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There is a saint who lives in our neighborhood. I call her the Mother Teresa of Grant Park. She has been an inner-city missionary for nearly thirty years. She has no program, no facility, and no staff. She lives in virtual poverty. Her house blends well with the poor who are her neighbors. There are box springs and mattresses on the porch and grass growing up around the old cars in her front yard.
She goes about feeding and clothing the poor with donations from concerned people. She works all hours of the day and night. She is difcult to reach by phone, and she doesn't give tax deductible receipts to her donors. To the consternation of her mission board, she seldom submits ministry reports (although for years she has faithfully saved all her receipts--in a large trash bag in her living room).
The Mother Teresa of Grant Park appears to have a poorly ordered life. She doesn't plan ahead much. She says she needs to stay free to respond to the impulse of God's Spirit. And that she does. Through her, God works quiet miracles day after day.
I, on the other hand, love order. I am of a people who love order. I was taught long ago to appreciate a neatly made bed and a well-trimmed yard. I am passing this value on to my children. We eat our meals together when everyone is seated and after the blessing is said. A calendar attached to our refrigerator door helps us organize our family activities. Order is a fundamental goal of our household.
Order is also a fundamental tool of achievers. It enables us to control our time, our money, our efficiency. We can arrange our thoughts, build computers, andsoar to the moon. If a task of humanity is to "subdue the earth," then doubtless we achievers will provide the leadership. We are quite sure that God is a God of order. Our worship style and systematic theologies are clear reflections of that.
To the poor, order is a lesser value. Most pay little attention to being on time, budgeting money, or planning ahead. They may spend their last dollar on a Coke and a bag of chips to fill them up for three hours instead of buying rice or beans to last for three days. A mother may keep her children out of school to babysit so she can see the family's caseworker-trading the future for the present. A family seems not to mind tall grass, old tires, and Coke cans in the yard. Mealtime is whenever people get home. They seem to react rather than to prepare. Often their faith in God appears simple, emotional, even illogical. God helps you when you're in trouble and "whups" you when you're bad. He's good and does a lot of miracles.
Perhaps it cannot be otherwise when survival dominates a people's thinking. But something disquiets me when I reflect on these poor neighbors of mine and the Mother Teresa of Grant Park. Their "disorderly" lifestyles keep them from going anywhere, from achieving, from asserting control over their futures. Unless they change, they will never be upwardly mobile and self-sufficient. They will never be able to create successful organizations nor enjoy the finer things of life. They will remain dependent, simple, poor.
Now here's what bothers me. Why would Christ say, "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20)? Could it be that our achievement values differ from the values of his kingdom? And his comments about the first being last and the last being first in that kingdom-what does that say to us well-ordered leader types? You see why it disturbs me, don't you?
Posted July 11, 2011
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