Surprise! There’s Injustice and Inequality in the World…

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one and over them both are others higher still.  The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.  Ecclesiastes 5:8, 9.


For the most part, I’m pretty disappointed in the human race—especially those who claim to be wise and in the “know”.  It seems very few people harbor any sense of realistic outlook on the world’s drama unfolding.  Living in Portland, constantly bombarded with social and environmental issues, I find some people care about these things to the exclusion of rational thinking.  Some get so concerned for the issue they fight for that their humanity becomes compromised.

Poverty is one of those issues.

It’s always frustrating to me when people act surprised by poverty.  In America we barely register the world’s definition of the word itself, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not like there isn’t a cause for it.  Disaster, substance abuse, laziness, oppression, economic fluctuations, personal tragedy, etc. all contribute to the conditions of the poor.  Yet at least a few of the problems could be avoided if society cared more for people than they do about accomplishing great things for society or power mongering.  Of course, the US also knows poverty yet it’s an odd type of poverty.  Our poor have more goods than most poverty stricken people.  It’s hard to worry about a culture of poor people who can own a TV, car, iPods, get food stamps, shop for used clothing or whatever at discount places like Goodwill or Salvation Army, etc.  I don’t consider myself hard hearted towards them, rather I feel we have a whiner attitude which pervades a rather privileged culture.  To be blunt, while I acknowledge the under privileged and the children who go hungry in our country, we don’t have to with all the programs here.  The children who tend to go hungry here rarely do so because the programs to provide for them don’t exist.  It’s usually the fault of the parents who are strung out on drugs, alcohol or practice some form of abuse—neglect, physical or mental.

The wackiest problem we encounter as human societies is that of the hierarchy taking a lion’s share of the goods which come in from the “fields” where the food supply is grown.  I’ve dug ditches and must say that whatever the bosses say, those guys down doing the hard work deserve to be paid better than they are.  But it won’t ever happen.  Human nature being what it is those in charge believe in some odd sense they deserve a bigger cut of the profit than those actually doing the grunt work.  It’s a weird juxtaposition brought on by entitlement attitudes of the rich and educated.  Still, I get it, when a person owns a plot of land, the larger portion of the profit should go to them.  Otherwise they won’t have seed or enough income to maintain the property nor will they be able to weather disasters and market fluctuations.  That said, their workers must be paid a reasonable salary as well.

Yet the impoverished struggle with greed, envy, jealousy, lust and covetousness just as much as their rich counterparts.  Those who have money worry about losing it to some disaster or failure on their part; those without it worry about getting it.  Those impoverished or on the borderline of it lust after getting it.

I grew up in a lower middle class family.  This is not to say my folks weren’t educated, Mom went to college though Dad didn’t make it through third grade, still they were professional people after the style of the 50s and 60s.  Dad became a mechanic following a car accident which almost killed him, leaving one hip disjointed, two broken vertebrae, and crushing four disks.  I remember he could cut a car in half, weld a new half on and when he finished you wouldn’t know it had ever been damaged.  Mom turned out to be an exceptional nurse (this from those who worked with her), and I think she must have had a fairly intelligent mind because she could grasp abstracts pretty well.

In the fall of 1971 Dad almost died from three heart attacks while setting chokers and bundling logs.  We were a couple hours flight from Ketchikan, Alaska, so when this happened they had to first get a plane to pick him up, leaving Mom, my brother Tracy and I to worry.  I honestly don’t remember much about that day at all.  I can remember parts of scenes, but nothing much beyond snatches.  We moved to town, found an apartment in the least raunchy of the housing projects across from the ferry docks and Mom began hunting for a job.  Unfortunately for us Dad couldn’t get insurance because of a preexisting heart condition (which turned out to be something else entirely), so money was so tight we had to live on the last of his wages and severance pay from the logging camp.

I don’t remember the move to our new apartment; the next clear memory is going to school then a trip to the Post Office.  We heard from Dad somewhere in that timeframe and the lead doctor assured us he would recover if he took it easy and didn’t overstrain himself.  Turns out his heart was in perfect condition up to the heart attacks, but he had a rare condition known as Wolfgang-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a nerve disorder which caused fibrillation and dizziness.  He came home two (?) months later and would never be able to work again full time—or even part time for that matter.  Social Security kicked in as did the food stamps, without which we wouldn’t have made it.

Before Dad came back we boys needed new coats, since it was September or October when it all went down.  Mom prayed for exactly $60.00 to pay for new coats and the utilities, which were scheduled to be shut off, telling no one about our situation.  A little while later on one of our trips to the Post Office, she began to cry and hold up a letter, telling me to look inside it, and there was exactly $60.00.

I ended up going to a private Christian grade school and when I reached hi school, began working to pay for both Tracy’s and my school bills.  We didn’t know poverty on the level of people from second or third world countries, but it was pretty tight.  Mom attempted to get her RN when I was 14-16 years old, but her health gave out two months before she could finish school and she ended up getting a job at a college in Washington.  She couldn’t go back to nursing for several years because of the burnout.  The stress of Dad’s health and lack of resources caused her to become allergic to all sorts of things—even her own skin.

I am not one of those who will cite the “tragedies” in my past for sympathy; instead I want people to understand I get it.  I know what it means to go without to a point.  I didn’t even own a car until I was 27, and that was given to me by my brother.  And all this just to say, the conditions in America rival the middle class of most countries.

Yet this doesn’t detract from the problem of the rich abusing their power and taking a lion’s share of the wealth.  Everyone profits from the field and should be grateful for the people who do the back breaking work it takes to put that food on the table.  We should also be thankful for the people in the market who take care of our goods in a way which allows us to be free from diseases or bacteria.  God expects us to share the wealth and give to those who are underprivileged, while at the same time making sure we do our best to never enable those who refuse to work.

The wealthy who take advantage of the poor will pay the price eventually.  A person can’t abuse the system which brings them profit then expect that system to remain stable.  If we break the hand that feeds us, we can’t expect it to work for us until it heals.

A tough path to negotiate.


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5 Responses to “Surprise! There’s Injustice and Inequality in the World…”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    So many comments here, I could easily write a book in reply. I’ll cut it down to say, you and I have both been to Africa and places in the world where we have seen “real” poverty. In this country you can be homeless and still use a mall bathroom with flushing toilets and running water to clean up. There are still soup kitchens and people who will buy you a burger if you ask.

    While we are still a nation of waste, entitlement and greed, I believe in America and American’s who continually give more than any other people to our world’s needs. That being said, there must be change. Two out of three requests for aid to our church are single moms. One last week with 8 kids and 5 daddies, never a husband. Until we understand that freedom has more burden and more responsibility and until we believe that God put boundaries in place for protection, we will have these types of problems.

    The family that has hit a rough patch and needs aid gets my immediate attention, they come embarrassed, eyes diverted because they’d rather be anywhere else but where they are, and they offer to volunteer, work it off somehow. That’s righteous and always breaks my heart a little more than other stories.

    There have been a few who have swindled this country, been paid a handsome bailout and continue to take advantage. May God have mercy on them and may the people wise up to their schemes. I don’t know if there will be a time when I revolt will happen in this country but it seems more probable now than ever before.

    • jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

      I think your last sentence is more likely than we know. Almost every revolution in the last 200 years came because the privileged began to abuse (more than normal) their power. Socialism isn’t the answer, of course, but neither is any other form of political dream because only Jesus should be in charge. Humans don’t play god without abusing their authority.

  2. Ula Says:

    Great post, Jonny. Living in South Africa has taught me a couple of things about poverty. We have a very diverse society which is a product of apartheid for the most part. Our understanding of poverty is very subjective. We have really poor people and on the other end of the scale, the really rich.

    I have learnt that when the previously advantaged group of people talk about “hard times” it generally means that they still have way more than the really impoverished could ever hope for. When the poorest of the poor speak about having nothing, they really do have nothing apart from the clothes on their backs.

    As in many other countries, we also struggle with greed, corruption and power mongering among our leaders which only serves to broaden the divide in our society. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I enjoyed reading about your perspective on poverty.

    • jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

      Thanks, Ula. Having lived in South Africa myself for several years, I get what you mean. I think it affected my sense of proportion once I moved back to the States—a lot.

  3. new mom Says:

    new mom…

    […]Surprise! There’s Injustice and Inequality in the World… « Jonny’s Habit[…]…

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