Within a several-block area we passed run-down buildings and one store. It was seconds later that I realized what I had passed – several churches and a liquor store. Only one of the “churches” had people nearby. The liquor store, on the other hand, had several gathered both inside and out. These “churches” occupied what were once local businesses now closed. They had various names – without mention of denomination – such as Church of Abundance, Church of the Centurion, Hope Place. I can’t recall the others – their passing was much too fast and, at first glance, meaningless.
These “churches” are meaningless (unimportant and pointless), I thought to myself, simply a “false front.” They are places for the few to earn a living, avoid income taxes, while embracing the poverty which surrounds them.
As we stopped in the flow of traffic, a woman came out of one of the churches with another, they embraced as they parted. A few feet from one another one turned and called out, “If you need me, call. Remember I love you.” If you need me – I love you. Are these words that embrace poverty? I think not.
I thought, what if I’m wrong? What if what I see is altered by the camouflage of my arrogance and prejudices? What if, within the walls of these run-down closed businesses, there is a source of hope not found anywhere else in the heart of that community? What if, within these “churches,” God abides – people are gathered, love shared, faith renewed, promise given. If that be the truth revealed, then the “meaningless” becomes the “meaningful and significant.” There, in the midst of economic poverty, the riches of faith are found.
And what are the “riches of faith”? They are these: discovering self in the eyes of another, knowing there is another who cares, perhaps loves you – coming to believe you have worth, you are valued. The riches of faith do not stem from “attending” service. Rather, it emanates from “serving.” God does not desire or request obedience and isolation – requires no fear and worship – only human’s do that. God does, however, require we feed those who we find starving – and these are starvation’s names: poverty, sickness, hopelessness, isolation and bigotry.
Life is full of camouflage. Only humanity paints the “image” we want to see as “others.” We will, without a doubt, continue to paint others, so why not paint them with hope, faith and love? I know I was wrong to disparage those I know not. Surely God is found in those several churches and, perhaps – even in a liquor store.