where you stand . . . depends on where you sit

Posted on January 24, 2010


“Where you stand depends on where you sit .” (Nelson Mandela) The viewpoints you are most likely to advance (your stance politically, your opinions) are decisively determined by the place you occupy economically, in your career, in your community, in your organization, in society. We must not ever presume to speak for others; especially those outside of our scope, like the poor, the battered and bruised, the broken hearted, the “least of these.” We must ‘live’ there . . . and listen.

Three years ago, I sat in a very different place in life with very different viewpoints.
An entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur at that, making enough money to actually pay the bills.
Two income family.
Home owner.
Living in a middle class neighborhood.
Going to a middle class church in a poor neighborhood. (Made me feel better about church)
Wondering why those people in that poor neighborhood don’t come to our wonderful church.Chomsky
Living the American Dream.

The tables turn with
Job loss
Clinical depression
Loss of health benefits
and on and on.

Suddenly I’m a single parent living in the neighborhood of my church; highest foreclosure rate in the city. Crime? Well that’s another story but it sure keeps things interesting. Poverty? Everywhere. I begin to see life completely different. I still cannot speak for anyone. But I can and do listen to my neighbors. I hear the pain, the despair, the hunger.

The kids . . . how do they survive?

The single parents . . . how are they alive?

The 80 year old grandma with a crack-addict son of 54 still living with her . . . straight friere-the poorout asking why, why the “Good Lord has caused me to live so, so long?” She said to me, “I have nothing left in my home that is ‘nice’. He stole and sold everything for his addiction.” They are my neighbors. He stole my lawnmower that I got from my grandfather. It was 35 years old and always started up and ran when I needed it. I haven’t been able to buy another one since then.

What keeps them from throwing in the towel and giving up?
. . . daily facing the failure of providing for the family
. . . daily seeing it in the faces of their kids.
The guilt. The loneliness.
The total exhaustion . . . all the time.

Suddenly my “stance” on food pantries totally changes. How can the economy kill food pantries that exist to get us through the economic devastation I see in almost every house going down this block and the next and the next? The surplus that the pantries depended on was needed more in Detroit? (That’s why it is no longer sent to West Michigan) You tell the neighbors that.

Suddenly health care is not a political debate, it is a basic human right because it became a matter of life and death for me . . . for a lot of people that do not have it (primarily the working poor).
There are dire consequences for untreated clinical depression.
There are dire consequences for untreated high blood pressure.
I’ll live with them the rest of my life. I’ll show you the scars; physical and emotional, just ask . . .

The working poor live with even more devastating consequences related to health with death often following close on the heels.

Are there statistics on the impact on life span for those that are trapped in generational poverty? Those that live daily without affordable health care? How many years does the grind of poverty grind up under its wheels, shortening their lives? This is an interesting blind spot in our society. This is a devastating blind spot in our churches. Out of sight, out of mind. Sorry, no data available.

Suddenly real “community”, basic systems of support, friends, become a lifeline that determines whether we live or die . . . emotionally, socially, spiritually, even physically. I often wonder why I am still alive? How I am still alive? I’m not sure anymore. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of grace that I can see.

Don’t argue with me about laws that favor the rich, the lobbyists, the corporations. We all know down deep that they make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That’s what our country is built on. That is the basic design of American politics. I don’t care to argue anymore, I’m too busy surviving . . . just trying to make it through the next day . . . to argue about what may never trickle down to my neighbors next door and down the street. Government of the people, for the people, by the people, yeah . . . right . . . as long as you are visible.

Like the poem below, you can say “Shit happens” and be glad it didn’t happen to YOU. But remember, it does happen. It happens to a lot of good, caring, hard working people that then become invisible to the system as the politicians and lobbyists create the American Dream for all (that are still visible).

That’s the way the cookie crumbles
That’s the way the stomach rumbles
That’s the way the bee bumbles
That’s the way the needle pricks
That’s the way the glue sticks
That’s the way the potato mashes
That’s the way the pan flashes
That’s the way the market crashes
That’s the way the whip lashes
That’s the way the teeth knashes
That’s the way the gravy stains
That’s the way the moon wanes
(“That’s the Way”, by Tom Waits and William Burroughs)

Don’t get me wrong though. I am here for a reason. I know that. I can see that. I do have hope . . . usually. But I’m still at a loss of how to share that hope with those that do not understand it.

The hope I now have is not a hope to “get out” as quickly as possible. It is a hope that God will do His work fully in my heart, that I will learn to listen from my heart, that I will fully open my heart. That I will take the pain of poverty and put it in my heart and hold it there until my heart breaks open . . . and stays open.

Sorry if this wasn’t a fun read. I am a follower of Jesus. And I believe “Jesus came to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” Maybe someday His church will do the same…