Ten years ago, before transferring to Moody and moving to Chicago ever even entered my mind, I was a little sophomore at Baylor University. One fine central Texas day I went down with a friend to a place cleverly called Waco Hall to listen to an increasingly well-known “upcoming” musician. All I knew about the musician I had gleaned from the signs scattered on walls around campus: he had really good hair.
The musician was Shaun Groves. And if I remember correctly, he had just released his first big record Invitation to Eavesdrop. I knew, even then, after just a few minutes listening to Shaun sing, that he had a special voice. Something about him was unique. I sensed that he was a person who both thought and felt deeply about faith and the world. What I most certainly did not sense is that in less than a decade I would be bouncing around East India with a tiny group he was leading.
But in the third world together we were destined to be.
April 2009 to be exact.
On one of those blistering 125-degree days in Kolkata, Shaun and I got to talking. We were on the bus doing what theology nerds do best . . . taking ourselves far too seriously and talking about some Bible verses. We were throwing around phrases like “the new perspective on Paul” “the kingdom” “inaugurated eschatology” and whatnot. We discussed how necessary it is for us to have a holistic understanding of Scripture’s voice about wealth and poverty. We were ranting and complaining how it simply won’t do to quote one or two verses from the gospels; we need to understand everything we can about poverty and wealth in the entire canon. Only then could we really understand the Church’s mission concerning wealth and poverty. But then we got to talking about a couple of verses in the book of Proverbs. Specifically these:
Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Interesting verses, right? We both suspected that these verses are crucial to the Church’s conversation concerning wealth and poverty. Shaun swears that, among other things, our conversation about these verses has something to do with the song “Enough” on his new record Third World Symphony. I imagine he is grossly exaggerating but I really don’t care since it happens to be my favorite song on the album.
These were fun times, good conversations.
But nothing could have prepared me for the moment, just a few hours later, when the ideas in this conversation would become a human being. Kiran is the real reason Shaun wrote “Enough.”
Nothing could have prepared me for Kiran, a Compassion student who lives in one of the slums of Kolkata.
On April 30, 2009 seven members of our team crammed tightly into the home of twelve year old Kiran Mallik. The home she shares with her four other family members. Three of our team members simply couldn’t fit inside. The tiny little shack was about the size of a twin bed, approximately the size of my spare powder bath.
Here is a picture of Kiran standing outside her house.
And then she paused.
And she asked us, with a soft and sincere smile on her face:
“How do you like my house?”
Looking helplessly at one another, we collectively cheered:
“Yes, it’s beautiful!”
She beamed in agreement and with satisfaction.
But the thing is, I really couldn’t see beauty.
What I saw on that hot April day was a flimsy little box of a house roofed with plastic paper, rocks, and sticks.
Later as we walked around the slum, Kiran would start to cry.
Tears of joy, she said. Tears because she was just so happy she had God.
Then she would literally burst forth into songs of praise. This is the stuff of the Psalms or maybe even the book of Acts. I saw these things in an Indian slum.
And all I could think about was stuff Kiran didn’t possess.
The dark, scary place we were walking around.
All Kiran could think about was that God was with her.
Where I saw tremendous lack, Kiran saw an extravagance worth displaying.
The radiant joy Kiran effused challenged the “lack” I saw.
Her intoxicating presence told me she lacked no good thing.
This was one of those remarkable moments when fixed values start to move. A paradigm shift, if you will. I had to start deconstructing and reconstructing meaning; I had to start trying to make sense of things again. Clearly I had been missing something major about basic life questions. I started posing new questions: What does it really mean to be blessed? What does it mean to have enough? Can I really trust myself to answer this former question?
Being in Kiran’s presence was something of a dream. Surreal. I felt like I was bound in chains in a dark room gazing out a window at a little girl skipping in a field of sunflowers at the brightest point of the day.
It wasn’t that Kiran was proud of what little she had. That would have been admirable, indeed. But that wasn’t it. It was the very idea that Kiran had absolutely no idea she had little. No one could have convinced Kiran she was “suffering,” not without performing some kind of lobotomy anyway. She was rich and full, living off of a couple of Compassion meals. She knocked me off my white horse. I wasn’t the one doing the liberating anymore. I never was. Maybe I had been bound all along.
The remarkable thing about the Proverbs text I mentioned before (30.7-9) is not that it mentions living in the middle of two extremes: poverty and wealth. The astonishing thing is that it links spiritual infidelity to these two extremes. In other words, living off of just enough, that which is necessary, is spiritually advantageous. At least according to the wisdom writer.
Kiran’s effortless joy, her tremendous wealth in living off the Lord alone, not only reverberates the sounds of the ancient sage; it takes the shape of a cross. Her abundant life is nothing short of cruciform. Undeniable power in perceived human weakness. And not even the thickest darkness can obstruct this kind of light. It is the overwhelming penetrating light of the cross. I was blinded by it because I couldn’t stop staring at Kiran.
My vision will never be the same.
If I close my eyes and focus long enough, I can still hear the sound of Kiran’s voice. She is singing, “Lord, I lift Your Name on High. Lord, I love to sing Your Praises.” The cadences of her voice are still in my heart.