Tag Archives: hunger

Privileged Christians and Hunger in America

19 Mar

I mentioned the other day I’d been thinking a lot about hunger in America. What I’ve been forced to realize lately is that even being able to think about hunger is a hallmark of my own position of privilege.

I’m going to make a confession here: I hate the word privilege. Just hearing that word makes my defenses go up.

When someone says I’m privileged, I think about all the ways my life hasn’t been easy. My dad lost a good job when I was about 10, and we were really poor for a few years after that. Poor to the point of needing help from our church and our family members to get by and not lose our house.

Oh, what’s that? Yes, we had our own house. It was a cheap little 3-bedroom National, but it was ours. And our car died every time Mom or Dad stopped at a light or turned a corner, so they could throw it in neutral, restart it, and shift back to drive without missing a beat. But we owned a car. Oh, did I mention my mom stayed at home with me until my dad lost his job?

So not only were we poor, but we were in a way better position than thousands or even millions of Americans, let alone people all around the world. I learned a lot from being poor. The Christmas right after my dad lost his job is one of the best in my memory, and it included things he salvaged from a Dumpster and refurbished. But it showed what a huge difference love makes.

Shelves of food in a food bank

So back to my point. I hate the word privilege. Probably because, as much as I hate admitting it, the word applies to me.

Let me share a few embarrassing but pointed examples of how my privilege is affecting how I think about the problem of hunger in America:

 

  1. I am afraid to meet hungry people. It embarrasses me that my jeans cost me $80 a pair when I think about going to the local food pantry and facing people who can’t afford food. I’m afraid I will come across as condescending when all I want is to make a difference in people’s lives. So what do I do? Instead of going down and giving my time (which I have plenty of these days), I donate food and used clothes and things I don’t want any more.
  2. I am learning about hunger in America by watching movies and reading books. How privileged is that? Yes, there were times in my life that my family wasn’t sure where our next few meals were coming from, but I was young, and children are resilient. I’m not facing hunger myself on a daily basis. I’m reading books like Red Letter Revolution and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I’m watching A Place at the Table and getting outraged from my comfortable theater seating. I’m not looking hunger in the face.
  3. I am trying to fight hunger by talking about it. No, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with talking about a problem. You can’t find solutions without discourse and dialogue. But you also can’t build a house by talking about building it. Sure, you have to draw up a blueprint and assemble your supplies, but sooner or later you have to pick up a hammer and nail some boards together. I am not out there feeding people. It’s not like hunger is a new issue for me. Back in November I was thinking about volunteering at some of the service dinners that happen in Indianapolis over the holiday season. Yet here I am, still reading and researching and talking, talking, talking.
  4. I act like posting things on Facebook is good enough. Sure, it’s fine to educate my friends on Facebook about the problem of hunger. But I’m not sure if I’m really changing any minds out there. My Republican friends are getting pissed off because I support entitlement programs and want to make people dependent. My Democrat friends are probably thinking it’s nice I”m finally with the program. And what’s worst, my Christian friends don’t seem to give a shit. I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness. Posting something on Facebook to try to shock my friends into caring is great and all, but it’s making me feel frustrated by their lack of caring while allowing me to feel smug like I’ve accomplished something. And that just makes me disgusted with myself when I think about it.

I’m a smart person. But it isn’t enough to know there’s a problem. You have to actually do something. And I haven’t made that connect yet. So here’s my commitment, both to myself and to you guys:

I am going to finish reading Red Letter Christians and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Easter, and then I am going to get off my butt and do something. I’ll go to the Caring Center and ask if I can volunteer. I’ll get to meet hungry people. I‘ll find out if there’s a way I can turn my own particular skill set to making a difference in people’s daily lives.

What about you guys? Are there ways you fight privilege in our own lives? Are you already out there doing something about hunger? What do you think I should do?

A Place at the Table

13 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hunger and poverty. Of course, over the past year I have been growing more liberal in my politics, so thinking about hunger and poverty, at least as a part of the whole, isn’t a new thing for me. But the week before last I got an email from Panera that kicked this off again.

See, I have a Panera card. You know, the kind you swipe and get rewards after so many purchases and free pastries on your birthday. And because I have a Panera card, the corporation invited me to a free screening of a powerful movie called A Place at the Table. I know Panera is trying to fight food insecurity through their pay-what-you-can cafes. I don’t know much more about Panera, if they pay a living wage and such. I need to learn more. But I respect that they’ve started doing something, because every movement needs a first step.

End Hunger Now

What Panera did last week was open my eyes.

I knew people in America were hungry. I knew that 1 in 6 people are living with food insecurity–they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I read a statistic yesterday that says 8.3 million seniors go to bed hungry each night.

What is going on in America? Why do we have such hungry people, when obesity is a national epidemic and there is plenty of food to go around?

Well, according to A Place at the Table, a lot of it comes down to two things: corporate greed, and the government’s unwillingness to do something about the problem.

Corporations continue pushing out foods that are loaded with non-nutritious calories. Corporate farms suck up most of the government subsidies on corn, soybeans, and wheat, while family farms and orchards are left out. The government gives public schools a tiny amount of money to spend on school lunches, where far too many children are eating the only meal they get each day; as a result, school lunches aren’t as nutritious as they should be. Did you know the average food stamp allotment is $3 per day? How well can you eat on that? Junk food is cheaper than healthful food, and if you only have $3 to spend, you’re probably going to go for the cheapest things around, right?

The actor Jeff Bridges was involved in A Place at the Table, and at one point he says that if another nation was doing this to our children, we would go to war. But we’re doing it to ourselves. That’s insane.

So viewing the movie got me thinking about all this. As the movie points out, there are thousands of private food charities attempting to fill the gap, and yet the hunger problem is worse than ever. Private charities aren’t the solution. Not that I think the government is a great solution either, considering they can’t even come to an agreement about the budget, but something has to be done.

I posted something to this effect on Facebook the other day, and one of my Christian Republican friends pointed out that too much government assistance creates dependency. I disagree with her for a lot of reasons, and I also believe that a well-designed assistance program would be aimed at helping people get on their feet. But that’s a post for another day.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that we need to be worried about dependency right now. I think we need to prioritize things differently. It’s like triage. If a physician has a patient bleeding to death from a traumatic leg wound, does she worry about making the patient dependent on a wheelchair, or does she apply a tourniquet and amputate the leg? Let’s feed hungry people first, and worry about dependency when we’re sure no one has gone to bed hungry tonight.

Along with watching A Place at the Table, I’ve also been reading a couple of really great books. I started with Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis, and this week I began reading Red Letter Revolution by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne.

What I’ve taken away so far is a lot of jumbled emotions and a strong feeling of conviction. I have to change how I’m living my life. I have to encourage other Christians to change how they’re living their lives. I have to reach out to people who have been hurt and judged and condemned and abused by people in the name of Christianity. I have to stop trying to defend all the atrocities committed by Christians and start trying to follow Jesus.

The subtitle of Medearis’ book is “The Art of Non-Evangelism”, but I would posit that the book is about so much more than evangelizing people (or not evangelizing them, actually). It’s about how Christians look at theology and rules and are-you-a-believer-or-not. It’s about how Christians forget to look at Jesus.

What would Jesus do? Well, I can tell you what He did. He fed the five thousand. He healed the sick. He condemned the religious leaders who wanted to stone the adulterous woman, rather than condemning the adulterous woman. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He told us not to lay up treasures on earth.

He fed the hungry.

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