Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Table Ministries

Last week, the feeding program at First Lutheran started again after a summer break.  For three years now, once a month, my suburban church has been taking dinner to First Lutheran, and we feed anyone who shows up.  I tend to think of them as homeless, but that's not quite right.  We serve choir members, for example, and many of the regulars are only homeless part of the month.  We've fed many a student passing through, and perhaps staying for a longer Spring/Fall/Christmas break than intended.  But yes, the bulk of our dinner guests are homeless.  I've learned, and re-learned, a lot from serving them.

Jesus knew a lot of things, but his idea of table ministry was one of the super-genius ideas.  If they were giving out MacArthur Fellowships then, would he have been recognized?

When we eat dinner together (or when we serve at such a pace that there's no time to enjoy dinner together, but still we serve everyone), we learn a lot about each other--thus, it's harder to demonize those people.  I approach issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness differently these days because I've spent more time with those populations than your average middle-class or upper-class citizen.  I understand that cheap housing pretty much no longer exists.  I know that many homeless and unemployed folks have mental health issues that mean they will never be fully integrated into society--at least, not our society as it's currently configured.  I used to think that if we just provided enough low-cost housing, the problem of homelessness would disappear.  But it's so much more complicated than that.

That's the major thing I've learned, but I've learned lots of other things too.  I'll never take my healthy teeth and gums for granted again.  Many of the First Lutheran dinner guests have dental issues, and we have to think about that as we plan meals.

I also think about how many shoes I have--well, how much stuff I have in every category.  What would happen if I had to consolidate it into a backpack?  What would I take and what would get left behind?

I feel that sorrow that comes from knowing that there's so much hurt out there in the world--and what can I do?  A meal seems so minimal.

But I find myself praying for those men and women who come to eat with us.  I find myself caring more deeply, in a way I didn't before.  I have names and faces to link with the statistics.

Now, of course, I find myself worrying about all the social safety nets that have been shredded.  And I find myself worried about the disappearing middle classes.  I find myself weeping for us all, as we struggle to keep from tumbling into homelessness and other sorts of poverty.

And so, again and again, I return to prayer.  I return to tithing.  I prepare meals and bless the food, hoping that it (along with prayer) will keep us strong for the struggles ahead of us.

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