Walking in their Footsteps: A Call to Solidarity

(This post was originally written for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project. I highly recommend checking out their resources and learning more about how to experience and volunteer with their Poverty Immersion program.)

I’ve never personally experienced poverty. It’s an obstacle that inherently separates me from people living on the margins. I’d like to think I’m in solidarity with the poor because of the way I vote, the money I donate and the time I volunteer. I’ve built houses in Mexico, volunteered at food banks, and even served two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Romania. I’ve spoken with people living with dirt floors and tin roofs and have shared meals with families with no running water or electricity. I even work at a peace and justice non-profit organization. But I’ve never lived on the margins.

poverty-mandela

Which is why participation in the poverty simulation offered by Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry made a difference. It brought me one step closer to personally understanding the stigma, barriers, and hurdles people on the margins face on a daily basis just to have access to food, shelter and healthcare. I was reminded that our “welfare” system is a punitive one, punishing people for needing help.

I played a small part; a day care provider. However, I was forced to turn people away because of overcrowding, funding, and health issues. Participants needed a safe place for their children in order to go to work and pay their bills. I wasn’t able to help everybody, even though I wanted to. I watched as participants became increasingly frustrated with their experience. In the end, everyone had a small glimpse into what daily life is like for our brothers and sisters without food, shelter or resources.

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Afterwards, we unpacked the experience. There were plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the welfare system. Two comments stood out. One participant mentioned that when we give to the poor, we should ask their forgiveness. It is the poor and marginalized who have been failed by our society and system and we’re all part of the problem. Another person said we need to stop judging people for being poor; we need to change our system to make it easier for people to get the help they need. As much as possible, we should eliminate the piles of paperwork, agency signatures, hoops and rules we make people go through. Sure, some people might take advantage of the system, but how many more people would be helped and brought back into self-sufficiency.

These opinions made me rethink my behavior. I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask.

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All I know is that as a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to respond with compassion. This is the hard truth of faith; this is where conversion of the heart takes place. When we stop punishing and start forgiving. When we stop blaming and start helping. When we treat our neighbor as ourselves. This is why I’m grateful for having been able to participate in the poverty simulation. It reminded me yet again of the humanity of the poor, allowing me, if only for a brief moment, to walk in their footsteps. That is where solidarity begins.

Walking the pro-(choice/life) line…

It just makes for a bigger headache...
It just makes for a bigger headache…

I can tell it’s around the anniversary of Roe v Wade by the amount of pro-whatever debates I hear on the radio. Which is a good thing. We need to continue to struggle with issues of life and death in the U.S. I just wish it were a bit more intelligent. Usually it’s one person pulling the Jesus card and the other person pulling the “I do what I want” card. It’s another example of the polarization of our politics and how unwilling we are to just listen to another point of view. Then there are people like myself who are both pro-life and pro-choice.

It's all about the dignity of life... right?
It’s all about the dignity of life… right?

I’m pro-life because I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human person and I believe as a society we should respect the miracle and preciousness of ALL life. Which is why I have a problem with 99% of the pro-life camp. They’re really not about life; they’re about birth. My impression is that the pro-life camp just wants babies to be born but could care less about how they end up. Once the kid pops out, pro-lifers wash their hands of the issue and call it another day at the office. There is little mention about the quality of life for the child. What if it’s born into an abusive household? Or horribly handicapped and deformed because of drugs and/or alcoholism? What about issues of poverty, nutrition and education?

Yeah... about that...
Yeah… about that…

These are all LIFE issues. If people want to call themselves pro-life, then it’s all or nothing. You’re going to have to care about and share in the responsibility for every man, woman and child. If you’re pro-life, you better be working to address issues like economic disparity, education, workplace inequality, racism, food deserts and access to medical care that make life hard for the 50 million Americans in poverty. If you’re one of those assholes who scream about babies being slaughtered but tell your representative to cut welfare, you are doing it wrong.

One, of many, reasons...
One, of many, reasons…

I’m pro-choice because I believe if we’re going to live in a free, democratic country than we have the responsibility to provide access to safe and quality health care to ALL our citizens. It’s an issue of justice which includes women who need to have an abortion. Because let’s be honest, nobody WANTS to have an abortion. It’s not something a woman looks forward to with her morning coffee. It’s a damned hard decision that will have repercussions and ramifications for the rest of a person’s life. This is why it’s up to the individual woman, and not the state, to choose. It’s the kind of life decision where judgment and necessity exist ONLY within the person making it.

How is that iPod I helped make working for ya?
How’re you enjoying that iPod I helped make?

“But if you’re pro-life, how can you support murdering babies?” You know what, I don’t support murdering babies. Just like I don’t support children dying of starvation; yet I still have a full three-square meals a day. You can’t make abortion illegal because it kills babies and not outlaw obesity at the same time. We are ALL complicit in abortion, just like we are with child slaves mining the minerals to go in our electronics and the impoverished hands that make our clothing. We’re ALL part of the problem.

stckr-Better-futureI am NOT pro-abortion. I don’t think anybody is. However, I believe its legality is necessary for freedom, health and quality of life. But just because it’s necessary doesn’t mean I can’t work to make it an uncommon practice. Abortion will always be a part of human society and it’s not a single action removed from all the other issues of our time. To address it, I have to continue to work hard to build a better society that furthers the arc of history as it bends towards justice. Abortion isn’t about pro-life/choice. It’s about pro-justice.