Easter has passed and with it went the season of Lent for another year. Lent, the season of sacrifice, going without eating meat on Fridays or for some Christians, the season of avoiding foods with fat in them. The idea of “giving up” something for lent was not really part of my Lutheran upbringing. When I got to school and my Catholic friends asked me what I was giving up for lent, I was intrigued and mystified. I asked my mom if I, too, could give something up. “Of course,” was her reply. “What are you going to do without for the next six weeks?”
My friends and I discussed the possibilities. Some suggested candy, a standard sacrifice among my more devout Catholic friends. Some of my more irreverent buddies suggested things like homework, brussels sprouts and liver. Those who had televisions gave up watching them. Some gave up going to the movies. Some of the “giving up” was more difficult and some was just plain silly.
I never really managed to stick to my “giving up” for all of Lent. Six weeks is a long time to a fourth grader. I guess the symbolism and significance of sacrificing something important missed my developing religious conviction.
Many politicians have blithely commented that “everyone is going to have to sacrifice” to solve our nation’s economic woes. I wonder if they really understand what the word “sacrifice” means any more than I did as a ten-year-old. While many call for a universal “sacrifice” for the common good, the policies being proposed do not indicate an understanding of the word.
It is not a sacrifice to give up something you do not value or need, like giving up brussels sprouts for lent, or giving away clothing that is too small or outdated. Sacrifice is like the story of the woman in the Bible who gives away her last penny. Sacrifice is giving away your favorite coat before it is worn out and before you have a replacement. Sacrifice is sharing your food even if you might not have enough yourself.
When politicians in Washington propose cutting programs which provide food to pregnant women, infants and children, or for food stamps and for Medicaid, the sacrifices being asked of the poor are real. Without food assistance some will go hungry. Some will feed their children what they can afford, not what is good for them. Babies, lacking adequate nutrition, will have their development delayed and their potential diminished. Adding co-payments to medical bills does not come out of the poor’s “mad” money. The result may be the sacrificing of adequate food in exchangefor needed medical care. It may mean deciding whether the rent will be paid or if the children will have the shoes they need for school.
If we ask the nation’s wealthiest citizens to pay higher taxes, does it really result in a sacrifice? Will they have to downsize their home, give up a meal, or go without new shoes? Probably not. What exactly are the wealthy being asked to sacrifice?
One does not have to be an economist to understand that the impact of many of the proposed government cuts, especially to programs characterized as our “safety net” or “entitlements” may indeed be sacrificial for many Americans. Those who suggest that substantial cuts to the programs which feed, house, and clothe the poor, the elderly and the disabled are the same kind of sacrifices as being asked of the wealthy are mistaken.
Giving up a few brussels sprouts or imported caviar, the tax rebate for the interest paid on one of your homes, or the tax cuts Congress recently extended to the wealthy among us is hardly an equivalent sacrifice.
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains