Hard Times Reveal the Depth of Our Roots


Shallow roots will not yield authentic community with poor and suffering people. I can only offer what I have first received. The watching world needs to see deeply rooted faith.

My little backyard garden dried up this summer. I harvested only a few tomatoes and no cucumbers. I was asked to cut my water consumption by 35 percent. For months the price of gasoline kept me from going to places I usually visited on a weekly basis.

On top of all of that, I am now learning that my retirement money may have vanished. The airways are filled with rhetoric of uncertainty. Are my roots deep enough to keep me going?

A new group of poor is emerging. The new poor may have never walked on the sidewalks in a housing project, never been in a shelter or soup kitchen. Shelters and soup kitchens are well known to the hard-core poor.

Hopefully the new poor will have the opportunity to join the ranks of the working poor, and not fall into hard-core poverty. The working poor are usually one or two paychecks from homelessness and live with food insecurity. The working poor make choices every day about what they will do without.

The new poor, the working poor and the hard-core poor are all vulnerable, and face real and perceived threats to health and life. The poor bleed just like the non-poor and are frequently overcome with feelings of powerlessness.
We are seeing the new poor emerge at a time when, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, we already have nearly 13 million children in the United States -- 18 percent of all children -- living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level -- $21,200 a year for a family of four (www.nccp.org).

Children of bankruptcy are also quietly emerging. Elizabeth Warren, the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has been lecturing on "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class" for several years. In the lecture, Professor Warren statistically builds the case that as a society we now have more children living through their parents' bankruptcy than children living through their parents' divorce.

In her research Professor Warren was surprised to discover the intensity of the ways parents try to hide and cover up the bankruptcy from the children. A way of living changes drastically for the children and they get no real explanation. Children of divorce know something has changed when one of the parents is no longer in the house. Divorce is public and cannot be hidden, but bankruptcy is private and attempts to hide it are made. Children of bankruptcy go through much disruption but are expected to pretend nothing has happened.

The parents of bankruptcy who become consumed with the struggle are little support to the wounded children. With so much woundedness and despair all around, we can become discouraged about the future. Is my faith sufficient to carry me away from the destruction of despair? Are my roots of faith deep enough to take hold and sustain in times of uncertainty?

Sitting in the church pew every week can provide basic training. However we now need boots on the ground in the mud and mire of the front lines. The front lines require me to walk, talk and eat with the poor. Serving on the front lines requires me to reveal my own vulnerability. Serving on the front lines requires me to listen to the stories of soul pain.

Listening cannot be done as just another multi-tasking event. We need to hear the unspoken stories of the children of bankruptcy. We need to hear the stories of spiritual poverty as much as physical poverty.

As my faith supports me through the uncertain times, those in despair are watching. Those in despair are available to enter into community to the degree that authentic community is offered. Shallow roots will not yield authentic community with poor and suffering people. I can only offer what I have first received. The watching world needs to see deeply rooted faith.

Sybil Smith, a registered nurse, lives in Lyman, S.C., and is an independent consultant for ministries of health. This column first appeared in The Greenville News.

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Tags: Health Care, Poor, Poverty, Sybil D. Smith


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