Friday evening I was driving through the rain.
It was a beautiful drive, in a way; thick fog, bursts of heavy rain, down a country road where I was late for a homegrown arts program in a little part of the world that nobody goes to unless that’s where they’re going. As I drove through the rain, late for my meeting, I thought of those nearby who have no car to drive. I remembered the warm bed and the dry clothes waiting for me at home, and I thought of those nearby whose roofs would leak this very night, who would wake up to a day of cleaning as best they could the damp and the mildew that can’t be separated from their lives. What good does it do, I asked myself, to sing of a God of love, without letting that love somehow get past me and to someone else?
Of course, the benefits I enjoy, plenty of food (too much!), a warm place to sleep, a means to go from here to there, and people nearby who care about me: these are the things that are characteristic, are they not, of the kingdom of God. “Give us this day our daily bread” we are taught to pray; indicating that the wise man who taught that prayer thought it appropriate for everyone who prays it to have enough to eat. “If we have food and covering, we shall therewith be content” says the apostle who carried that wise man’s message to the nations. But oh, how far from content we are!
It’s hard enough even to be content with food and covering for oneself, since it seems to be built into the modern mind to want so much more: not just clothes but fashion, not just good solid food but the best we can find to satisfy a discriminating palate, not just a warm place to sleep but a house with many mansions, prepared for us right here on earth. We want to own, to have enough and to spare; not to spare for someone else, of course, but to spare for our own rainy days, for that rainbow’s end of retirement, for the days when we can use our savings in toys and travel; maybe even for our children, if we’re nobly responsible; but not for someone else’s children, not for someone outside of our circle.
But ancient wisdom speaks and says, Woe to those who add house to house and field to field! And I’m not content with my covering nor with my food if someone is cold and hungry.
I could tell stories. I know what it’s like to be on the street, without a warm place to sleep. I’ve slept in fields and under picnic tables by the side of the highway, drowsed in cars and in doorways, pulled an all-nighter in a bus station, crashed in a chair in someone else’s apartment, lived out of a suitcase, lost the suitcase, set out on the road with the clothes on my back and a borrowed pair of shoes, walked all day for days on end. In a pinch, no doubt I have the skills to live such a life again; but Providence has allowed me to echo the words of Jacob in Genesis 32:10: “With my staff I crossed over this Jordan, but now I have become two bands.”
With such blessing comes responsibility. On this comfortable Sunday afternoon, comfortable in a house I can call my own (based on a debt to match) with my family nearby, food in the cupboard and cars in the driveway, I think of those within my reach who need to know that the simple blessings of a warm place to sleep and enough food for the day are not out of their reach. Lacking great financial resources, what can I do? I can speak, write, show up as an advocate and say that as a Christian I know God pronounces blessings on the poor, and as an American I hold dear the ideal of equality, and as a human being I have to remind all my neighbors that we are in this together, and none of us can be comfortable while some of us are cold and hungry. So I try to help anyone I can find who is making an effort to ensure that food, housing, health care, transportation, sanitation, the basic decent comforts of life, are not denied to anyone because of the discontent of others like me who already have more than enough.