This guy standing on a mountain or maybe a plain calls out to the crowd: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Really? “Hey, Jesus. Do you read the newspapers? Have you seen the webcasts? Read the blogs? Do you turn on your TV? Pull your head out of the sand.”
I’m that guy. If Jesus were here, I’d argue the point. I can come up with so many reasons why people might be poor in spirit, and I’m not really finding many concrete silver linings for them.
Last Wednesday an unhappy high-school student with a recent suspension shot two school officials at Millard High School in Omaha, fatally wounding Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar. He drove away and took his own life.
Today, according to bystanders, a young man in Tucson shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head at point-blank range today outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store where she was holding a campaign event. Several other people…between five and twelve according to witness reports, were also hurt. Moments ago a friend called me to let me know that Skype News reported she has either died or is in surgery, gravely wounded. The gunman is in custody.
As individuals, communities, a nation and a world, we are poor in spirit.
Poor in spirit feels numb to me. I can’t wrap my head around the alienation or hatred that leads to this kind of up-close violence, nor the loss of these people. I don’t have a specific reaction. There’s no emoticon I can key in. I’m stupefied and horrified and pissed off and sad for everyone…victims and perpetrators.
And it doesn’t feel very blessed. But let’s give the teacher his due. “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” Maybe Jesus was trying to say, when it’s all going to Hell, we have hope for better days. He doesn’t say we’re going to get cured of being poor in spirit…or promise that things will improve. He just says we get the kingdom. We are blessed in a way with the pain of our separation because, in that pain, we recognize the separation. Our poverty of spirit is an indication that things are not what they can be. “Better” is possible. It doesn’t have to be this way. The kingdom remains open to us. It never went away. It’s not “out there.” It’s not heaven. It’s not perfect. But, it is the kingdom and we’ve inherited it. Like it, or not. We are kingdom people. And that is a blessing.
On September 11th, 2001 I was working on a shoot in a studio in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We watched the towers fall and the Pentagon burn on TV, and we went back to work. One of our crew had said, “They (we didn’t know who “they” were yet) would want us to stop everything. Stop and just get mad and start fighting them and everyone else…and I think that we should just go back to work. Because they wouldn’t expect that we would do that.” So we did. I think she was right. And it was a blessing.
We were poor in spirit that day…and for a long time after…but we were blessed with our own humanity. Jesus was spot on. We had a job to do. Not such an important job that day, really. Except that it was ours and we could do it and we played our role in the kingdom. We did it and we were blessed in it.
So I am poor in spirit…but I also have work to do. We all have work to do. We have a place in the scheme of things. We have the things that bring us alive. Ours is the kingdom. And, in our way, maybe we can be alive and blessed enough to tip the scales away from pain and alienation and violence wherever we have the influence.
How many times in the last couple decades have we learned that some act of violence might not have happened had someone just been kind. Had someone been a friend. Had someone insisted that a friend get help. If we only answer to the poor in spirit by ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away – well, news flash, they won’t. So we need to tell them, and include them. We need to let them know that the kingdom is theirs. We need to show them. They don’t even have to do anything to have it. They inherited it. It’s a birthright.
I’m not a Pollyanna about this stuff. I don’t think we’ll make all the bad stuff go away by just being “better people.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t even know what a better me looks like. I have enough trouble dealing with this one. I just want to remember to tell people, when I can, that we are all important. We all matter. And when we are feeling poor in spirit that we can remember the kingdom is ours…all of it, without reservation. Without judgement.
So it turns out the guy on the mountain, or maybe the plain, might be right. I’m horrified by all this violence. I’m guessing you are, too. As upset as we are, the message that we all matter might make a difference…and next time someone thinks about ending it all for themselves or someone else, it might not be the next time. Because when you know you’re in the kingdom, you don’t act that way. You know that, no matter how bad it is, “better” is possible. And you hold onto that.