Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God is good

In our over-privileged American congregations, stuffed to the brim with wealthy white people, we use an interesting language some call "Christianese."

You see, I've been thinking about how we reach out to the under-privileged, marginalized communities. I was specifically thinking about what I'm planning on doing tonight. You see a friend of mine has been running a ministry to help empower the poverty stricken neighborhoods in our area, and enlists the support of local congregations to do some of the work. Often times they come in and do their day's work, pat themselves on the back, and congratulate themselves at Sunday mass about what a great work they've done.

A few months ago he started taking a few people to a local park where houseless people tend to congregate, barbecuing some food and holding service in the open. The small group has continued to grow, and for the most part these people are so very eager to serve those below their station.

The only problem is often times we don't know how to act. Some of this hubris is subconscious so that we think to ourselves what a great thing we are doing bestowing our very presence with people in need. How great it is to share Jesus with the hungry.

But it's useless to share Jesus with someone when you don't share yourself!

Friendships are difficult to develop when we have lopsided relationships like this. When we have a benefactor and beneficiary, the relationship isn't a mutual kinship very often. It takes more than a few words and a couple hours to care for someone deeply.

I'm sitting here thinking about how to form interactions that are meaningful to someone in need in 10 seconds or less. (Yes, I'm using the method of a salesman to sell empathy.) I'm playing scenarios over in my head about how these interactions would play out, and feeling how one might respond to any of them - personally, not outwardly. I ask the question, "What has God done in your life lately?"


How does one respond to this when you're living on the street? Under the steeple you might respond, "I got a raise at work; God is so good!" or "I heard a new Tomlin song that really touched me." But under the blistering sun, would this response be, "I found a place with shade that's pretty isolated when I need to be alone, but not too far from the discount grocer," or possibly, "I finally got to the free clinic where they put me on antibiotics for the infection in my foot."

But for some people you might not even get this. You might get, "After I got back from Iraq I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, my wife kicked me out, and I'm so depressed I became and alcoholic, lost my job, and I've been on the streets for four months. Proprietors and police officers are always pestering me. I get dirty looks from women in SUVs with 'support our troops' stickers on the back. And they sit me in the back of the church."

And what promises can you give them? In our big congregations we often hear promises like, "You life will be more complete with Jesus," and "Those worries of the past will melt away when you give your life to the Lord." But when we're talking to our houseless neighbors their situation will pretty much be the same on Thursday as it was on Monday.

There is a large disparity between the two experiences. If we truly seek justice we would work, as a whole, to mitigate the gulf between our two worlds, drawing those in need into our fellowship while moving into their lives as well.

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