Several years ago, I attended a church with my best friend from college. Overall, I enjoyed the service and appreciated the commitment that the congregation and the leadership had to their beliefs. But I took issue (and still take issue) with some of the positions the pastor took and their effect on the community at large.
During one sermon, the pastor talked about his experiences taking a stand against abortion in the community (Federal Way). He, along with several from the congregation, stood on the sidewalk of the local Planned Parenthood with tape over their mouths. Their intent was to emulate the voicelessness of children being aborted. Just to clarify: this article is NOT about abortion (my personal stance — pro-life or pro-choice — is irrelevant). Several days after the pastor’s sermon, I e-mailed him and asked what resources he had available to provide to the women who were going into the clinic.
His response concerned me. He literally said that he did not believe it was his duty or role to provide any resources. Were I a woman walking into Planned Parenthood I would feel terribly judged by this pastor’s actions. And, having used Planned Parenthood's services, I can say that (even as a man) I have seen protestors and burned with anger. For starters, no outsider can know what services a client is using. Additionally, even if the pastor were right about a person’s intentions, he did not have a list of adoption agencies, crisis housing, or agencies that could assist financially with all of the costs of pregnancy.
I’ll be honest, I have forgiven this pastor for his arrogance (believing that he could sufficiently understand another’s situation without having had a conversation with that person). Nor do I hold a grudge. But, occasionally, something random sparks my frustration and I get a little riled up again.
Most recently this occurred when a friend of mine, who is a pastor, posted a status update on a social networking site regarding his experience in a grocery store checkout line. He mentioned his frustration that the woman who checked out in front of him used an EBT card (food stamps) and had an iPhone. The gist of his update was that it was/is inappropriate for someone to use government assistance AND have seemingly luxury items.
In some ways, I agree with him. It is important to be both frugal and responsible with subsidized resources. But I also have a different perspective. I am going on eight weeks of unemployment and, even though I have applied for over 80 jobs, I have no real prospects (and I am NOT being picky). And, when I was very close to being out of food (and having no money or income), I applied for an EBT card.
Not surprisingly, I qualify. While this is not my ideal, I recognize that this is temporary and I do not believe that I am abusing the system (I have been working since I was 16 years old and have never needed government assistance in the past).
And I have an iPhone. In one of my previous work situations, it was essentially necessary. Now, it would cost me more to switch phones than it costs me to maintain my service. Additionally, I contacted my provider and was able to get a discount and an extension on my bill. This, too, is temporary.
I can think of several situations in which the woman in question would have the need for EBT and have reasonable use for an iPhone. Maybe she is a victim of domestic violence and the phone was donated to a shelter for both basic use and emergency situations. Or maybe someone put her on a family phone plan and is covering the cost of her phone. The simple truth is that I will never know. But, because my friend did not ask questions, he will not know either.
The challenge, then, is to ask questions (when appropriate) or at least consider possibilities. To make assumptions is to effectively put tape over one’s mouth and end the possibility of actual understanding. It is ineffective and, unfortunately, manifests itself as judgment. The difficulty in opening a conversation is that one may not like what he/she learns. But it opens the door for learning and deeper understanding.