Last week, I wrote about a little situation I had with a toxic relationship. Then through discussion and this week’s episode, I learned that my situation has a title: systemic evil. I’m not sure if it was Rev. Alexander, Dr. Elnes (drink) or the DWB honorary Dr. Schaeffer (drink) who said it on this week’s broadcast, but I couldn’t agree more: “The problem with systems is that we all rely on them.”
This week in particular, I’ve seen a great need from people who are desperate for money and food. For bills to be paid and children to be fed. And what are we (as a church) going to do about it? People are out of money. Funding agencies are too. Ministers are begged for financial relief rather than spiritual guidance.
If we reel in close, like Schaeffer said, we see hungry people. But why the rash this week? Well if we pull back a bit, we see more – a system is failing them. It’s summer time, and the schools are out – you know, the schools with programs to feed hungry kids. No school, no eat. It seems like a great program until it’s depended upon and then taken away.
Don’t get me started about this country having the heaviest hungry people in the world. We are obese and malnourished. Tack on what malnourishment does to your brain, and the systems in place for a short term fix on a long-term problem turns evil real quick.
This week, I shared an article through Facebook about Panera Bread having select locations doing a “Pay what you can afford” program. I was so happy and optimistic because it’s not a system at all – it’s just a risk, an idea to help people who need food. Then I started getting comments on the post about how spoiled and lazy people were. I was sickened.
I’m proud to say our church provides a monthly food pantry. The original vision of Anthony and Molly Britten-Campbell was simple in thought, and I’m guessing difficult in execution: With no judgment – feed hungry people. We’re happy to volunteer at the food pantry.
I’ve loaded food into a Cadillac Escalade before. On my way back I gazed at my rusty 2004 Minivan and willed myself to not judge. It’s hard. What’s easy is the systemic evil – the catch phrase: they’re lazy and they don’t want to work.
Maybe the guy is poor because he bought the Escalade. So what? He needs food. People line up at our food pantry starting at 5a.m. The food pantry starts at 10 a.m. Is that lazy? When’s the last time you worked that hard for your food? As far as poverty and hunger in America are concerned, there’s systemic evil, and then sub-systemic evils, and then sub-sub-systemic evils.
Immersing myself and my kids in the food pantry program has been empowering for me against the systemic evil. I’m looking humbled hungry people in the eye with a smile, and my soul is fed while being humbled. Quite frankly, I’m still learning and working hard on less judgy. One of the things I learned in a separate volunteering opportunity this past weekend is a doozy: Sometimes we see people as we want to see them. It’s just easier than seeing them for who they really are.
I’ve said before that explaining things to my kids is the best life plan I’ve got. The older they get, the more explanation. The better conversation. The more I teach them, and myself, mostly because my kids can explain things better than I can. When I explain things like poverty to my kids, it forces me to be sensitive and honest with them…and myself.
So, when we head to the food pantry, they’ll tell ya, “We don’t judge. We don’t know what their story is. And even if we do discover their story, we don’t judge.” Maybe the Escalade is stolen. Or maybe their mom just died and that was her car. Or maybe they bought the dang luxury car instead of groceries. Did you sign up to do good deeds under the condition that you haul food out to cars older than yours? Only food goes to who you think is hungry?
We explain to our kids two fairly conflicting points at our house:
- There is nothing that should make you be mean or rude to others – no headache, sadness, happiness, confidence.
- You don’t know how someone lives. How hard (or how easy) they have it.
My mind keeps going back to our food pantry because they fight like Amos. They are vigilant to keeping it a Christian faith – open hearted. I’m still learning and inspired by everyone there – the people taking food, and the people handing it out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from hungry exhausted people who have waited in line for hours, “You guys treat us with such dignity and respect.” It turns out other agencies don’t – yet another systemic evil. On the flip side, we try hard to make the food handouts fair, but also insist “They can take what they need and leave the rest for others.”
God Bless the Britten-Campbell Family for forging the Community Cupboard, and their vision – to simply get food to people who need it – whether we think they do or not.
I sent an email out this week to my office staff that said something like, “Proof this document and feel free to let me know what I’ve screwed up. It’s okay, I can take it. Besides, I’m secretly telling myself it’s your mistake anyway. Fear not, the cool thing about any problems is that I can fix them. Whoa, that was deep.”
And that’s how my secretarial emails and life lessons go. I tell the same thing to my kids most days, “This is fixable.” I think/hope that’s what Amos is saying anyway.
I think back to my not-Jesus scenario. The super-easy is to walk away. But I think sometimes the most challenging part is to just show up in some form or fashion. I have hope that it’s fixable.
I’ve gone through these blogs for this series and thought, “Man, this is kinda preachy and not so fun and light like what maybe they asked you to blog for, Les.” And then I remembered, it’s Amos.
Leslie is a blogger for Darkwood Brew. She’s had her own blog for 8 years – www.momontherocks.com, chronicling the crazy moments of mommyhood. She also has a column in HerLiving, a local Omaha Magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s laughing and/or eating with her very tall family: husband, Chris, and twins, Max and Lucy.
Excellent stuff Leslie, preach on sister! All the years I was in direct ministry with homeless and hungry people I knew that a good portion of what I was being told was fabricated. There were many reasons for it, but mostly it was designed to tell me what the other person thought I wanted to hear. What breaks through the judgment is relationship. The more trust that developed the more open the conversations were and the less judgment that creeped in. There were times that applying natural consequences to situations meant that some people went hungry or slept outside, but it was a result of their own poor choices. Those times were difficult but they reinforced the fact that the only person who can change a person is the person him/herself. That’s what I would say to the person with Escalade if it turned out that it was a poor choice or laziness or greed that led to the hunger. Something like, “so, how’s that working out for you?” Sure, they may be and may continue to scam the system, but the right non-judgmental words can be the seeds for change that eventually help the person change themselves. Surely, love not judgmentalism will be remembered and will better affect change.