kathyescobar a view from the margins 5 Comments

Payne-Ruby-Frameworki just started reading an interesting book by ruby payne called a framework for understanding poverty.  i had never read it before, although i’ve heard many good things about it from some different friends who work with friends in hard places.   it is very interesting.  i was thinking, too, that some material that really needs to be written is a book about understanding poverty by people living in poverty.

i am always reminded, too, that the idea of descent & downward living is not solely connected to economics.  it is also a matter of the heart, where our treasure lies, where we spend our time & energy, what direction we are walking.  father richard rohr calls it “falling upward”  & henri nouwen calls it “downward mobility.”

the more i intersect with suburban poverty (there’s more of it than we know), the more convinced i am that we must find ways to break the cycle.  the goal, however, cannot be all about just becoming middle class & getting stuck in that cycle of living for money, success, & comfort.

one of the parts that really resonated with me in dr. payne’s material were the “hidden rules” of the different classes. she says that hidden rules are “the unspoken cues and habits of a group”. it is very hard to understand the rules in groups that we are not in.  what is the norm for people in one group is not even on the radar for people in another.

the more we can learn and understand from each other, the better.  the problem is that for the most part, everyone stays in their own groups & cultures, with little to no real cross-over and meaningful relationship.

one of my favorite things i’ve read so far is that she says that the way out of poverty is through education and relationships.

the way out of poverty is through education and relationships.

this is not a new idea, but a good reminder that those are the two things we need to put time and energy into if we hope for real change.

she also highlights the difference between generational poverty (two generations or more) and situational poverty (caused by a circumstance).  we need to understand just how many people we intersect with who through divorce, death, mental or physical illness and a whole other range of issues, find themselves in poverty because of their circumstance.

anyway, here’s a little quiz she has for the three classes (p. 38-40).  i didn’t do every single question for the sake of brevity but i thought you might find it interesting.  remember, this is poverty in the US, not third world countries, and some of the questions are guaranteed to annoy you.  she uses it to set the stage for hidden rules.

  • could you survive in poverty?

1. i know which churches and sections of town have the best rummage sales [i would add: “and food banks and thrift stores”]

2. i know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for throw-away food.

3. i know how to get someone out of jail.

4. i know how to physically fight and defend myself physically

5. i know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the laundromat.

6. i know what problems to look for in a used car [i’d add “and keep a worn out car going with cheap repairs done by myself or a friend”]

7. i know how to live without a checking account.

8. i know how to live without electricity and a phone.

9. i know how to use a knife as scissors.

10. i know what to do when i don’t have money to pay the bill

11. i know how to get and use food stamps or an electronic card for benefits.

12. i know where the free medical clinics are.

13. i am very good at trading and bartering.

14. i can get by without a car.

  • could you survive in the middle class?

1. i know how to get my children into little league, piano lessons, soccer, etc.

2. i know how to properly set a table.

3. i know which stores are most likely to carry the clothing brands my family wears.

4. my children know the best name brands in clothing.

5. i know how to order in a nice restaurant.

6. i know how to use a credit card, checking account and savings account–and….term life insurance, disability insurance, a 20/80 medical insurance policy…house insurance.

7. i talk to my children about going to college.

8. i know how to get one of the best interest rates on my new car loan.

9. i understand the difference among the principle, interest, and escrow statements on my house payment.

10. i know how to help my children with their homework and do not hesitate to call the school if i need additional information.

11. i know how to decorate the house for the different holidays.

12. i know how to get a library card.

13. i know to use most of the tools in the garage.

14. i repair items in my house almost immediately when they break–or know a repair service and call (insert)

  • could you survive in wealth?

1. i can read a menu in french, english, and another language.

2. i have several favorite restaurants in different countries of the world.

3. during the holidays i knowhow to hire a decorator to identify appropriate themes and items with which to decorate the house.

4. i know who my preferred financial advisor, legal service…domestic-employment service, and hairdresser are.

5. i have at least two residences that are staffed and maintained.

6. i know how to ensure confidentiality and loyalty from my domestic staff.

7. i have at least two or three “screens” that keep people whom i do not wish to see away from me.

8. i fly in my own plane or the company plane.

9. i know how to enroll my children in the preferred private schools.

10. i know how to host parties that “key” people attend.

11. i am on the boards of at least two charities.

12. i support or buy the work of a particular artist.

13. i know how to read a corporate financial statement and analyze my own financial statements.

well, i can definitely survive in the middle class.  what’s interesting is that i have learned some of these things over time and from being around others who knew how to do it.  growing up with a single mom for different chunks of years we had seasons where we definitely lived at the poverty line financially, but it was more situational poverty than generational poverty. education shifted that over time with each of my siblings & my mom, too, all getting our college educations in different ways.  on the poverty quiz, because of the last few years of journeying with friends on the margins,  i have #3, 11, and 12 down, but the reality is that i have never had to live there as a grown-up.  on the wealthy side, i’m thinking that #7 should be put over on the middle class side in a section called “for suburban megachurch lead pastors only”, ha ha, sorry, it just made me laugh.

honestly, though, the only reason i shared this here is so that those who aren’t there can continue to learn and respect what life in poverty might include.  and that poverty has nothing to do with living on the streets.  many of my friends who live below the poverty line look just like everyone else & are stuck in a cycle that only education and/or relationships can really change.


i’d love to hear some of your reactions & thoughts.

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a few other things to toss out there:

  • i had already written this post when i came across this post about poverty from alan knox–how does the church respond to poverty. it is the powerful story from a woman about situational poverty.  it’s really worth reading.
  • check out this recycle your faith video-sacred everyday life–of my friends carol & kate bradsen & what they are learning through their intentional community in tucson.  i think this can be a beautiful way out of poverty, too.   i know a lot of people who can afford to pay a portion of the bills but trying to pay them all on their own is sinking them.
  • also, my friend jonathan brink from civitas press edited a diverse compilation of stories called the practice of love, centered around loving God, our neighbors, ourselves, our enemies. i have a couple of pieces in it & so do some other dear friends of mine. out may 1st, you can preorder now.
  • christine sine always hosts a good synchroblog during advent & lent. this year’s lent topic is what difference does Jesus make? there are alot of great posts to check out. my contribution is up this week & is called humility.
  • the inhabit conference, hosted by parish collective & transFORM network & mars hill graduate school, is at the end of this month in seattle. registration info is on the site. i’m looking forward to being part & learning a lot from everyone there. let me know if you’re planning on going, would love to connect.