Tag Archives: Bread and Cup Ministry

When People Have Faces….

Recently I was told the story of a dog who was left alone at home all the time while his owners worked.   They never played with or petted the dog.   One day the owners came home and the dog had completely ripped up a recently purchased $1500 sofa.   The owners decided the dog had to go!  Before taking the dog to the animal shelter they called a relative they  knew who loved dogs and offered the dog to his family.   Somewhat reluctantly the relative  took it and the dog became a part of their family—their children played with it, the adults petted and loved it.  It never destroyed another piece of furniture!   Why not?   Because  the family showed it love and attention every day!

People are not so different from dogs in this respect.   All of us need to be shown love and attention.  I remember youth in my high school classes that were obviously neglected by their parents—one of them told me they saw me more in a day than they did their parents and I only saw them 1 hour a day!!.    Many of these youth, at home, were only given attention  when they got into trouble—and so they did so on a regular basis.   In my classes they were often belligerent,  destructive of school property,  were continuously causing trouble because the only way they knew how to get any “strokes” (attention)  was by being a problem.   Even though it was negative attention, it was at least attention!

Thomas Harris, in his book, I’m OK, You’re OK tells of babies left alone and abandoned at a hospital by their parents.   If the nurses did not have the time or take time to hold them and play with them and love them, the babies would die—not from any apparent physical cause, but from lack of human touch, affection and attention.

All of this is so true of our life today.   As our population expands more and more and we are more and more urbanized, we feel more and more isolated.  We are “attention deprived”.  We all need these “strokes” that others give us.   All of us may have experienced the loneliness of being in the middle of a huge crowd and not seeing any familiar faces feeling  a sense of isolation and fear. We fear that if something happened to us, no one would care.    I know I certainly have had this feeling of just being  “another face in the crowd.”

This is  the problem that those who are poor, homeless, outcasts,  or prisoners face.     They have no faces for most of the rest of us and therefore we tend to fear them and keep separate from them and anticipate they will be destructive  and harm us.

One of the lessons I learned at our Bread and Cup Ministry that served 60-100 meals every Friday to homeless and needy in Hutchinson, Kansas, was that when I interacted with these people, when I knew their names, when they shared their life stories and concerns with me around the table, I no longer feared them.   I had put a face on them where before they were just a faceless stereotype.  

There are so many people in our crowded world who  don’t have faces or names—they’re “muslims”, “terrorists”, “bums”, “rich”, “poor”,  “fat cats” “Democrats”, “Republicans”,” liberals”, “conservatives”, “activists”—and I could go on and on.   We avoid putting a face on them by  referrring to them in this way.  But when people have faces and we see their unique, individual, God-given uniqueness, we are able to share our common humanity and learn not to fear but to love them.   Only when they have faces!!  I became not just a “pastor” to my “Bread and Cup” people, , but I became “Pastor Jim”.   They came to our wedding when I married the lady who began the Bread and Cup Ministry and some brought cards or small gifts they really couldn’t afford!    They were and are our friends whom wecan talk with and be touched and loved and touch them and love them and share their hurts and fears and aspirations.   Only when they have faces!

Jesus said:   “Love your enemies, do good for those who hate you“.   He was on to a great secret:

The antidote for hatred is love.

The antidote for fear and alienation is found in putting a face on people and loving them as God’s children, even though they may be unlovely and unloving.

Until we learn this and practice it in our daily lives we will live in the fear that most of our nation and world is living in at the present time!

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

Last week’s July 19 post (“Are Christians Different”) ended witha negative answer as I compared today’s Christians and church  with the early church that was seen as very different from its society. If you don’t catch us in the act of going to church it is difficult to tell who are Christian and who are not by our actions.    As a result of that indictment, I would like to examine the impact of this negative answer on two challenges we face in the U.S. and the world today:  (1) the increasingly lop-sided division in our society and the world society between the very rich and the wealthy corporations that enrich them,   and the poor—with the numbers of the poor vastly outnumbering the small number of the rich; and, (2) the fear of violence that this lopsidedness engenders in our own society and throughout the world.   I’ll take up the first issue in this posting and the second in my next posting.

Jesus, reflecting the Old Testament and especially the prophets, saw the problem of poverty in his day as of great importance.  He defined his ministry at its beginning in the synagogue of Nazareth in terms of the importance of the poor and down-trodden.   He read from the book of Isaiah these words to his “home church”:  “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

The Old Testament saw poverty as neither an accident nor as a natural occurence,  but rooted in injustice.   The prophets saw poverty as being caused by the rich and not as the fault of the poor (as we now like to do).   For example,  Amos echoed many of the prophets when he thundered this warning to the wealthy women of Samaria:  “Hear this you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountains of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’  The Lord has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks….”  (Amos 4;1-2)

Jesus’ views on money and wealth reflect the Old Testament views.  He identified his ministry with the weak, the outcast, the down-trodden.   Jesus warned about the risk of wealth to our spiritual life in these ways:  “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.   Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger.  (Lk. 6:24-25)

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19;24)
“Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  (Luke 12:15)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.   For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. (Matt. 6;19-21)

In fact, one of every ten verses in the Synoptic Gospels is about the rich and poor; in Luke the ratio is one of seven.   There are more than 500 verses in the New Testament alone about the problem of riches and money.  Money was one of Jesus’ favorite topics in his teachings.

The early church shared Jesus concern about this and made sure to provide goods for the poor and the orphan and the widows who could not support themselves and were poverty-stricken.   The early church was known for these actions by the society that surrounded it.

And yet, as Jim Wallis (who has challenged me with his ideas) points out in quoting sociologist David Moberg, there has been “a great reversal.  Twentieth-century  evangelicalism in the U.S. came to identify thoroughly with the mainstream values of wealth and power.”   As the country became rich and fat, so did evangelicals (the church), who soon replaced the “good news'[ of Christ’s concern for the poor with a personal piety that comfortably supported the status quo.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 55)

Wallis contiues:  “Evangelicals today have not been the ones calling for economic redistribution.  Instead, they have tended to favor tax breaks for the middle class and for the big corporations.  Many usually support increased military spending and budget balancing by cutting the amount of public resources available for the poor.  ….They extol the virtue of wealth and power when most of the world is poor and powerless.  They call for unrestrained economic growth in a world where resources are running out and much of God’s creation is ravaged by industrial exploitation.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 56)

And each day in the U.S. the rich, who also by their wealth control the power of government at national and state levels and see that laws are passed and legislatures elected that will help them to continue to grow even richer, widen the gap even more between the few  rich and the many in poverty—not just in the U.S. but in the world.

What is the church doing about this?   What words do Christians speak in behalf of the poor?   What is the place of the poor among the priorities of Christians today?  Our disregard of the problems of poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor  is not only an economic problem of the highest magnitude, but also a spiritual problem of the highest magnitude.  For in ignoring the poor we are also disregarding some of the most basic teachings of Jesus.

Listen to the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:   “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations , and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.   Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thisty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?   And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?   And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?   And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.   Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”   They they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?   Then he will answer them, ‘”Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not for me.”  ((Matt. 25:31-46)

Are you a sheep or a goat??

God’s Problem or Solution?

“”If your religion does not transform your consciousness to one of compassion, it is more a part of the problem than the solution.”  (p. 61, R. Rohr, Immortal Diamond.)

     As I read these words, I reflected on what was posted on my blog on 6/24/13 entitled “A Ministry to the Hungry and Needy is Abolished.”    That blog told a sad story written by the founder of the Bread and Cup ministry at First Christian Church, Hutcinson,  that was really a story of a church being “religious” but not “compassionate”.   It told of a church where “when the going gets tough”, the people lose their compassion and love of others in favor of self-protection from any imagined risks.  It told of a church that, if it had lived in times of persecution, would have been apostate on a group level.   (“Apostate” was the name given those of the early church that renounced Jesus as Christ in order to save their own lives. )  It told of a church where love of the building overcame love of the people that  Jesus reached out to—the poor, the needy, the mentally ill, the hungry, the different, the outcasts of his society.  

It simply told of a church where leaders and people had not been transformed by the love of God through Jesus the Christ, but instead had failed to heed Paul’s warning to the church at Rome—-“Do not be conformed to this world , but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”    (Rom. 12:2)

     But before we throw any stones at these “apostates”, we need to look at ourselves honestly and truthfully and assess how many times we have followed their example! 

Thankfully, God is a forgiving God.  If we recognize we have NEED OF TRANSFORMATION, God is able to lead us into discerning his will— what is “good, acceptable, and perfect.”   With his power and love behind us and moving us forward we can overcome our human weakness and our quickness to “conform to the world” and instead be “transformed.”   “With God”, as Jesus reminded his disciples, “all things are possible.”

The question then is:  “Does your religion transform your consciousness to one of compassion?”   If it does you are a part of God’s solution for a sick and desperate and hurting world.  If your consciousness lacks compassion and instead yearns for safety and not taking risks, you are a part of God’s problem, and the world will continue to hurt a bit more because of that!