Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, July 06, 2009

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.


At 7/7/09 23:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before I waded into the river, I would want to have a plan, lest I die in vain. Would there be any point in me walking into the Sudan right now? Perhaps I could become the next Jim Elliot, but I think it is wiser for me to stay on the shore for now.

At 8/7/09 15:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even after 2000 years post Christ's birth, the the injustice continues? People falling off the edge seems like a never ending reality and I feel today like I need encouragement about life - either on shore or in the water heading to the edge. When will long term sustainable progress be made? How long the injustice oh Lord?

At 9/7/09 12:25, Blogger NancyinAbq said...

Timely musings as I just returned from an indulgent honeymoon in Negril, Jamaica. Our travels certainly presented an opportunity to pray for His will. We were eating plenty, enjoying much, worrying about nothing while all around us were Jamaican people barely surviving in cardboard shelters, caves by the side of the road, crowded little shacks, or dilapidated huts. What can we do as the Body? We spent our money in their country, tipped our servers well, and shared the joy of Jesus with as many as would listen. Yes, all while standing safely on the shore.

At 10/7/09 15:38, Anonymous Geoff said...

Great post, Richard. I struggle with this as well. Maybe BCC needs to do a series devoted primarily to dealing with responsible ways to "jump in the river."

At 11/7/09 10:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree !! i love jumping into things in my life,not only do i Jump but then i find ways of coming out. i also think that being 'poor' is a good thing in life b/c it also teaches me to be content,today i will be content..
Does that make sense ? also Does anyone else feel like dying for Jesus like me ?
Native Brother

At 14/7/09 15:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All good musings. I've been living in "the Lord's Prayer" every day this summer and as I prayed it in response to your blog 2 phrases surged Living Water onto my soul.
1). "OUR Father"- I found great comfort AND great compassion (com= with/ passion= to suffer; to suffer with) in the momentary yet eternal global connection of sharing God as Father of Life with those of suffering circumstances. Hope surged in my faith arteries and I proclaimed my faith out loud that God is STILL just and man is still seeking to be God's personal expression of that Holy Justice!
2)." Give us this day" - I have recently been reminded our Lord teaches us to claim only today's bread- one day @ a time. Those "suffering" folks understand the Kimgdom in ways I never have and in my hearts cry to offer THEM clean water I must also acknowledge and submit to THEIR hearts cry to help me shed my greedy addiction to comfort and false securities. The needs/ the sufferings are mutual-theirs physical / mine spiritual. We are BOTH poor and wholeness will only be complete in MUTUAL submission to each other. Until I accept my OWN poverty God will leaver to ponder @ the river's edge lest I leap in and suck THEM under with me by adding to their suffering!

I AM starting to long to feel the river overtake me...soon perhaps I'll be ready to jump!


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