Sunday, August 23, 2009


Recently I read Robert Lupton's book Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor as part of my internship at the Nehemiah House. (Why are the titles on "christian living" books getting longer?) The book is divided into chapters and parts. Pastor Scott Yetter asked us to write down our thoughts on each of the four parts presented so the following is what I turned in with a few additions.

Part I

I was elated (and I don't use that word often) to read the first chapter of Compassion Justice and the Christian Life because it felt like Lupton wanted to break our vision as soon as he could. I assume the idea was to foster a new vision in the church with the rest of the following chapters. Right away he tackles the fact that we have the two greatest commandments strait from Jesus' mouth- love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Collectively, we put these on the shelf, rarely to be practiced. Christ even said that these two commands contain the whole law. How is it that most of us are so guilty of ignoring them? The book focuses more on the second of the two commands. I assume Lupton focuses on loving thy neighbor as a means of loving thy God. Lupton finalizes his charge against the lot of us with the statement, "A Christian training institute (or church for that matter) that steps over these basics on the way to 'deeper' theological pursuits can hardly be considered biblically faithful." (Pg. 17) I want to emphasize that the church is supposed to be a training institution itself. Since we are the church, we need to start with ourselves and base our lives on these two greatest commands rather than ignore them.

Part II

The difference between "betterment" and "development" is something incredibly important to keep in mind while working with communities. "Betterment does for others; development enables others to do for themselves. Betterment improves conditions: development strengthens capacity. Betterment gives a man a fish: development teaches a man how to fish." (pg. 39) Our intentions may be good, but our methods need to be checked regularly. It should be our goal to truly love our neighbors by finding a cure for as many ailments as we can (both theirs and ours). (As Pastor Scott reminds me, often times loving our neighbors means suffering with them rather than finding a cure. This, of course, is very true.) The idea is not to keep them addicted to our medicine. Hopefully those we are helping will be able to walk on their own and do the same for others.

Part III

Recently I heard someone native to another country say that everything in the U.S. is big. He made an accurate observation. Our grocery stores are huge. Our hefty consumption is more than most countries combined. Our churches and community institutions seem to be no different at times. I think one of the scariest things about most mega churches is that they seem to be out of touch with the communities around them. They take the land, and dominate the street parking of the neighborhood all in the name of numbers and raising more money for the latest entertainment technology without ministering to people's most basic needs. "Every community needs healthy institutions. Whether social, religious, educational, recreational, cultural, economic or governmental, institutions provide a society with stability and help preserve its quality of life. No community, however, can become or long remain vital if it is dominated by ever expanding institutions that use up dis proportionate amounts of its land at the expense of its residential fabric. A growing church that tears down houses to expand its parking capacity can find itself at cross-purposes with community health, even as Catholic sisters' treatment center or an expanded homeless shelter can. Their community friendliness depends largely upon the appropriateness of their scale." (Pg. 103) Any community program that pushes residents out and sucks up all of the local resources will find either a neighborhood resistance or silent absence.

Part IV

The word gentrification brings negative thoughts to mind whenever I hear it. Countless conscious hip hop artists speak of it's evils on my media player. In most situations I think I would be very critical if someone spoke of a "gentrification theology," but I think Lupton presents a good argument for it. As stated earlier in the book neighborhoods need diversity of all kinds including economic backgrounds. "We need gentry whose understanding of community includes the less advantaged, who will use their competencies and connections to ensure that their lower-income neighbors share a stake in their revitalizing neighborhood." (pg. 116) This may sound pretty one sided, but it's the "gentry's" job to love their neighbors just as much as it is everyone else's. Why not give everyone a chance to have an exchange in life? It is true that one of the greatest tragedies today is that the rich don't know the poor when they are both so broken. As Scott Yetter stated on my paper, "This reflects true reconciliation where the rich and the poor are changed together." Amen.