February 2008 - Vol. 16

Humble Pie

Pride blinds us to the good around us 
and causes us to turn-up our noses at 
the spiritual food we donít recognize

by James Munk

painting by Michael O'Brien

Two beggars kept me coming back
I would wager that after the priests the two beggars outside my church are its most regular attendees. An older man with tattooed knuckles and his red-haired wife, they flank the churchís entrance at the top of the steps. They have only once asked me for money (just before Christmas) but their outstretched hands are, on a weekly basis, difficult to ignore. He is Irish, she is English, the church is Greek Ė very Greek.

I started going to this church a few weeks after moving to London. I came to England to do some service for the local Christian community Antioch and its outreach to university students, Koinonia. I still had not found a local church that felt like my church back home. Before, I worshiped with the Arabs and the Russians Ė I came back to the Greeks because I was homesick. 

Iím Orthodox by tradition. I might be considered Greek Orthodox, being raised in a Greek church, but I donít feel comfortable with this term, as Iím not at all Mediterranean.  However, Orthodoxy tends to be ethnically flavored so I try to adopt the culture when I can. In this regard, Iíve found it more challenging to do so in London than at home. In the States, English is fairly prevalent in the services and in everyday church business; itís not so common in this city of immigrants. On top of that, itís easy to get lost in the crowd in a city the size of London. For the first few months at church, it felt like no one realized I was there.

I kept coming back to the Greek church because of its two sentinels; I had taken to making and bringing them sandwiches. I wish I could say I was motivated by compassion, but to be truthful it was the result of a judgment on the church. ďIf the beggars received the same welcome I had, surely they were on their way to starvation.Ē

Why do I have to be a spiritual beggar?
I sympathized with the homeless couple: they were natives of these islands, they had a right to be here. Why did they have to come begging at the doors of this foreign church? I knew how they felt: Iím a community kid, on a Gap year, an affiliate with the Servants of the Word; why should I have to come spiritually begging to a church were it seemed no one had the courtesy to say ďhiĒ let alone pray in a language I could understand. I didnít come to church to get spiritually fed, but to feed the beggars.

The Lordís correction came close to the American holiday Thanksgiving. One Sunday, a woman finally spoke to me. She was a convert to Orthodoxy and noticed that I didnít look Greek. I confirmed her doubts and took her invitation to join her for coffee in the church basement. Entering the hall, I noticed the homeless woman. She was in a corner surrounded by three members of the church who were serving her coffee and giving her supplies for the week. Later, when we left, my host spotted the Irish man. She immediately went over to him and held his hand, asking him how he was and telling him how welcome he was at her church. The only contact I had had with him was through a plastic sandwich bag. My early notions of ďrighteousĒ resentment and holier-than-thou superiority seemed slightly inappropriate. 

Pride blinds us to the good around us
Pride is funny that way: blinding us to the good around us and causing us to turn-up our noses at food we donít recognize. Because I didnít fit in, I wrote off a church where the Spirit of God was present and moving. In our churches and communities we donít always like where we are, feel at home, or think weíre getting our fair share of the spiritual meal.  But I think my homeless teachers have a word for us all: be thankful for being fed, even if the menuís not always to our liking. Our Host is gracious and merciful, feeding us in ways we may not always like or understand.

[James Munk, age 23, has grown up in The Work of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan, USA. He recently graduated from the University of Michigan School of Architectural Design. He is presently an affiliate in training in the Servants of the Word and is serving for a year as a staff worker for Koinonia, an outreach to university students in London, United Kingdom.]

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