So today marks three years since I landed in this country as a legal
residentalien. I had remembered yesterday, but completely forgot today, until now.
What is on my mind? That I’ll be returning home in a few months? Sure. But right now it’s more on what I’m reading – The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.
If you can get your hands on a copy, I encourage you to do so. But be warned, you will be challenged, if you read it with your mind open. Aside from the Bible, few books have
challenged me more.
This isn’t a full review, for a start because I have not finished it yet. Secondly, because I think that when I do finish it, I will probably read it again, talking through it with my family as I do so.
The challenge within the book is such that, aside from selling our things, opening up our home to whoever needs a dry, warm place to sleep, or moving to the streets ourselves, I don’t know how to respond to Claiborne’s discussion of the church (me and the poor. He points out that Jesus said on numerous occasions to serve the poor, and they are not just instructions to provide finance to organisations that help the poor, but to encounter them (and other ‘undesirables’) directly, as He did. I put undesirables in inverted commas because Jesus did and does desire them greatly. Jesus saying “the poor you will always have with you” is not a defeatist statement about the probability of the elimination of a socio-economic group, but a geographical-positional one – that we are to actually always be near the poor (Matt 26, pg 159). Claiborne:
“I usually gently ask, “Where are the poor? Are the poor among us?” The answer is usually a clear negatory. As we study the Scriptures, we see how many texts we have misread, contextualized, and exegeted to hear what we want to. Like this one about the poor being among us, which Jesus says in the home of a leper and after a poor marginalized woman anoints his feet with perfume. The poor were all around him. Far from saying in defeat that we should not worry about the poor, since they will always be among us, Jesus is pointing the church to her true identity – she is to live close to those who suffer.” – Claiborne, pg 160
Doesn’t that sound more like the church of the New Testament? The better off people sharing with the worse off, not out of charitable giving, but because we’re in relationship with one another and help eachother out. I am not exactly wealthy, but I have plenty of food and clothes, and an unused couch (mostly) between midnight and dawn.
Claiborne has a lot more in there, and a lot of Biblical, historical and biographical experience to back it up. But for the moment I think the best thing I can do is start there. Be near or in contact with “the poor” – whoever they are in my community. Step one, that is.
So. How do we do that?
Oh, yeah, I don’t really know anyone who’s poor. I guess I would
Oh, yeah, I don’t really know anyone who’s poor. I guess I could try to get to know some of the poorer-looking people in our complex (gee that sounds judgemental, doesn’t it? I need to do a better job of engaging with people in our complex in the first place, but I’m just brainstorming here) and try to engage with people I see in the street or at the store. Our church doesn’t really have many poor (again, judging by clothing and cars), but they do house asylum seekers, which in this country are unemployed by law until their visa is granted, and we could help them.
It sounds odd but it really is a bit of a conundrum for me. I mean trolling the streets for beggars isn’t exactly the safest plan, with a baby in tow. Not to mention how the missus and family would respond to that idea, nevermind the concept of inviting strangers into our home. But I suppose risk is part of the deal as you follow Jesus, that’s why he said “if anyone takes your goods, do not ask them back” and “do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you” – note “pray,” not prevent, avenge or expect it to never happen (Luke 6).
There’s this beautiful picture of the church in the Bible (okay, so it’s clearly a bit dysfunctional in Corinthians) where rich and poor are one big family in Christ, the rich caring for the poor. Not in institutionalised charity, but out of relationship-contextual love. I don’t see that lived out too well in the church, in my small experience. Not with the poor(er) of poor people, who might not have food or a roof, anyway. Sure we see less well-off families given cast-off couches and TVs, and their kids get their camps paid for (I was one of those blessed kids, thankyou – it changed my life), but I don’t see great engagement with the homeless or those technically in poverty, but with a roof and a few clothes. I think, to refer to my post from yesterday, we like to keep it within comfortable bounds – help the ‘poor’ who we are comfortable associating with, who are already within our social circle, who are within but on the lower end of our socio-economic ‘class’ so to speak, but not in any serious need.
Maybe you, or maybe you see people doing a better job where you are? Please let me know. I’d love some tips or ideas. I knew I was part of the global rich and wealthy, but I guess I’m reading and finding just how much that clouds my view of the world (more than I thought it had). And what it will take to change that, to break out of that comfortable lower-middle class-ish circle.
I know love is part of the core – I don’t love the poor, know the poor, or even love and care about the lost nearly as much as I want to. I need Him there, for sure. But somehow engaging with ‘the poor’ – whoever and wherever they are for me right now – that’s my challenge for the moment. And that’s the tip of the iceberg and very starting point of the journey, from Claiborne’s perspective – actually encountering the poor and forming relationships with them.
“Jesus came to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.”
Jesus help how disturbing this discomfort is!
*Now I know this sort of thing is chock full of pitfalls and issues. It would be much more effective to deal with the reasons why people are poor than to simply help those individuals we know or get to know. and I'm aware that I'm exaggerating in my desired response, but I see a vision of a church that is with and cares for the poor, not as a service, but our of relationship and our love for one another within the church, and to those not yet following Jesus. Because we (or at least I) don't appear to be doing the best job right now.