Note: The following is not an account of any one conversation I’ve had with any one person regarding the Imagine You, On Food Stamps project, but is a composite derived from a number of conversations.
Oh, the conversations this project is generating!
“David, aren’t you afraid?”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of what eating like that for a month could do to your health, that’s what!”
“No, not really. Should I be?”
“Yes! That stuff can’t possibly be good for anyone!”
“You know what I mean. I mean the food you’d have to live on that can be bought for $4.00 a day.”
“Oh, you mean the ‘stuff’ we’re content for other folks to live on as long as we don’t have to live on it ourselves, don’t you?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean those people who receive that kind of food are only getting what they deserve. You don’t deserve that.”
“I’m not sure I understand your point. Help me here.”
“They’re in the fix they’re in because they wanted it that way. They made some bad choices and now they have to experience the consequences. If that’s all they have to eat, let them eat it. Perhaps they’ll learn from the experience!”
“Really? ‘All’ of ‘them?’ How do you know the situations of all of the lives of all of these people? I doubt either one of us would say, after a little reflection, that every person who is poor – or even the majority of the poor – chose to be poor or want to remain in need. And even if what you’re saying is true – and I don’t believe for a minute that it is – what does that have to do with eating on $4.00 per day for a little while?”
“Okay, we both know there are surely some exceptions, but you and I both know most of the money going out for food stamps is just a waste.”
“No, actually I don’t know that … and I don’t believe you do, either. I only know a great many people don’t eat nearly as well as either of us and I think we both would do well to remember that often. Doing so would surely change the way we think of and live with the people around us.”
“So you’re telling me people who make their own bed shouldn’t have to sleep in it? I don’t feel bad for bums who won’t work. It’s in the Bible for crying out loud!”
“I’m saying none of us knows what all went on to get anyone to the point they’d cry out for help with putting food on the table. We mustn’t presume we know what they’ll do with any or all of the help that’s offered to them, either. If they do happen to misuse some, or all, of that help, that’s on them, not us, and it’s between them and the Lord. It’s no excuse or reason for us to not be merciful. Besides, no small number of the ‘them’ you’re talking about are little children, people who have absolutely no say in their circumstances or their sustenance, but who like the rest of us, need to eat every day. There are more than a few words about mercy and about leaving all judgment to the Lord in the Bible, too.”
“I don’t think I’m being ‘merciful’ to them if I see them driving a newer car than I drive!”
“Again, we don’t know all the circumstances of their lives, do we? And, I must say with all kindness, but with forthrightness, I find the way you’re lumping and labeling all sorts of individuals together under the word ‘them’ and as people of suspicious character as degrading and dehumanizing, both of which lead to being judgmental.”
“So you’re saying I’m judgmental! Who do you think you are? I have eyes to see how some of them live.”
“I thin I’m someone inviting you to join me in eating the same thing other people eat for a little while just to see what that must be like.”
“Well, you can count me out because I don’t want anything to do with those folks!”
“I think you’ve established that quite clearly. And that’s the real issue, isn’t it? Not your fears for my health, but your own insecurities over who receives help and how that doing such might draw you closer to some you have little care for … and that’s very uncomfortable for you.” Right?”
[Long pause] “Maybe.”
“Then let’s pray. Let’s pray right now on what we both must surely agree.”
“Father in heaven, by your goodness and mercy and in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray that neither one us ever gets to such a point of need or want that we’re ever tempted – much less frequently tempted – to cheat, lie, or steal.
“Because only you are the Most Holy One, we pray you would ever deliver us from setting ourselves up as judges of others. May we both be always content to leave all of that up to you.
“Because you are the Creator of all, we pray that our fear of others would melt away. What can man do to us?
“Because you are the source of all that is true strength, we pray that our fears based on our own frailties and weaknesses would recede through growing faith in you. May that faith lead us daily to where we know by faith you would have us always go: doing good to all as we have opportunity.
“Open our eyes to truly see every person we meet. Deliver us from seeing ‘around’ people. Open our minds to discern what you would have us to be them. Help us to think the way our Lord and Savior thinks. Open our hearts daily so that we love others – all others – with the love you have for them. May we be channels of your blessings, not filters. And may you open our hands so that we are genuinely giving people, seeing as how you are so generous to us in so very many ways every day. Amen.”
[Long pause] “Perhaps I was a bit … hasty. I’m not saying I’ll do this! I am saying ‘I’ll think about it.'”
“Thinking is good and an all too rare commodity these days. Let’s continue to think – and pray – about these things together.”