How the Other Half Lives
One of the privileges that God has given me is the opportunity to pastor in two very diverse communities. For the majority of the first half of my ministry, I served at a church that was at the time located in the one of the most marginalized zip codes in the region. For the second half of my ministry, I have been serving in a community that is located in perhaps one of the more affluent communities. At first, I was struck by how different the neighborhoods appear from the outside. However, after spending time getting to know residents in both communities over past quarter-century, I have been struck by the remarkable similarities. It has been my observation that on each side of town, in very different communities, most people deal with the same core issues.
I have observed that in each community:
People are looking for some kind of escape because they feel they cannot deal with the realities of life.
In impoverished neighborhoods, many (clearly not all) people cannot deal with the challenges and pains of life, so they go to drug dealer to get something that help numb the pain. In affluent communities, many people (clearly not all) go to their doctor for a prescription to numb themselves to the same pain. (Note: Often the doctor is legally prescribing the same thing that the drug dealer is offering, but that is for another blog.) Many people in both communities don’t know how to face life and are simply looking for some kind of escape. In affluent communities, these forms of escape are seen as more socially acceptable and often covered by insurance.
Fathers are often absent.
Nearly every study conducted shows that with all things being equal, children do better when the father is present in their lives. We all have seen the statistics that 70% of children growing up in impoverished areas don’t have a father in the home. There are many explanations of why this is the case, but it is a sad reality. Yet, this is not unique to lower-income communities. In order to afford to live in affluent communities, fathers often have to work up to and over 100 hours per week and spend significant time away from home. These fathers are working hard to provide for their families. Yet, in so doing, often find themselves absent from the families they are working so hard to provide for. Kids in every community would prefer to presence of parents over the presents of parents.
Everyone seems to be broke at the end of the month.
It has been said, “No matter where you are on the pay scale, payday cannot come soon enough. I used to think that people with nice homes and expensive cars had big bank accounts and no financial worries. After spending time with people who appear to be successful, I have observed that things are not always as they seem. I recall talking to the chief of police when I first came to my current church. I asked him, “What do I need to know about this community?” He said “Pastor Jason, don’t be fooled by the way that people project themselves. We often to get called to elaborate homes and find domestic disputes taking place in a living room where there is not even a sofa. These families have mortgaged their whole lives in order to live in a home or drive a certain car to project a certain image, and they are falling apart trying to do it.” I have learned that in every community, most people are broke at the end of the month buying things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.
A Common Hope
I am aware that there are undeniable systemic challenges that only those in poverty face on a daily basis. It is not my intention to ignore or minimize this. It is also my understanding that the phrase “mo money/mo problems” came to be coined for a reason. I have never met a person who has told me that having a bigger paycheck has taken away their problems, no matter how big that check may be.
The majority of problems we face are not as result of our income, but our humanity. We suffer because we are human.
At the end of the day, we are all only given one life, face many of the same challenges, and all have the same hope in the gospel.
Only Christ can give every one of us the strength to face our seemingly overwhelming challenges. Christ gives us a hope and presence that is greater than any challenge we will ever face.
Only God can be the perfect Father we long for in this life. The disappointment with our earthly fathers and the admitted failings of those of us who call ourselves “Dad,” are an indicator that we long for a perfect Father, and this world will never produce that. Yet, there is a perfect, eternal Father in heaven that calls us His own.
Only God, and resting in Him, will give us a secure identity. Once we recognize that we belong to Christ, we can begin to overcome the compulsion to earn status by purchasing things.