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JOE LAGUARDIA: Be a radical disciple: help the poor in your neighborhood

In his bestselling book "Radical," David Platt encourages readers to engage in radical missions by downsizing, traveling to underdeveloped countries, and risking economic stability for the sake of the Gospel.

He argues that one's search for the American Dream can hinder the "downward mobility" Jesus advocates when he tells his followers to "sell all you have and give to the poor."

Although "Radical" is a wonderful read, Platt never questions how a Christian's political and social ethics might actually derail this radical call from the get-go.

Nor does he challenge readers to evaluate so-called Christian socio-economic, political world views that actually foster an American Dream mentality, a dream born out of a rigorous Protestant work ethic.

Don't be fooled: Missions and politics are bedfellows.It's difficult to be on mission when one's politics don't make room for welcoming strangers and "the other" as equal neighbors whom Jesus calls us to love (Lk 10:25-37).

I had to fight this battle in my own Christian journey.I grew up in an extremely ideological household in which hard work and independence championed an ideal lifestyle.People who were poor were seen as mere leeches who lived off of society.

When I engaged in urban ministries during college, I found Jesus challenging this ideological bent and bringing my own political views under scrutiny.

How was I going to befriend, minister to, and be compassionate towards the very folks I had always viewed as leeches?

More significantly, I never saw myself as a bigot, but when I started to define who "those people" were in those low-income homes, I saw my own prejudice coming to light."Those people" happened to be minorities and immigrants. I was a bigot after all, even if I never believed myself to be one.

There are many churches in our society that have property in the midst of an urban, low-income setting. Often, parishioners drive to church from outlying neighborhoods and worship for several hours a week.

Instead of seeing their church's neighborhood as a mission field, they are content on writing checks or engaging in foreign ministries in denominational organizations. They will celebrate their large gifts to the Christmas Missionary Offering, but fear the people who live on the same block as the church.

If a church were to read "Radical" and take it serious, I think it must also pose a pressing question: How could a church partner with God in a low-income neighborhood when our current politics drive a partisan message in which well-to-do entrepreneurs battle entitlement-saturated communities over solutions on how to curb our nation's federal debt?

It's hard to be "on mission" when you see your neighbors as nothing more than immigrants, leeches, crackheads, low-lifes, or simply "those people." It's hard to be on mission when you see beneficiaries of that mission as political opponents.

It's hard to be on mission when one is not willing to pay a fair share of taxes while working towards a smaller, less intrusive government.It's even harder when one is trying to cut entitlements while offering subsidies to corporations that don't foster made-in-America manufacturing jobs.

A truly radical call to missions is one that transcends political absolutes.

There is room for several ethical constructs to exist in a democracy: We must help people of all income levels to see that individual responsibility improves sustainable housing and jobs, but Christians must also advocate for the poor when systemic injustice -- like unfair wages, anti-labor manipulation, and outsourcing -- roots itself deeply in an impoverished community.

It took me several years to look past a person's income level to train myself to see others as Jesus sees them.

Once I started to live in the midst of low-income families, break bread with the oppressed, befriend the poor, and minister to criminal and saint alike did I finally see that my political views and voting record needed to reflect a radical allegiance to Jesus and to the "least of these."

In an economy in which no one has the upper hand and all are indebted to someone else, becoming a radical disciple has never been more pressing.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.