James E. Copple
Occasionally, I have a crisis of confidence that undermines my faith; challenges my optimism; and generally leaves me grumpy and deflated. It was several weeks ago, in the silence of my home and looking over various projects mostly dealing with the poor and disenfranchised, when I wept (truly) and begged God to help.
I even said: “Listen God, I am doing the best I can. All I need is about $1 million dollars to launch these initiatives, and I am getting nothing from your people.” Frustration ran with the prayerful rant: “They are worthless when it comes to the poor,” I complained. “Give them a gay guy to bash; an unborn child to defend; or a religious establishment to prop up, and they are there. They are good to go. But put somebody in extreme poverty in front of them, and they run for the hills.”
It was a sweeping indictment of people, and I trust God to filter my whining. To be sure, there are shades of gray to my black-and-white, and I am also a privileged witness to the exceptional blessings. But the significant take-away from my plaintive, somewhat-soliloquy was silence. No word from God. No pat on the back. No million dollars. No answers.
So, only a little petulantly, I got off my knees with the commitment to keep working.
It came to me recently while walking the waterfront in San Diego, an effort to practice my new “discipline” of meditation: Poverty is not God’s problem.
The mindful pause is supposed to lower my blood pressure; reduce stress in my life; and create a sense of harmony with the universe. So it was nearly a “Eureka!” moment to suddenly find clarity on some “big truth.” Poverty isn’t God’s problem. God didn’t cause poverty. God didn’t create the conditions of poverty. God didn’t choose who would be born into poverty. This is man’s problem and man’s creation.
And this time, I hear God saying: “You ask me to once again clean up your mess. I have called you to this work. If you think it is my job to wave a magic wand and create a solution, you are wasting your time, Bud.” Yeah, God calls me “Bud.”
My waterfront awakening underscores the challenges, mission and values of my work. And it inspires a spirit of dedication to impatient but insightful patience and diligence. Poverty is only one consequence of man’s greed and selfishness. Income disparity, land disparity, class disparity – all are anchored in the economics of greed and tethered to foundations of the religions they have created. It’s why the Fortune 500 can live and leisure in the presence of millions of poor children: At the foundation of the human predicament is a greed that can’t help itself – it will always create disparity.
So once again, I am reminded that my calling isn’t to succeed but to be obedient. Further, God stands on the side of the poor; on the side of Justice. And the help I can expect from God is for strength, wisdom, courage and the gift of his Spirit to keep working to clean up the vestiges of man’s brokenness.
“So, Jim, the poverty you so desperately seek to eradicate is the creation of the humanity I came to redeem. You fix it. To be sure, I will be watching what you do; watching to see who joins you and who rests on the sidelines … (that last little quip more a statement of my human hope than God’s voice).”
Remembering that poverty isn’t of God’s hand reduces my expectation that God will somehow solve the problem, or that he will see that we receive funding and support essential to addressing the many issues of poverty and the impoverished.
Poverty, disease, racism – all the intractable problems we face are here to stay. Some of us are called to action, to generate ideas and facilitate solutions. Called to continue to “see” without accepting and to believe in better, then pursue to “do better” until it is. But how we engage is up to us. It is our problem. We are given the tools to fix it, and so we should.
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