Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chapter one – be poor

“We have grown literally afraid to be poor.  We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life.  If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.”  ~William James

     The words above ring to true in the ears of the church.  If a person is poor, whether by their own choice or by circumstance, they are seen as “less worthy” than those who can put money in the plate and heft about wealth as influence.  As a minister in the modern church for years I saw this play out time and again.  Those who were truly needy were never part of the “in” group…they were looked down upon, talked down to and generally treated with at least a mild form of derision.  In the board rooms and leadership meetings the same words would be bandied about.  “They don’t bring in any money.  They consume but never give. We love them but they do little for the church.” In almost all cases the problem is that the “church” is not concerned about the people as much as it is concerned about its business.  The church has become a corporate machine meant to make money and create jobs for a particular “in” group so that they can coerce and create more of their own kind.  
     The original intention of Jesus’ ministry was to aid the poor, the sick and the down trodden, to specifically target those people whom the religious machine had disregarded or crushed in its run for power.  The words of Jesus speak volumes on this topic and his anger at the merchants in the temple put an exclamation point on what his intentions were.  It is high time the religious powers that be stopped using a spiritual context to rape and pillage those who already are struggling with life.  The church should be an institution based on loving and caring for people no matter what state they happen to be in, and I know what some will say; “Well some will take advantage of us if we are not careful about who we help.”  And to this I say yes, yes they will and then you should help them some more and then again and again as many times as they come to your door because it is the example that Jesus gives us.  I worked at a small church some years ago and there was a man there who was relatively wealthy.  Often we would have folks stop in to see if the church could help with their bills and they would be told that, sure the church would help them once.  Now several of these people would return again the next month seeking aid and would be told that the church couldn't do any more to aid them.  This man I speak of, I saw him numerous times follow these folks out the door, and give them money from his own wallet.  Not just once, but time and again he would give them what they needed and never once did he ask for one penny back.  So I asked him one day, “How is it that you’re helping these people because aren't they really just using you?”  I had been well trained by the system at this point and could not fathom what this man was doing, but his reply floored me, he said “every time I help them I get their address and phone number if they have one, and I make it a point to visit with them or call them regularly to see how they are doing.  The money I give them really means little to me, but the chance to connect with them and let them know someone really cares about them, that is why I do it.”  I walked away from that conversation a changed man.  I started seeing that people and money do not have the same importance.  
     We guard our money better than we guard our children and spend more time acquiring money than teaching our children.  It’s this sort of mentality that is destroying us as a society and has been functional within the church for millennia.  We give so much importance to money that it rules our lives, it takes away our vigor, our time and eventually our lives.  I don’t know how many children I have worked with in ministry that were troubled and damaged mainly because they had no relationship with one or both parents because those parents were always working.  Parents often think that by working hard they give their children a nice home to live in, nice things to own, or the best educations, but none of these things can replace the love of a parent.  So what can we do about this aspect of church life?  First and foremost get onto the leadership committees and boards of your local churches and ask a ton of questions.  Ask where the money is going, why it is going there and to what end the church hopes to use its donations.  Find out how much is going into the minister’s pockets and how much is being given to the needy.  I guarantee you will find that the amounts are drastically different, in favor of the minister’s pockets.  Ask your minister’s why they make so much more money than those down trodden folks.  Ask them why they pursue money instead of ministry and then ask them why there isn't a more even spread of salaries among all the church workers and ministers.  
     These churches belong to you.  It is your money that is going into the pot and the majority of that money is going to pay a minister to live comfy while the people he or she should be ministering to live in squalor.  You have the right to decide where that money goes and to what end it goes to.  Withdraw your donations and give directly to those in need, build relationships with them and let them know that there are real people who care about them and want them to be part of the congregation.  Most importantly, if money is getting in your way, follow the example that Jesus gives the rich young man…let it go, let go of your need for that money by giving it away.  If all we have in the world could be pooled into a pile and meted out evenly to each and every person we could all live comfortably with more than enough to go around, it is this kind of idea that Jesus calls us to, to share of ourselves, even give our coat, our money or our lives so that others might see the love of God.  This is a hard concept in our money hungry society.  Money cures our ails, it brings us status and it washes away our tears, but in the end it leaves us empty of true relationship, of grace and forgiveness. 
      In the end it is money that is the first and foremost damaging aspect of modern life and economy, and it is money that has blotted the face of the church and left a stain on the ministry that may take millennia to remove.  I hope not, I hope that people can come together and change that stain overnight, and give away what they have in hopes of getting something far greater…the love of God in our hearts and minds.

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