Creative Fuel: Care For The Poor

Many creative leaders of faith that I know are looking for the latest musical inspiration, teaching inspiration, or media inspiration to give them the boost they need to get the waters of their creativity stirred again.

Today, I want to share one way of dealing with creative blocks that has always catalyzed a fresh flow in me, and busted through a myriad of internal psychological and spiritual clogs.

Caring for the poor.

I mean in real space. In real time. With the currency of you, spent on them.

That’s always opened me up. I know many others who would say the same.

Years ago I remember meeting “Agnes” on the sidewalk of our small city [her name has been changed]. She was an outcast among the poor – a rough, older, mean-spirited woman who spoke in barks of demand or profanity rather than words.

“Give me money for coffee,” she snapped, recognizing me from the breakfasts we served every week. “I don’t have any cash on me, Agnes. I’m sorry.” She looked sad for a moment, then turned the dial back to mean. “Yes, you do, yes, you do” she stormed – and then turned and hobbled away.

For a moment, I was fine with yet another socially awkward moment with a street person in our city.

Then, it hit me. She was Jesus.

And I did have the money. I did. It just wasn’t with me.

I felt nauseous. I missed it. I missed it.

I ran 3 blocks back to our offices on the main street second floor, and began to collect loose change from my desk and from anyone who was in building.

Before you think I was being a hero, I wasn’t. A woman needed what I had to give. I had it – it was just inconvenient to get to it.

Inconvenient – like having to steal Listerine samples in a store so you can feed your alcohol addiction, or inconvenient like finding a private sink to use your new toothbrush and toothpaste you just received that morning.

I ran back outside, up the street, and found Agnes wandering down a side street. “Agnes!” I shouted.

She turned, and as she saw me, her face lit up. As soon as I ran up to her, she opened her arms to hug me. I sensorily remember that embrace, as her coat reeked of a mixture of body odor and alcohol that became my new cologne for the day. She gave me a Grandma’s kiss, a big fat sloppy one, on my right cheek. Squeezing my face in her hands, she said through her toothless grin, “You came back for me.”

You came back for me.

You got it. I was a wreck.

Agnes got her coffee. Then, she went back to her life, and I went back to mine.

It was hard to eat my wife’s amazing cooking that night.

Oh – and for days after I wrote new songs.

Agnes was my muse for the week, and “creative genius” somehow found a conduit to connect with me through our encounter.

Why does caring for the socially vulnerable work?

It rehumanizes us.

We look our brother or sister in the eye, carry their pain for a moment or on a regular basis, and share our bread.

The poor are us, and we are them. Today, you’re the Have, and tomorrow, you’re the Have-Not. The Haves need the Have-Nots, and vice-versa. The Weak need the strong, and the Strong desperately need the Weak – to give their strength meaning and context.

It’s the way it works. We all rise and fall with each other.

The churches I’ve served with for twenty years have always made the poor welcome in our daily and weekly life together. That has not only been their salvation – it has also been mine.

So, if you’re stuck creatively today, get a rhythm of caring for the poor back into your life. Find a system near you, a community of people serving a community of people, and plug in. If you travel a lot, find places to plug in wherever you go.

It’s not easy, and the opportunities, in my experience, don’t usually present themselves.

But fight for it. A fringe benefit is that you will probably get your creative life back.

Care for the poor.


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Disclaimer: My blog writings represent my personal perspectives on spirituality, faith, art, worship, and culture. The opinions expressed are my own, and not those of the organizations for whom I work or have worked. My goal is encouragement, and my hope is that you find that here on your journey.

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Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms

Sheltering Mercy, along with its companion volume, Endless Grace, helps us rediscover the rich treasures of the Psalms—through free-verse prayer renderings of their poems and hymns—as a guide to personal devotion and meditation.

The church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, and they have inspired countless other prayers. This book contains 75 prayers drawn from Psalms 1-75, providing lyrical sketches of what authors Ryan Smith and Dan Wilt have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning in the Psalms. Each prayer is a response to the Psalms written in harmony with Scripture. These prayers help us quiet our hearts before God and welcome us into a safe place amid the storms of life.

This artful, poetic, and classic devotional book features compelling custom illustrations and foil-stamped hardcover binding, offering a fresh way to reflect on and pray the Psalms.