The shore or the river...
This morning's reading from the "Divine Hours" (my guide for morning prayer) speaks of God's advocacy of behalf of the poor needy. My initial reaction is to say, "Really? Advocacy? Has God been to Sudan lately? Or Palestine? Has he seen the tents under the viaduct in Seattle, or on the outskirts of Fresno?"
I continue down this path of skepticism and challenge to God's declared truth until I think to myself, "I'd better stop thinking this way, or else I'm going to start doubting everything" as if I'm in a raft, headed towards a waterfall. I desperately paddle for the shore by looking for some way of harmonizing declarations like these with my experience. "Ah, the poor" I say to myself; "they're poor because..." and then I complete the sentence with any number of assessments I've heard down through the years about poverty: things about laziness, and corruption, unbelief, and deficient political systems. I'll throw in a praise chorus or two about how God blesses those who love Him and suddenly realize that I'm no longer being swept towards the edge, but am paddling safe in a theological eddy.
Comfortably resting at the ideological shore, no longer doubting God's word, I catch my breath. As I recover from the scare, I realize that, while there's safety on the shore, this is a place that's bothering me. It's bothering me because, when I'm honest, I realize that the answers that got me here are lies and generalizations. I look back to the river and see that there are hundreds of rafts heading towards the waterfall and plunging over. They're filled with people living in tent cities, or refugee camps, or dumps outside Manila and Delhi.
Slowly, it dawns on me that I'm not alone on the shore. I'm there with millions of others who, like me, have answered the hard questions with insufficient answers, answers that are ultimately justifications for the unconscionable gap between the rich and poor of this world. Those on the shore can find a treatment for every ailment and even for things that aren't, from erectile dysfunction to undersized breasts. Those stuck on the river can't afford aspirin or shoes, and have no access to clean water.
My answers plague me as insufficient, and so I cry out to God: "Why aren't you doing something?"
"Because you're my body" replies the Voice, "and you're sitting on the shore."
Appalled at the rightness of His answer, I protest: "Look at the risk! If I jump in..."
"Yes, I know, but jumping in is what I do. Unless, that is, my body is in rebellion, refusing the respond to its own head. That kind of paralysis is personally disabling. What's worse though, is that, stuck on the shore, my body's refusal to be where I want it to be is killing millions."
We who are on the shore are singing. We're reading our Bibles. We're arguing about Calvinism and debating whether the future of the church is "house", "emergent", or "mega." But the arguments are happening on the shore while 30 thousand children a day drop over the edge of the falls.
Make no mistake; the river IS risky. Sometimes people in the river get killed. Standing for justice gets people tossed in jail sometimes or worse, branded as a heretic. That's why the shore is so heavily populated these days. There's campfires and kum-by-yah.
I don't know where I'm going with this metaphor (this is, after all a blog of "musings"). I suppose I'm trying to paint a picture that says, "Sure, we all need to moments on the shore to catch our breath and restore our strength. But I began by wondering why Jesus isn't helping the poor, and the answer, of course, is that He will, but only to the extent that His body, the church is listening to Him, and responding. This is Wes and Heather serving in Bolivia. This Walter. He's in Ghana. This is Spilling Hope, a water project for Africa.
Don't get too comfortable on the shore. Jesus wants his body in the river.