For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.



You Invited Me In

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:35-40

When I was 18, I had to leave my home to escape a life-threatening situation. Someone opened up their home and allowed me to stay there for almost a year while my family and I got back on our feet.

Should he have turned his back on me because there were other homeless people in his area?

Should I have been forced to remain in the same town as the person who wanted to kill me because other people needed help too?

I keep seeing people talk about homeless veterans today, comparing their need to the needs of the refugees escaping Syria. How can we think about helping these refugees when we have homeless veterans in our own country to worry about?

I’ll be honest. It’s upsetting to me.

I know what it’s like to be forced to leave the people and the place you love and call home. I know what it’s like to have to humble yourself and ask for help because you can’t help yourself out of the situation.

Do you know what that’s like?

Were there other homeless people that needed help at the same time I needed help? Yes.

And we all deserved to be treated with love and compassion. We all deserved to be treated with dignity.

Helping me didn’t mean nobody could help anyone else.

Helping refugees doesn’t mean we can’t also help homeless veterans.

We have a lot of luxuries in this country. If you think you don’t have any of those luxuries, take a minute and really think about that. Do you have a smartphone plan? Do you have cable? Do you eat out? Do you take vacation trips? Most of us do.

If you’re honestly concerned about helping homeless veterans, that’s wonderful. Cut out some of your luxury spending, and donate the money to veterans. I think that’s a noble thing to do. It’s certainly more effective than talking about helping veterans.

Just remember there is no either/or here. We don’t have to help the refugees at the expense of homeless people in our country. We have plenty of resources here. We can help everyone. We just have to stop being so greedy. It’s really not that complicated.

Blessed are the poor in what now?

poor box

Photo credit: Steve Willey

In an attempt to steer myself away from being so freakin’ confrontational all the time, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the Sermon on the Mount. It’s my favorite part of the Bible and it’s ultimately what keeps me chillin’ with the Mennonite crowd.

Oh, I know what would be a good idea,” I thought, “I’ll write about the Beatitudes. One post per Beatitude. That’ll be soooo easy.

Then, I opened my Bible, re-read the Beatitudes and went, “Well, crap.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

Of course, the first Beatitude is the one I never understood. So, I’ve spent the past three days trying to figure out what “poor in spirit” is all about. I’ve waded through commentaries, books, articles, and random blog posts. This is what I’ve come up with.

The poor in spirit understand their need for God.

These aren’t self-satisfied, self-righteous people. These people understand grace. They aren’t smug and don’t go around boasting about how spiritual they are.

To be poor in spirit is to recognize clearly that one has nothing which he has not received from God, that one is nothing except by the grace of God. – Orthodox Church in America, The Beatitudes 

They have endured spiritual poverty. That is a painful condition. It’s nice to feel sure of yourself. It’s comforting to know that you have everything all figured out. But, admitting that you don’t and that you can’t earn your way to God is difficult and disconcerting.

Jesus starts his sermon by mentioning these people who know they need more than they already have. These people who recognize their emptiness.

People who are “poor in spirit” are those who are humble before God. They realize that they have nothing in this life that they can contribute to receiving the kingdom of heaven…There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God. Everyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must be “spiritually poor,” for salvation is a gift from God. –

I want to point out that being “poor in spirit” isn’t about telling yourself you’re worthless. It’s about not being your own idol.

The poor in spirit are in solidarity with the poor.

This is about empathy. It isn’t enough to throw money and resources at others. It isn’t enough to “do good”. We need to meet people where they are and on their terms, not ours.

I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person. – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

If I drop off some cans at the food pantry, does that help me understand what it’s like struggle to feed your children?

If I donate money to a homeless shelter, send a school kit to a child in another state, plug my credit card number into an online form… does any of that help me understand the people I’m trying to help?

I know people who are living comfortable lives, but are poor in spirit. They identify with people who are poor. They don’t even see them as “the poor” but as “people”. They don’t pass judgment on people just because they’re struggling financially. They realize the causes of poverty are complicated. They realize that they could easily have been “the poor” if life had worked out a little differently for them.

The Gospel calls us to a paradox in its teaching on poverty. First, it bids us recognize in the face of the poor the face of Christ. Our culture is resistant to this idea and likes to hurriedly put emphasis on the words “in spirit” in order to distance ourselves from looking into the faces of the hobos, winos, toothless geezers, street kids with fleas, addicts, schizophrenics, brawling illiterates and smelly people who are, after all, what the word “poor” often refers to. – Mark Shea, Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

The poor in spirit understand that they aren’t entitled to what they have. The poor in spirit understand that we are only temporary stewards of God’s property.

“…if I let the Spirit infuse me with holy poverty, I become generous, for what once appeared to be mine isn’t mine at all.” –  James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today

Am I poor in spirit?

This is the question I didn’t want to ask. Maybe this is why I was always happy to skip over the first Beatitude in the past.

So, am I “poor in spirit”? I wasn’t. I know that much. I was arrogant and self-righteous. I was convinced that willing myself to believe the correct things, to perform the correct actions, to avoid the incorrect actions would earn myself God.

Getting rid of all that was incredibly painful. (There’s no pain quite like soul pain.) It was humbling to realize I could do everything right and still completely miss the point.

So, where do I stand now? I’m spiritually exhausted.

I have a complicated relationship with Christianity. I don’t actually want to be a Christian or associate myself with the religion. I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of faith.  (I’m probably running a faith deficit here.)

The crazy thing is that once I admitted I didn’t believe, that’s when Jesus swooped in all, “Yo, look at me!” I had to get rid of my own spiritual garbage before I could see him.

So, yes. I would say there’s some spiritual poverty up in here. (But, that sounds kind of self-righteous, so I take it back.)

As for being in solidarity with the poor… not as much as I should be. I’ve always been more worried about keeping myself from being poor. I’m nominally generous (a few dollars here and there), but I don’t do anything that has any real impact. I have too big of a “this is mine, I worked hard for it and I deserve it” attitude. Every once in a while I remember that I’m not actually entitled to anything, but then I tell myself to shut up.

Mostly, it’s just really hard to get involved with people who are suffering. It hurts to see people hurt. I need to get over that.

What do you think? Is there anything else to being “poor in spirit”?