To most of us, it seems an unlikely place. Most of us flinch and inwardly groan when we watch the poorest of the poor: the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicts and the prostitutes. I had known many hobos and wounded men from hardscrabble backgrounds when I was in prison, and few of them seemed admirable. The one's I admired as a young man in prison were the strong, the bosses, the "solid cons" who basically ruled the "joint". They seemed like they had it together, and few of them had any use for Jesus. When I got out of prison and swam around in academia for more than a decade, I continued my contempt for the poor, or at least for Karl Marx and his followers who "fetishized the poor". Marx and his progeny didn't truly know the poor; they made the poor into an idol, a strange god. That was true enough.
Yet we know that countless saints have met Christ in the poor, sometimes quite literally, like St. Martin of Tours. The holy deacon, St. Lawrence, gathered the most wretched together and declared to the Roman persecutors, "Here is the treasure of the Church". Mother Theresa was blessed with mystical experiences of Christ, but then he was silent for four decades. She pursued him among the sick and dying in Calcutta, lovingly searching their faces for the Divine Author. Jesus himself famously tells us, "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me."
A Chronicler of the Poorest
Now one of the "rich", a former Wall Street trader and PhD in Physics, is encountering God as he documents the lives of the poorest of the poor. Chris Arnade has left Wall Street, and now spends his time getting to know the most wretched. He assumed they would share his atheism since they know more than others "how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be." Yet they are all believers in some way or another, "steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore." They wear rosaries and crosses, and testify that God has never left them amidst abuse, addiction and prostitution. One couple totes their picture of The Last Supper from place to place as the heroin drives them onward. The wretched have now challenged his atheism, and he concludes that "atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy". He once cheered on the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, but now he finds them to be "so removed from humanity". Chris Arnade has discovered that the "poor" are not as poor as they seem, nor the "rich" as rich as they seem. In other words, the way we see the world is often upside down--just as our Christian faith tells us. The most wretched are often the most receptive to grace, the most hungry for the life of Christ in the soul. Chris and I have seen this over and over.
In truth, the world is upside down. God showed us this when the very Creator of life and love, beauty and majesty, was born and walked amongst us only to be trodden upon and murdered. The Messiah became the weakest. Now in Heaven, many of the weakest will be the strongest. May Chris Arnade connect all the dots and make the full journey home.
|Takeesha was raped at 11 and pimped out at 13. She now has six children. Her mother was also a prostitute. She testifies, "Whenever I got into the car [of a john], God got into the car with me."|