I’m only a bit of the way through the latest Geez magazine and I just read an article that I’ve been meaning to mention now for a while. Nate Buchanan in Changing the Story of Change: God Chooses New Protagonists helps reevaluate a gospel that centers on those of privilege to help those in need. He thinks it’s a faulty model keeping the same people of power and spotlight and keeping the story about them. He picks apart the New Monasticism movement a bit and suggests that they don’t go far enough.
The essence of the New Monasticism movement is articulated by and for people like me, not for single welfare moms. The model envisioned by members of the movement is of God sending a prophet to t he suburbs to mobilize a great social movement, whereas in the Gospels, Jesus seems to head to the the equivalent of battered women’s shelters, gay pride rallies and drug corners to mobilize his movement. That’s where is begins
I think Nate is onto something here. While commendable, I find that plenty of thinking of the poor and the marginalized are still usually very selfish. It is all about how WE can help them, or how we can clear our conscious, or how we can make time for someone less fortunate. There is still a slight sense of exploitation going on. I see it all the time with our ideas about how we can help the poor compared to when we actually do help them. It’s fun to talk about and even plan up great ideas, but actually getting down to the task means thinking ahead to plan a meal, not making plans with friends one night or putting yourself or family in danger. In the end it just usually isn’t worth it, so we slowly back out of it and do something a little more comfortable, like throw money in an offering bucket.
The social workers in Sarnia have been really pushing a new system for working alongside of those in poverty. It’s called Circles. It’s one of the first ideas that I have seen that doesn’t create the regular hierarchical models of the needy and the person meeting the need. This program puts 14 families in generational poverty together along with twenty-eight middle class families and links them together in teams. Each team is led by the family coming from generational poverty and the middle class are there to support, learn and be challenged. You don’t even know who is who when you walk into the room. You are just a person there to learn and help make communities better. I find it to be one of the best run programs that I know about and it seems to be working great here in Sarnia (more to come on this program later).
I think it is crucial that when speaking of those who we think are poor, we also remember that we are poor. To live life out of any other reality will lead to pride and self-centeredness. The poor aren’t there for the wealthy to appease their conscious by helping them. The poor aren’t there because they need help becoming not poor. Those that are poor are just living outwardly something that we all are inwardly. Those that are poor have more to teach us about true life than we may no.
This is why I don’t think helping the poor once a week is really a viable option. The only option is to become poor alongside of them and live our lives with them, not to make them more like us. The only way the poor/rich barriers will be broken down is if people refuse to see a fence and live their lives in both worlds seamlessly because there is nothing different between them. For as long as we are “helping them” from a distance we will never live life with them. By doing that we are refusing to acknowledge their humanness. The only way to truely live out our calling to bring the gospel to the poor is to live among them and become like them. Anything else is to treat them like a disease that is trying to be cured.