December 10, 2006

including the out caste

Gandhi -- it is said -- liked Jesus very much but found Christians a bit hard to deal with at times. The Jesus of the synoptic traditions -- Mark and Q -- builds his ragtag army out of the rabble that good clean folks would rather not associate with. He also seems to go out of his way to touch lepers and others that would contaminate him from a cultic perspective. I imagine that's what Gandhi found so endearing about him.

So, how do we, people of faith, cope with this witness today?

A minority of self-identified Christians (of which I am NOT one) have committed themselves to direct contact and interaction with the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero are only two prominent names that most might recognize. But there are thousands of others who do not make the cultural radar including many whose motivations are ideological rather than faith-based, such as the Food Not Bombs networks.

But while these folks are legion they remain a minority. Christianity has become a quiet middle-class church rather than a ratty social movement. We deal with the poor and the sinners with social programs that alleviate the suffering but don't particularly include the out castes into our social circles.

Jesus did not feed the poor. He didn't create social programs, food banks, counselling centres. He hung out with folks, when to street parties, taverns and likely brothels.
When you give food to the hungry, they call you a saint. But when you ask why the hungry have no food, they call you a communist.

Dom Helder Camera


At 9:27 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

I think if you follow the ideologies back, they start here, and in the elements of the Jewish traditon that Jesus was emphasizing.

Notice that Jesus does not reject "the righteous;" they reject him.

A name that deserves to be remembered here is Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker movement) who emphatically rejected doing good at a distance, and found the poor (difficult as they typically were) much more endurable than the donor class. And even the poor don't always like the "poorest of the poor" all that much.

Once again, from a later rabbi, "Cain was not cursed for slaying his brother, but because he said 'Am I my brother's keeper?' "

I asked a Catholic Worker I met at Pendle Hill, "Why isn't there a Quaker Worker movement?" She said, "The Quakers like to drive into the slums, do good, then drive home." I think we're starting to get past this, but it ain't easy.

Why is there a war on Iraq? Because we do not know "our own flesh." It started with our alienation from the poor, including those we'd only need to drive a few miles to see. And because this is (as William Stringfellow pointed out) an element of our worship of death, it readily translates into war, the ultimate death-worship, against anyone else our rulers find convenient.

And what makes our rulers tick, but their fear of cultic contamination. The cult is that of Mammon, but that isn't that much of a change, is it? They're too polite to say it, but to them we are all lepers. And in America, at least, even the runner-up-poorest want to avoid contamination from anyone they can find to look down on; they are Americans after all.

Only a few token nights on the street... and we found people at night leaving sandwiches near our beds, inviting us to their campers for breakfast, some very generous behavior. But the Righteous. They call the police to stamp out food lines; they civically descend on City Council meetings to keep their neighborhoods "clean"--They are really sweet people, sweet as kittens, but they are not nice to mice.

I don't often give money to panhandlers either. I ran a street newspaper for years, hung out with some very likeable low-lifes. But I don't trust panhandlers and have this tremendous adversion to giving them money. I'd like to keep the money; that's part of it. I am poor (though not that poor.) I think they consider us "the enemy" as much as we consider them "the enemy," (perhaps rightly) and that's an element. I don't know how to recognize the occasional guy who isn't scamming--Man I'm confused about this!--and "don't have time" to find out. Bad enough being robbed by people with more money than me.

I really should listen to God more. But how to remember, when habit keeps pushing him aside: "I know how to deal with this!!!"

At 3:44 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

re "a quiet middle-class church": yes, yes. I've experienced a wealth of lovely groups, Quaker and others, who dearly wish to 'be their brother's keeper' and relate to the needy.

In every case they (we) may knock ourselves out to be inclusive but....

The blacks in D.C. simply did not find our Church of the Saviour Worship nurturing. It was too refined.

Likewise the Quakers.

Each of these groups generally have token "blacks" or whatever, but they are most often what we call 'white blacks'. Race means much less than class.

You're reading the words of a man who has tried for 50 years to overcome the barrier. But at 80 I still live in a very white neighborhood and rarely have contact with blacks.


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