Shane Claiborne will speak to the risks of practicing discipleship. Shane is the co-founder of the Simple Way, a faith community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped to birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. His ministry experience is varied, from a 10-week stint working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta to a year spent serving a wealthy mega-congregation called Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago. Shane is the author of several books including “The Irresistible Revolution”, “Jesus for President” and “Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers.”
Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name. Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.
My friends, I am a statistic. I never truly wanted to be one, nor do I feel special because I am one. But, my government has included me as one of those living in America as poor. That word brings unsettling thoughts to mind. As a young boy I remember my family driving to town for a movie and we passed by a large, rambling brick building which resembled a military barracks. It was the “poor house”. In that building lived people just like you and I who went into debt, could not pay their bills and subsequently were confined by court order in the poor house. To some it was a justified end result for failing to survive within the community. To others it was an undignified response to a financial difficulty. To me it was a personal commitment to never be poor.
I pursued that idealistic commitment throughout my teen years. I was earning an income from age 12, I had saved enough money to buy my first car at 16, and I was well on the way to a funded college education. But then, addiction stepped into my life. Not only did it step in, it overtook every dream, every plan, every moment of my life. I was 18 years old. Wrecked my car, lost my zeal for college, and took a job pumping gas at a Gulf station. The final nail in my dream’s coffin was a failed endeavor in the military.
I was devastated when my shrink told me I had a problem with alcohol. “No, no, no”, I silently screamed, “alcohol is my friend, it makes me the kind of man I could never be before. It allows me to be the life of the party. It makes me fearless. It comforts me in my desperate attempts to fight depression. I love my friend alcohol.”
That love affair ended but the disease of alcoholism continued to direct my life for another 14 years. My recovery story is one of millions worldwide who have claimed victory over alcohol through the grace of a Higher Power, a salvific force which I name God today. But the effects and damage to my emotional self have been lasting and slow to correct. Many years into sobriety were necessary to regain self-esteem, love for myself, and love for others. Many fellowship meetings were necessary to truly realize what I had surrendered to alcoholism. Recovery of the lost opportunities often did not materialize.
My life today is just another miracle story in the annals of recovery miracles. I am one of millions who have found riches and blessings through sober-living. I know without reservation that my needs as well as many of my wants are always met. God works grace as only God can through the people in my life today. Yes, according to society I am a poor man, but in my eyes I am the richest, most blessed man on earth.
I live in one of the most beautiful spots on earth next to the headwaters of a wide, slow-flowing river. It is a tropical paradise complete with manatees, alligators, orchids, butterflies, and world-renown fishing opportunities. My friend accepts rent from me when I have it, but doesn’t concern himself when I’m cash stressed. Another friend, a wealthy lady, seems to intuitively know when our freezer is nearly empty and volunteers her reserve of frozen meats which she claims are overloading her freezer. My 21 year-old pickup truck is like the Energizer bunny, keeps on going and going and going.
Most appreciated are the handful of friends who have blessed my life. If my housing situation changes, one has offered to help me reestablish in Miami and another has offered his spare bedroom. Our community has a multitude of food pantries and health care services. Several agencies offer a variety of assistance for the “less fortunate”. They probably do not need to know that, contrary to being less fortunate, I am one of the most fortunate souls in Florida. I just happen to be fiscally challenged.
Being a poverty statistic is no longer a sentence to the “poor house” as it was in the days of my youth. In many ways it is a freeing experience, an opportunity to address false pride and accept the graciousness of others. Janis Joplin, a musical genius of my youth, sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”
Scriptures repeatedly admonish those who truly seek the Kingdom to abandon their worldly wealth and seek the life exemplified by Jesus and the Buddha. To voluntarily strip of material prosperity and affluence would be extremely difficult. Ha! Another reason I am indescribably fortunate. Assuming the life of poverty is not a decision I need to make for it has been made for me.
In the book of Matthew, just before his crucifixion, Jesus received from Mary of Bethany expensive perfume which she poured upon his head much to the consternation of his disciples who admonished her for wasting a perfume which could have been sold for much money to give to the poor.
“Why trouble ye this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” Matthew 26: 10-11
The author of Deuteronomy in verse 11 of chapter 15 attributes this directive to his Lord:
“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to the needy, in thy land.”
The poor shall never cease and will always be with us. It’s a blessing which empowers those who fall into poverty to overcome the idol of materialism and seek solace in relinquishing an attitude of self-reliance. It is also a blessing to the one who has financial resources and is able to discover the selflessness within which is necessary to open wide his hand to the brother, the poor, the needy.
Indeed, I am richly, undeservedly blessed.
I have a tough time feeling grateful. My bank account does not rank up there in the stratosphere with the top one percenters; my transportation is a 21 year old pickup truck; my wardrobe is the finest the local thrift shop can provide; my daily menu is usually a variation of beans and rice. Yes, when I compare to my neighbors and friends, Larry has missed the prosperity boat.
Then I go to Reuters or Aljazeera or BBC, networks which present the world uncolored by rose-tinted glasses and news not saturated by American politics, and there I see the rest of humanity struggling in war-torn desolation, there I see a father unable to provide survival necessities for his family, there I see poverty which is unparalleled in our sheltered, ego-driven society……. and I get grateful for my beans and rice menu and my second-hand clothes. A majority of the world’s population subsists on poverty level income often without even the basics of clean water, shelter and food. Oh Larry, I say to myself, you are such an ingrate.
I cannot fathom the poverty of the world for I have been blessed to live in an America which has seen the greatest material prosperity ever witnessed by humanity. Three car garages, college educations, designer jeans, meat and potatoes on the dinner table, boats, exquisite jewelry, penthouses, retirement accounts, golf resort vacations, all these are commonplace in the America I see surrounding me. And still, Larry sometimes feels ungrateful and poor. Then God says, “Rejoice!”
“Really? For what? The country is going to hell in a handbasket, our government is corrupt, the poor are getting poorer, the rich don’t give a damn, and Florida State has a losing record this year. What is there to be happy about?”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
It has just now been pointed out to me by HP that “poor” is not a bad thing, at least not spiritually. Those who, with humility, realize and recognize that they are impoverished in spirit and need assistance are indeed blessed for it is then that God can and will intervene if that intervention is sought. Only then can God fix what is broken in me. It is not something I can buy at WalMart, it is not a commodity available through a broker, it is not a shiny new vehicle. Even my church does not hand it out at the front door. I need to earnestly assess my own weakness and spiritual poverty in order to be blessed. I need to get grateful for the love and compassion given to me by a gracious God and then share that same love and compassion with humanity.
Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is also an action. Just as the feeling of love becomes active through participating compassion, gratitude is useless if it is not shared.
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
“We believed that faith without works was dead, but we have now conclusively proved that works without faith is dead also.” Bill W. letter of 1940
What a concept! Faith demands works and works build faith.
50% of our world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day.
80% of the world survives on less than $10 per day.
1 billion of the world’s children live in poverty.
The average American earns $24.57 per hour.
16 million American children live below the poverty level.
1 in 7 Americans struggle with hunger.
The United States holds 41.6% of the world’s personal wealth.