Two preachers were talking between sets; shoulder workouts using the cable machine; both of them lathered in sweat, but smiling broadly --a good natured pair if ever I saw one. They were black, but it's only mentioned here because it has to be.
I have a habit of listening in. I enjoy their political discussions, which falls short of being an apologist for the Obama administration. They want to like the man. The want to love him. They want him to be their John F. Kennedy, their Ronald Reagan, but can't quite find themselves on the same side of the fence. It's a struggle and I enjoy listening to them work through each issue. They're both thoughtful, passionate men and I believe in their faith much more than I ever believe in my own.
Today, I caught a discussion, during one minute rests between reps, about differences in poverty. The poor they knew, the poor they understood were their people in their congregation. A few were shiftless assholes living on the state. Others had chemical problems, criminal backgrounds and mental problems, but most were struggling to stand on their own. They might collect a check or take a little charity, but they were trying to find their way. They were working to raise children and make a life for themselves they could respect.
To them, it seemed like most of the poor they knew were poor by circumstances. They came from little means to begin with and moving upward was difficult. Gravity was against them --but they were trying. One of them had met a man who'd been on the road, holding a sign saying he was homeless, unemployed, hungry, whatever.
"He dressed up in hobo clothes and went out every day," one said to the other. "He didn't have to do that and so I asked him, why?"
The man told him he could make eighty to a hundred dollars a day, tax-free standing out with a sign. He didn't even have to be out all day most of the time.
"You can't blame him," the other preacher said. "That's good money. I hear out west, in California, a lot of young people do that --they go out and panhandle."
The word sounded alien in his mouth. He wasn't used to using it.
"They do that instead of work --kids, you know?"
He meant white kids. Neither of them understood why able-bodied people with what to them seemed like opportunities people in their community might not have would choose to do something so distasteful.
And me, standing there, remembered the words of Milton. "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven," but also I thought the bottom is deep. Once you make up your mind to fall, you don't get to decide how far.