My whole life I've stared poverty in the face and either did not know it or did nothing about it. The city I grew up in is notorious for its homeless and poverty-ridden citizens, especially children under sixteen. When I went off to college, I worked at a church and an organization filled with kids living in trailer parks and government housing. While I wrestled through issues in scripture, Greek, Hebrew, and history, 33% of children in the city I lived in knew nothing but absolute poverty. Then I moved onto seminary in one of the most glaringly obvious city's in the world that is divided into haves and have-nots. Every-once in a while growing up I would see a homeless or poverty stricken person come talk to me about how much they love Jesus (always a good way to butter up a person of the church) and how they needed gas money or money for food or rent money. Sometimes I believe them, and sometimes I think they play me for a fool. I live with the tension of wanting to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but at the same time I want to really help and not give money to feed an addiction.
This past week I had my first experience at Mertens with someone coming to my door because I am the pastor and asking for help. She told my wife and I her story brilliantly, and complained about other pastors not helping her out and how wrong that was. I immediately did not believe her. Well, not all of it at least. I do think that some of the story was true, and that she and her husband truly needed help, but she did not have to insult other pastors to feed my ego. Most pastors I know are very generous men and women despite the way we get portreyed sometimes. (In the end we did help her financially. Sarah wisely said that we are called to serve; the people we serve have to decide what to do with it.)
Stories like the lady who visited me this week muddy theology with real life. I believe that Jesus calls us to serve the marginalized and the least of these. I take the verse where Jesus says, "the poor will always be with you," to mean that the poor will always be around you because that is what we are in the business of doing: serving those who are marginalized. Yet here is this woman at my door asking for help and I do not believe her. Muddied. Messy. That's what happens when theology and real life collide. Forgiveness is a great concept to talk about until you have to forgive someone who wronged you. Serving the least of these is heart warming and emotionally captivating until someone shows up at your door asking for help. A living theology is muddy, but somehow I think God is there in the middle of the mud getting his hands dirtied in the messiness of our fallen world.