Monday, November 21, 2005

Blessed are the poor...

God, we thank you for bread and meat, for the shelter of house and the warmth of clothing, for daily work and thoughtful friends, for reasonable margins of security comfort. But how can we thank you for these things, and yet have no pain of heart that even now other children of yours starve, are homeless and hopeless? Can we do so with no sign of human caring for those who fear tomorrow more than death?

If we can give thanks for all our blessings, yet not find any anguish for those who do without, then leave us without blessing until we learn the ways of mercy. Deliver us from the gross sin of indifference, and sanctify the things we enjoy by the courage and kindness with which we share them. Amen.

(Samuel Miller, Prayers for Daily Use (New York: Harper & Bros., 1957), page 120)

Saturday night, at the end of a Disney-character-laden parade, the Mayor of Chicago threw the switch that illuminated nearly a bazillion Christmas lights along the the stretch of Michigan Avenue known as "The Magnificent Mile." Thousands of parents clutched their children and tote bags from Marshall Fields, Filene's, Anne Klein, Virgin Records, and a hundred other stores downtown as they watched the parade and the majesty of the lighting ceremony.

What most Chicagoans downtown on Saturday had no eyes for were the people who are always downtown - folks with signs that said "Homeless," "Hungry," "Will Work For Food," or my personal favorite: "Just Lookin' for a Blessin'." But as I watched, people just kept on walking, ignoring the helpless and hopeless. I emptied my meagre wallet on my short walk to the bus - knowing full well that what little I could do wouldn't really mean anything - but nonetheless unwilling to just walk on by, say nothing and do nothing.

This metropolitan area has one of the largest concentrations of self-identified Christians in the nation. The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is one of the largest in the nation; Bill Hybel's Willow Creek Church is one of the leading evangelical mega-churches in the nation. Yet church giving to the poor, outside of the significant ministry of a few downtown and South-Side churches, is ridiculously low.

Those in power - in the church and at the the city, state and national level - take great pride in claiming this nation's "Christian heritage." But where is the Body of Christ, when it comes to taking care of "the least of these"? Is what we say about being followers of Christ being mirrored in how we feed, clothe, and care for those who have the least and suffer the most? As I prepare to give thanks for all that I have, am I doing what I can to let the leaders of my church and my nation know that we need to share our blessings with those who are "lookin' for a blessin'"?

Lord God, let my thanks-giving be mirrored in my giving - of my time, my talents, and my possessions. And let my voice not be silent in calling others who claim Christ with their lips to claim His children as our own. Let my words be few, and my actions be plentiful. Amen!


bobbie said...

wow steve, beautiful thoughts on such a dark and seemingly hopeless situation. i remember my childhood days of seeing the lights of that mile, and we never saw the least of these, unless it was to shy away in fear and loathing.

when oh when is the church going to wake up?

Poor Mad Peter said...

We have a much smaller scale Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the south end of our city every year--ought to be any time, now. And it's within spitting distance of the poorest area, Simpson Street. Some of those Street folks are my literacy students, and while I've always felt "odd" about the co-presence of lights and Christmas and gift-giving with poverty, darkness and despair, I've never felt that dissonance more so than this year.

Thanks for giving voice to this, Steve.

earth from eic said...

I've been guilty of passing by homeless people myself, and even letting them stare at my car with their sign at one of those long lights while I just stared ahead wishing the light would change. I think that attitude had developed at my former church where the homeless were not really welcome. They would come in dirty and smelly and sit next to those who were dressed nicely and I could see the disgust on the faces of those who were well-to-do.

My attitude changed when I read James 2:1-13. It is sad that the church is not doing more for the homeless and the poor, even though we are instructed to do so by the Scriptures. But those of us who can make some kind of dent, no matter how small, should do so.

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

Well brother, as far as I'm concerned, you're preaching to the choir. (Wow, like that was a big surprise!)

I have to tell you, though, that this was just beautifully said. The great celebrations a few blocks away from such abject poverty catches in the throat; the fact that so many churches have missed the boat on this just leaves me dumbfounded sometimes.

I have trouble, sometimes, accepting that rich white suburban people need God too. My struggle is grasping that it's not wrong for us to celebrate Christmas with all it's lavish excess - okay, the 'lavish excess' part is questionable - but the real problem is that we haven't found a way to invite the 'others' in our lives into that celebration. The longer I work at the Mission the more I struggle to love the rich and I never expected that. Odd, isn't it? (I'm not crusading on this, I'm just sayin', that's all)

Anyway, this was a beautiful post - it really tugged at my heart. Thanks.