Why do people on welfare bother so many Americans? Elections have been won and lost based on how politicians position themselves on this issue. I never hear anyone talking about creating good jobs for the poor.; it seems that only people in the middle class seem to merit their concern. The church I serve helps poor people almost every day; we provide emergency food, help with rent and other bills, find clothes for them, and try to keep them from becoming homeless. I will occasionally come across a scammer, but that is rare. Most of them are embarrassed but grateful, glad to have a bag of food and a Wawa card at the end of the month so they don’t go without food for their families or gas for their cars. They have to get to work, just like us.
A recent conversation around this issue reminded me of a family we helped about 15 years ago. They were in the country illegally, and both parents were working really hard to make it. They had 3 young children; the husband did odd jobs wherever he could find work, and the wife cleaned houses for the rich folks in our town. They were struggling, and came by the church to see if we could help. I couldn’t help them at that moment, so I took their address and told them I would drop some food and a little cash off on my way home. When I walked into their tidy rowhome, I noticed a really nice TV in the family room. It was far bigger, newer, and nicer than any TV I had ever owned, so I asked them about it. I am not immune to feeling upset when our church helps someone who seems to have something they “shouldn’t”. We all make assumptions, and they are usually wrong.
The wife told me that one of the people she cleans for had thrown the TV out. It seemed that this 65 inch HDTV was only 2 years old, but it had already started to malfunction. Instead of getting it fixed, which often costs more than buying a new one, they put it on the curb, knowing someone would grab it. This woman called her husband, and he took it home – and fixed it. I asked him if this is what he did for a living, and he replied that he went to the library and used the internet to find a YouTube channel that would help. His English being kind of bad (they were from Mexico), he said, made the process take hours. He finally figured it out, bought a $40 part, and did what I never would have done. I repented of my assumption.
I grew up on welfare, and I remember my mom using food stamps. They were actual stamps, so you can imagine how embarrassed I was when she had to pull them out in the shopping line. We weren’t always on welfare; only when things got too hard and losing our house suddenly became a possibility. I heard my parents talking about this behind their bedroom door, thinking none of us could hear. I heard, and I decided that I would never, if I could help it, put myself in the position of having to go this route. The second thing I learned was that public assistance is a necessary part of caring for people at their worst times. This pandemic should have taught us that being poor, or losing a job or a home – is often out of our control.
This is the problem with judgment – it is based on assumptions, which, we should know, are almost always wrong. Being judgmental is really about living with moral blindness; it is about looking at yourself and trying to make everyone else fit into your life. This is why privilege – advantage – is so dangerous. If you grow up with everything in your favor, you imagine that if you can do it, so can everyone else. It is immoral to live this way, because it discounts all of the aspects of life that have challenged others in ways we haven’t been challenged. So, be careful when you assume, because you know what that makes us. Be careful, Jesus said, for you and I will be judged in the same way that we judge others.
Prayer – Holy God, we have no idea what others have been through, or where their lives have taken them. We, the church, are too quick to make judgment calls. Help us to take a breath and see the inner person, not the mask they wear. Amen.
Today’s art is titled “One Arm”, by an artist from Thailand, AK Rockefeller.