(originally sent to the subversive underground email list on Friday, June 13th, 200)
[subversive underground] PRACTICE
by Keith Giles
My last transmission generated the most response I’ve ever received before so I thought I’d write a little more on the subject.
First, I culled my responses to several of you into a single draft and posted it on the main blog here: http://subversive1.blogspot.com
Go check that out for more on the issue of the American Poor, our Biblical Mandate to care for the poor (complete with scriptural references), and the difference between “Our Poor” and the “Real Poor” we see in Third World Countries.
I’d love to hear your reactions to these assertions, ideas, etc. on the main blog so if you do read this, please leave a comment there.
As I’ve continued to think about this subject, and to dialog with some of you, I’ve realized that there are a few things I’ve never written about or talked about much.
One thing I’ve learned is that serving the poor isn’t about curing hunger or making poverty history. I honestly don’t believe it’s possible (sorry Bono) and I know that we can’t hope to compete with or even to equal what all the various non-profits do in the area of food, shelter, counseling, community development and all the rest that goes with healing and helping those trapped in poverty.
That does not mean we don’t support organizations and initiatives aimed at relieving poverty or providing food to the hungry, it just means that our goal shouldn’t be to eradicate poverty forever or something so “out there” that we can’t get a handle on what’s really important.
What I do think it’s about, for you and I, is touching and knowing our poor.
I know that something changed in me when I stopped seeing the poor as “The Poor” and started thinking of them as Mike and his wife and kids.
There’s a family in the motel where we started our Compassion Ministry that has become very dear to us. As we began to befriend them, to eat with them, to laugh and to cry with them, suddenly we didn’t think of the poor as a large, faceless group of dirty beggars.
Suddenly they were our friends. The poor became a man and a wife with two small children. Their problems became our own challenges. Their needs became something we prayed specifically about. Their struggle began to intertwine with our own daily struggle.
Soon, I began to be changed, and I think that’s a major part of what serving the poor is all about.
When we start out serving the poor, we believe that we’re there to fix them. We have Jesus, we have jobs, we have wisdom and great ideas. We believe that these people will benefit from an association with us.
After a while, if we really see them, and if we really befriend them, what starts to happen is that they change us. We become the one’s who receive the benefit. They teach us things about life, about love, about courage, about dignity and humility and sharing that we could never have learned or experienced in any other way.
Isaiah affirms this concept. Chapter 58, verse 6 begins with God instructing us on the purpose and process of true fasting. He says, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away your own flesh and blood? THEN YOUR LIGHT WILL BREAK FORTH LIKE THE DAWN, AND YOUR HEALING WILL QUICKLYAPPEAR.”
I’m sure noticed that last part, especially since I made it all caps. Do you see this? It’s when we care for the poor that our healing comes. It’s when we help those around us in need that our light breaks forth.
See that? We’re the ones who get blessed when we show mercy and compassion.
Now, that’s not to say we should only help others because we’re looking for the kick-back. I think God, who looks at the heart, might actually withhold our blessing if we only serve the poor around us because we’re hoping for a new car or raise at work. Still, the principle is clear. When we bless others, we’re the ones who get blessed.
And the blessings, I believe, are not material. They’re even better than that. They’re eternal. They are spiritual.
One Sunday afternoon we invited Mike and his family over to our house for lunch. We sat around the table and ate a wonderful chicken dinner. Afterwards our kids played together in the large backyard while the adults sat in the living room and shared some coffee.
Lunch turned into an afternoon visit, and then it turned into a pizza dinner, and then it turned into a movie night with everyone back in the living room.
At one point, I was playing in my boys room with my sons and Mike’s son who was about 3 years old at the time. As we sat on the carpet and played with Legos, this little boy suddenly sat up, looked around and said, “This is a house” and then went back to building his robot.
I couldn’t breathe. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that this little boy had never been inside someone’s house before.
I looked around the room where my sons sleep and realized it was larger than the entire room at the motel where his whole family slept.
In my heart that afternoon, someone rearranged the furniture and I don’t ever want to put it back again.
I could go on. There have been times when I have gone out to serve the poor and to help people in need, but when I come home I realize that I am the one who was more blessed.
That’s part of why I sometimes feel guilty afterwards. I can sense that I’ve taken from them much more than I’ve given to them. I always feel that I could have done more, no matter how massive the gift or the service may have been. I always know deep inside that I have gone home the better off for it all, while they sleep in their motel beds much the same as they were before I came.
So, serving others, caring for the poor around us, isn’t about feeding every single hungry person in our city. It’s not about changing the face of poverty forever. It’s more about engaging others, serving them and learning to see with different eyes.
I love the scripture where Jesus washes his disciples feet. It says that he wanted to show them the fullness of his love, and so he put on the clothes of a slave and performed the most personally degrading service possible by washing their feet.
Afterwards, Jesus puts his regular clothes back on and sits down. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asks. “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should was one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He ends by saying, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13)
Do we get this? We are not blessed because we know something. We are only blessed when we do the things we know.
We cannot know that God has commanded us to have an open-hand to the poor and then expect that we will be blessed or that we will grow in Christ because we have the understanding. We have to put the words of Jesus into action if we hope to reap the benefits.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6)