Sunday, August 19, 2007

... Shane Claiborne

"The more I've gotten to know rich folks, the more I am convinced 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. Mother Teresa said 'Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is not as fashionable to talk to the poor.' Layers of insulation separate the rich and the poor from truly encountering one another. There are the obvious ones like picket fences and SUVs, and there are the more subtle ones like charity. Tithes, tax-exemption donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences and still retain a safe distance from the poor.

It is much more comfortable to de-personalize the poor so that we do not feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that someone is on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations, but rarely do we actually open up our homes, our beds, our dinner tables. Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions of love "you fed me... you visited me, ... you welcomed me in... you clothed me..." (Matthew 25).

When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. Brokerage turns the church into an organization rather than a new family of rebirth. She ceases to be something we are, the living Bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get fed), but no one leaves transformed - no new community is formed.

No doubt, generosity is a biblical value. Generosity is not just a virtue of those with "gifts of mercy". It is at the very heart of our rebirth. Popular culture has taught us to believe that charity is a gift. For Christians it is only what is expected. We have no right not to be charitable. The early Christians taught that charity was merely returning what we have stolen. St Vincent DePaul said that when he give bread to the beggars he gets on his knees and asks forgiveness from them."

Shane Claiborne
School(s) for Conversation: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism


Ashleigh said...

Michelle, this is really interesting. Very thought-provoking and convicting. I agree that as Christians we should be ministering to the poor more than we do, and in more hands on ways. I can certainly grow in this area and have been praying for God to show me how I can better love and reach out to those within our city.

Our church really emphasizes adoption. Our pastor talks about how if the Christians in our church were to fulfill the call to take care of orphans, there wouldn't be any left in our city. And people in our church are adopting like crazy. It is something Ted and I have discussed, but haven't come to any concrete decisions on.

However, I do think that different seasons of our lives allow us to minister in different ways. I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all solution on how we as Christians can step up to the plate. For example, because we have two little girls who are at a very impressionable ages, I don't know that it would be prudent for us to open our home to just anyone to stay with us or even come over for hours at a time. Now if we were newly married and didn't have any kids or our kids were grown, we'd be in a better position to do so without being concerned about our daughters being negatively influenced. Now I could see the counter-argument of how it would be a wonderful way to live out before them reaching out to those who aren't as materially blessed as we are. But we can live that out for them without taking in people off the street into our home. Do you now what I mean?

Anyway, like I said, I agree that as Christians we need to be more actively involved. Can you share some ways you are living this out in your own life? I'd love to hear some real-life stories.

Jennifer said...

Michelle, excellent post! I am confronted with what you said. Particularly being struck about "talking to the poor" not just about them. It's easier for me to give money or do something in a "clean & easy" way without having to actually interact. Thanks for the inspiration.

Not to nit-pick but I did want to say something regarding what you wrote about the "tithes, tax-exemption donations, and short-term mission trips..." About the short-term mission trips... I have long had various opinions about short-term missions having been on several short-term (a week) to a bit longer (6 months) and would like to say this. I think ther is and can be a danger in appeasing our consciences and thinking we've done something great by going on a missions trip. But I also want to say that I believe often, that for a lot of people, if you're on a missions trip to a third world country it opens the eyes of the "missionary" and helps them see others in the world as they truly are. I think when people explore areas of devestation and extreme poverty it can create a heart and compassion for the poor and those who are in need. it gives you a heart for people in general and makes you more others-centered as opposed to self-centered.

I know my heart has been transformed from my experiences in various parts of the world. I am not trying to argue with you because I do agree that most use it to appease their/our conscience and make themselves feel better... I just didn't want it to be dismissed lightly either... it can do some great good, depending on the circumstances.

Thank you though for bringing this up and reminding me to put some action behind my words and thoughts! Keep it up!



Michelle said...

I’m glad you were provoked by Shane’s words. And that is very interesting that you and Ted are contemplating adoption. I’d love to hear more, maybe a post – or may be it’s too soon. But, if you want some real-life examples you would do better to look at people like mother Teresa, Shane Claiborne, or of course Jesus. I share this quote because I am provoked by their lifestyle and obedience. Not because I’m the model.

I have, however, *tried* to make some efforts. Sadly they are few and weak... But one effort was to move out of suburban Chesapeake and into Norfolk- a sort of moving into the scene so to speak. Since moving here I’ve worked at building relationships with those from the other side of the tracks (which is my case is literal, there are tracks separating my house from the rougher areas). There are some 12-14 year olds that come over regularly to hang out. They bring movies, or we make hot cocoa, or we rake leaves, or we hang and talk, or we draw pictures. The first time they came one of the girls, Sharon, commented that I wasn’t like other grownups- that I really listened and she asked if she could come over more often. Another one of them, Ryan, has tried to introduce me to his family. I’ve spoken with his mother on the phone and met his sister when I’ve dropped him off at home but they haven’t seemed too comfortable with the idea of, well, of even looking me in the eyes to be honest. But at least the kids are. Ryan calls Jeff and I his best friends. I don’t think he has a lot of friends at school. I remember what a rough age that is.

There was a homeless guy that knocked on my door one day asking for money. I invited him to stay and we talked and made muffins together. He had such a positive attitude- cheerful and singing. I told him to come back if he needed anything. A few minutes later I ran up to the grocery store and saw him coming out of it with a bag of food. I know that’s not always the case but I was so glad I didn’t withhold the money for fear of him using it on something I wouldn’t have wanted him to. He did come back by the way, once when he was short a bit of cash to stay the shelter (it’s $7 a night and was $2 short and when I gave him $5 he was upset and wouldn’t take it all) & once when he found out that I’d had surgery and he served me by raking the leaves in my yard. I haven’t seen him in a while but it’s not uncommon to drive by the same men and women on the street with quite some regularity. I’ve been compelled to speak to one lady a few times but, to my shame, haven’t. I think I need to start walking places more often so when I pass them I can sit and chat.

It isn’t always easy. I don’t always want to (and haven’t always) answered the door or seized the opportunity... and you know, there are sooo many more things I can do. Like, right now the tropical storms are starting to roll in and here I am with a guest room. Why don’t I invite some people in to stay the night? I could always use the fact that I’m a woman living alone and need to be careful as an excuse (and there would be wisdom in that to be sure), but I think it really is more of an excuse. I think I can use fear as a reason to not open the door or not stop to talk vs. trusting Gods plan and being obedient to His instructions. I know I could still get hurt but, honestly, I’d rather be injured or killed obeying God than to look upon the face of God and answer ‘I didn’t feed or clothe you because I’m a girl and it wasn’t wise.’

Anyhow... I am also reading a book called What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty that has been helpful in understanding the varied ways of thinking and prioritizing within the different economic classes. I have also prayed about (IF the house ever sells) moving again to more of an inner city – like Philly or something.

Oh, and when you were talking about the kids it reminded me of a story I just shared with Jeff the other day. I was around 10 when on Christmas Eve a guy knocked on the door and asked for shelter from the cold (Michigan – brr). My brother and I were asleep and my family, taking us into consideration, said no. When I overheard this the next day I was crushed. I was upset that we didn’t let him in and even more upset that I was the reason. I don’t blame my family, there was wisdom and you never know ... But... Well, 20 some years later and it still upsets me. Just a thought.

Didn’t know if it was clear, but the entire post was a quote by Shane Claiborne. None of the words in that post were mine. But... about missions trips opening the eyes of the missionaries... Yeah! I know that was your experience and has been mine as well. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life which, I believe, has helped to give me increased love of people that differ from me. It’s broadened my worldview to be sure.

Ashleigh said...

Michelle, thanks for sharing some examples. As far as adoption, it's simply in the talking stages right now as to whether it's something we might do sometime in the future.

Ashleigh said...

Michelle, I wanted to add a thought I had. I think that posts such as this may be more effective in impacting those who read your blog if you make them more personal.

For example, if you quote from the book and then tell us in the post what it means to you. How it's impacted you. Perhaps add things like you did in the comment responding to my first comment. I don't know about others, but just reading a quote without any thoughts on how its affected the one posting it sometimes leaves me asking, "So just what is the author of this blog trying to say? Are they telling me they've been moved to action by this or are they simply condemning those in the Christian community who aren't doing things this author addresses?" I think it leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Does that make sense?

Anyway, just a thought on how you can make these type of posts more powerful.

hosanna said...

I so enjoy your blog, I appreciate you heart for the ‘least of these.’ I read Shane's book, Irresistible Revolution, last spring, and it was very challenging. I so desire to live a radical life for Christ, I don't want to be content with my white picket fence and 2.5 kids, but I want live, as Christ lived. One of the quotes from his book that really challenged me was, "we can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had to come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that the rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor."
I don’t want to merely talk about it but I want to live it out.

Jessica Rockey said...

Wow! Great post friend. I know this issue has been on your heart and mind for quite a while. I'm so proud of you for taking action in your own life. You've always been so hospitable... I think too many focus on hospitality among friends and peers. Inviting complete strangers into your home is the epitome of hospitality. We, as christians in America, need to swim against the tide in so many ways. I don't want to be a stereotypical christian. Let's define our faith biblically... not culturally. Very provoking article. Thanks!

Bethany said...

What a great post Michelle,
I do agree with Ashleigh in terms of different seasons mean reaching out in different ways. I don't know that I would open my home up to a complete stranger with little ones in my house and Aaron gone a lot. I do know that it can be done with roomate from college her Dad did this all the time...Sarah has some great stories he would be a great person to talk to about the logistics of this...her blog is the Twinkle one listed on my blog roll.

I have recently been convicted to give money at times to beggars when God prompts me knowing that yes that person might go and buy alcohol or other things that I might not approve of but I need to be giving because that is what God calls me working on my heart more than worrying about what that person is going to do with the money. Also we sponsor a child with Compassion...we have for over 10 years and while that could be seen as a way to throw money and not have to deal I have made it a point to pray for my child and to write her quite often. I never travel without picking up postcards for her and we often send stickers and coloring pages. What I am saying is we don't just mail a check and write her off we are actively pursuing being a part of her life. In fact she calls Seth and Jude her American brothers...she has no brothers of her own. She sleeps with their pictures up by her bed. We use to sponsor another little girl that died and the compassion people were shocked and began crying when they called me and I was crying on the phone. They told me most people just say oh and hang up. How awful I thought after years of conversing through mail I felt she was so a part of our lives and was very very upset when I heard she had passed away.

Your post though has convicted me of looking for more ways to reach out or at least begin praying for God to give me opportunities. Thanks.

Sarah said...

Bethany asked me to comment on this post…as she mentioned, my parents did this type of thing a lot when we were growing up.

When I was about 11, we knew a family whose house burned down on Christmas Eve. Mother and three children moved in to our small three-bedroom apartment for several months. Years later my parents let a man that they had known when they were much younger live with us. He was coming out of a substance abuse program. His addiction had cost him everything and he had no place to go. I believe that he was clean for a while, but my parents were eventually forced to ask him to leave after it was discovered that he had been stealing checks from my moms checkbooks and had also stolen all of our bikes from the garage. A few years later (I was in college) this same man’s ex wife needed a place to stay. She had been in jail on drug and prostitution charges. In prison she had rededicated her life to the Lord. Once again my parents opened our home. She lived with us for almost a year before it ended much as it had with her ex husband….stealing. There were others, some with positive outcomes, some not so much. These are the ones that stand out in my mind.

Our family also volunteered at a “street feed”. The local homeless didn’t serve meals on Sundays. After church we would go and serve food from the back of a van and visit with people. Some were actually homeless; many were very poor families who didn’t have enough to eat at home. My parents often invited people back to our home.

I agree with the person who talked about doing what you can do in different seasons of your life. While I respect and understand my parent’s choices, I think that a lot of the energy that they poured into other people should have been focused on my younger brother and sister. I won’t get into the details, or what I think my siblings needed…but I would encourage people to really ask God for wisdom and find a balance. I don’t want to scare anyone, but one of the homeless people that my parents got involved with was mentally ill and turned out to be a serial rapist. You need to be smart.

The way that I grew up certainly had an impact on the person that I am today…I grew up to be a social worker with a passion for the inner city and the poor. I agree and believe that Christ calls us to love and care for people in tangible ways. While donating money and goods to charity is important and necessary, it just scratches the surface. I truly believe that the only was to make a dent in the cycle of poverty is to give our time, to get to know them, to love them.

Foster care is an extremely difficult job, but I’ve seen how a good and loving home can change a child. Unfortunately, many foster homes are only slightly better than where the child has been taken from. Big Brother Big Sister is a wonderful organization that never has enough volunteers. I know of little boys who have waited over two years to be matched. That tine is critical. Mentoring teenage and/or low-income mothers is crucial…many of them have never been parented and have no idea how to do it. Without intervention, the cycle repeats.

In the time that I have spent working with the poor, what became the most clear to me is that people really need Jesus. It really is the only answer. While Salvation doesn’t eliminate poverty, it brings hope and joy and peace. It’s the only way that I’ve seen people truly beat addiction, it’s the only way that I’ve seen what I call “Poverty Induced Depression” go away. The only way to reach people, is by spending time with them…

So, thanks for the post…. I thought it was great….Forgive my long-winded response…hopefully it was worth reading.

Michelle said...

Thanks for your perspective Sarah. Sadly, I can't think of anyone I could go to and hear stories like these. I appreciate your families efforts, and I understand the "be carefuls" you offer. I think I have a long way to go before I would need to set safe boundaries on the other side of things, you know?
Again, I am very encouraged.