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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Seven

Last night a group of us who meet every Tuesday night for Bible study and fellowship did what we normally do on the last Tuesday of every month: we do laundry with friends who live on the streets. It was started at a laundromat nearby by a friend of mine who called it Laundry Love. (I know there are other Laundry Loves in Santa Barbara, but we are only connected in spirit).

We arrive around 5pm with a Costco-sized tub of laundry detergent and an old pasta jar full of quarters.  As we plug quarters into the washers and dryers, we hang out and visit with our friends. Once the stuff is in the dryers, we serve up about 6 large Domino's pizzas, which we purchase through a generous deal with the owner next door.

I need to be honest and say that when we started doing this about eighteen months ago that I had to really rev myself up every time to do it. It's a very meaningful thing to do, but that doesn't make it easy. Making conversation with people who are living with some major challenges -- be they financial, medical, mental, chemical or social -- is not always easy.

But after all these months, something clicked for me last night. It was... lovely. Conversation came naturally, names were known and said, genuine affection was shared, and we laughed as we lamented the troubles of life together. One of our key couples was not there last night because they had taken a trip to New York City which was very much derailed by Hurricane Sandy. The regulars heard about this and had a bunch of questions for us. One of them said as we were leaving, "Please make sure they know that we are all praying for them here." I nodded, and thought to myself, if anyone knows the challenges that weather and hardship can bring, it is these people. Their prayers will be heartfelt, for sure.

I prayed about our time together with our friends this morning, and I read these two things:

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption.  As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear:  by focusing on the poor.  The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation.  When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity.  It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.  Paul says,  "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).  This is the true vision.  The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace. (Henri Nouwen)

Psalm 103

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

I have learned so much not just by serving but by knowing the poor. They are not "bums" or "hobos"... they are people with names who are made in the image of God. He knows the number of hairs on their heads.

I heard this verse taught on years ago by a man I greatly admire, Bob Mitchell, the former president of Young Life. I take it seriously, and will end with it:

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor
    will be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13)

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