This is what gets left out, I was realizing: not just left out of the national political debate but also left out of religious discourse.  Politicians talked about welfare – usually to blame and scapegoat – and occasionally made speeches about poverty.  There was no shortage of talk about the poor and social services from church leaders of all stripes.  But the experiences of people such as my volunteers, the texture and specificity of their incarnate lives, were missing from the story of what Christianity was like now in contemporary America.

And just as I’d looked for the unofficial truth, as a reporter, on the edge of things, I believed I was discovering , at the food pantry, our people’s significance to the real story.  They were on the margins of society, and often on the margins of the church, but their lives were full of meaning.  They threw light not only on the overlooked parts but on how the whole system worked.  These poor lives illuminated middle-class life – our anxiety, our reliance on managing and fixing feelings rather than having them, our desire to punish.  They made clear the limitations of religions that cast out every member whose reality didn’t fit inside church doctrines.  Their lives showed the profound resourcefulness and strengths of the weak.  The thing that astonished me sometimes – listening to tales of terrible damage, psychosis, loss – was not how messed up people could be but how resilient; how, in the depths of suffering, they found ways to adapt and continue.

Sarah Miles, Take this Bread