Sal opened up the passenger side car door and got out. He and his roommates had just returned from their late night run to Walmart for groceries. He opened up the backseat door to grab his two plastic bags filled with egg cartons and 89 cent hot dog packages.

As he shut the door, he heard glass smash against the sloped sidewalk that ran perpendicular to the steps that led up to his apartment. Sal looked up and saw a man in his late thirties walking past the glass mess, his head down and shoulders slumped.

“Hey! Aren’t you gonna pick that up?” came a sarcastic voice from above. The voice belonged to Sal’s neighbors, the tenants who lived above him on the third floor.

The man who had apparently dropped the glass container lifted his head and turned to the sarcastic tenants. He stammered a few words about how he had nothing to clean it up with, his words squeaking out in an embarrassed tone.

Sal could tell that the neighbors upstairs wouldn’t let up with their heckling. The embarrassed man’s arms overflowed with glass containers that had somehow managed to stay within his clumsy clutch.

“I’ve got a broom,” declared Sal, trying to deescalate the situation. He dropped his groceries and ran up to his apartment, unlocking the door and grabbing the dollar store broom he and his roommates too often neglected.

Sal rushed back to the scene and started sweeping up the glass. The clumsy man apologized, saying, “I wouldn’t normally do this but I’m super tight on cash and I don’t think I’m going to have money to buy my kids Christmas presents this year,” confirming Sal’s guess that the man had dumpster dived behind the apartment. People in the area often redeemed glass bottles for 10 cents a piece at the local recycling center.

Sal reassured the man that he didn’t need to worry, his voice trailing off with a short quiver. Although he didn’t feel the need to dive into a dumpster to sustain his life, Sal found a little bit of himself in the man who had dropped the glass. His chest tightened as he felt man’s shame bore into his heart.

In the short moment where he and the man picked up the glass together, Sal could see the violent clash between a parent’s desire to provide good things to their kids and the harsh reality of lack that persists in a state of poverty.

He felt both compassion for the man and an intense fear that he would find himself in the same situation some day.

The man obscured his own face in the evening’s shadows in the attempt to hide his twofold humiliation—dropping stolen trash in public and disappointing his family by not living up to the capitalistic values promulgated during the holiday season. The man’s pride proved too small to match the system that failed him, that cackled at him while perched barely above him on the second floor balcony of a run down tenement.

Sal told the man not to worry about it one last time. The man thanked him and shuffled away as Sal managed a quick “Have a good night.”

As he walked up the stairs to his apartment, Sal felt the tension in his chest begin to release. He went straight to his room, shut the door, and began to weep, deep sobs thrusting through his body. Sal laid next to his inflatable mattress, feeling his own poverty while knowing that his situation was still better than many others. His tears wetted the carpet of the room that he shared; it was too small for both he and his roommate to both furnish it with a bed—not that either one of them had money for one.

While his tear ducts continued to flow, Sal realized that he didn’t know why he was reacting so severely to the scene that had just taken place. He didn’t know the man that dropped the glass. He didn’t even know whether the man was telling the truth about his family.

Regardless, Sal continued his emotional outpouring. A deluge of raw empathy shook his body as the sobs advanced. A deep fear of lack welled up from his heart, transforming into a thousand anxious thoughts darting back and forth inside his head.

Sal hadn’t allowed himself the luxury of feeling so deeply for quite some time. It wasn’t like he was exactly allowing himself now either; his emotions simply decided that they wouldn’t be ignored anymore.

For a brief moment, Sal didn’t judge the fear, didn’t take his pain to the court of objectivity and reason. Oddly enough, he felt good. Well, maybe not good. He felt honest.

The next day, Sal was sitting in church with his roommates. Half the time that he attended church he ended up sipping a cold press at the coffee shop outside of the sanctuary and reading a book. The books he read seemed to make more sense than the contradictory cliches that came out of the preacher’s mouth.

As the worship band left the stage after their set, an assistant pastor hopped up to the stage. Wearing a big grin and deeply cut v-neck, he greeted the congregation with a warm “Good Morning!” He then opened his dog-eared bible to a short passage and read aloud, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.”

The pastor went on to relate the ancient scripture in more modern terms. The produce was our paycheck and the barn was our bank account. Apparently, the new wine was the flood of cash that God would bestow upon us, the obedient believers.

“How convenient,” Sal thought. He had given to the church when he first started attending but money had been tighter in recent weeks. Groceries took precedence over the biblical model of sowing and reaping.

Ushers were released and white buckets were passed down the aisles. Church members and visitors alike tossed in cash, checks, and change they found in their pockets. For those who preferred to give online, a link and a text-to-give number appeared on the LCD monitors above the stage.

A declaration of prosperity was repeated by the congregation, led by the pastor who spout out a list of good things to come—new homes, better jobs, and random checks arriving in the mail.

Sal couldn’t help but think about the man who had dropped the glass. “What if that man was in attendance today?” he wondered to himself. What would he think? Would he give? Would he feel the shame of not being having an offering for the Lord?

Sal whispered to one of his roommates, “I bet that guy we met last night could use a check in the mail right now.” His roommate chuckled and continued to repeat the declaration.

Did the declaration work for everybody? Sal knew deep down that it probably didn’t. Trite sayings like “God will provide” and “You reap what you sow” had made sense in Sunday school and even youth group. But, little by little, as Sal let himself venture outside the bubble that he had been raised in, the church’s promises failed to hold up. Sal had met too many people like the man who dropped the glass. His tears from the night before marked the first time he had admitted that God wasn’t going to help them.

Sitting there in church, Sal decided to no longer pretend the poverty he witnessed didn’t exist—his own or that of others. He decided to no longer be the pawn in some preachers Ponzi scheme.

As the ushers collected the last of the offering buckets, Sal felt the relief of honesty wash over his body.

He felt himself waking up.