Friday, August 31, 2007

Rich getting richer, poor getting poorer.

This article came across CNN today. Check it out. Here's a pertinent point for me and my community:

The list of the 10 poorest cities was filled with mostly old, northeastern and mid-western industrial locales. Cleveland had the lowest median income of any city in the nation with more than 250,000 residents; households there earned just $26,535. Miami was the next poorest at $27,088, followed by Buffalo ($27,850), Detroit ($28,364), St. Louis ($30,936) and Cincinnati ($31,103).

I live approximately 20 minutes from the 5th poorest city (or 5th poorest major city) in our country. Let me tell you, sometimes it is hard to justify spending millions on a new church building while people down the road don't have basic needs met. On a haunting side note- I recently found out from a friend in the congregation that my current home was the address of their adopt-a-family from two Christmases ago. So the need isn't just downtown.

So let's take a look at some demographics (incomes taken from here), visually this is just head shaking stuff:

View Larger Map

Ok, so part of that was me wanting to show off my noodleing around with Google maps... for another portrayal of have and have not in St. Louis county, click here. If you click on the map, you should be able to see the average household incomes. But to save you some time, lets recap:

Average household incomes of communities that primarily make up my congregation:
Ballwin $66,458
Chesterfield $99,912
Clarkson Valley $153,933
Ellisville $65,016
Manchester $64,381
Wildwood $94,006

Once again, City of St. Louis $30,936

So in the coming months I'm going to be conspiring with members of my congregation and community to heed God's call to serve the poor. A lot of times we pastor-y types get a call to help feed God's sheep, and when they're in your own back yard it doesn't seem as fun or glamerous. Yes there are AIDS pandemics, yes Darfur and much of the non-industrialized world is hurting, yes we need to build houses in Mexico, yes we need to give aid to American cities and international communities as well. But I can't stand the thought of remaining so insulated anymore. If you want to see what has messed me up so bad, read Shane Claiborne's The Irresistable Revolution, oh yea, and The Bible.


Professor RJ Gumby said...

All right...a little perspective here. It is true that the Bible tells us repeatedly to serve those less fortunate. God commanded it to Israel, the prophets (read Amos) screamed it at Israel, and Jesus walked the talk and invited us to follow him. But he also said "The poor you will have with you always."

I do not apologize for working hard and having a good standard of living. My wife and I have put a great deal of sweat into it. And we have a child to raise, as well as dreams. I have never taken it for granted and I thank God for his blessings.

But the way to approach this is not to make ourselves feel guilty. If that is the idea, then when we serve the poor, we will expect a "feel good" from God. It does not work that way.

The lesson I learned in working with the homeless in Chicago is to go into it with the idea of seeing how things really are. Our view is very warped. There are those truly in need. There are those who are scamming. There are those who got where they are by poor choices. There are those to where the stop is temporary and they will move on. When Jesus said there will always be poor, I think he meant because life happens, and we are not all static creatures. We change. Every person has a story.

The trick is not to go on a crusade. When that happens, you will find a filter that will allow some real work to be done, but no preconceived notions or desires to "change the world". It won't change, but I think God uses our service to change us.

Adam said...


I think I agree with you on some points and not on others.

By no means would I want guilt to be a motivation to help people, no more than Pastor Michael would want guilt to be the force driving a tithe in the offering. I don't believe in "scaring people to Jesus" and I don't believe in guilting or manipulating them either.

What I'm saying is that as a demonstrate-able generality, we DO NOT have the poor among us out here in West County. Jesus said what he said to a woman who sacrificed something worth a ton to someone who "had no place to lay his head". He said that to a woman who was presumable poor, sacrificing for another who was poor, who lived among and served the poor. Thats not a picture of West County.

Should you apologize for earning money and providing for your family? No! But we can easily become insulated to the needs of others by focusing so much on our own (and by that I mean our church). I believe that answer is yes.

Dude, our new building: 10 million bucks. There are churches 17 miles from us that don't have doors on children's ministry rooms or air conditioning in the offices. All I'm saying is that we need to be intentional about what we're doing with the resources God has provided us with.

We could easily justify (as members of the same church, if others are reading this) spending lots of money on this new building saying "Well, we'll use this to make more disciples which in the long run will help more people". Well, great. I'm saying we better be doing just that.

I don't want to go on a crusade either. But "changing the world" is exactly what I'm after. I believe that's exactly what the church is for. I believe thats exactly why Jesus came and empowers us to follow him and allow him to continue his work through us. I think we have to believe the world can change.

Adam Caldwell said...

I think that mustoe sufficiently covered the subject. I would simply like to say:

"We can ccchhhhaaaangggeee the world! I will be the sunshine in your universe!"

Thank you.

Adam said...

Adam, if I'm not mistaken that is an Eric Clapton reference?

Professor RJ Gumby said...

Mustoe Mustoe

Methinks that your urgency is a good thing, but the fact that we are building a $10 million church when there are others who do not have doors or air conditioning misses the point.

We are building a tool to serve God's Kingdom. In doing so, we will reach more people in West County and if we are true to our mission, we will bring them in where God will reveal their spiritual gifts and they go out and do Kingdom work...and reach the poor and perhaps mobilize more resources.

The churches without doors in their in their children's ministry rooms or without air conditioning are doing Kingdom work. Perhaps there was nothing there before. God is at work changing lives, and as his Kingdom works its way through, it becomes wider and bigger - for his Glory.

You can take the approach of changing the world, but my experience has taught that it puts a mindset that can lead to frustration. You cannot change the world. God working through you can change the world. If he choses to to it big or do it small, he is the force that makes it happen.

But just to show that some of what you said hit home, I will be at Centenary this Wednesday.

I also disagree that we do not have poor among us in West County. We have poor economically, but we also have poor spiritually, poor emotionally, poor in health...and many so called affluent are living one major life event away from falling out of "the good life". There is work to do here and work to do in the city. The best thing is connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and move out.

Adam Caldwell said...

Why does God's kingdom growing bigger have to be equal to the so called "American Dream" of bigger is better?

Adam Caldwell said...

"Exclusion as Abandonment"

"...increasingly prevalent not only in the way the rich West and North relate to the poor of the Third World...but also in the manner in which suburbs relate to inner cities, or the jet-setting 'creators of high value' to the rabble beneath them. It is exclusion by abandonment. Like the priest and the Levite...we simply cross to the other side and pass by, minding our own business (Luke 10:31)."

-Miroslav Volf

Father Wert said...

Don’t forget the fishermen.

What did Jesus really come to earth to do? First, to die for our sins. Second, to teach us about the Kingdom of God. What do you think He meant when he told Peter to “feed his sheep”? Do you really think he was talking about food?? Yes, we have been told to take care of the poor and down trodden. But we are first called to spread the good new. Jesus didn’t just come to heal the sick, although he did that too. He came to heal our souls. He came to make sure that we understand what following God truly means. He didn’t just talk to the poor. Many of his disciples were working class Jews (ahh, the fishermen reference). He hung out with all kinds of people. The trick was that he was always teaching people about God. It didn’t matter who they were. The young and old, and rich and poor; everyone needs to know God. So don’t think we are wasting our money trying to reach the lost in West County. They need God too (maybe more).

If your hot button is Social Justice, that cool too. But don’t get it confused with our objective: Reaching Lost Souls for Christ. That can be done anywhere.

Adam Caldwell said...

Father Wert,

I hear ya...I really do...but why must you bifurcate the spiritual and the physical...Christ came to redeem the whole of man...yes, preaching was his first priority, but he sure did do a lot of healin' and feadn' to boot...I'm assuming, and I probably should not do so, that you working definition of soul is a more western/greek conception...I think we should try and attempt to reorient that definition to the more Hebraic definition where the sould encompasses all of who we are...i.e., the physical and the spiritual...for a good conversation about this see Dallas Willards "Renovation of the Heart"...Our continuing transformation leads to obedience (Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you)...but again I propose, why must it take a cooler, bigger, more hip, better, building to accomplish the goal of discipleship?

Adam Caldwell said...

sorry, I forgot to add saddens me that you consider social justice a "hot button issue"...I actually prefer the term "God's Justice"...of which the Bible is chocked full of wonderfull examples...Please remember, we are all the rich young ruler!

Professor RJ Gumby said...

I didn't realize the Great Commission had a limit to it...Guess I have to read it again. (re: the American Dream comment) :-)