Here’s today’s meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society:
Wednesday October 31, 2012
Focusing on the Poor
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.
If what Henri Nouwen says about the Church and the poor is true, and I think it is, then perhaps as we turn his words into our practice we should think about what “poor” we’re looking at. For instance,
There are people who are “poor in spirit,” as Jesus would say. So consider – how much time and attention do I spend being with someone who is “rich in spirit,” soaking in their prayers and receiving their spiritual direction on a regular basis; and how much do I spend with someone who is “poor in spirit,” who is perhaps in as much need of the spirit that I can give them as I am in need of the other? Yet I am the one that “poor in spirit” has access to; they do not even know about the “rich in spirit” that I admire.
And there are people who are financially poor. So consider – how much time and attention do I spend around rich people, or at least people who live “comfortably,” and how much do I spend around people who have less than I do?
But Nouwen would have us ask the question, “Why would you want to spend time around people who are poorer than you are? Is it because you think you have something great to offer them, to ‘lift them out of their poverty?’ Or is it because you think they have something great to offer you, something you can’t buy with all your money and can’t realize with all the spiritual guidance you receive? Do you go to the poor because they are needy, or because you are needy?”
And so we should ask the same questions about churches. The poor churches, the dishevelled ones, the ones with buildings in need of repair; the ones that can’t pay the bills, the ones that live from hand to mouth, the ones that can’t afford a pastor; the ones out in the middle of nowhere, the little ones, the “unsuccessful ones”; the not-megachurches, the not-fancy churches, the not-contemporary churches. The ones that are ignored because they don’t have huge programs and varied ministries; the ones that are overlooked because they’re not reaching out to all kinds of cultures or adding new members every year; the ones that are pushed to the bottom of the district executive’s to-do stack because they seem like such a nuisance; the ones that are always in need of some kind of financial bailout or else they will fold, and yet they never do. Should we attend to them because they are needy, or because we are needy?
These churches are the indispensable ones, just like the poor of our society. These churches are the ones we should be flocking to, attending to, spending time with. Just like the poor in spirit or the poor in checkbook. Not because we have something great to offer them, but because we are needy for what they have to offer us. Luther called it “the mutual conversation and conversation of the brethren.” Nouwen called it “a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.”