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We are all beggars, but Jesus just wants us to ask
A lot of the ideas I get for writing these blog posts come from the weekly four- to five-hour pastors meetings. This week, we got to talking about becoming a society of beggars. Joshua, on his newly revamped blog, wrote his thoughts about how to share resources together. I want to offer some of my own thoughts that I think compliment his.
We are all beggars it seems. When I grocery shop at Reading Terminal, I see people panhandling all the time outside of the market. Many of my friends have started crowd-funding campaigns to start their businesses. On top of that, schools are individually raising money, there are people who are trying to raise support to take care of public property, and there are people trying to start non-profits that make our communities safer and more affordable places to live.
On one hand this kind of “begging” has always been a part of society. In ancient and medieval times (and all over the world, including the U.S.) there are people on the street who are begging for their livelihood. For the most part, the beggars were not really “blamed” for their problem, but it was just part of life. In the U.S., we often blame our poor for being that way, and we hate to be disturbed by the beggar at all, because how dare some stranger talk to us.
It seems to me that there are people begging not just for funds to start a new business, but to keep basic social services alive and going. We are all privatized and individualized, that there is no longer a notion of “public.” The inflation hawks and anti-big government lobbyists have told us so frequently that taxes and big government are the problem that many effective government programs and resources (like, say, public education) are just being cut, meanwhile we are all still paying taxes to our local municipalities, states, and federal government but with nothing to show for it. It is like we are living in the time of Jesus where Herod would just tax the hell out of everyone, but with no end result (at least in other nations where taxes are higher, so is the quality of life).
The concept of mutual care and love that a community could previously rely on is quickly eroding as the one percent gain more and more wealth, and the rest of us are left to struggle in our debt and joblessness. We are increasingly isolated, left even to beg for relationships, at times, hoping our next Tinder connection is “the one.” It’s a bleak time to be advocating for creating a new public and a community. The public meeting is better consumed at home via a podcast. A cell is too personal to be a part of.
Just the other day, when I was talking to some of our cell leaders about attending a retreat we are planning, a few thought the price tag was too high for them, so they opted out. I wondered why they wouldn’t ask someone else for the help or even their parents, or something. We are a very individualistic society, committed to serving ourselves, and sometimes too self-conscious to rely on the public services or help that is plainly evident to us.
The cost of being so individualistic is ultimately feeling alone. How can someone ever be one with God if they can’t even talk to their neighbor? How can we even be Christians without having a sense of mutuality or community? If we are all begging to get our needs met, both interior and exterior needs, we might be doomed.
In the church and in the Kingdom of God, we operate out of generosity and abundance. These ideas are foreign to those who think stinginess and scarcity are prudent. We operate out of love and safety. For those who are afraid that there won’t be enough to go around—try me, there will be. Our whole Network is based on the idea that there is enough love to go around. Not only do our cells provide a space for people to love, care, forgive, and expand themselves, we have lots of other opportunities for people to be resourced and be given an opportunity to resource others. Our Common Fund is a great way to let go of the resources that we begged for and use them for good—we use a percentage of our income to help people in need in the community (with rent, bills, car problems, and other emergencies), as well as helping dozens of people get high-quality psychotherapy. Compassion teams like the Good Business Consortium, the Debt Annihilation Teams, and Development Without Displacement practically meet people’s needs in forming good businesses, getting people out of debt slavery, and advocating for decent legislation that protects residents of neighborhoods instead of pushing them out.
Jesus intentionally hung out with people who were poor and down-and-out. He also hung out with those tax collectors (who are a different kind of beggar, I suppose) He got criticized for doing it. Jesus loves to take those who are need and give them what they ask for. He even tells us all we need to do is ask, not beg, and he will fill us with the Holy Spirit.