Hunger, Cowardice, and the Embrace of the Other

Poverty. How does it get to be such an abstraction? 6.6 billion people on the planet, 1.4 billion of them “food insecure.” Over 900 million suffering from severe hunger. 16,000 children die everyday from hunger related causes. 1 every 5 seconds. Abstraction. 11-12% of the people in Washington State and the U.S. food insecure as well. Percents. Abstractions.

I once delivered a hot-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pie (it may have been apple) to a young couple living for the moment in a newspaper recycling dumpster. The day before, the girl had ensconced herself in front of the grocery story, asking for groceries. I have no idea why I stopped that particular time. It was my habit to walk on by such folks. I mean, what can you do, right? But in that moment, curiosity or guilt or the Spirit or who knows what made me stop and I chatted with her. She needed this, that, and the other from the store. I took her list and brought her the stuff a few minutes later. I asked where she was staying and she told me about the recycle dumpster. Well, I had nothing to say to that, and I felt the familiar urge to run screaming from the moment, overwhelmed with typical sorts of feelings…you know what I mean. The next day, I took them a so-good-it’ll-knock-you-over pumpkin pie, knocking absurdly on the dumpster lid, and sure enough, a young man raised the lid, and wondered “what in the world?” I said something absurd about the pie, handed it to him–he was thrilled, the girl was nowhere in sight–and then I ran back to the car, jumped in and headed off to the in-laws with my family.

For Thanksgiving dinner. For a nap-inducing feast.

The obvious question, right? Why didn’t I invite them to our house for dinner? For Thanksgiving dinner, for God’s sake?


Is there another word for it?

Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (It’s my command for the year, and I’ll blog about it later.)

What happened to them? Who knows? They probably wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway, right? I made a nice gesture, right? I’m being too hard on myself, right?

I should write a short film about the whole thing, perhaps as penance.

When it comes to hunger and poverty, the move from abstraction to concrete is (not to be ironic or witty)…hard. It’s invasive, bothersome, ridiculously inconvenient, and smacks of Jesus.

I’m preaching in the morning from Luke 14:12-14. Jesus goes to a Pharisee’s dinner party and spends all his time insulting his host. Then he makes the absurd, turn-the-world-upside-down suggestion that when you throw a dinner, don’t invite friends and family, but invite the stranger, the poor, the lame, the blind, the people you don’t really want to hang around with, much less have in your home for a dinner.

Something is happening inside me. My heart breaking open a little more. My selfishness becoming more apparent. My compassion dropping from my head into my gut (that’s where Jesus’ was) and my hands and feet are starting to itch with it.

I came across a friend’s web site the other day where he makes a simple claim that the “great moral claim” of Christianity is hospitality, or to say it another way–embrace of the Other.

Somebody show me what “to embrace” means.

Oh…somebody already did. Neighbor, Good Samaritan, least of these, crosses, and all that…

Go and do likewise…

2 Replies to “Hunger, Cowardice, and the Embrace of the Other”

  1. I think you showed yourself to be very generous by picking up the items that the girl needed and by brightening their Thanksgiving just a little bit with the pie.

    Could you have invited them to Thanksgiving? Sure, but you did more than most people. We must always strive to be compassionate for the less fortunate, and that is a never-ending process of improvement. You can always do more, but it is important to recognize the worth of what you already do. Best wishes!

    – Schev

  2. Hey Jeff,

    You sure know how to cut to the chase. When I get extremely doubtful and depressed, this one thought has the power to bring me back to Christianity. Nothing else, no one else besides Jesus really takes seriously a tangible way to bring meaning into your life. I think of the (all too few) times when I have feebly gone out of my way to help others. Most of the time I feel so humble. So much less concerned about the things I spend time caring about, things that in my brain I realize make no one happy. But I still pursue them anyway. Why? Who knows. But I can tell you that if the church (starting with number one here) would really take Matthew 25:35 seriously, on a daily basis. . . I can only imagine what that day would like.

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