Mayor Castleberry and Conway City Council. Here we are again walking around this same wall. If we would be honest, walls are symbols for protection, isolation, and comfort. Walls are built and maintained because there is this fear-sometimes factually based and other times imagined-of some type of group positioned to change our way of life. What if on the other side of this wall is a greater realization of our humanity as citizens of Conway?
We possess a vibrant and economically growing city which wants to position itself as the alternative to LR. Property values are important and yet we must ask ourselves if the creation of a solution for the homeless is always met with the fear of a drop of a dollar, then where in the city of Conway can the homeless gain greater access. “A study released by NYU’s Furman Center in 2008 found that supportive housing in New York City does not have a negative impact on nearby property values” (Coburn, 2015). “A 1999 study conducted by the Urban Institute, came to similar conclusions about property values…These researchers determined that, on average, crime rates were not higher near supportive housing compared to similar areas with no such development” (Coburn, 2015). We can use our affluence to help others and not use it as the primary reason to press persons in need elsewhere.
In 2015 zoning requirements were amended to make it more difficult for services with the homeless to open freely and now all such services must go through this protracted process. Well there are more voices today. I present to you 383 signatures of Conway residents, UCA and Hendrix Students, and Conway High School teachers who are supporting this facility to open. Persons stewarded with political influence and authority are responsible to protect the societies most vulnerable even when it is not popular. So I say to my friends on the council, it is time for you to vote with mercy, exercise justice, and follow the leading of God.
This meeting and the previous meeting will be met with statements such as “I believe in what you do, I’m a Christian, but….” We possess a schizophrenic personality as we extol the noble principles of “love thy neighbor” but in practice we say to our neighbor “I. Will. Love. You, if…” In so far as the Christian faith, we are making it impotent, a flaccid instrument serving our purposes of convenience. With all of our talk about community and bearing burdens now is the time to translate this doctrine to the application of the lives of the homeless.
So we here we stand at a wall with the opportunity to proceed into a new land of opportunity and compassion. It is a wall held together with economic fear, political power, and impotent religion. So we have come to this wall to walk around it. We walk around with petition, appeals, meetings, social media post, conversation, and prayer. And now as we move around a seventh time, it is time for us to shout. Shouting for men and women to love justice, mercy, and walk humbly with God. It is time for us to shout for the homeless men, women and children of Conway. It is time for us to shout with the eternal power of love and see the walls which separate us from one another and the prosperity of the human soul to finally come down.
God creates humans to enter into the service of others. The necessity of an individual to demonstrate compassion reveals a potency in the one who engages. A helper represents a coming aid, support, and answer to a call of distress. The helper represents a person who is able to offer relief when the one in distress is unable act. The helper immediately represents a woman who God artfully crafts to become the one who aids the man in the tasks of serving as God's vice regents in creation.
We are made to participate in service to one another.
We are made to function as a support system to an individual or group who vocalize distress.
We are made for so many beautiful, powerful, and creative acts. Yet our reality demonstrates there is much ugliness, alienation, and destruction. If we would be honest, much of the distress we observe in our world occurs by the imagination of our minds and the activity of our hands. Our original purpose to participate in the service of others descends into thoughts, behaviors, and actions which harm others. It is no wonder we are so quick to stereotype and alienate those who are dissimilar. We unfortunately spend much time questioning God and his ability to prevent harm, not realizing the greatest perpetuator of evil looks back at each of us in the mirror every morning as we brush our teeth.
This year has been instructive. In my opinion, we are at a place right now in America were many citizens feel as if they are in a sort of exile and yet through the terrible experience of suffering, we have found community. Consider we have been at each others throats about President Trump and Hillary Clinton. We have clashed over Confederate Flags, Confederate statues, and anti-fascism. Christians verbally bludgeon each other regarding statements about sexuality. We cast aspersions on those who want the law upheld in regards to immigration and aspersions on those who are seeking mercy in the law to begin a new life in this country. Yet in the midst of all of this, suffering comes in the name of Harvey.
Harvey takes us all by our tribal, political, religious, and nationalist necks and says,
“This is what it means to be human!”
My worldview communicates a personal God who enters into the suffering of humanity and he stands with humanity in the pain and agony. God runs and essentially demonstrates what it means to be in solidarity with another living being. We vocalize our inability to remedy our suffering and God demonstrates his power by becoming like humanity to triumph over mankind's greatest need so humans would flourish as intended. Regardless of our ethnic, political, religious, or economic backgrounds, Harvey has given us another opportunity to put down our verbal swords to rejoice with one another and suffer with one another. It has been amazing to see the number of persons who have run into suffering. They have jumped off the proverbial horses of comfort and security for the sake of others, in fact strangers.
What kind of people will we now be in the shadow of Harvey? We can not be people who are unchanged. Khalil Gibran reflecting on suffering stated, "out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars." The Apostle Peter said something similar centuries earlier as suffering was serving as a refining fire to bring about the purity of faith in those who belief (1 Peter 1:6-7). So will we be persons who forget these living examples of compassion and cries of suffering, returning to our tribal corners to continue conflict and exile? Or, will we be people who rediscover the beautiful experience of brotherhood as we stand peaceably with each other and recognize how much better we can become through love, grace, and yes, suffering?
Suffering can communicate exile has come to an end. Compassion is a transformative act in which persons who may have never interacted previously, experience powerful moments of listening, understanding, and cooperation. I encourage you to act compassionately this week. Take a long moment to listen to God speaking through the experiences of Harvey and other types of suffering. Hopefully in the end we will hear what God made us to be; people with the capacity to love.