Faith in Dark Places
A book by David Rhodes
I have just read a new edition of Faith in Dark Places by David Rhodes published by SPCK, 134 pages. It is very helpful in the trying to further understand the concept of a 'Church for the Poor'.
David focuses on Jesus and the poor as he takes us through Mark's and some of Luke's gospel. He gives us four lens in looking at the gospels:
Poverty - Jesus was poor and lived among people who were desperately poor.
Important things for the poor were 'bread' and self-respect
Good news to the poor - freedom from fear, hunger, debt and dishonour
The situations that Jesus was in and what he says and does.
He points out that, if we are middle-class or wealthy, it may be difficult for us to think that the good news is for the poor. The gospel in Mark is lived out not to the poor but with the poor as proclamation and celebration. The gospel accounts of Jesus begin to reveal to us a different and even more unsettling idea; that the gospel may not only be good news to the poor but it may be good news from the poor. Through them, imperfect though they may be, God often chooses to show his creative love for the world.
The leper is not only healed by Jesus but touched by him as well. Jesus shares his defilement, reaches out and gives life to the most despised and outcast of people. The good news is a gift for us, no matter who we are.
People who have been consigned to a living hell on earth are not simply made well but are able to engage in the process of showing reality to the world that has condemned them - literally bringing the good news of God to other people.
David illustrates this and other examples from the gospels with various stories of people experiencing poverty today.
One project for church members (which you may want to try) was that they spend a day in a city centre with only £1 for food. The aim was to experience a little of life as it is lived by other people. It was a way of being alongside people whose lives were stunted by poverty and the lack of choices. As a spiritual exercise it was also to see the city and its people through the eyes of God.
After a briefing, participants went their separate ways without cash except for £1, cards, etc., to spend 8 hours in the city before returning to their church base.
One participant walked a lot at first as a sightseer but became tired. She bought some milk and chocolate for £1. Having nothing to do when people around seemed busy made her feel useless. She avoided people begging but she became very tired and thirsty and sat on some church steps. A beggar was near. He asked for money but she had none. It gave her a sense of freedom as she did not feel obligated. She talked to the beggar. She was surprised that he was quite educated. He needed a bath but she enjoyed the conversation. A passer-by gave him some coins and he left. She felt quite lonely. It was only 4 hours into the day. The beggar returned with a cup of coffee which he shared with her. They talked more and she shared she was from a church. He then said, "Most of us on the streets believe in God, you know." He looked very sad. "We've got no-one else to cry to in the night." She started crying - crying for him, for herself, for this selfish world, for a selfish church. Finally he had to go. They hugged. "Take care," he said, "and God bless you."
Another participant, who was a hospital consultant, could not speak when she arrived back at church. She'd had an uncomfortable but valuable day but on the way back she was asked for money by a lady carrying two grubby carrier bags. She had long since spent her pound so said she didn't have any money. The old lady then put her arm round her and offered to share what money she had. The participant was stunned. Angry and upset about the way people misjudge the poor, she could not speak when she arrived back. She had been instinctively cared for, respected and loved by the poor.
David then goes on to write about prayer for the poor.
The central themes of the book remind me of what Philip North, Bishop of Burnley says as he argues for a focus on the poor in the Church of England, "To argue that poorer parishes are subsidised by richer ones is to replace the Gospel with consumer economics. In fact it is the poor who subsidise the rich, for it is the poor who recall the Church to its purpose and to the vocation of Christ himself who came to preach good news to the poor. Our primary task today is remind the wider Church of this truth and encourage them to act on it. If we abandon the poor, we abandon God."
Part of David's conclusion is, "In a world that worships winners, it may be that the key to life lies in our own poverty and failure and our willingness to listen for that reality among those dismissed as life's failures - those we call the poor. To see the poor as part of our own liberation and part of search for meaning and purpose is to invert the value system of the world, and we begin to see why Jesus was so hated by the powerful."
You can order the book here (or from your normal book seller).
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