Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wednesday Night Dinner at the Inner City Church

Where I live, we have lots of Lutheran churches, but most of them have very small memberships. Lutheran churches down here are wealthy in buildings and property (wealth that's not very liquid, especially not right now), but face dwindling membership. Some Lutheran churches remain fiercely independent. Some have talked about joining forces, not in terms of closing churches, but in terms of mission.

We see the most growth in the western suburbs and some of the greatest poverty in the inner cities to the east. One of the earliest churches, First Lutheran, finds itself in the shadow of skyscrapers and multi-million dollar condos, only a mile or two from the beach (where even more wealth has concentrated and redeveloped the region)--and yet, it sees a crying need from the homeless who surround the church. Because of the recent, rapid redevelopment of downtown Ft. Lauderdale, these men (and they are mostly men) find themselves homeless again: shelters have been torn down, as have the abandoned buildings where many of them used to sleep.

Rather than ship these men to the wealthier western suburbs for dinner, First Lutheran asks area churches to volunteer to bring and serve dinner on specific Wednesday nights. This past Wednesday night, it was my church's turn.

Sadly, nothing I saw that night surprised me. The plight of the poor doesn't change much from year to year, generation to generation. But I was glad to be part of the Wednesday night dinner effort nonetheless. I've had friends through the years that argue that feeding the poor isn't really going to change much. They are right, in that we need to work for systemic change. We also need to feed the poor.

And I was glad to see so many of the church's children and teens come that night. If the church doesn't sensitize children to the plight of the poor, who will? My longing for social justice was birthed in the church, and I will be forever grateful to my parents (and all the other church members) who made that happen.

I'm also grateful to my spouse, who says that my longing for social justice and my compassion for the poor are the qualities that he finds most attractive in me. I'm lucky that he has a similar temperament. It would be so much harder to struggle for social justice if I was married to someone who undercut those efforts. It would be so much harder to live my life according to my values if I had married someone who had different values.

Spending the evening with the poorest of the poor and dispossessed (at least in the USA--I realize that America's poor are quite wealthy, according to world standards) always makes me wonder if I'm successful in living my life according to my Christian values. Have I sacrificed those values so that I can live a life of comfort? I'm happy that I'm married to someone who doesn't see me as insane for asking these kinds of questions.

After dinner, many of us went into the sanctuary for a service. The pastor asked for input for the prayers. When one homeless man said, "That we may find food tomorrow," tears leaked out of my eyes. I cried all the way home. I cried for part of the following morning.

It was only later that I heard about the historic drop in the stock market on Wednesday. Ordinarily this news might make me feel anxious and scared. But I have a home to live in, a well-stocked pantry, more clothes than I can possibly wear, shoes without holes in them, and a job that makes it all possible. I am so fortunate. I wish I knew what to do to make sure that everyone had an equal chance at that kind of fortune.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is familiar to me, the sadness of seeing and hearing the poor and hungry, and knowing that however much I try to do and give it somehow won't ever be enough.
While working as an R.N. with hospice, I often wept after leaving a home,even though I knew I had brought some degree of comfort,and received much gratitude from those I cared for,the emotional or physical suffering could not be removed completely. Yes, some endured with grace and serenity, transcending phyical manifestations of the life limiting illness. More frequently, tho',this was not the case.
I learned that just being a witness, just being present and with the person and their family was, for a few too short moments, more satisfying and comforting than any medicine, or wound care, or bath could ever be. Because in those moments (I believe) the love of God seemed to feed us both, relieving any type of hunger,any discomfort,any doubt.
It was, and is a gift to weep, and be present,and to continue to help where and when we can.
I used to remind myself, every morning when I got out of bed,"you can do this! Think of all the people who cannot!" And then to the nice hot shower with soap, and clean towels to dry off, more gratitude. Wow! A refrigirator with lots of food, hot coffee;then the sadness would(and still does)come, thinking of those who are hungry,cold,dirty,sick,in pain,just wanting a little comfort.These are times of gratitude and thanks to God, for me.
Thank God,Kristen,that you are present!