Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25¢ at a Time

By Jane Knuth

Chicago, Loyola Press, 2010

160 p.    Spiritual

Today I am preparing a talk on books about discipleship for a group of women from my church. I had included two books that I read last year, Jesus Freak by Sara Miles and Things Seen and Unseen by Nora Gallagher. I bought Thrift Store Saints by local Kalamazoo author Jane Knuth to help fill out the book talk and was also including A Monk in the Inner City by Mary Lou Kownacki, which I have yet to read. I had planned to just introduce Thrift Store Saints, so I sat down to read a bit to get the flavor of the book, and I ended reading it all in one sitting. This is a truly insightful and inspiring book.

Jane Knuth became a rather reluctant volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift shop in Kalamazoo more than fifteen years ago. The store operates as a regular charity thrift shop, taking in castoffs, selling or giving them away, and using the proceeds to help people with rent, heat bills, food, or other necessities. As her experience broadened, she began to realize several things: that she was changing and that her perception of the poor was changing as well. “After more than a year working at the St. Vincent de Paul shop, I still keep looking for “the deserving poor”—the innocent ones who are blatant victims of in justice and hard luck. I want to help them and no one else. From what I can see, apart from children, most poor people’s situations seem to stem from a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances, luck, and their own decisions. Same as my situation.”

In a discussion with a friend, Jane discovers the definition of what it means to be charitable. Her friend thinks that there are three kinds of charity: the “recyclable” type where you give away what you don’t want or need anymore; the “sharing” type where you give some of your resources or money to help those in need; and the third type is where you give more than you can afford for the sake of someone else. This explanation resounded with me. Sometimes giving is easy. Sometimes it is the hardest thing we do, because it is filled with our own sacrifice.

Thrift Store Saints is full of stories of the people who work at the thrift store, the people who shop at the thrift store, and the people who receive the proceeds from the store. The book is agonizingly true and poignant, while at the same time, funny and perceptive. Jane Knuth finds that the people with whom she comes in contact have as much or more to offer her as she has to offer them. Growth comes both ways.

Mary Lou Kownacki says about her soup kitchen ministry in Monk in the Inner City, “The question is not whether the soup kitchen has changed things, made a difference, brought justice to the city’s poor. The real question is have we changed? After thirty years, have we become kinder, more merciful, less judgmental? Do we continue feeding the poor because we want to see the fruits of our efforts? Or do we continue serving soup because we love? And do we love enough not to give up on anything or anyone?” Jane Knuth and her thrift store saints would add their “Amen” to that.

Review in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

1 comment:

djemknuth said...

Thank you for the insightful review Miriam. I hope we can meet sometime.