I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the poor. I live in an innercity neighborhood, 3 blocks away from the projects. The city in which I live was recently ranked #4 in the nation for the most violent cities in America. It seems like our local news is one major crime story after another.
And yet this is where we chose to live. The reasons for why we stay are very different from why we came, and who we were when we came here 6 years ago is very different from who we are now.
There are many opportunities to serve the poor in our neighborhood. There are grassroots efforts to mobilize the good in people and to build relationships within members of the community, and my husband serves as a community organizer for our local neighborhood organization.
There are also a lot of people who come to our communities to serve the poor. They come in from their comfortable locations filled with good intentions, some money or food, and a lot of ideas about how things work. They will only stay when they realize that they themselves ARE the poor.
Elitism is the sickness of us all. It is at the heart of every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them. Sometimes we’ll discover that our worst enemy is inside our own hearts, and not on the outside.
When we moved from affluent north Dallas to our innercity home in New England, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I felt much better about myself. In Dallas, we were on the short end of the financial stick and were surrounded by others living in extravagance. People who actually vacationed, who planned on getting their teenagers getting new cars at 16, who spent money freely at the mall.
When we moved to an innercity neighborhood, our income didn’t change, but the comparison did. Suddenly we were surrounded by people who were wrestling with food security, struggling to get gas money, and hoping to find work enough to care for their families. On this continuum, I found that I came out pretty well. Sadly, that translated into how I viewed myself, and according to that assessment, I came out smelling pretty good.
When I realized this ugliness in my heart, it took a conscious effort for me to rethink my assessment of who was really poor.
Jesus came to bring good news TO the poor; not to those who SERVE the poor. I think we can truly only experience the good news of Jesus in and through our own poverty. The kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love, the poor in relationships.
With those standards, I encourage you to think through who really are the poor…