So this past week, my students have been doing standardized testing. Which has left me with a lot of time to sit alone in an empty middle school hallway and make sure no one holds any of the teachers hostage. Since no one did, I had a lot of free time. So I’ve been re-reading Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it, whether you’re a believer or not.
In the midst of a season of life in which I’m feeling increasingly uninspired, reading this book has been like a breath of fresh air. The book is littered with bright green post-it notes at this point in the week, reminders to me to go back and read and reflect and listen. One portion specifically spoke to me this week.
“Andrew says it is not enough to be politically active. He says legislation will never save the world. On Saturday mornings, Andrew feeds the homeless. He sets up a makeshift kitchen on a sidewalk and makes breakfast for people who live on the street. He serves coffee and sits with his homeless friends and talks and laughs, and if they want to pray he will pray with them. He’s a flaming liberal, really. The thing about it is, though, Andrew believes this is what Jesus wants him to do. Andrew does not believe in empty passion.
“All great Christian leaders are simple thinkers. Andrew doesn’t cloak his altruism within a trickle-down economic theory that allows him to spend fifty dollars on a round of golf to feed the economy and provide jobs for the poor. He actually believes that when Jesus says feed the poor, He means you should do this directly.
“Andrew is the one who taught me that what I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do.
“If Andrew the Protester is right, if I live what I believe, then I don’t believe very many noble things. My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world.”
Ouch, ouch, ouch. Several parts of that burn me to be honest, and have had me thinking for days.
First, the idea that legislation cannot save the world. I think as Christians in America, we have come to feel that the greatest indicator of our spirituality is our politics. My belief is that this is a load of crap. Don’t get me wrong…I think where we stand on different issues does say a lot about what we believe. But when we start to identify the word “Christian” with one political party or another, we have a problem. The word “Christian” should be identified by one entity, and one alone: Christ. Not Republican. Not Democrat. Not Obama. Not Nobama. When we deem ourselves fit to put Jesus Christ Himself in a political party…we are arrogant and narrow.
Second, the idea that when Jesus tells us to feed the poor, He means that we should do this directly. This has been a huge conviction for me for the past year, because for the first time in my life, I have been thrown into an environment of poverty. And I am daily plagued by the question, “What do I do about it?” I grew up believing that you can’t really help the poor. If you give money to homeless people, they’ll waste it. If you “adopt” a child overseas through programs like Compassion International, you have no idea if the kid is getting your letters or money; they’ll probably waste it. And on and on. Well, fine, that may be the case, but the fact that we feel as though that gives us an excuse to neglect the poor concerns me. There are other ways to provide for people’s needs. It may require us to go out of our comfort zones, and to give up that “convenience” we seem to like so much. And I realize that there are people in the world who are only poor because they are lazy. BELIEVE ME, I understand that on a deeper level at this point than I ever have before. But the character of Jesus keeps rolling over in my mind in regards to that. In all the people He healed and took care of, He never once addressed WHY they had a need. He met the need, and that was that. He never once addressed whether or not they deserved to have their need met. He just did it. And God forbid He ever starts providing for me based on whether I deserve it or not. That’ll be a bad day.
But I guess the real kicker for me was the idea that what I believe is what I do. I can’t argue with Donald Miller here; I can’t say I’m any different than him. My life is a testimony to the fact that I am mostly self-centered. I mean, sure I work at a tough school with tough kids, but…I get paid for it, right? Would I do a job this hard if there weren’t something in it for me? Probably not. I come home and cook dinner for my husband…but I eat off of that as well.
My life revolves around my needs. And for once…I want to do something that has nothing to do with me. Being selfish is exhausting sometimes.