Accidental Poverty

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“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”   -Luke 6:25

My favorite part of being a priest is listening to people’s stories.  All people, whether they know it or not, have remarkable stories, and you can learn a lot from listening.

One thing I’ve noticed in listening to the people who pass through our food pantry in particular, is how accidental poverty is.  One person drove long haul trucks, another lived with her family in a lovely suburban home.  One little old lady worked for years at a retail store.  But then–Something Happened, and everything changed.    An illness, a death in the family, an unexpected job loss–something happens, and suddenly, the promised American Dream of financial security for people who do the right thing and work hard goes up in smoke. And they arrive here, in my church’s food pantry.

No one expects to be poor, to rely on the kindness of others for survival.  Especially in this country, we are told from birth that poverty can be easily avoided if you just play by the rules.  Poverty, the culture tells us, is less a run of bad luck that could happen to anyone, and more something that you deserve, by making bad choices.  Good, responsible people don’t end up poor, the thinking goes.

Yet, here stands Jesus, telling us that those who are full now will be hungry.  And those who are hungry will one day be fed.  Jesus disconnects ‘deserving’ from the notion of poverty in the beatitudes, and reminds us that our call to be compassionate must extend to all, because we all may be hungry one day.

Megan Castellan is our writer this week. She serves as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri, and diocesan youth coordinator for the Metro Kansas City area.  Her ongoing adventures and strong opinions are chronicled in her blog Red Shoes, Funny Shirt  and on Twitter @revlucymeg. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, playing with yarn, throwing jellybeans at politicians she disagrees with on TV, and cheering on KC-based sportsball teams.

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