Earlier this week I was meeting with the young women’s spirituality group…
(I know, we’re still struggling to find a better name for this small group. I’m thinking of renaming it “Café” after the Women of the ELCA’s online monthly journal of the same name. See: www.boldcafe.org)
… and we were discussing Henri Nouwen’s book “Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.” In the third chapter, Nouwen discusses how active engagement with the suffering of the world requires cultivating an inner solitude where compassion can grow and replace the anxious loneliness that pulls us to treat people like panaceas for our unmet needs.
As a supplement to our conversation, we read the cover story from this Tuesday’s edition of the Chicago Sun-Times about the beating death of 16 year-old Derrion Albert. Members of the group talked about the difficulty of staying engaged in current affairs – of the pull to hopeless resignation. As we talked and wrote about our struggles we began to see the all too familiar connections between poverty and violence. One person wrote,
“Why were we not outraged when students from one poor and isolated neighborhood were forced to take buses to another poor and isolated neighborhood, where they did not feel safe, in order to receive as basic an entitlement as a high school education? Why are we not outraged that the buses and trains that serve our city clearly serve some areas better than others – the ones with money, not necessarily the ones with more people needing transportation?”
When Jesus is approached by an earnest inquirer with a question about what is required for eternal life he replies, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” This seems too much for the man, who leaves Jesus filled with grief.
Later, explaining his answer to the disciples, Jesus says, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children of fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.”
The questions of family and finance are inseparable. What if the community, the neighborhood or the city of Chicago had truly considered Derrion Albert to be a child, a brother, a member of the family? Would we have allowed money to be our reason for failing to ensure safe passage to and from school, our reason for closing schools and bussing student into blocks filled with violence as a precondition for education? How does our love of wealth prevent us from acting to preserve the sacred worth of all living things? How much is enough, when neighbors are already making do with less? Questions not only worth asking, but answering.