I recently re-read an old article written in The Other Side that I read back in 2000 written by Shane Claiborne. At that time, I didn't know who he was and it was only later that I would re-discover Claiborne and the New Monasticism and my affinities with much of their thinking and then get the chance to hang and talk with him a bit last year up north. Anyway, the article, "Downward Mobility in an Upscale World" is a great article that I shared back then with a bunch of college students to get at the importance of being missional in a truly incarnational way, rather than merely being charitable. Though, as a friend of mine says, Claiborne articulates an overly naive view of how the economy works in this article (remember how young he was at the time), he gets at something deeply difficult for so many of us - being with the poor. (PS, this article from long ago probably also inspired 3 previous posts Downward Mobility, Downward Mobility 2, and Downward Mobility 3 from 2007). I recently read a great book by Ash Barker called "Make Poverty Personal" (preface by Claiborne) that hits on some similar themes. Allow me here to quote a few from the forward:
I am convinced that the tragedy in the church is not that rich folks don't care about poor folks, but that rich folks don't know poor folks. Amid all the campaigns, issues, slogans, and political agendas, perhaps the deepest hunger in the world is: "Make Poverty Personal" The prophet Amos cries out that if our faith does not bring justice flowing like a river, then we should cease the clamor of all our religious festivals and gatherings and songs, for they are noise in God's ears (Amos 5:21-24). And lest we let the liberals off the hook, I've met plenty of progressive "social justice" types who have shown that it is very easy to live a life of socially-conscious comfort that is compartmentalized and detached from any true relationships with the poor. Mother Teresa once said, "It is very fashionable to talk about the poor... unfortunately it is not as fashionable to tlak to the poor." [p. 11]
As so many missional minded Christians and Churches are now embarking on new campaigns of social justice and seeking to make a difference in global, urban, rural and even suburban poverty, it is important to make poverty personal and not a project. As a pastor in a church making a missional turn, I am convicted once again of the importance of incarnational ministry and that neither I, my church, nor any program or amount of dollars will be anyone's savior, but that relationship, incarnation, brotherhood, solidarity and personal identification not only with the poor, exploited, and marginalized, but with my own poverty, exploitation and marginalization and with how I bear the responsibility for having benefited from a being part of a system that has impoverished, exploited, and marginalized.
I think often back to my days in political theory and concepts of alienation and dehumanization at the hands of the socialist and totalitarian revolutions which I studied in those days. I am beginning to realize how much our current systems of life dehumanize and alienate not only others, us as well.
Jesus came to bring life, and life to the full. Blessed are those who walk in the ways of Jesus. I pray that I will have the guts to follow him into a deeper incarnational living.
By the way, some recommendations:
- Read, reflect on, and discuss the article, "Downward Mobility in an Upscale World".
- Listen to The New Monastics on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett and Repossessing Virtue from the SOF Observed blog.
- Read The Iresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Claiborne and Jesus for President by Claiborne, Haw, and friends and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove
- Read Make Poverty Personal by Ask Barker with a small group and go deeply into the questions and discussions in the book.
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