Friday, June 6, 2008

What is poverty?

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Today’s blog is a bit more serious than some of my previous stuff. I hope there is still some sort of hope hidden beneath some of it.

I’m so damn ignorant of poverty and the complexities that surround this most pressing matter. At the local Milwaukee Public Library yesterday I was glancing through a city publication that had surveyed a number of homeless people in the Milwaukee area to find out how they got to be where they are, how long they had been homeless, and in what kind of mental condition they were in–––that is, the survey described some of the homeless as mentally challenged, alcoholic, addicted to another drug, a victim of physical abuse, or simply other. Moreover, some of the homeless had simply lost a job and the circumstances had dealt them a terrible hand that now found them without a permanent residence.

I’m so damn ignorant of poverty. How could I even begin to fathom what it would be like to not have a roof to sleep under at night? When was the last time a meal was something I hadn’t had in over 24 hours, let alone half a day?

There is a commons that All Saints, the church I’m living at this summer, runs for women who need a place to stay until they have the means to make their own home. I met some of the women and their children only a few days ago. Our 30-minute meeting brought me so much joy! I can only hope that the feeling was reciprocal.

After living here at All Saints, I return to being pampered at a seminary on the campus of Loyola. How do I deal with having everything essentially taken care of when I know there are hundreds, on certain nights maybe even a thousand, people here in Milwaukee who have no bed to call their own? It sometimes makes me feel pathetic, guilty, and disgustingly privileged. On one level, I am so incredibly grateful for all the financial security I have been dealt. I am grateful to my mother, father and God for allowing me to live a comfortable and spiritually and financially solid childhood. But on another level, my soul aches for those in need of more, more to make them able to live with the hopes and dreams that every person in this city, in this country, in THIS WORLD deserves to dream.

I turn to the gospel to bring me some sort of solace on the unsettling subject of poverty. For the Gospel was written for the poor, oppressed of the time. Unfortunately, looking at the Gospel in this manner, I am an outsider looking in. Any of us who don’t fall into real the category of real poverty (most Americans) are forced to interpret the Gospel to match our own needs. Ahhh…but the challenge is to meet the Gospel where it is!

The Beatitudes, Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Am I blessed? Are we blessed? Am I really humbling myself to the level of seeing all my brothers and sisters at eye level, person by person? Is God somehow present in all the relationships I am in? Is LOVE really there?

Do I walk the walk? Or do I just talk a mean game? These questions are for myself. If you feel they may apply to you, ask them to yourself as well. Sometimes, it is gut check time. For a quick “gut check,” I turn to the Gospel of Luke.

“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that heaven do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor mouth destroy.” (Luke 12:33)

When Jesus teaches to sell all our belongings it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our essentials. It doesn’t even mean that we don’t have certain material possessions that bring us some happiness. But what it does mean–––and this is so hard to truly discern–––is that whatever we have we could give up at the drop of a hat. If someone knocked on our door and said, “all this stuff in your house, this TV, that computer, that picture, that ring…it is now mine,” we would be willing to give everything up. That someone is love manifested as a person. You could think of that someone has a soul mate who you have been waiting your whole life to find. You could think of that person as a member of your family welcoming you to heaven after you pass. You could think of that person as Jesus Christ himself, inviting you to fellowship at the eternal banquet. You could think of that person as just about anyone–––or anything–––that would allow you to give up all the stuff you have. But whoever that person would be, your decision would have to be definite. Can I say to myself that I would truly be able to FREELY “sell my belongings and give alms?” If we even grow close to being able to say that, I think we can begin to feel good about the path we are walking.

But as we walk the path, I hope our stomach still aches for those who have nothing to give. I hope we still can somehow feel the pain of the mother of five who can’t put food on the table tonight because she has no money to feed her children.

This is the struggle that we all must seriously face in this world. If I am ignorant of poverty, then I have to realize that I am. And maybe, if I have the opportunity to do so, I can educate myself on the matter. I have so much to learn. We, as a world community, have so much to learn. We are called to be an active participant in the kingdom that is to come, HERE and NOW. God help us!

Peace and with Love,

Your friend bob.

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