I can’t take it. I walk outside and text my husband to see when he would be back to pick me up. “Leaving now,” he writes.
Soon, then. Thankfully.
I don’t want to feel this way, like I have to leave a room when good, well-meaning people talk about people in poverty. I don’t want to feel the sorrow and the anger and the cynicism. They don’t know what they’re saying, I tell myself. They don’t know how it sounds, how it hurts to say those things. Honestly, I’m probably not that far removed from having the same feelings, from thinking or saying the same types of phrases:
“I don’t understand why they don’t work harder.”
“These poor people live that way every day.”
“We are just so blessed.”
But I don’t think that way anymore, and I haven’t in a while. It took effort for me to realize that those phrases sound insensitive, naive, so us vs. them. They sound like God blesses some of us and not others, as if people are much worse off without material things. It’s bad theology.
My journey to this place started several years ago when church and faith started losing their luster for me. Right around that time, our church started a satellite campus that met in an elementary school. We committed ourselves to help make the new site happen for one year, but we never looked back.
Rather than entering the church building each Sunday, saying hi to some friends, and settling in for an hour of service before heading back home, church became active. We would arrive early to set up – transforming the gym into a sanctuary, a teacher’s lounge into a youth group room, a side hallway into a preschool. After the worship and some social time, we would then spend another hour packing everything back up and loading it into the thirty foot trailer that housed our church for the other six days of the week.
The very committed, very small group of people who made this happen each week became our family, our community. Sundays went from “going to church” to “being church.” My faith became dynamic instead of passive, and the work felt meaningful because we were doing it for God.
Somewhere in those two-and-a-half years of building that church every week, living out my faith in real and tangible ways became ingrained in me. As we took the youth group to pass out bagels, coffee and socks to the homeless, faith started to look more and more like love and compassion and justice to me. The seeds of those days of serving and being the church took root and now my faith is so intertwined with justice and compassion and love that I don’t know how it wasn’t always such a part of what it meant for me to be a Christian.
But the side effect of this awareness, this desire for all people to be treated justly, to be treated like the very image-bearers that they are, is that my tolerance for Christians who aren’t aware has plummeted. In this constantly-connected, whoever-shouts-the-loudest world we live in, I see things on a daily basis that make me question how it is we can constantly hurt each other- a comment about keeping some people out of our country, a tweet about #AllLivesMatter to silence the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a Facebook post about the “blessing” of a financial windfall, because of course God “blesses” some of us with material gain, while leaving others poor for lack of faith.
It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to feel like there’s so much work to be done. It’s exhausting to feel like your words don’t matter, are ignored or misunderstood. It’s exhausting to watch us hurt, shame and exclude each other based on race, gender, economic level, homeland, or worst of all, Scripture.
I don’t want to leave the room when someone makes a comment about people living in poverty. I know they don’t mean to disparage, put down, or discriminate. I know that. I know they are good people doing the best they can. I wish I could stay to talk it out, to suggest another perspective, but it’s not always appropriate or even fruitful to do so.
And so sometimes I leave the room because I’m worn out from all the ways I want to help and all the ways it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I’m worn out from all the work that’s left to do, even in simple living room conversations. But sometimes I stay and they hear me out, and I remember how important it is that we keep trying.