The Muscogee Nation of Florida is a tiny aboriginal people group of the Americas who seeks to hold to their heritage while surviving the culture around them. The Muscogee are led by an indomitable woman named Ann Denson Tucker. Ann directs the Tribal Council, serves as the public face and living historian of her people, and plays the role of chaplain, social worker, and attorney for the tribe. Ann has sought official recognition for the Florida Muscogee from the United States Department of Indian Affairs for many years now. She doesn’t want much more than that – just an acknowledgment of their existence. She sometimes wonders how long, if at all, that recognition will be in the making.
Yet, Ann Tucker and the Muscogee do not need official recognition as a people to bear witness to their character. Recently, when many of her people and people in the greater community were hungry, unemployed, and in need, Ann rescued an old portable school house from the county landfill to create a food pantry and community clothes closet. Critics told her it was a fool’s errand. What could one little food bank in the middle of the Florida woods really do to help alleviate poverty? Without official governmental recognition, how could she ever hope to sustain service? One particularly cranky faultfinder said publically that the school-house-turned-food-bank would open “when pigs fly.” But Ann, as always, was undeterred.
On the day of the ribbon cutting for the new food bank, less than a dozen of the resilient Muscogee signed up for assistance. But more than two hundred from the greater community came for food, clothes, diapers, and supplies. Ann stood to speak, and said, in part: “What a wonderful celebration when people are able to expect nothing more than helping each other through hard times. Imagine how strong we could be if we simply remembered that our first obligation is as caretakers of one another. We have dared to challenge those people who told us that the day we would be able to help our rural poor would be ‘when pigs fly.’ Well, the pigs are flying, and, I cannot think of a better example than this building whose destiny was one of no hope and no future. I am honored today to be able to cut this ribbon and dedicate rural relief to the working class people of this community. We will be here for as long as you need us.”
Those last words of Ann struck like lightning: “We will be here for as long as you need us.” Later I asked her why she chose to say such a thing. How could she make such a promise when her tribe was so small and the need around her so great? She answered: “Because we have no other choice. As long as there is a need in this community, someone must meet that need. It must be us.” Ann’s words and example have something to teach us all. We care for those around us not because it is practical, reasonable, cost-effective, or even safe. We care for those around us – earth-shaken Asians, flooded-ravaged Midwesterners, the rural poor, the inner-city child – simply because they are our neighbors, and it is in these needful neighbors we truly find God.
Look not for God lurking somewhere in the air or in the clouds. He’s not hiding in a book, a classroom, a library, or between the lines of some hypothetical apocalyptic calendar. Seek him instead, in the suffering. Look for him in the poor, in those who have been treated unjustly, in those who are hungry, destitute, imprisoned, in rehab centers, without shelter, clothing or direction. That is where he said he would be. God doesn’t come storming into the world riding a tornado, or as grand marshal of our religious parades. He comes in the weak, the vulnerable and in a condition he calls, “the least of these.” Look for God there, and help him for he is your neighbor. Pigs flying or not, we have no other choice.