Today I was sharing with some folks about my intention to move to Annapolis and serve the homeless community.
Oh boy, did that conversation spark some interesting reactions.
“Alcoholics have chosen to be addicted.”
“They’ll stab you when your back is turned for the cash on you.”
I told some folks about my plan to reach out through the local church to bridge the gulf between the the wealthy and the poor.
I have found it a soothing balm to my conscience to give a bit of change to a donations box, or to give regularly to one of the national organisations. When I feel especially guilty (think Christmas time), one surefire way to maintain my merry christmas is to spend time at a feeding programme. Serving lunch to impoverished women and children can make even the most self-absorbed believe themselves to be worthwhile members of society.
With my apron on and ladle in hand, you bet I’m socially aware!
Kicking poverty’s ass! YEAH!
It seems needlessly difficult to secure a visa and move abroad to do something which can be done in more or less any city in the world.
And indeed I have done these things all over, from Sheffield to Baltimore. It really isn’t difficult to find well intentioned people doing worthy things for the urban poor. Charity is a longstanding tradition of our cities. Welfare systems were founded upon the philanthropic principles of Victorian entrepreneurs, who would wax lyrical over ideas of deserving and undeserving poor.
So there might be a feeding programme for the staving, leading into education programmes and addiction treatment to lift people away from poverty.
It’s a model which has impacted most Western cities.
Dozens of edge of town colleges, clinics. A kitchen tucked away behind the high street. Once you’re in the system, there are scores of places to go and things to do to keep you from bothering the nice residents of the urban jungle.
This is charity in the contemporary world. And this charity could be done in any old city.
Yet I do not believe I am crossing the ocean for charity.
See, I live in the company of One who transcends history and humanity in order to bring the undeserving into his embrace.
If God came on chariots of fire to sweep up those pious saints who longed for him, then those who walk in his path would similarly be entirely consistent with their faith to provide programmes to those who had a chance to escape poverty. Those who could keep themselves from crime and addiction; Who could raise their own children and maintain a marriage.
Yet this is not the God I follow.
He who shared meals with the sinners is inescapably the one I worship. If I were to praise the God who saved me from my own helpless state, offering grace when I was rebellious and ignorant, and then call any person, poor or not, “undeserving”, then I would be guilty of blasphemy.
God’s mission to the world was not charity. It was the communication of his being with those who would rob and destroy that being. Indeed, this is exactly what happened.
The costly communication of love is God’s programme for mission. Was it unsustainable? Short sighted? Naive?
I’m sure others might say so. Yet to me this is the wisdom and glory of God.
So I am going to cross the ocean not to start a programme or do charity. I want to share the Gospel reconciliation between rich and poor. The Gospel reconciliation of the meal table, the conversation and the true friendship.
To my mind, the encounter of two human beings in mutual vulnerability is the perfect expression of Christ’s loving work in the world. To be Christian, as far as I am concerned, trumps being charitable any day.