day 3 – inequality – (living below the line diaries)

It’s half-way through day three and I’m about to go out for coffee with a friend… I haven’t told her yet that I’ll only be able to have tap water whilst she tucks into whatever she fancies.


The inequality question has been easier than we thought it would be… mostly because we’ve deferred hospitality this week (but more on that another day).

In the enclave of our house everyone’s in the same boat – less food than normal, not much variety, same value tins in the cupboard, and plenty of grace for tiredness and lack of energy.

But when we leave the house, and encounter people living way above the line, things get interesting…

It all began during Monday’s supermarket trip

There we were at the checkout – in front of us one lady was packing up a family shop that came in at £173… I don’t know what she’d been buying, but her heavily-laden trolley was a stark contrast to the puddle of value items we were standing next to. As we got closer to the girl on the till, people arrived behind us who looked like they were stocking up for a bank holiday barbeque… and I tried not to look at the range of stuff they were stacking onto the belt.

Of course we weren’t surprised by the inequality between our shop and those either side of us – our own normal shops would have looked very different from the list we shared with you on Monday.

What surprised me was my reaction. I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed – I didn’t want the checkout girl to think that this was what I was choosing to buy. Cheap, value brands, unethical tea and no fresh fruit and veg – unhealthy, unappetising and unlovely…. shouldn’t I be past caring about my image in this way?

I quickly got rid of my sense of shame by explaining my “noble” activity for the week. But of course a different kind of shame has followed. Because I say I want to walk alongside people living in poverty, but I was embarrassed that someone might think I was one of them for real.

But last night was interesting too…

I’d imagined that spending the evening with my small group might be challenging as we were due to eat together, and there’s always a good spread.

After a bit of joking about the contrast between my situation and everyone else’s, I actually decided to eat before I went and that was a good decision… I made it on the basis of not getting in the way with a different set of food to cook, but I think I would have found it much harder to eat my basic and boring food next to theirs (which looked delicious!) than to sit there already full – because I was.

With three cups of hot water getting me through the evening, I felt fine, and everyone was very kind. In this place of safety and community, where people knew me and the point of what I was doing, I felt like an equal. How different might I have felt if I was actually hungry?

And today…

I’m pretty sure that my friend will understand my strange order at the cafe, but I’m hoping there’s no tea and coffee at the meeting we’re going to tonight because I don’t know most of the people there very well. I don’t want to feel awkward asking just for hot water, or by producing my own tea bag and milk allowance (!), but I think it’s more likely I’m going to have to explain myself and hope for the best…

Meanwhile I can’t help reflecting on the relationship between being seen to have less and a feeling of shame… and remembering that it works the other way round too…

Because it’s what I felt the other week when a homeless man came to one of our united prayer meetings and we couldn’t put him up for the night in our spare-room because we live in a female house-share.

It’s how I feel everytime we go on the streets with people from our church and the guys we meet share the food I give them with my dog. Or when I think about what I’m going home to, and all the opportunities I’ve had that have led me to such a different reality to theirs.

And it’s how I imagine I would feel if one of the people truly living below the line saw how I live during any other week but this one.

Liz Baddaley

A prayer for inter-dependence

Open my hands Lord
Because I want to share what I have
But I so often forget that everything good I’m holding
Is all from you and is given to me
To give again.
Open my hands Lord
Because I want to receive from everyone I meet
But I so often forget that they have good things to offer
That are from you and given to them
To give again.
Change my heart Lord
For I so often compare
And notice the difference
When all I should see is your image revealed seven billion times and never the same
And all I should seek is family – your every good thing to be shared with each one.

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