A cup of water for the least of these - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Spiritual Side

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A cup of water for the least of these

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Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011 2:00 pm

The air conditioner in my car has never been anything to write home about. Consumer Reports warned me that it was underpowered. It didn't occur to me at the time that they probably tested the car in Yonkers, N.Y., not in Phoenix, not in July.

My daughter gave me a small fan that clips on the rearview mirror and plugs into the 12-volt outlet. It's red neck posh. It's the kind of thing a good ole' boy would have hanging from the mirror of the El Camino, but hey, it actually helps.

The reason why I bring this up is that I just got back from downtown, delivering a carload of water to Grace Lutheran Church. Among the many things I should probably do is to stop kvetching about my wimpy air conditioner.

In my congregation, hospitality usually refers to making sure there is a fresh pot of coffee on and a nosh with plenty of carbohydrates that no one really needs, least of all me. At Grace, especially this time of year, hospitality is a matter of life and death.

Grace has a thriving year-round ministry to the homeless. In the summer, that ministry takes the form of heat respite. Grace provides the homeless of their neighborhood a place to come in from the heat, get a cool bottle of water and a sack lunch.

Now, you might be saying, "Of course they do, isn't that a nice thing for inner city congregations to do?" But it is a bit more complicated than that.

Of course, the water and the lunches have to come from somewhere and someone has to make them and pass them out, and what about the power bill?

Many, including our governor, have indicated that the cuts in state and federal funding to social service programs are the clarion call for houses of faith to step up. I cannot speak for other congregations, but mine has not been sitting on a mound of cash just waiting for the moment when government programs would be cut.

So is caring for the least advantaged a spiritual issue? It may be the spiritual issue. And it cuts across denominational lines, knows no political boundaries (or at least it should not) and holds the power to unite people from divergent places.

While we tend to think of the word "passion" as being a strong emotion, the word actually means, "to suffer." Where the emotion part comes from is that being passionate about something implies a willingness to suffer for it. "Compassion" then, means to "suffer with" and it plays an important role in all of the world's major religious traditions.

Suffering with, means to put yourself in the place of the other, imagine what it is like to be that person; that individual who is thirsty or hungry or worn out or just hot from a day on the street under the Arizona sun. Because if you put yourself in that person's place, all the discussions of how he came to be there and all the poor choices he might have made and all the discussions of the proper role of government seem a lot less important than giving him something to drink and a cool place to rest awhile.

I do not, and I will not, feel helpless. If I buy a case of water every time I gripe about the heat and take it down to Grace, that would be a very good starting place.

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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