imagine you, on food stamps (3)

 

Pop quiz! A single question.

Do you recall the absolute maximum dollars-per-day-per-person figure we learned yesterday as we made our inquiry into the benefits of SNAP (“food stamps”) in Texas? You can answer with either the exact amount or the rounded-up figure. You have ten seconds.

Time’s up! If you said $6.00 (the rounded-up figure), you pass. If you said $5.92 (the exact figure), you pass, and get a gold star. If you didn’t remember, you need to catch up on your reading (part one & part two).

That theoretical maximum figure of $5.92 per person (in our hypothetical, two-person household) works out to $183.52 per month (or about $367 total for both people in the household). Notice I said theoretical.

“What is it in reality?,” you ask.

SNAP-TexasThe average monthly benefits from SNAP (“food stamps”) distributed per participant in Texas last year was significantly less: $125.57 per month to be precise (source). That is, the reality is about only two-thirds of the theoretical! And while things aren’t the best in Texas in this regard, it’s not like things are all that much different in the rest of the continental United States (i.e. – $148.63 per month in New York, is the highest; $115.08 in Minnesota, is the lowest).

Do ponder this: the average amount folks who receive SNAP benefits in Texas have at their disposal each day is $4.05 (as opposed to $4.79 in New York and $3.71 in Minnesota). But, to make things easy to remember, we’ll round things down this time and just call it $4.00 a day.

Not $4.00 for non-essentials, but $4.00 a day for food. That’s $1.33 per meal if, like most people, you eat three times each day. Skip a meal and you can bump your per-meal funds up to $2.00.

In case you missed the cue, this is the point where you stop reading this for a moment and utter an audible “Wow” followed by a bit of a deflated, heartbroken sigh.

That’s $4.00 per day per person for our one week project (or if you chose, like me, one month) this coming January. And so, it’s none too early to start thinking about what exactly you can, and will, have as a part of your diet in this project. You’ve got some thinking and shopping to do for this project.

Of course, for those of us who participate, it’s only a “project” right now, right? For others – nearly 4 million of the 25 million who live in the great state of Texas – roughly one out of every six or seven people in our state – it’s not a “project,” but “everyday living.” (source)

That’s something to think about it, isn’t it? All the more, they’re people to pray for and to help as you can.

make poverty personal (4)

 

 While renewal may have started with the Bible’s wild ones, it was only actualized when a partnership between the margins (the prophets) and the center (kings and priests) occurred. The center’s willingness to give up privileges and not only listen, but also give all they had, to the alternate visions named by the edges, created real change. Why are the margins so important to the renewal of societies? Put simply, the marginalized are the litmus test of whether the ideals and values of a society are working out. The center may at best see the overall picture and be ready to respond, but the margins live the failures of that picture. If Hebrew history offers anything today in our struggle today against stubborn poverty, perhaps it is that when the center does not listen to the margins, there is a spiraling and tragic decline of both the center-leaders and the nation as a whole. The requirement of solidarity between wild edges and the established center is something faith communities, organizations, and governments today need to hear again and again. It is especially important if we are to end oppression of the margins by the center. Freedom from oppression requires changes by the powerful center, not just the margins.

Make Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible Does by Ash Barker (Baker Books, 2009); pp. 84-85

making poverty personal (3)

 

I have noticed lately that the only places I hear Proverbs quoted is by prosperity preachers or in cute greeting cards. Few others seem to love or even know what to do with this collection of sayings attributed to King Solomon. Yet, what Proverbs has to say about poverty would please neither. …

Are we content to blame the poor for being slack and not being righteous enough, or assert that the rich are only rich because they are diligent? Some Christians are content to live their lives by such notions – but obviously only the ones who are not poor! … let’s look at a few other proverbs that would not make rich Christians feels so smug:

  • “The field of the poor may yield much fruit, but it is swept away through injustice.” (13.23)
  • “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” (14.31)
  • “It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (16.19)
  • “Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.” (19.1)
  • “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” (21.13)

I don’t think these proverbs have ever been engraved on complimentary “golden eagles” given away to those who donate to televangelists’ ministries.

Making Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible Does by Ash Barker (Baker Books, 2009); pp. 72-73

make poverty personal (2)

 

Read Leviticus 25.8-55. What most strikes you about these laws?

To read these laws is to see what is possible for today’s world. …

It was one thing for the Hebrews to defeat an enemy and topple oppression; it was quite another to to develop a community able to be God’s people in the world, staying true to the liberation they had experienced. God, therefore, provided a whole range of laws and commandments, setting out a code to live by so that the oppressed did not quickly become the oppressors. …

The first concern was to ensure that the Hebrews stayed close to the living God … The second concern of these laws was to restrain the powerful and protect those who are weakest among them, so that all could live in health and peace …

The laws outlined in Leviticus 19 and their equivalents in Deuteronomy have a whole range of community laws that are about protecting the weakest in society and restraining the most powerful. Imagine if the spirit of these laws was evoked today. What would the world look like if each community was proactive in remembering the poor in daily life (Lev. 19.9-10; Deut. 24.19-22), wages for workers were paid fairly (Lev. 19.13; Deut. 24.14-15), justice for each person was upheld (Lev. 19.15; Deut. 16.18-20), care and responsibility was taken in the interest of others (Lev. 19.16-18; Deut. 19.15-20; 22.8), all people were treated equally (Lev. 19.33-34; Deut. 24.17-22), and no one was cheated (Lev. 19.35-36; Deut. 25.13-16)? This is not the UN’s declaration of human rights from the twentieth century, but laws that are over three thousand years old.

Making Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible Does by Ash Barker (Baker Books, 2009); pp. 51,52

make poverty personal (1)

 

 There are no less than nine main words for “oppression” weaved throughout the Old Testament. Because of the slavery of the Hebrews, and God’s concern for them, these words need deep reflection if we are to understand poverty:

* anah – … (See … Ex. 1.11; 2 Sam. 13.12; Ps. 119.75; Isa. 53.4). This word … has to do with the tyranny of the powerful, the degradation of people, and even the violent sexual exploitation of women.

* ashaq … (See … Lev. 19.13; Hos. 12.7). Because the people have no authority, their fields, savings, capital, and even homes are taken in violent and unjust ways without recourse.

* lachats … (See … 1 Kings 22.27; Jer. 30.19-21; Isa. 19.20; Amos 6.14). … This is about a lack of freedom from grinding injustice.

* nagas … (See … Ex. 5.6-14; 2 Kings 23.35; Job 39.7). This word is about forced labor, oppression, and exploitation.

* yanah … (See … Lev. 25.14; Ezk. 46.18; Zeph. 3.1). … this word is about oppression and violence against those who are not in a position to defend themselves.

* ratsats … (See … Isa. 58.6; Jer. 22.17). This is crushing, isolating, and despoiling the poor, including stripping them bare and taking their homes.

* dakka – Ps. 94.5-7 … killing the most vulnerable and falsely believing that God does not see. …

* dak … (See … Ps. 10.10). This word is about treading upon the heads of the poor and oppressing and putting down the needy.

* tok … (See … Ps. 55.11; 72.14). This word … is about the powerful causing painful injury to those who are helpless.

… a Hebrew understanding of poverty is much broader than simply destitution. It is about oppression and the life God intends for those being crushed, who are made in God’s image. … It is by nature a lack of ability to live as God intends. … Poverty … is about a lack of freedom to choose God’s shalom, to live a meaningful life.

Make Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible Does by Ash Barker (Baker Books, 2009); pp. 33-35

it’s time to be civil (34)

 

# 24. Don’t shift responsibility and blame. We are all familiar with the drill: Somebody at fault will try to minimise his or her responsibility by blaming someone else – quite often the wronged party. Thus the main characteristics of this exercise in rudeness are obfuscation and unfairness. …

… I simply cannot conceive of any circumstances in our own daily lives when it would be appropriate or advantageous to be rude or boorish. The powerful combination of self-respect and respect for others should make it almost impossible for us to choose incivility, if we manage to remain clearheaded even in challenging situations.

But what if we are dealing with somebody whom we don’t respect or who says or does something we believe to be wrong? The answer is simple: let’s not lose sight of our own standards of behavior, of our own rules of engagement. It is possible to be civil and true to one’s beliefs at the same time.

Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni (St. Martin’s Press, 2002); pp. 152,157

it’s time to be civil (33)

 

 # 23. Respect the environment and be gentle to animals. … When we speak of a decline in civility, we usually refer to a crisis regarding established forms of concern, respect, and deference. As we do so, we tend to ignore new forms that take the place of old ones. Maybe the number of youngsters holding onto their bus seats while pregnant women and elderly gentlemen are precariously swaying in the aisle is on the rise. But then so, I believe, is the number of those who treat members of racial minorities with genuine respect. I am not saying that the advances in new civility should make us forget what we are losing. … What I am suggesting is that we don’t forget that the decline is not cutting across-the-board. It may be hard to believe, but in certain areas of our everyday behavior we are becoming more civil rather than less. A shining example of new civility is the remarkably serious commitment to the cause of the environment on the part of an extraordinary number of people from all walks of life.

An age-old component of humanity’s relationship with nature is fear: nature is dangerous, so we must defend ourselves from it. Over the past several decades, this traditional attitude has been eclipsed, at least partially, by one of concern. The new attitude is: nature is in danger, so we must defend it from ourselves. … we think that we are much more of a threat to nature than nature is to us. Only two or three generations ago it was commonplace to describe progress as the subjugation of nature by man. Today we are more likely to think of progress as freeing nature from the lethal embrace of a recklessly wasteful and polluting humanity. …

In the wake of the ecological revolution, it is impossible to be civil without an active concern for the health of our badly wounded planet.

Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni (St. Martin’s Press, 2002); pp.146-147,148