I’m currently employed by the Catholic Church.
For those of you who know me, you know this is quite a change. Don’t worry, though. I’ve not swam the Tiber, I’ve only changed professions. I’m not going to go into the details, but I will say that this has been a very good change, though it didn’t feel like it at the time.
In the past year or so I’ve read two books that have opened my eyes to the situation of the poor. The first is Under the Overpass. The author writes from a perspective within the church, and walks a couple of miles in homeless shoes as he lives as a homeless person for months. In this book are many observations that touched my heart, and also many observations that made for easy ways a church could care for people who find themselves homeless. For example, like me when you think homeless you probably think food. The authors observed that basic hygiene such as showers, teeth brushing and deodorant were just as needed and often overlooked. How hard is that to provide?
The second book I read is Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. This book is similar to the first in that an author infiltrated a sub-culture in order to write about it. In this case, the author, who has a PhD in biology took on jobs close to minimum wage in order to see if it were possible to get by on those types of jobs. What she found was a lot of indignity and expense. More expense than if she were well off. And again, though this book was written by someone outside of the church, I found a perspective in which a church could minister if it so chose. The needs are more expensive than the homeless, but would it really be impossible for a church to, in some way, provide day care for working single mothers, or work with local landlords to provide a deposit for poor working families who otherwise are left paying weekly for hotels/motels that ultimately are more expensive than an actual apartment.
Recently, I’ve been conversing with what was once a very close friend, but we’ve grown apart through time and distance. We’ve been discussing Rob Bell. One of the things he’s disturbs by is when Bell says or writes things like the resurrection or the fall or some other piece of theology isn’t just a historical event, but something that happens now, in our lives.
I understand Bell entirely.
At one point, one of my fellow pastors in the town I lived and served had founded a soup kitchen to serve low income and homeless families and people of our community. The thing is, that we had problems recruiting enough people to serve this weekly soup kitchen. We needed around 5 people per week to provide the volunteer help. While they had to do all the work of providing the meal, they didn’t have to pay for it themselves. He served a church of 150, I served a church of 250 (this was attendance on a weekend, not the total number of “members” on the book). That means roughly 60% of our church attendees would have had to volunteer and every single week would be covered. The thing is, we couldn’t come up with enough volunteers from every single church in our city. Not just our two churches, but every church in the city.
So when Bell admonishes the church that the resurrection is something that should be lived now, that the Kingdom of God is something ongoing, I get it.
And so, now the Pope pays me roughly 1/2 of what a Protestant church was paying me. I get to go home at night knowing, instead of hoping, I made a difference in the lives of the poor, and powerless. And through all this change, and difficulty I can state definitively that the American church doesn’t have a belief problem, it has a doing the belief the problem. Because I’ve run into far more people that have a problem with Rob Bell than have no problem with serving in a soup kitchen.