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Revisiting the View From Below

Fifteen years ago, I was running a house of hospitality for homeless men called Matthew 25 House. Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship had visited the house and asked me to write a piece for the organization's publication, In Communion.

I have enjoyed becoming reacquainted with the Joe May who plunged into 10 years of homeless ministry. Here is the article I wrote, The View from Below:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell in Nazi Germany: "We have learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled -- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer."

Matthew 25 House is a house of hospitality where we offer transitional housing to homeless men in the Akron area. I started Matthew 25 House with my father three years ago with the desire to live the Gospel in a more direct way and to follow Christ more closely.

The whole journey began for me when I went off to study at Holy Cross Seminary in 1992. I went to Holy Cross with the intention of testing the calling to the priesthood and possibly working in academia. There I was studying the scriptures and reflecting on the difficult passages like, "Whatever you do for the least, you do for me," and "give all of your belongings to the poor and follow me." These lines were so hard and exploded my categories of thinking.

The Jesus I discovered in scripture was born poor, lived with the poor, helped the poor and died without his own grave. Great Lent only underscored this point for me. I began to see a connection between being a follower of Christ and standing with the poor. I felt like that scriptural finger had pointed my way, and I wanted to do as Dorothy Day said, to "take Jesus at his word" with regard to the command of Matthew chapter 25.

I thought about the fact that my life did not resemble this Gospel in any way. It was remarkable really how little I looked like a follower of Christ, if you looked past the externals like my studies and my worship at Divine Liturgy on Sunday. I lived a privileged life and traveled around the world. I never came into contact with the poor. I went to school with people like me, worked with people like me and socialized with people like me. I took a good look at my expression of Orthodox Christian life and realized it was indistinguishable from average American consumer society. Where was the Christian witness? The most annihilating and utterly damning part of all is that it was un-Christic.

God cornered me. In Luke chapter 3, John the Baptist cornered the people who had come out to see him and they sheepishly asked, "What then must we do?" In the same way God had cornered me. I needed to find a way to answer: "What then must I do?"

(To read the full In Communion article, go to The View from Below.)

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