Over the past year I have been asking God for a greater capacity to love. I often find myself, because of my personality or my circumstances, coming across as cold or unwilling to bend in response to someone else’s need. During this year, I have also dived deep into the topic of socioeconomic diversity and how we treat this type of diversity at Forefront.
My version of diving deep is to read books. The Great Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City. The Working Poor: Invisible in America. I can say I intellectually understand the structures and cultures of poverty, and, because I read the words of Jesus in the Bible, I intellectually understand that all people have value and dignity.
But if I have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… If I give all I possess to the poor and give my body over to hardship that I may boast, but have not love, I gain nothing.
We are a church that does. We partner with organizations like The Father’s Heart and the Bowery Mission for monthly service days, and we donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to even more organizations during our annual Celebration Generosity. We, as New Yorkers and Christians, intellectually understand that poverty exists in our city and that it shouldn’t. We understand that the homeless and jobless have value.
But do we understand that in love?
It is easy to understand poverty intellectually. Sociologists can explain the structural and cultural factors that contribute to poverty in 100 pages or less. I can read that book in an hour. But being intellectually indignant that people - other humans - are impoverished, and actually loving those who are impoverished is entirely different. Understanding poverty on a level of love is hard.
I like easy. I like being able to fit a topic - socioeconomic diversity - into a neat little box and put it on a shelf - there, that problem is covered. Once-a-month service opportunities or once-a-year outpourings of funds are good, they get at the problem at one level. One level does not fix a problem, and one level is not what we are called to.
1 Corinthians 13 is read at every wedding, but we usually skip those first few verses: “If I have not love” then all the intellectual understanding, the one Saturday a month, the yearly donation, all mean nothing. So I have been asking for a greater capacity to love, and let me tell you, it hurts. It is easier being cold and detached. When you allow yourself to love people, you end up standing in the middle of the sidewalk and crying when you hear someone’s story of oppression, because you not only know, but believe in the dignity of that person.
Every single person has value and deserves dignity. We know that. How do we live so that we believe it?