"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Thursday, April 13, 2006 Station VII - Jesus Falls for the Second Time
Remember that you are dust ... and to dust you shall return.
We began Lent with these words. A reminder of our own mortality. No matter what happens. No matter how high we soar or how low we sink, we all return to the same place -- dust.
It's a reminder that is meant to humble us. A reminder that the proper response to the maxim "The one who dies with the most toys wins" is "Wins what?" In the end, we're all worm food.
But the inevitability can lead to resignation, too. Jesus might never be quoted more out of context than when he said "The poor will always be with you." People have used it as an excuse to do nothing. And why not? It certainly seems like no matter what we do all those words are true. No matter how much we labor, the poor are still with us and in the end we're all just dust.
As Homer said to Bart: "Son, you tried and you failed. The moral is -- never try."
Jesus fell for the second time. The second fall is not about failure but about persistence -- about remaining faithful no matter how difficult or hopeless. Falling and getting up. Falling and getting up. Persistence in faith and action even with the crowd jeering and all looking lost.
ee cummings said (quoted famously by Dr. Johnny Fever) "the intelligent man always follows the lost cause, realizing that all others are merely effects."
The poor have always been with us. No matter what we do it always seems so. Eradicating poverty seems like the ultimate lost cause. But Jesus' witness and cummings' words are true -- not only because we have hope that causes once lost are not always lost but because something happens to the quality of our spirit when we follow it with persistence and faithfulness.
We follow Matthew 25. We seek to meet Christ and to serve Christ in the poor, the sick, the weak and the lonely because it is what we are called to do and because of who we become when we dedicate ourselves to the cause.
And we fail. We fail repeatedly and miserably. And every time we do, we pick ourselves up again and keep walking.
We do it because we believe -- and because it is the persistence, the faithfulness, the following of the lost cause, if you will, wherein lies the prize.
Station VIII - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
"Large numbers of people followed him, and women too, who moaned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say; Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never nursed.' then they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us' to the hills, Cover us!' For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23)
Don't weep for me, weep for you.
One of the most used approaches to engaging people with extreme poverty is what I call the Sally Struthers approach. It's the late-night infomercial with sad children with distended bellies and flies circling about their lips and Sally Struthers bemoaning how terrible it is and won't you please send money to help.
It's not that it isn't terrible. It's not that on some level it's very important for people to see how terrible it is. But we shouldn't help out of a sense of guilt or out of a sense of repulsion. We should help out of a sense of how we are bound together -- out of a sense of the deep joy, the deep experience of life in Christ that comes from solidarity with the poor.
Sabina Alkire, the amazing priest-economist who co-authored What Can One Person Do: Faith to Heal a Broken World, says:
"The alleviation of material suffering in the world and the spiritual renewal of the church go hand in hand."
Sabina is right. Sabina understands Jesus words. The extreme poverty of the developing world is also the extreme poverty of the developed world. They are inextricably related. Because as we allow -- and even cause and perpetuate -- extreme poverty in places like Sudan and Tanzania and Nicaragua and Pakistan we deeply impoverish ourselves as well.
We impoverish ourselves because the only way to perpetuate systems of extreme poverty is to distance ourselves from their victims. We cannot leave people in poverty if we believe that they and we are one. So as the poor suffer materially, we suffer spiritually. We suffer the spiritual poverty that Mother Teresa said was far more profound than the material poverty she saw in Calcutta -- the poverty of lonliness, the poverty of disconnection.
Jesus weeps for Jerusalem and urges the women to do the same because he knows the poverty of spirit of those who would crucify him has the depth and pain of his own suffering. As his followers, we seek him and serve him in the poorest of the poor not because he told us to, not out of fear that "Jesus is coming, look busy." but because our need of them is every bit as profound as their need of us.
Because we live in a culture where we are addicted to all sorts of anesthesias and amusements and outcroppings of our wealth that attempt to dull the pain of disconnection -- but that at the same time remove us further and further from the cure to what ails us ... each other.
So if you see Sally Struthers on late night TV with lots of sad eyed children, I'm not saying don't give (though you can probably find a lot better place to give than whomever is doing those infomercials). Give -- of your money, of your time, of yourself -- not because you weep for them but because of your need of them. Give because of your own poverty, and you will find solidarity and hope with theirs.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."