Boxes

The other day at our Atlanta board meeting the chair asked each of us to share how we experience the face of God.   This is one of those questions that I should be ready to answer in an instant; after all, it is the tagline to the program where I have been working for most of my adult life.  As I was listening to the reflections of other board members my mind kept going back to when I first started working for DOOR. At that time, the God I wanted other people to experience was measurable and contained.  I knew the kind of people God approved of and those who were outside God’s will.  Well, to be more precise their actions were outside of God’s will.  I was very good at explaining how God loved the sinner and hated the sin.  My life, work and seminary experiences had all helped me to know exactly what types of actions, lifestyles and political leanings were sinful or at least outside the will of God.  Looking back, this theological certainty had an arrogant unloving quality.

When it came time for me to share about how I experience God I found that I had a new one liner, “God has no respect for the boxes I try to put God in.”  God has never come to me for a list of who to vote for, what to condemn or which lifestyles to judge.  As a matter of fact, much of my faith journey for the past couple of decades has been about reevaluating what I was so sure of.

When I compare the person I was in 1994 to the person I am today, I am glad that I have flip-flopped on many burning issues.  A faith that is dependent on condemnation and looking for sin around every corner is life-sucking, boring and frankly unchristian.  I am starting to enjoy serving a God who has no respect for the boxes I want to put God in.  It is fun, adventuresome, occasionally humbling and always stretching to follow a God whose idea of who is part of the family seems to have no limits.

The Poor

One doesn’t have to spend a whole lot of time reading the Bible to figure out that the poor have a special place in God’s heart.  It is relatively easy to make a case that if forced to choose, God chooses to side with the poor. Later this week my home church will host a “Christmas Store.”  This year we will be providing gifts for 1,700 children representing over 400 families.  Every one of the families is poor and their need is real.

This year I began my 18th year working for DOOR.  Our primary hope is to show visitors the face of God in the city.  When participants encounter the poor, God’s face consistently shines through in powerful life transforming ways.

However, there is a downside to 18 years of working and living in economically depressed communities – cynicism.  When it comes to lies and deceit the poor are as capable as the rich.  The wealthy do not own majority shares in greediness; to be perfectly honest, some of the greediest people I have ever encountered are poor.

After spending much of my adult life among the urban poor one thing is clear.  God does not side with the poor because of their integrity.  I think that God sides with the poor because they experience suffering and injustice at a base level.  Poverty in and of itself isn’t holy, but the perspective that poverty creates helps the poor to better understand Jesus’ condemnations of wealth.  It is the poor who suffer when social programs are cut or health care costs continue to skyrocket.  The poor are not morally superior to the wealthy, but they are much more likely to be sinned against because of the attitudes and greed of the wealthy.

This Christmas as you look for ways to serve the poor, don’t miss the opportunity for the poor to serve and educate you.