God’s Family and How We Deal with the Poor

One of the books I brought with me to read while on vacation is Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Becoming the Answer to Our Prayer: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals. (It is one of those books I flipped through when I first received and then put on my “to read” pile, where it promptly got buried.) I’ve written before about Claiborne’s earlier book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, which I thought was terific. If I had to pick one word to describe Claiborne’s books, I’d say challenging. He challenges us to not be satisfied with an easy, watered-down version of Christianity; he challenges us to form and live the kind of communities Christ intended.

Last night I was reading the authors’ reflection on the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that asks for our daily bread and was struck by how close the language was to language St. Vincent (for whom seeing Christ in the face of the poor was a central theme) might have used. After observing that throughout history, Christians have “recognized that we cannot pray “Our father” together on Sunday and deny bread to our brothers and sisters on Monday,” the authors talk about the difficulty of dealing with the hungry today – the fears and the guilt we experience, the difficulty of the compounding problems of drug addiction and mental illness. As a result, we address the problem by giving money to charities, who become that “brokers for our compassion for the poor.”

Charity, in the way we typically practice it – writing checks, certainly has its place (and it is surely better than nothing). However, as the authors observe

The problem with this is that we never get to know the poor. Though we have been made children of God together with them in Jesus Christ, we never sit down to eat with our hungry brothers and sisters. We never hear their stories. We never learn to see the world through their eyes. Many Christians are concerned about the breakdown of nuclear families (and rightly so), but we often just accept the breakdown of God’s family. We live like teenagers in a high school cafeteria – some of us eating at one table (our table), while others eat at another table (quite often, the soup kitchen’s table). What we miss is the gift of God’s new economy. And with it, our brothers and sisters on “the other side.”

It is a lot easier to simply write checks and be satisfied that we have done our part to help deal with poverty. But “deal with poverty” is different from bringing the poor into community with us. What Claiborne/Wilson-Hargrove suggest (and what Vincent sought) is a lot harder. The challenge for each of us is how we can contribute to the reunification of God’s family.

UPDATE: Someone added the following comment to my cross-posting of this post on nablomopo. What a great thought:

Last night my former sister in law challenged me to do something about a homeless women who sleeps on the bench of a local grocery store. In the past I would have given her money. I know that next to the store is a Wendy’s. I plan on getting her some gift card from there and making her a crochet neck pouch to put it in. Along with the gift cards I will put in a letter with some words of encouragement and maybe some info on help that she can get from some near by churches. Who knows maybe I’ll even make her a homemade sandwich and sit next to her. She is no different than me. Seeking solace on a bench just for a moment. Just for a moment she could be touched by the kindness of another human being. I will treat her with dignity when I see her.