"Who Are the Poor?"

This summer, we visited our son, who is living in lower Manhattan, the West Village (Greenwich) to be exact.  We had a lovely time with him, walking from Soho to Central Park, and on Sunday morning I decided to walk the couple blocks to the Episcopal Church we’d seen the night before.  I arrived late, just as the female priest was concluding her written sermon in a rather uninspiring voice.  It was styled after one of those New England churches with the private pew boxes. So as I sidled into a nearby pew quietly, I found myself “boxed” with a young man and his motorcycle helmet.  
Considering the geography, and that the pastor had just shifted into weekly announcements and was now enthusiastically inviting everyone to their annual LGBT square dance the following Saturday, it was easy for me to interpret the guy next to me as someone right out of the band “Village People” (you’ll hear their famous “YMCA” at every wedding reception).  I was fine with that, but it was definitely a different demographic than at my home church.  My curiosity wanted to take it all in, but as I did I found some judgmental feelings in the mix.
Communion was the game-changer I’ll remember for a long time.  Up to the altar they all came: young and old, gay and straight, biker, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. On one side of me stood a tough woman in flabby jeans, the pudgy motorcycle guy on the other, next to a very effeminate man, next to an old woman leaning on her cane, smiling. Looking around me as we stood between the pillars of the altar with open palms for the communion host, forming our own flash-mob community as fellow beggars for this precious moment, rapid fire phrases from Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Blessed” came to me…
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.
Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows.
Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on,
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
…Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers…
…Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers…
(I’ve pasted the full lyric at bottom…it’s worth reading.)
It was a lovely moment. I starting smiling, too. I came back and knelt down, listening to the magnificent choir singing from a Monteverdi mass, and said to myself, “I like this Jesus!”
I thought today of this whole scene and re-read my journal entry about it because of today’s devotional from Henri Nouwen, entitled “Who Are the Poor?”.  He has been challenging readers that the poor need to be the center of the church, so that our focus is outward, not inward — which inevitably leads to disunity and contention. But today he expands the definition of the poor to include… all of us, including those who recognize our poverty and those who don’t…

   The poor are the center of the Church.  But who are the poor?  At first we might think of people who are not like us:  people who live in slums, people who go to soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental hospitals, and nursing homes.  But the poor can be very close.  They can be in our own families, churches or workplaces.  Even closer, the poor can be ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.
   It is precisely when we see and experience poverty – whether far away, close by, or in our own hearts – that we need to become the Church; that is, hold hands as brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another, heal one another’s wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread.   Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became  poor for us.

Gathering around “the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread” in our shared brokenness. Thus, AS the poor we recognize Jesus, who became poor.
At first we think of the poor as those who are “not like us,” like the odd conglomeration at that Greenwich Village-people church.  But miraculously and mercifully, in that moment, I was suddenly allowed to become part of that same motley crew.  And I felt blessed to be in their company, all of us under the cross we encircled, arms outstretched, hands open to receive. As one.
Blessed are the judgmental too; thanks be to God.
November 2013
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.
Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows.
Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on,
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
I got no place to go,
I’ve walked around Soho for the last night or so.
Ah, but it doesn’t matter, no.
Blessed is the land and the kingdom.
Blessed is the man whose soul belongs to.
Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers.
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
My words trickle down, like a wound
That I have no intention to heal.
Blessed are the stained glass, window pane glass.
Blessed is the church service makes me nervous
Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers.
O Lord, Why have you forsaken me?
I have tended my own garden
Much too long.
        Lyrics by Paul Simon

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