Don't Judge Me
In honor of Hunger Awareness Month, I am running this blog from when my family and I did the SNAP challenge (where you live on $5 per person per day for food). I blogged each day of that week for the church I was serving at the time. This one is from a little over halfway through. If you, your small group, or your church would like to go through the discernment process to learn how you might address hunger in your area, click here to sign up for the Congregation Resourcing System (CouRSe) of the Arkansas Conference of the UMC, and then sign up for the course entitled, “Prepare, Discern, Pray, Act.” It will take you about 4-6 weeks to complete as a group.
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, CEB translation)
My husband stood staring at me, a look of mild shock on his face.
“Don’t judge me!” I exclaimed.
“I am just about to,” he answered.
Okay, I was putting the grease drained from our beef into the empty pan next to the beef pan. It was only a couple of scoops. I explained I was about to dump a can of refried beans into that pan, and the grease would make the beans extra tasty. Was it a necessary step? No. Was it a particularly healthy step? No. Was it a tasty step? Oh yeah.
And it turns out my husband just thought I had gone crazy and was draining grease from one pan to the other. He was totally on board with the grease in the beans plan. He was on board because he comes from some pretty basic roots like I do. It is not the strangest thing we have eaten or watched people we love eat.
I have already mentioned he had a mayonnaise sandwich. That is a man who comes from poor roots. A butter and sugar sandwich would be a close second. And the reason I made sure we had some kind of crackers is because I have watched my mom and my aunt crumble crackers in milk and eat them like cereal. Of course, my mom told me that Ritz crackers would not work because they are too soft, and they would instantly turn to mush. But then I said that what you do is you only crumble a couple crackers at a time, eat those, and then crumble a couple more. That’s how I eat my Club crackers in tomato soup; it would work the same for cracker cereal.
I learned from growing up in a household with a tight budget how to stretch and conserve. It was a skill that came instantly to the surface when my husband lost his job in early 2009. He was only out of work for a few months, and we had unemployment all that time, but I did not know how long that would last. I was serving as a pastoral intern at the time, which was paid, thank goodness. But we went from upper middle class to below the poverty line overnight. So I switched gears accordingly.
I do remember, though, that the very first thing I cut was our food. I cut grocery shopping almost altogether, knowing we had quite a bit of food in the house. But I also signed us up for Angel Food, and I wish that it had not had to shut down due to corruption because it was delivering good food at a great cost. But let’s get back to the matter at hand. I did cut our food budget right away, which is one of the things that came up as I researched SNAP – food is one of the few things people have immediate control over as far as cost goes. You cannot significantly cut utilities right away (you are paying for the previous month’s usage). You can’t change your rent or house payment. Food can be cut immediately, though. Thus the argument for food stamps: it makes people spend money on food when they might otherwise cut it. And if we are honest, we do not want any more hungry people running around out there than we already have. Hunger leads you to take actions you would not otherwise do.
Not to mention the fact that Jesus tells us to feed the hungry (i.e. Matthew 25:35). There’s that.
But even though this blog post is entitled, “Don’t Judge Me,” I expected from publishing my shopping list (and showing a picture of our food to the first service at our church) that judging me was exactly what would happen. And the judgment has been from all sides. People with significant resources have expressed concern (judgment?) that I am not eating healthy enough. Some with resources are certain that they would not spend nearly as much on soda as we did. And how exactly is it that we made it out of the store without any chicken?
Then people who are on more limited budgets, or are on public assistance themselves, have been upset that we cared about whether we had oil in our tuna or not. Or they have criticized the fact that I bought so many brand name foods. Or that I did almost all my shopping at one store.
That is what we do. We stand in line at the store and look in the shopping carts of the people ahead of us, and no matter what they have in there, we judge. But then if we see them use the SNAP EBT card, we feel entitled to judge. We feel like we own part of their food, so we should get to dictate what happens with that food. And we see that person not as a person who just wants to have Oreos in an otherwise beans and cornbread week of meals, God forbid. We see them as a person…. Well, that’s just it. We don’t see them as a person. We look past our own carts that contain both good and bad choices into their carts and then focus on only their bad choices, and then we feel like we are superior to them, and they are just a walking around embodiment of all our frustrations with our broken systems, and we blame them and their poor choices for all that is wrong with the world.
What we do not do is seek to understand why they made the choices they did.
What does the Bible say about removing the log from our own eye before we go after the speck in the other’s (Matthew 7:3)? The same passage reminds us that we should not judge others, lest we be judged ourselves (Matthew 7:1). But even in using these brief references to Scripture, I am using the Bible to judge others too.
When we seek to live in the reign of God, we have to look past the shopping list. There is a story behind those purchases. There are people making the choices they make. But we would actually have to love our neighbor, and care enough to hear the stories behind those choices, for any real transformation to occur. And that takes so much time and energy.
So instead, damn me for my Oreos and Pepsi. That is so much easier.
Photo by Bruno Kelzer on unsplash.com