In the past few weeks, I’ve seen two movies that pushed me into a painful spot, and I’ve been struggling with my thoughts (and even convictions!) since, and they still might not be terribly coherent, but isn’t that what a blog is for? So here goes.
Both of these films revealed a world I do not know, yet painfully experienced over the course of their running. I struggle to put words to my emotions from these movies.
The first, Boyz N the Hood gave a realistic portrayal of the daily reality of living in South Central LA; drugs rampant, single mothers, a consistent sense of dis-ease (even in one’s home), and the daily reality of death. It seems easy to me after seeing this movie how those who exist in this environment simply shut down emotionally and settle for surviving from day to day. Honestly, it gave me more ammunition to get angry (usually expressed in my inner self) when I hear the tired old lines like “the poor are poor because they’re (lazy, won’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, immoral, insert a sweeping judgment).” It’s just obvious to me that we are free to say these things when we don’t immerse ourselves in the daily experience of those facing the daunting challenge of poverty and the devaluing of life…Josh Brown (and I’m sure others) call it the “Challenge of the Suburbs”; that we should be aware that many churches that claim to be working “for the good of the city” are really largely white, middle-class, and drive Acura SUVs and that their worship and dress screams that when others who do not fit the type enter the doors (are you listening, McLean Bible Church?). I pastor a country church, and it’s just obvious to me what stands in the way of those struggling to make ends meet being a part of our community…the ethos bleeds middle-class. I mean, even when we talk about ministering to the poor or those who don’t know Christ, it’s as if we expect something immediately from them: “I gave you cash, why don’t you get off your lazy *^& and get a job and succeed, for heaven’s sake!” or “I’m investing my life in you, and you’ve got two more months of love from me before you have to make a decision to follow Christ…otherwise, I’m gone.”
It seems to me the only way out of this is for us to be willing to enter into the discomfort and gray areas of humbling ourselves before and serving the poor and needy (all kinds of needs) all around us. Because we love them. Period. A willingness to consistently be there will stretch us beyond what we consider to be mission (chucking out a little cash, along with the annual soup kitchen visit) to recognize these are lives to give our lives for. Whether they accept what we have to offer or not. Because really, did Jesus meet instant success and sweeping acclamation by all he came into contact with? No…the guy was a status-quo-wrecker in a variety of ways. Sure, the countryside got turned upside-down by the fellow, but he was splitting families, hammering the rich, and showing a near “unholy” commitment to loving the poor and sick no matter what! Derek Webb addressed the middle-class comfort of the church within the boundaries of America I think in an incredible way:
“poverty is so hard to see
when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town
where we’re all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can’t give me
so what must we do
here in the west we want to follow you
we speak the language and we keep all the rules
even a few we made up
come on and follow me
but sell your house, sell your suv
sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor
what is this, hey what’s the deal
i don’t sleep around and i don’t steal
i want the things you just can’t give me”
I continue to believe that Derek Webb makes good music with INCREDIBLE lyrics that need to be heard.
I think I’ll say one thing and let this rest for a bit: The problem of poverty is not simple, and cannot be solved by uncritically toeing the lines of either the liberal or conservative position. In fact, the problem is cyclical and can only be dealt with by a group of people seizing their calling from God to live with radical love and radical generosity and radical patience and energy to simply love others the way God loves them. A willingness to carry this out will stretch us to really grow in the multi-faceted response poverty demands. A good example of such a community (not a sweeping paradigm suggestion, an example) is this one in Philly:
The Simple Way
Their website has plenty of links to other communities undertaking the same endeavour.