Over the last few days, we have seen news stories about churches, social service agencies, and food pantries giving turkeys, bread stuffing mix, and cans of cranberry sauce to people who live in poverty. That’s one of the typical “feel good” stories of the holiday season.
We’ll see similar media reports at Christmastime. The media does the predictable. It helps middle-class folks feel better about themselves and makes people who live in poverty look needy and grateful. We see these narratives year after year.
And by “people who live in poverty,” I am not referring to people who are in financial poverty. Some folks live in poverty of spirit because they are lonely or ill or alienated.
Taking care of one another
It’s good that people who are in need receive provisions so they can enjoy and celebrate holidays. I affirm it completely. I also think it’s important for their kids and neighbors to see that other people care. These news stories are a good reminder to about taking care of one another.
But most of these folks are living in poverty every day. Every day. When the cameras go away, they still have to make hard decisions: money for gas to drive to work (or for public transit) or food and medicines for my kids? How do I pay my rent? How do I get to the doctor?
A turkey once or twice a year is wonderful, but if I were in their position, I would ask: How do I feed my family every day? How do I keep my home? If I were among those lonely or marginalized, would I have nothing to look forward to but a dinner invitation once or twice a year? How would I fill the lonely, empty days between?
We can do better
Congratulating ourselves for occasional attentiveness does not help those who are in need or are suffering all year round. We can do better.
I thank God for all the blessings of this life, and I ask God to keep me mindful of the needs of others. But we all need to look at how we, our congregations and communities can make sure all people have enough–not because it will make us virtuous or righteous, but because we are so grateful for every blessing in our lives. We are thankful, and we live with open hands because we are walking in the way of Jesus.
I thank God for all the blessings of this life, and I ask God to keep me mindful of the needs of others.
Recently, a homeless man (a vagrant, as some would say) helped me carry my heavy backpack down three flights of stairs at the train station. He saw me struggling and jumped in to assist.
He didn’t have much in the way of teeth, he smelled bad, and at first, I was afraid of him. At the bottom of the steps, I offered to give him a little cash to thank him, and he refused it. “I didn’t do it for money,” he said. “I did it because it was the decent thing to do.”
I was so grateful, I cried. Let’s live thanksgiving all year.
How does your congregation help those who are living in poverty? How can you make a difference every day?
Kate Elliott was the editor of Gather magazine from 2005-2015. This Throwback Thursday blog first ran in November 2014.