Stories from real people challenge normal way of thinking
By Matthew Ford
Sometimes life throws a “new normal” at you that significantly shakes things up and causes you to rethink or look differently at the world in which we live. Six years ago I experienced a new normal that invited me to look a little harder at my world. So my wife and I moved from a nice suburb into our city’s highest crime and highest poverty neighborhood. Now I find myself waking up every morning, not to the sound of birds chirping but to the jangle of shopping carts being pushed through the alley by those who are homeless or collecting cans and bottles as a means of survival.
A few weeks ago my church hosted a showing of The Line, a recent documentary by Sojourners that looks at the growing reality of suburban poverty. A new normal emerged for many as we wrestled together—some for the first time—with this reality.
One reason I appreciate this film is because it tells the stories of real people who find themselves in unexpected and unwanted situations. An ex-banker now relies on food stamps. An aging fisherman struggles because his shrimp-catching business was devastated by the Gulf oil spill. Most of us think those in poverty are lazy, stupid or addicted to something and that if they would only work harder they would get out of the situation they find themselves in.
The Line stories shatter those stereotypes. As I interact with the folks pushing their shopping carts down our alley, I have learned that their stories go much deeper than an addiction or laziness. It’s just not as easy as “if they would only work a little harder.”
Those of us jammed into our church classroom found ourselves engaged in a conversation that took us out of our normal way of thinking. We were stretched by questions: How can we prevent ourselves from stereotyping those struggling with poverty and better understand and support those who want to live meaningful and dignified lives in spite of their circumstances? What are some things on a local level that can be done to address some of the issues that contribute to poverty? What would you do if you found yourself in one of these situations?
The Line has fostered a conversation that has helped us continue down the road we are deeply committed to as a church: the road of neighborhood engagement. One adventure is launching a nonprofit community organization to further help meet the needs of the neighborhood. Another adventure is possibly purchasing a house in the neighborhood where interns will live, engage in the neighborhood through the church’s local ministries and develop as emerging leaders.
I am thankful for the gathering at my church where we wrestled with the realities of poverty in our country and in our neighborhoods. I trust that the hard stories presented in The Line will serve us well as we seek to follow Jesus into hard places and be the solution that brings life.
Matthew Ford is pastor of youth and family ministries at North Fresno MB Church in Fresno, Calif.