Wednesday night I drove into inner-city Los Angeles. I took some friends from Fuller with me (I also took a group last week). This is nothing new for me; I've been leading ministry immersion experiences into this city for fifteen years. Still, every time I go I am changed, softened and moved.
The more you see, the less you know The less you find out as you go I knew much more then, than I do now
Bono wrote this lyric because of an experience he had at a friend's photography show. The friend ushered Bono into a room displaying large pictures of U2 taken twenty years earlier. Bono didn't know that the photos were going to be exhibited and was shocked to see a picture of himself climbing into a helicopter. He remembered the day (it was his first time in a helicopter) and remembered the feelings of the strange young man he was now looking at: excitement, naivete, energy and idealism.
Bono and I are nearly the same age (maybe that's why I resonate with him so well). I have also reflected on how I have changed over the years, due in part to my many trips to the city. At a younger age, I thought I knew how to fix the problems of the poor and the homeless. It was obvious - all they needed to do was believe in Jesus and then their worlds would fall into place like mine. Heck, they'd probably have jobs and be middle-class like me within a year. They could come to my church, everyone would embrace them (if they learned to shower) and they would sing the songs I sing, read the translation I read, eat the food I eat, wear the clothes I wear, and use words like "blessed" and "inspired" in response to the 45-minute monologue, just like me. In fact, the sooner they could become like me (and my church of other people just like me) the sooner they would be happy.
"I knew much more then, than I do now...." How absurd to think that we can walk into another culture, another narrative, or another people group and impose our story upon them.
Today, I don't know much about fixing the problems of the poor and homeless. I don't even know how to remove myself from the cyclical systemic injustice that requires their existence (my clothes are made in sweatshops, my house is built by illegals, my coffee is grown through unfair trade practices, Walmart doesn't pay minimum, etc...). Yet I do know this - every time I go to the city I am blessed far beyond the blessing I bring. I learn from those that are on the margins of society. On many occasions I have been prayed for by some dear street saint who puts my understanding of dependence on God to shame. While their poverty is of money, mine is a poverty of ignorance. "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 5:3.