On Being Poor

by Dawn W

Recently, incredibly popular author/speaker/person Dave Ramsey published a piece extolling the virtues that the wealthy possess that the poor do not. (You can read that post here). In response, there have been many people around the internet responding to this elitist attitude and reminding everyone that Jesus, was in fact, poor.

I grew up poor. Not paycheck-to-paycheck, don’t have anything in savings poor. More like “remember that month we lived in the car” poor. My mom raised me the best way she knew how. She worked at least one full time job; sometimes two. At times we qualified for food stamps, many times we didn’t. We faced eviction more times than I care to remember. More than once, I was home alone after school and answered the door to find a police officer at the door. We owed so many people money. I don’t have memories of ever going without food, though the food we did have was always junk: processed and high in sugar and chemicals. I hate to break it to you, but eating real food is expensive. I became a connoisseur of boxed mac & cheese.

While she was never a religious person, Mom took me to church as often as she could. She told me that Jesus was a carpenter, born in a stable; a man who understood being poor. When I watched Indiana Jones try in vain to pick the cup of Christ, Mom pointed out that He would have had something simple. “Jesus wasn’t rich. He was just a normal guy.” This woman, who didn’t come to really experience a relationship with Christ until I was in high school, preached the truth to me in love.

Members of our churches, on the other hand, were less than understanding. They talked about poor people as lazy or unmotivated. Poor people, I was told, weren’t being good stewards of the gifts God had given them. Or perhaps they didn’t have enough faith. It only takes the faith of the mustard seed, they said. My teenage brain often wondered why God would make us poor. Was it a punishment or a lesson? Both? I didn’t understand, but I was ready for it to be over.

It’s taken me a lot of my growing up years and a decent amount of time studying theology for me to see what was really happening. We were poor for a multitude of reasons, among them being the failure of the system and a minimum wage that is (still) too low. Now is not the time for that. More importantly, I learned that God does not favor the rich and fiscally responsible. Monetary success is not a sacrament. My Lord is manifested in the bread and wine of the Table; the love of a friend; the poetry of the liturgy; the truth of His Word.

Christ tells me I don’t have to be ashamed of or burdened by my past. My story is His story.

Note: You can read some incredible reactions to the original posting from Rachel Held Evans, Preston Yancey, Nish Weiseth, and Zach Hoag.