It wasn't very long ago when rich and poor lived side-by-side. Beggars sat destitute on temple, cathedral, and synagogue steps. You knew exactly what station in life a person was in just by the place they lived. Poverty was in your face — whether you lived it, or you lived beside it. There was rich. There was poor. Rarely the twain met.
You saw it, smelled it, heard it. Hands for alms were waved everywhere, children played in the gutters in the cities, people carved out harsh lives in isolated villages. But no matter where you turned, there was poverty… and the call of Jesus was a reality day by day, night by night. You could not drown it out, though many tried, and continue to do so to this day.
But then emerged the middle class: the snotty derision of the rich, and the labor hope of the poor.
And the middle class flourished. Economic and social opportunity was spread around. No longer did it matter what family you were from, what name you had, what nationality you were (this by degrees, admittedly… often sadly), or how much coin you started with. Work, education, worship, relationships, and all aspects of life were now far more accessible to enormous groups of people.
In fact, it spread so rapidly and vastly that most of us in North America now do not know any other life.
This life has often been referred to as suburbia.
Safe and away from the dirty cities (whether you still worked there and commuted or not), the suburbs were the epitome of clean, safe, and prosperous. Even rural communities began expanding these mini-complexes touted as havens unto themselves.
But in our panicky sprawl to escape the industrial cities and poor villages, we placed firmly on our heads blinders that created a terrible tunnel vision. Looking down only the pre-fabricated streets of suburbia, our degrees of separation from the poor increased layer by layer.
And we didn't notice. Or we didn't remember. Or we pretended not to remember.
And now… many believers can claim they have never even met a 'poor' person. In fact, many middle class believers live frustrated, seeing the life of Christ and His heart for the poor, but when they look around, they do not see, hear, smell or witness poverty like it used to be. Writing checks to worthy organizations sometimes assuages guilt, duty or compassion. But more and more, the middle class is writhing with discontent knowing it has taken greedy and gluttonous care of itself and its own way of life, rather than ripping through the layers of separation and seeking out our poorer brothers and sisters… wherever they may be.
But yet another degree of this hideous separation has emerged. It is a trend I call: the e-Burbs1.
You can have a fence around your house, a heated garage for your car, curtains for your windows, and single bedrooms for each member of the family.
Now… you can literally live online, interacting with people, but never meeting a single one.
Staring at a blinking screen, such as the one in front of me now, you can donate to charity, create webpages that criticize and despise those charities, play games, chat, be sexually stimulated, get information, build entire companies, and… never have to shake a hand.
Look at Facebook… an entire nation unto itself with friends, and families and groups and funds raised and generated, and cultures.
Sojourners on the Way… I implore you:
… rip apart these dreadful layers we have built around ourselves. We are so INSULATED from large-scale need, devastation, slavery and plague that they are now foreign concepts that rock us to the core. And we are not rocked by the fact that they are horrid things, but rather that they are occurring just a street over.
The kingdom of God is found everywhere. Suburbia is no exception and the same goes for the internet, but do not lose sight of the their faults — primarily our lack of daily contact with our extended family living in situations not our own. How could we have let this happen? How did we let it get so out of control?
Seek out the poor.
Vacate the suburbs.
Vacate the e-Burbs.
Find Jesus where He wants to be found.
The strange things is, in seeking out the poor… you will find your own life transformed by the glory of God dwelling in the most humble of vessels.
1 Copyright Erin Thomas, 2010