Our Eyes Were Opened

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School Begins

August 12

When Ber-ber went to the store today, she picked up the list of the school supplies that we’ll need this year. I looked at the list and my heart just fell to my feet. There’s no way that Mama can afford all this stuff. I don’t know if I’ll even show her the list. That will just make her feel bad.

 August 16

Even though I hadn’t shown Mama the list of school supplies, Ber-ber asked her if she’d seen it. Mama cut her eyes over at me and said, “No, should I have?”

I hung my head and said that I must have lost it.

Ber-ber said, “Child, you’d lose your head if it wasn’t fastened to your body. But don’t you worry. I know what you will do.”

Then she looked at Mama and said, “You go right down to the agency on Center Street and sign up for school supplies. They’ll give you what you need for your kids so don’t you worry. Your children will march into school just like everybody else with everything that’s on the list.”

At that, I smiled. Then I hugged Ber-ber with the biggest hug I could and whispered, “Thank you.”

September 6

I am so embarrassed. Our school tries its best not to let it be known who gets free lunch and who doesn’t. But some girls in my class figured out that I didn’t pay for my meals at school. I saw them whispering and glancing over at me. One of them tried to be nice and offered me a candy bar but that actually made it worse. I felt so little. I couldn’t even afford a candy bar. When she tried to be generous, her friends realized that I was poor and needed help. She wasn’t trying to be mean but it came across that way. It hurt because I really did want that treat but I wasn’t about to let that girl know how bad it was for me.

If you want to know more about Angelika, you can read about her in Angelika’s Journal, available at avenidabooks.com, at Ten Thousand Villages on Main Street in Greenville, SC, at Fiction Addiction behind Haywood Mall, or at online retailers. 


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Psalm of Lament

Holy God, Proclaimer of Justice, are you awake?

Ordinary folks who simply worked their jobs,

Paid their bills, loved their children,

Come seeking help.

Their world has fallen apart

Through no fault of their own.

So they come.

Political leaders, who are charged with looking after us

Seem out of touch

Spend money on death, not life

Close their eyes to long term solutions

Seeking only votes

So they don’t come.

People with financial resources

Fear, fret, worry, fight,

Close their doors, their hearts

Protect, defend

So they may not come.

And yet….

People come with tears, fears,

They come with yearning, hoping,

They come with visions and nightmares.

They come looking for …. looking for…. looking for…..

Holy God, are you awake?


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Volunteers are Wonderful!

Volunteers are wonderful. Through my time at United Ministries and also now with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc., I realized that I could not do the work I do without volunteers.

Every time I facilitate a poverty simulation, I need at least thirteen volunteers.  The learning experience truly could not happen without them! Some of the “vendors” in the simulation have been working with me since I first began facilitating the simulation. Others participated in the simulation and decided that they wanted to be “on the other side of the table!”  Couples, college students, retired folks, teachers on summer break, people actively employed, and others volunteer.  They pitch in when someone can’t come at the last minute. They are willing to learn roles other than the one they usually do. They simply make my life easier and the experience for the participants meaningful.

I was recently in Columbia with Imagine School and they got volunteers from a church. These folks were motivated, quick learners, and inspired and inspiring through their gift of time and themselves.  I enjoyed working with them. I am constantly amazed how the simulation always works out…even when I have logistical problems or brand new volunteers who’ve never even seen the simulation.  All my worry and literal nightmares are for nothing because of the amazing, wonderful, terrific volunteers. What a true blessing for me and everyone whom they interact with through their thoughtful and generous sharing.

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Point–Counterpoint Part Two

Point: XYZ wants to require a pay stub each week OR a person will work in a government job. She’d also eliminate fancy car tire rims and stereos.

 Counterpoint: Assuming that people with tricked out cars live on government assistance may not be accurate. Many people desperately want work that pays living wages. However, there are not enough jobs for those with low skills. Additionally, people need transportation, child care, people skills, and good health to be able to work. The infrastructure required for getting and keeping a job has huge gaps in it. A lot of people would like government jobs when one looks at the benefits often enjoyed by federal workers.

 Point: XYZ believes that people should learn from their bad choices rather than being rewarded.

 Counterpoint: Of course we should learn from our bad choices because we all make them. Some of us have a better and deeper support system that catches us when we fall. We can more easily survive the consequences of our bad choices. However, when everyone in a person’s social network is in the same economic dilemma, there may be no options for doing differently.

 Point: XYZ would not allow anyone on government subsistence to vote.

 Counterpoint: That means employees and owners of many corporations could not vote because of the government subsidies received. Military personnel and school teachers could not vote because they live on government money. We use roads built by our tax dollars and visit parks supported by our government. None of us could vote…not even our elected officials because they live off the government.

 We all have a fund of knowledge that is based on our particular circumstances. When we are willing to look beyond our own ways of thinking and feeling, we might experience new understandings and then develop solutions for some of these long term problems. We’d all like to abolish persistent poverty. How we do that is open for informed consideration and discussion. 

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Point–Counterpoint Part One

Someone shared with me comments about poverty that he found on a social media site. The writer’s opinions (referred to as XYZ) are strong and probably held by others. Because we all look at the world through our own lenses, experiences, socioeconomic class, gender, age and other filters, we will examine the writer’s views with an alternative perspective.

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of food stamps. She would give people only 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese, and powdered milk. She says that if people want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

 Counterpoint: To live on rice, beans, cheese, and powdered milk requires time for food preparation that may not be available when someone is working two-three part-time jobs. Additionally storing 50-pound bags so the food remains edible may be challenging. Purchasing frozen pizza or a good cut of meat is certainly much cheaper than going out to eat. Children need variety in their diets to get all the nutrients they need for brain development.

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of Medicaid. She would require all women to use birth control or sterilization. She would test for drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and document all tattoos and piercings.

 Counterpoint: Do we really want to be like other countries and limit births by government edict? Would employees who receive employer assisted medical insurance (not Medicaid) have to abide by the same testing for drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and document tattoos and piercings?

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of government housing and would place people in military barracks with all the rules and regulations attached to such housing. She would not allow entertainment devices.

 Counterpoint: Are military style barracks an environment that nurtures the well-being of children? Is it realistic to believe that children could thrive in such a situation?  Those of us who are buying our homes receive government housing assistance when we write off our mortgage interest from our taxes. Do we want our possessions inventoried as they would be in barracks? 

            Entertainment devices can provide a form of escape for people who struggle daily with “Do I have a roof over my head tonight?” or “Can I feed my kids today?” We all need a way to release the pressures of life and often we choose television as our way to zone out.


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Getting out of Poverty

On January 7, 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly one third (31.6%) of Americans lived in poverty for at least two months between 2009 and 2011.  Of the 37.6 million people who were in poverty at the beginning of 2009, 35.4% of them were no longer in poverty by 2011. But that’s not as great as it initially sounds. Almost half of them still lived at or below 150% of the poverty line. That translates for a family of four living at or below $35,250.  About 44% of poverty spells ended within four months while more than 15% lasted more than two years.  The average was about half a year.  For more information go to https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p70-137.pdf (web search 1.13.14)

There is a myth that people who live in poverty are there for a long time.  The reality is that many families live through times of poverty.  Those who are able to emerge often have educational and employment skills, social networks that can help, adequate medical resources, access to transportation, and other assets that people who live in poverty long term may not have.  No one chooses to live in poverty. Those who are able to move up economically, even incrementally, have social capital that works in their favor.

The challenge is: How to improve the odds so that everyone who wants to emerge from poverty is able to do so.

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A Common Foundation

Back in 2004, a group of religious bodies endorsed what they called A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work Overcoming Poverty. I share them with you.

A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work Overcoming Poverty

As a people of faith, with varying theologies and traditions, we are convinced of a remarkable convergence on fundamental principles that call us to common work in combating poverty and walking with people living in poverty.

We believe it is the Creator’s intent that all people are provided those things that protect human dignity and make for healthy life: adequate food and shelter, meaningful work, safe communities, healthcare, and education.

We believe we are intended to live well together as a whole community, seeking the common good, avoiding wide disparities between those who have too little to live and those who have a disproportionate share of the world’s good.

We believe we are all called to work to overcome poverty and that this work transcends both any particular economic theory or structure. We believe that overcoming poverty requires the use of private and  public resources.

We believe we are called to make alliances within the faith community and with others in society who share the commitment to overcome poverty.

We believe that overcoming poverty involves both acts of direct service to alleviate the outcomes of poverty and advocacy to change those structures that result in people living in poverty.

We believe government is neither solely responsible for alleviating poverty, nor removed from this responsibility. We believe government is the vehicle by which people order their lives based on their shared vision. We believe society is well served when people of faith bring their values into the public arena. It is this remarkable convergence around issues of poverty and the common good that leads people of varying faith traditions to unite in calling on government to make critical commitment to overcoming poverty.

We believe the desire to overcome poverty is not simply a human idea, but is the desire of our Creator, and that the work to create a more just society will be empowered by the Creator’s presence.