Holmes: Every child deserves a ‘Breakfast of Champions’

Feb. 04, 2013 @ 11:31 AM

DURHAM -- I went to the "Breakfast of Champions" Jan. 24 at Rogers Herr Middle School. At that breakfast, one sixth-grade girl shared her “I Have a Dream speech, stating "I have a dream that every child can come home from school, and there will be food on the table."

After the breakfast, I went to a gathering of more than 300 Durham community members fort a Faith Summit on Child Poverty in Durham at Union Baptist Church.  I learned that 27 percent of children in Durham live in poverty. That is below about $20,000 a year for a family of four. That is about 14,000 children in our community who live in poverty.

The people at this gathering believe we can end poverty for our children. They shared the dream that where you are born in Durham will not determine your opportunity. Some reasons for optimism are that the Durham economy is growing. We also have social capital, people willing to help each other. We have intellectual capital, within the universities in our midst. We have strong faith communities willing to lead the privileged part of our community into fellowship with those with less privilege. 

With these assets we can lift our children out of poverty.

We heard from the Rev. William Barber, who described the structural and institutional inequality that is violence in the form of poverty.  His comments echoed Martin Luther King Jr.'s critique of capitalism, and the great inter-related evils of economic exploitation, racism and militarism.  The violence around us springs from the radical inequality between rich and poor, the legacy of our history of racial oppression. 

Barber also reminded us that poverty is at the center of God's agenda.  He reminded us that God identifies with the poor. Jesus was born in a barn. He told us that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick or visit the prisoner we are with God. (Matt: 25:31-46).  He also reminded us that God blesses the poor who shall receive the Kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20-21).  Why would the poor be in the Kingdom of God? Because poor people, sick people, outcasts and children understand the fragility of life.  They understand our need for each other, our fundamental interconnectedness. They know that we are with God when we are loving and caring for each other.

That means that our myth of self-reliance, this false story of rugged individualism, is a lie leading us away from each other, and away from God. This belief that we can make it on our own is self-idolatry.

We go to church on Sunday to develop our personal relationship with God. We find inner peace, listen to sermons, sing and pray. But if our spiritual path stops here, we have not truly found God.  If our spiritual path does not take us into the lives of the poor, the sick, the outcasts, then we are suffering a divine absence.

Barber reminded us of the consequences of ignoring the poor. He reminded us of the story of Lazarus. Lazarus begged at the door of the rich man who completely ignored him. The rich man was punished for his inattention. (Luke 16:19-34) Barber called this "attention violence."  And the Hell experienced by the rich is real, because our blindness to the poor represents our separation from God. The rich man missed this opportunity to be with God every day he walked past Lazarus. 

We are God's gifts to each other. We can be with God when we share the table with someone who is really hungry, when we can share a roof with someone without one. These poor, sick, outcasts can save us from the hell of our blind privilege, and we can help ease suffering.

The folks at the Faith Summit were clear that we are not meant to work for the poor, we are meant to be with the poor. It is what Oscar Romero called "accompaniment," and Durham's own Marcia Owen calls "being with," instead of "being for."  We can find God by caring for each other, being with each other. We are called to go beyond technical programmatic solutions, and show up as children of God to be with our suffering brothers and sisters.

By Scott Holmes is a Durham resident, a Quaker and an attorney.