Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cherith Brook Ordinary Time 2013 Newspaper

Our Ordinary Time 2013 paper is now online. Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.

Ordinary Time 2013

Life on the Margins
by Amy Hansen-Malek

When I was 19 years old, I moved from rural IL to the urban core of Milwaukee, WI with the vision of “giving to the poor” and “helping to save the lost.” I had my hero’s cape tied snug around my neck as I came to teach, feed, and clothe those on the margins of society. I’m now 36 and still live in the urban core, near Cherith Brook, where the sights of economic oppression can’t be missed. It’s not uncommon for me to see a man walking by my house carrying his home on his back or for me to pass someone holding a sign asking for money. Piles of trash seem endless next to the run down buildings in my neighborhood.

Through these years, I’ve wrestled with what it means to truly love those cast to the margins. Some days I still put on my hero’s cape, wanting to offer my advice to the poor on how to turn their lives around, as if my riches and way of life are better. Offering acts of compassion by giving food, clothing, or other resources comes easy to most of us and God does ask us to give to those in need. However, I’ve come to understand how these good intentions can be hurtful. The resources often come with strings attached, like insisting “they” listen to “us” describe how to fix “their” problems or having “them” commit to “our” programs. These good intentions also can be hurtful because they often fall very short of addressing or even acknowledging the injustices that often cause persons to be in need of resources in the first place. There are other days, when instead of wearing my cape, I carry stones in my pocket. I get frustrated by the signs of poverty and crime around me and find myself wanting to cast stones of judgment at those living on the margins, for surely it is they who are responsible for the endless trash I see and the daily crime I read about, right?

When I find myself wearing my cape or casting stones, I try to remember what James tells us in Chapter 2: 1-10. In my own words, the story goes something like this:

A poor man enters a community and is asked to sit at the feet of others in the community. He is preached to, fed, and clothed but not viewed as having any value to offer the community. A rich man enters a community and is invited to sit “with” the community. The community thinks the rich man has great resources and knowledge to share. He can use his wealth to help the poor man sitting at their feet better his life, so the poor man’s life can look more like the successful rich man’s life. However, the community has it all wrong. The poor man has the real riches because he has faith and he has inherited the Kingdom. The rich man is really poor because he lacks faith and has not inherited the Kingdom. The rich man is actually responsible for injustices that exist in the community. If you see more value in the rich man than the poor man, you have sinned. To commit one sin is the same as committing all the sins.

When I first moved into the city, I mainly saw poverty and problems around me, but I now try to remember and “see” that I live among great wealth. The person walking by my house carrying his belongings on his back may know more about the riches of the Kingdom than I’ll ever know. He may be rich in faith, faith that I lack in my life.

Throughout scripture, God reveals God’s self to and through those viewed as outcasts. Perhaps we see this because they were the ones ready to receive the Kingdom. The world they lived in didn’t allow them to be valued because they were unclean, uneducated, sinners, or half-breeds, as the Samaritans were called. They weren’t invited to sit “with” the community. When the world they lived in didn’t value them, they were ready for a new community, the Kingdom community. In the Kingdom community, which Jesus offered, they were accepted instead of kept out and discriminated against.

If we really want to become like Jesus, we can’t ignore that he walked “with” those on the margins and became a marginalized man. As Jesus showed the in breaking of the Kingdom among those on the margins of society, he showed how the Kingdom community differed from the culture around him. Walter Brueggmann, a well-known theologian, writes in Prophetic Imagination, “The compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. “ Compared to many, I am a rich person. I can’t deny my place as the rich person in James’ story. I have, even if unknowingly, participated in injustices toward the poor since many injustices are systemic in nature and perpetuated by those with wealth. At times, I become numb to the painful experiences of those around me living as outcasts and find myself walking by as the Levite did in the story of the Good Samaritan (Note that it was the outcast who stopped for the man in need in this story). As I have tried to shed my cape and empty my pockets, as I have come to know more persons living on the margins, I have experienced more of the riches of the Kingdom.

Instead of wearing a cape or throwing stones, maybe at least part of what it means to love those on the margins is simply to sit at their feet and learn about the Kingdom. In doing this, we might learn about our own needs and their real needs. What’s more, we might be able to erase the “us and them” language, and instead, we could value one another and be together in community.