You will always have the poor

Beware, this is just a mess of thoughts from the last few days...

Last night I was reading Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution, and came across this passage that struck me:
I will never forget one of the chapel services where Rich [Mullins] spoke while I was at Wheaton. Rich stood up in chapel and said, "You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter then kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too... [and he paused in the awkward silence.] But I guess that's why God invented highlighters, so that we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest."
After that, Claiborne said, if Rich had lived longer, he probably would have been put on the list of Wheaton's blacklisted chapel speakers. When I read that to Josh, he laughed.
Shane said elsewhere in the book, after spending months working in Mother Teresa's ministry then going to an internship at Willow Creek & finishing up college at Wheaton:
I have come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

This was basically the theme of the message Saturday. We in suburbia do not know the poor, and we do not care. If we did care, we'd do something about it. As our pastor said, our pocketbook follows our passions. If someone is passionate about the Colts, they'll spend any price on Ebay for Super Bowl tickets. If they're passionate about good food, they'll eat out at the finest restaurants they can afford. If they love cooking, they'll buy that top-of-the-line pan or knife set. If they're passionate about their pets, the costs for the pets' health care can go through the roof. Whatever it is... cars, woodworking, decorating, photography, movies, music... the pocketbook follows the passion. We are not really, truly passionate about the purposes of God.

I met people passionate about the purposes of God on Sunday. Josh & I went with a group from our church to a downtown church to serve dinner. In tow, I had the serves-20-people casserole I cooked for the occasion, which barely fit in my oven, (and was heavy! And took 3 jars of spaghetti sauce, 2 1/2 lbs of spaghetti, and 2 1/2 lbs of meat, among other things!). Before going to the church on 10th Street, we were briefed on what we were going to be doing & why at the house-turned-ministry-center our church owns. One lady put it this way: We do it because we're not right unless we do. These suburbanites get it. Their hearts are so turned toward the purposes of God that know they 'aren't right' unless they follow through on God's purposes.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. - GK Chesterton.

I want to figure out what trying looks like.


Matt said...

Kudos on the Chesterton quote. Have you read Chesterton's "Orthodoxy"? If not, it's public domain and a good read. You can find it here. Also, if you haven't seen a picture of G.K. Chesterton yet, he's exactly how I imagined him.

Hurrah for Rich Mullins, always stirring it up. It's certainly easy to forget about people who you have intentionally isolated yourself from. To me, the bigger question than "should I embrace the poor" is "where do I begin?" Soup kitchens are a good place. But interestingly, in mondern day America, there's a good chance that your own neighborhood is as well.

We took a poll at our church a couple of years ago (a mostly white suburban church of young wealthy people) and the average debt not including a mortage within the church was something like $50,000. That's debt that's not even backed up by assets! It's disgusting. Even with a seemingly affluent lifestyle, most people in our church are completely immobilized by their financial obligations. The scripture tells us that we cannot serve two masters - we will either serve God or serve money.

There are 3 arenas for awareness and response to poverty - global, local, and personal.
* Globally, there are excellent organizations like Compassion International that are just dying to get you connected with the truly poor of the world. We are currently supporting two children in the AIDS-stricken community of Rwanda for about the same price as we pay for our phone & Internet.
* Locally, there are the shelters (e.g. Wheeler Mission & Gleaners Food Bank) plus plenty of urban church initiatives that open their doors to the homeless and needy.
* Personally, we have to acknowledge our own debt. How long would it take to be in a position where we could sell everything we had and actually have something left to give someone else? Eliminating debt (secondary possibly to tithing) is the most significant thing we can be doing as Christians in order to work toward a life that we can lay down daily to God. Once we get to a place where we really are serving one master, he will be able to call us into truly powerful service to others.

Okay... I'm going to have to stop there and blog about it later. Comments aren't supposed to be this long. And they certainly aren't supposed to have bulleted lists in them.

Brett said...

This is going back quite awhile...seriously, several months.

Anyway, I like the point. It's easy to overlook anything we aren't exposed to on a regular basis. It's important to get involved, get out of our comfort zone and see that the rest of the world is NOT exactly like our little reality. In fact, our very privileged existence is the exception to the norm that most of the work lives.

I wholeheartedly agree with the gist of the blog entry. The point makes perfect sense. The problem I see is with the Mullins quote and, honestly, it's bothered me for some time. I know I'm trying to pick apart an argument for a given point and that I should probably just focus on the point, itself...I apologize for not doing so. Like most of my other comments, I'll preface this with a statement indicating that I could very well be wrong. If so, I also apologize.

But I have a problem with Mullins here. Jesus certainly told Nicodemus that man must be born again to enter the kingdom of God (John 3). It's the second part that gets me. Jesus did tell the rich young ruler (Mark 10: 17-29) that he needed to sell everything he owned and give to the poor. What Jesus didn't say was that man, in general, needed to do so. That is, there's a big difference between ALL men needing to be born again and ONE man needing to sell everything. Realistically, Mullins probably could've randomly picked anyone in the crowd and there would've been a good chance that that person had the same love of money as the rich young ruler. But, I don't think Mullins can blanket all people in that way. Likewise, I don't think his statement should've been accompanied by the smart a** highlighter comment...even if he HAD thoroughly read the scriptures before stirring things up. If he was going to push the guilt angle--even insinuating that those that didn't agree with him were simply filtering out unappealing scriptures--he could at least back it up with valid text.

I would likely agree with Claiborne's statement that Mullins may have ended up blacklisted by Wheaton...but probably not for the same reason.


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