loren Eric Swanson: Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton

Lupton, Robert D., Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America, ed. Barbara R. Thompson (New York, New York: Harper Collins, 1989).

When my goal is to change people, I subtly communicate: Something is wrong with you; I am okay. You are ignorant; I am enlightened. You are wrong; I am right. If our relationship is defined as healer to patient, I must remain strong and you must remain sick of our interaction to continue. People don’t go to doctors when they are well. P. 6
The affluent and the disinherited have frequent contact in the city. When impoverished people become desperate for food or a fix, satisfying that need becomes more important than anything. Pride diminishes and schemes emerge. The resources of others become their mark. Those who rob are perhaps the most desperate and daring, but those who manipulate are often the most skilled. The use of truth and half-truth, colorful descriptions, moist eyes, and urgent tones are powerful tools for eliciting compassion and dollars.
I am tired of being hooked, deceived, taken from. But when I consider the safer ways of giving, the impersonal media appeals, the professional mailings that would free me from contagion and protect me from seeing the whole picture know I must continue touching and being touched. At least I am touched by persons with names and familiar faces. I can confront. I can express disappointment to the one who has betrayed my trust. I can be angry with or embrace the one who has taken from me…I will opt to be manipulated in person. For somewhere concealed in these painful interactions are the keys to my own freedom. P. 42
Ancient Hebrew wisdom describes four levels of charity. At the highest level, the giver provides a job for a person in need without that person knowing who provided it. At the next level, the giver provides work that the needy person knows the giver provided. The third level is an anonymous gift. At the lowest level of charity, which should be avoided whenever possible, the giver gives a gift to a poor person who has full knowledge of the donor’s identity.
The deepest poverty is to have nothing of value to offer. Charity that fosters such poverty must be challenged. We know that work produces dignity while welfare depletes self-esteem. We know that reciprocity builds mutual respect while one-way giving brews contempt. Yet we continue to run clothes closets and free food pantries and give-away benevolence funds, and we wonder why the joy is missing.
Perhaps it is our time and place in history to remplement the wisdom of the ages, to fashion contemporary models of thoughtful compassion. Our donated clothes could create stores and job training. Our benevolence dollars could develop economies within the economy daycare centers, janitorial help, fix-the-widow’s roo services, and other jobs that employ the jobless in esteem-building work.
‘Your work is your calling,’ declared the reformer, Martin Luther. Does not the role of the church in our day include enabling the poor to find their calling? P. 50
People with a heart to serve others want to know that their gifts are invested wisely. At least I do. I don’t want my alms squandered by the irresponsible and the ungrateful. And since I’m often in a position to determine who will or will not receive assistance, I’ve attempted to establish criteria to judge the worthiness of potential recipients. (The following is truncated to save space)
A truly worthy poor woman—is a widow over sixty-five living alone without family.
A truly worthy poor young man—out of school, unemployed but not living off his mother.
A truly worthy poor young woman—has illegitimate children conceived prior to Christina conversion is now celibate
A truly worthy poor family—is devout, close-knit. Has a responsible father working long hours at minimum wage wherever he can find work.
I want to serve truly worthy poor people. The problem is they are hard to find. Someone on our staff thought he remembered seeing one back in ’76 but can’t remember for sure. Someone else reminded me that maybe to be truly poor means to be prideless, impatient, manipulative, desperate, grasping at every straw, and clutching the immediate with little energy left for future plans. But truly worthy? Are any of us truly worthy? P. 60-61
Strange things happen in kingdom playgrounds. Adults become children and learn to play again. They bring their best tools and talents (the toys of the kingdom) and dream together. They invent ingenious methods to feed and clothe the poor, methods that enhance rather than destroy. They create new economics in destitute neighborhoods, and build homes and businesses and hope where despair has reigned.
In kingdom playgrounds God’s children play with great intensity. At times they may grow weary, but they are never bored. They learn that their gifts, which they once thought were useful only for making money in the marketplace, are the exact abilities needed to work in God’s kingdom. In these unlikely places, Gods children discover that the serious work of eternity is simply the joyful employment of the talents they desire most to express….[After the work is done] [t]hey return once again to their adult obligations, not knowing that they were never created to be adults anyway: “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3) P. 88-89


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