Archive for category poverty

Found Jesus? Try looking in Hell

“Hell is the absence of God”.  This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience.  Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes.  And what Christian would not choose  the presence of God in Heaven?  If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’.  Hell is the last death, annihilation.   This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.

But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell.  Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own.  Classic examples are Father Damien,  Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.  Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned.  This is where they find God.  This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven.  Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.

The other day I suggested that,  to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus.  Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?

But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic.  Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others.  No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back.  Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world.  Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.

Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like.  It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden.  It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells.  Of course, the chances of this happening does not look  good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.



Joy to the World? Seriously?

According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:8


Lost Souls

SHACKLESJoshua comes to school almost every morning, soaking wet in his own urine. He has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and well as suffering from mild mental retardation. He lives with his mother, who is also mildly retarded, in a dark and dank row house in the embattled sections of the inner city. They have little means to manage any few resources that they can muster. Consequently, Joshua’s personal hygiene is terrible. His enuresis is due to the fact that his psychosis manifests itself in an uncontrollable thirst. It has been estimated that in a typical day Joshua will consume from 1.5 to 2 gallons of water. He is 19 years old and will receive a certificate of completion when he becomes 21.

Timmy is a short fellow, only about 5 feet tall, but he weighs in at a hefty 200 pounds. This is in spite of the fact that his mother keeps him on a very strict diet of 1200 calories a day. He eats breakfast at home and his IEP aide makes lunch for him on a daily basis, following the strict recipes of Timmy’s mom. Quiet and taciturn, he is usually polite, with good manners and he eats in the cafeteria with the rest of the school. Occasionally he will steal some food off of an unsuspecting student’s plate and if confronted with this he will often act out, becoming hysterical, profane and violent. Timmy suffers from Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder that is manifested by mental retardation and a literally insatiable appetite. Timmy is missing seven genes from the 15thIn a constant state of ravenous hunger, it is only due to strict, loving discipline and the constant supervision of others that he is alive today. It is common for people like Timmy to literally eat themselves to death. He is 16 and will be in school for the next 5 years. chromosome resulting in his brain being unable to determine when his belly is full.

Tina is very shy but is observant and responds eagerly to questions. Not diagnosed with MR, Tina has been placed beneath the broad psychiatric umbrella of schizophrenia. She is very enthusiastic to learn new things and at 20 years of age she has only one year left until ‘graduation’. This is the last placement for her, all others schools in the area having determined that they do not have the resources to provide for her education. Subject to teasing by other students, Tina will frequently become quite hysterical, throwing herself into violent fits that threaten to harm her and others as well. She is prone to talk about sharp objects and suicide and knives. She lives in a group home because her father was sexually abusing her.

Charlie is very bright, articulate and reads quite well. He has an average I.Q. He is 21 years of age and has been in and out of foster homes since he was an infant. His mother, a crack addict and a prostitute, was unable to take care of him. He never knew his father. Two of his older brothers are dead due to drug related violence. He has been diagnosed with severe emotional disabilities. At the age of 18 he became too old for the foster care program and was placed in a group residential home with other young men of similar backgrounds. Charlie, though, is obviously gay and soon became the subject of numerous beatings by the other residents. He moved from one group home to the next until he finally went AWOL one time too many, effectively severing himself from any additional child welfare supports. He is too old for children’s services and too young for effective adult services. Private and church-run shelters won’t take him because he is not a substance abuser (since that is the primary make-up of their clients it could be detrimental for him.) For the past few weeks Charlie has been living on the streets, although he somehow makes it to school every day. This should be his last year in school and he has no foreseeable plans after graduating with a diploma.

Maggie is a new student, having just moved to the city from one of the toughest neighborhoods in Muncie. A sweet natured 16 year old girl, she is very mildly retarded but also suffers from severe emotional handicaps. Her father abandoned the family when she was 5 years old and since then she has lived through the suicide of a beloved stepfather. Like many of the students she suffers from gross obesity, seeking cheap and swift gratification in sugar, starch and fat. Normally very mild mannered when confronted with a harder variety of student she will affect the belligerent mannerisms of the urban ‘gangsta,’ to the point of provoking real gang bangers into attacking her. Sporting cuts and bruises and hungering for social acceptance, identity and love, she has deliberately taken the next step in her life; she is pregnant with twins.

(All characters and names mentioned above are fictitious. Any resemblance to people either living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.)

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Reconsidering Charity

food bank This is the time of year when we are reminded of charitable needs. Mark Winne, who used to work for the food bank system in Connecticut, wrote a poignant article last week in the Washington Post. In it he suggests that there may be something intrinsically ‘wrong’ with much charitable giving:

The risk is that the multibillion-dollar system of food banking has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, and so tied to its donors and its volunteers, that it cannot step back and ask if this is the best way to end hunger, food insecurity, and their root cause, poverty.

You can read the rest of the article here:

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