The Poor


After reading The Midwife’s Apprentice this morning, I am thinking about the poor.  I don’t know anyone who is poor.  Really poor, that is, like the girl in this book, who sleeps in a pile of manure because it gives off heat, and who thinks of a turnip stolen from someone’s garden as a meal.  Of course, I know plenty of people who complain frequently about having no money, but they are not poor.  They have plenty to eat and homes to live in–they just don’t have a lot of discretionary spending money.  That’s what America has come to.  We no longer have a true concept of poverty. 

And before you rush screaming to the comment box to tell me about the inner city people who are truly poor, give me a minute.  I am aware that there are people who are homeless, and those who live on food from soup kitchens or what they scrounge from dumpsters.  And there are lots of people who are behind on their bills and may have to make some drastic lifestyle changes in order to keep afloat.   But how many do you know who are life-or-death poor?  I’ve just been wondering about this, because it occurs to me that at one point in history, it was rather a common thing (and expected) for people to die from starvation or exposure.  Thankfully, we don’t hear of such things very often in the USA.  There are a few, yes, but not many.  The number of people who would fall into the category of desperately poor is a tiny percentage. 

But how many times have I heard politicians talk about “the poor?”  It’s an interesting thing–when they mention the poor, they are not talking about the people living in stairwells or eating restaurant garbage.  They are talking about people who can’t make their house payments, who struggle to pay the electric bill.  Just like you (I’m betting that anyone who reads this is not wondering where their next meal is coming from) and like me, they have challenges, but they are not truly destitute.

Our definition of poor has changed a lot.  At one time, people were born, lived, and died within a few miles of the same spot.  They worked long hours, built their own houses, made their own clothes, grew their own food, rationed when the crops didn’t do well, didn’t know the meaning of a vacation, and yet… they weren’t poor.  They had shelter from the weather and enough food to keep body and soul together.  And they were content because their neighbors’ situations were similar to their own.

Now we have so much more access into one another’s lives–we can see beyond the local village–so we have higher aspirations.  We have more leisure time since industrialization, so we have learned to expect it, and we buy toys to fill it.  And when we can see that the people in the next village have more toys or more time, or a bigger and nicer house, we want that for ourselves, and we think that we…are…poor.  And of course, we are not.

It’s something that bothers me frequently–this lack of poor people.  Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.”  And I know that there are poverty-stricken people all over the world, but there are certainly none in my village.  By “with you” did he mean that you would see them around you, or did he merely mean that you would always be aware of their existence?  Obviously, we can and do contribute to all sorts of poor people in many places, but I have never felt that I have the poor “with me.”

Did he mean that there would always be desperately poor people, like the beggars that were so common in his time, or was he talking about something else? 

Like for instance, those who are poor in spirit?  That phrase in the beatitudes uses the same Greek word, so perhaps that’s what he meant. 

What do you think about this?  I’m just rambling, exploring my thoughts.  Let me know what yours are!



About dayuntoday

I'm a wonderer. I spend a lot of time mulling, pondering, and cogitating. This is just a place to park some of those thoughts.
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4 Responses to The Poor

  1. georgene says:

    I really appreciated your thoughts. I’m one of those who has recently had a ‘downshifting’ (is that the new ‘buzz’ word? *S*) of our income and we’re selling off possessions. But, I have tried to renew my mind in the fact that we are not ‘poor’ even though we may ‘feel’ like it compared to earlier years. I love missionary stories and I read blogs from other countries to keep a balanced thinking of our financial position. As far as having the ‘poor’ with us.. I’ll have to go back and reread that text but from memory isn’t the context having to do with the financial poor that he is addressing? That is what stuck in my mind. I’ll have to grab my bible when I go upstairs and reread it. Thanks for the thoughts. They were very good!

  2. ElizabethDNB says:

    I really enjoyed your post.  I think, if you look at the context, He meant that we will always have those among us who could use our help, those in need in one way or another. 

  3. homefire says:

    @ElizabethDNB – @georgene – You’re right.  It does seem to be talking about money, because they were asking about the expensive ointment, but on the other hand, she was performing a service for him that had nothing to do with money.  He said she was anointing him for his death, but in her eyes it was probably just honoring him, perhaps worshiping him.  hmmm. 

  4. BooksForMe says:

    I have very much been wanting to comment on this, but with us bothsick clear thinking wasn’t to be had!  Anyway, what I basically wantedto say was: I AGREE!I listened to a woman on alocal talk show saying how tough it is—because they cannot go toDisneyland this year!  Oh, how the kids are suffering!  Really.  Sheseemed to realize how stupid she sounded and added they were blessedand OK, but that was an after thought.You know, we live on abouta fourth of what Doug used to earn, before becoming a missionary.  Ourhousing is the same—actually, more.  Food costs have soared in thepast five years, not to mention gasoline costs.  Utilities are higher. I was near hysteria those first months, trying to imagine how we wouldlive on so small an income.  Instead, I have been AMAZED by how much wedo not need.  How much we can live without.  Oh, sure, there are thingswe think we need that we have to live without—but the very fact we canlive without them proves we didn’t actually need them!  I listen topeople complain about their money troubles a lot and I think, “If theyonly knew.”  This is a RICH nation, and all who live here areRICH in measure.  I understand people are living without, but the truthis that the richer GIVE to the less rich.  When I think of true povertyI think of the Cinderella Man, those days of the GreatDepression.  THAT is poor to me.  There were no resources—people werestarving.  Yet, they made it!  They pulled together and the poor gaveto the more poor.  What’s wrong with community birthday parties? What’s wrong with less waste?  I have been to people’s homes for dinnerand watched them throw out perfectly good food, just because they don’twant to be bothered with leftovers—and that was back in the “olddays,” but it still horrified me!  We need an eye-opening.  We could all stand a cut in pay, at least for a season. 

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