My wife bought me a Kindle as an anniversary present. For those of you over 40…the Kindle is a digital eBook reader and it’s a pretty cool little device albeit not cheap. I’m still discovering the features and have been playing with downloading books (and reading them obviously). In the process I ran across a free Kindle edition eBook by John Perkins and Charles Marsh called Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community. I’ve recently been challenged to read what other people aren’t reading, so I jumped in.
After a few days, I finished it. If you’ve never read John Perkins…read him. I’m personally processing the example of Perkins life and his development and commitment to the three “R’s” of community building: relocation, redistribution and reconciliation. While even a cursory overview would take too much time I’m challenged by this idea of relocation. Perkins calls us to literally relocate our lives and become a part of our community; specifically the community of the poor saying, “The activist and organizer (I would insert disciple or Christ-follower) will only cease to patronize the poor when they live in community with them and approach them in a spirit of compassion and with the willingness to serve. ‘Living involvement,’ Perkins said, ‘turns poor people from statistics into our friends.’”
How many statistics do you know? Who is your neighbor? Who do you approach with a spirit of compassion and willingness to serve? Are you involved with living in community or do you hide away behind your fences and garage doors? And before you dismiss me…this isn’t just about the physically poor in my mind, but also about those who are poor in spirit.
I live in one of the most affluent areas of the world. Bentleys and Maseratis are second cars and even I, as a pastor, drive a Mercedes (it is a 1991 300E I bought for $3,000 on Craigslist though). Inside these luxury cars and ocean-front homes are often the depraved and desperately poor in spirit. So lost…we have Botox parties where women come together to inject themselves with the hope of keeping up an appearance of youth. I know of two local companies that sell decorative toilet caps…yes, solid porcelain and bejeweled covers for your toilet bolts. A community where parents live vicariously through their spoiled kids…and on and on it goes.
I’m not knocking the parties or the business plans or the families here, we love our community. But…we see it for what it is. It is a place filled with poverty. The kind of poverty that makes you sick to your stomach when you see it and you can’t help but beg God to release these people from it’s grip. The worst part here is that it looks so good from the outside, so appealing. But the spiritual poverty is deep and rampant . What about your neighborhood, your community…the poor among you?
So what to do? Well, I think the question should become what to be! As a society we’ve expended billions of hours and dollars and energy toward developing programs and imploring others to make a difference and all the while, as individuals we often sit back, waiting and living in our own little removed world. Become someone who deeply cares for your community and neighborhood. This happens when you get to know the people who live and work and play in your community. Hold others (including me) accountable to do the same. My friend Ryan defines neighborhood as the people who share your street name, those you encounter in your work, in your play and in divine appointments. I want to be someone who lives alongside my neighbors “with a spirit of compassion and willingness to serve”
Stop patronizing the poor among you. Live in community with those around you, get to know them, eat with them, laugh with them, be compassionate, serve them, be with them…and in all these things you will be Christ to them.