In this weekly column, local pastors have been asked to write about how the church should address poverty in our community and worldwide. You can learn more about poverty in Hall County at gainesvilletimes.com/poverty.
It’s not that we don’t love our neighbors. We do. We know how to be kind and generous, working alongside faithful volunteers on a service project or donating our hard-earned money for a cause that is much greater than ourselves. Our community is home to over 500 nonprofit organizations, many of whom care for and serve those who are vulnerable or living in poverty.
We know how to write checks, swing hammers, collect canned goods, serve food, buy school supplies and drop off clothing. We are willing to do all of that and more in the name of loving those in need. If there’s a deficiency among us, it’s not that we don’t love our neighbors. It’s that we don’t know them.
There’s a spiritual crisis in our culture that encourages this. It lives within all of us, and it’s at work when we’re content to see others as caricatures, define them by labels or treat them as props in the drama of life revolving around us.
We might also think of this as a relational deficit, a tendency we all have to simply not relate to others authentically and vulnerably. Maybe it’s hard to find the necessary time to invest in someone else’s life. Maybe the need seems too great and our gifts too small and inconsequential. Maybe it’s just safer to “love” someone from a distance than know someone up close.
When it comes to addressing the very real problem of poverty, I can never seem to think or talk about it without reflecting on this spiritual crisis, this deficit of relationship. Too often those experiencing poverty are caricatured as lazy. Too often we impose labels on them that define them by what they don’t have: homeless, jobless, penniless or even worthless.
Too often we treat those experiencing poverty as props or statistics as we talk about them rather than to them. What we forget is that each person is a child of God with a God-given spirit. We fail to recognize that each person has an intrinsic value and worth. Each neighbor we meet is a wonderful creation with scars and wounds, certainly, but also with hopes, dreams, gifts, talents and loves.
What if we spent just as much time getting to know one another as we spend trying to love one another? Why can’t we do both?
So many people around us, our neighbors, live one day after another without being truly seen or truly known. Some are seen, but as something less than fully human. The real miracle that our community, our neighbors and our world need is not a physical one. It’s a spiritual one. It’s the miracle of being seen and accepted, and loved unconditionally as a child of God. That’s something we can do. That’s the ministry to which Christ calls us, and that’s a miracle that we can participate in again and again and again.
Jesus said to love your neighbor. Let us work to know them as well.
The Rev. Lee Koontz is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.