thought completely ignores the myriad places in the Biblical texts where there are warnings against unjust treatment of the poor and marginalized, it ignores the perverse disparity in wealth between mostly white people in the wealthy nations where it spawned, and proclaims that the sole reasons that people are in poverty are personal choices and not “naming and claiming it.” (2) It says, you poor indigenous people in Guatemala, whose lives have been turned upside down by U.S. meddling that has lead to millions of dead and disappeared, you are poor not for those listed reasons, but because you are not praying right, you are not believing in your wealth. It is completely, absolutely, and totally, false. It is a movement of the satan. Poverty is persistent because of greed, lack of compassion, and systemic oppression. Poverty is intersectional, crossing many lines of race, class, level of education, and other aspects of one’s social location.
In America, being poor is incredibly expensive. (3) It is often a result of layers of systemic economic and race based oppression. By and large though, Americans are among the richest on Earth. (4) We as Americans consumer far more than our fair share of resources, which keeps people elsewhere in poverty. Remember that the next time someone blames the poor in your hearing. Remember that the next time an old, now known to be false belief, about the poor comes into your head. Remember that the next time some rich politician tells you a lie about how living wages and health care for all will kill the economy. Remember that the next time a president tells the nation that we have to go bomb yet another country (like we’re helping Saudi Arabia do to Yemen right now). Remember and then do something about it. As Americans, we have the potential to do enormous good locally and globally. To do so is to further the Kindom.
(1) Poverty in the Hebrew Bible
(2) Prosperity Gospel Bullshit
(3) Evicted by Matthew Desmond
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