If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
I’m a hot mess. A ball of contradiction.
On Wednesday afternoon I sat in a van, listening to the director of RestoreSTL talk about his neighborhood, the one we were driving around in. He pointed out people he knew by name. He talked about specific lots and buildings. He told stories about shootings, gangs, prostitutes in his car, houses they’d fixed up and people being chased down the street.
The average income in the neighborhood is $17,000. There is upwards of 40% unemployment. You can purchases houses there for $10,000. He lived there with his wife. He’d raised his kids there. His kids had gone to school in that very school district. He’d stop and tell stories and cry. He’d talk about the Bible. He’d talk about the challenges, but his eyes and his words were brilliantly alive. He talked about hope, more hope than I’d heard in quite some time.
I didn’t live in this neighborhood in St Louis. These weren’t my people, and yet my heart was broken for them.
On Thursday night, I sat in a magnificent home in Edmond up by a beautiful golf course. The home was easily over $1 million, and all the homes around them were the same. It was a fantastic discussion with fantastic people.
I don’t live in that neighborhood in Edmond. Those aren’t my people. My heart was also broken for them, but in a different way.
Like I said, I’m a hot mess. I confess my manifold contradictions. I am in no way consistent. So I am judgmental to the people in the neighborhood in St. Louis. I want the drugs, violence and abuse to stop. I want redemption there. I want to see them set free from the trap of poverty. And I’m judgmental to the cushy living in Edmond. I want to redistribute those resources. I want to bust down the gated community mindset and see actual incarnation engagement. I want to see them set free from the trap of riches.
I feel better about getting in my not-so-nice car and going to my not-so-nice house – when I compare it to going from Edmond. When I go from St Louis, it feels like extravagance to have what I have. My vacations, my bottled water, my Crossfit gym, my worry about the grass in my yard and my Netflix shows. So which is it? How am I supposed to live? What are we called to?
So I’m ashamed both ways. I’m ashamed of my lack of care for those around me – both ways. I so easily end up paralyzed and then just shut down. It’s far more comfortable for me to be cynical about everything and poke holes in whatever anyone is doing. I don’t feel good enough, and I hear others’ complaints, so I will attach Not Good Enough to anything anyone is doing no matter what.
Up here in my office at City Pres, I can look out of my window, and I literally see: Heritage Hills neighborhood, The Lift apartments, The Edge apartments, the city jail, grain silos, Classen Ten Penn, Mesta Park, and a senior living center.
One of my dreams is that all of those people might become friends together. We might worship together on Sunday and live out our lives together during the week in truly walking together with Jesus. We’d help each other, both ways, all ways. We’d advocate for each other. We’d support each others. We’d learn from each other. We’d teach each other. We’d repent to and forgive each other.
I’m glad the Lord is leading me and teaching me. I’m glad he deals with my judgmental heart in patient love. I’m thankful he forgives me and heals me. He restores me when I’m ashamed. He calls me to himself in his mercy. He knows my sinful heart, and he’s at work in it. I’m not right, but he’s still loving me. He’s bringing us together and somehow that dream too.
He is making all things new – even and especially my heart. So I can walk with him in joy as I see my own poverty and reach out in friendship and love to the least of these. I can walk into more situations because he is with me.