Poverty is such a complex situation. It is complex because the experience involves men, women, and children who experience a variety of variables resulting in a diversity of outcomes.
I have been recently working through Dr. Howard Thurman's seminal work, Jesus and the Disinherited. In Dr. Thurman's text, I was struck by his summation the Church moved from being a place which advocated for the poor and oppressed. The Church moved to a position of being a voice for the powerful-individuals and institutions-which took advantage of the poor and oppressed.
The faith which is so precious to me had been co-opted. A faith born in slavery and became fully realized in a poor human being named Jesus, stumbles because she pursues power with greater vigor than the poor.
I am thankful even in the midst of shaken faith God sends the poor to remind me he is paying attention. God uses the daily experiences of those who have hard lives. Yes his Word is present but there are moments when the still voice of God speaks in the trembling frustration of a homeless man, an overwhelmed single mother, or autistic child.
I have heard God speak as well through my friends who do not believe as I believe and yet these men and women believe there is a God who is there. I know in whom I believe and why I believe what has been written. I am not arrogant enough to say I know all about who God is in my life. (I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the Trinity and loving my enemy like Jesus asks of me!) But I am humble enough to know I can learn about love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and goodness from my friends of different faiths. In the end, all things will be used to wipe away every vestige which has casts shadows and invoked fearful tears.
So what does all this mean?
I am working to create an environment of mutual support and activity between persons of various faith perspectives who will gather to discuss and stimulate change as it relates to poverty. I want to encourage these men and women to explicitly use the faiths precious to them and see how these faiths can be used to address poverty in a holistic manner.
What will this Interfaith group value?
Doctrinal Humility: People willing to honor their doctrinal positions with the outcome to encourage and inspire others to address poverty in Conway and Faulkner County.
Religious Commitment: Persons who will maintain fidelity to their individual faith traditions while learning from other traditions.
Interconnectedness: Persons willing to develop and sustain relationships between participants translating into visible activities .
Empathetic Life: Through dialogue and actions, persons consider the lived experience of the poor while maintaining individual unique identities.
If you would like to participate in a constructive manner, connect with me.
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.
The incarnation reveals a God willing to see and personally address the variety of sufferings which exist in the human experience. Therefore, as the resurrection influences the people of God to live in the reality of a new creation, we possess the ability to see and act compassionately among ourselves and the citizens of our world.
Worldwide, humanity with all of her variety is experiencing varying degrees of difficulty. Young teenage women in Africa are being kidnapped by military groups such as Boko Haram for marriage. In the Middle East, Christians in the Jordan, Egypt and Syria are kidnapped by ISIS and beheaded for their faith. This past weekend, ISIS chose to extend it's violent influence into the great city of Paris. Populations of persons are struggling under financial debt to create a stable economy for themselves and participate at some level in our global economy.
The tensions in America are great. We are familiar with a variety of shootings from Tennessee to Chicago. Consider in Chicago, on any given weekend some young African American male will lose his life in gun violence. Young children are being killed in the womb and their body parts sold. Families are struggling to find work. The homeless are looked as potential criminals and drug users. The recently incarcerated are released and struggle to find a place to live and secure adequate employment.
In the Church people suffer in silence. Maybe because of some domestic or sexual abuse, or an inability to forgive within the community of faith, men and women grieve on the inside. This past summer people who have communicated grief because they feel as if their voice is not being heard by other Christian brothers and sisters who prefer an earthly Southern heritage over the grief of their brothers and sisters.
The context in which we live is fraught with difficulties. I wonder if our eyes are open to recognize the difficulties people are living in at this present moment. Can we observe with our new eyes the strain people are under? Can I hear beyond the words of "I'm fine," the possibility a person right before me simply needs my presence? When we hear and see someone or some group in difficulty maybe the question we need to ask is, "What will happen to him or her if I do not do something?" instead of the usual question, "What will happen to me if I do something?"
Compassion represents a very human and deep activity which places an individual in the storm of another individual's experience. Compassion is made up of two words, "together" and "to suffer." In essence, I gain knowledge-hearing or seeing-about your situation and this emotion rises out of the depth of my being to propel me to embrace another person in his or her difficulty.
Why should we respond? We should respond on the basis of the recognition of our sameness. Our sameness is rooted in the truth we are image bearers of God. I have either experienced my own suffering or I know at some point a difficulty is on the horizon. Nevertheless, I understand to be alone or to be isolated as a human being when all hell is breaking loose is not how I am supposed to exist.
So, we acknowledge the humanity of another by entering into difficulty. I acknowledge you are there and I acknowledge by my actions you will not be alone. Can we grasp how transformative it becomes when in the middle of my pain, my grieve, my tiredness, someone says, "I see you" and "I am joining you in this moment?"
Compassion Close to Home
Who among us in our city and state are physically and/or emotionally weary? An easy situation involves the work each of are involved in on a daily basis. Husbands. Wives. Students. Lawyers. Childcare workers. Mothers. These are vocations the Lord has empowered us to accomplish to announce his kingdom, bring about healing, and silence darkness. At the same time, we must be able to recognize when those among us are in need to get to a desolate place, rest, and refresh. Our acts of compassion will require us to enter into another person's difficulty and say, "It is time for rest." A more difficult situation involves the use of physical force in order to enter into difficulty of family and friends. An often used statement are phrases such as "turn the other cheek" and " those who live by the sword will die by the sword." These two famous statements of an Ancient Near East Rabbi serve as instruction to gain the hearing of an enemy and an admonish of how a kingdom will be established. I argue what these statement\s do not infer is a pacifist approach in situations in which a family member's life is under severe threat. I enter into the apparent suffering of another individual when I perceive his or her life is threatened. While I may die by the sword the compassion involves me choosing to value life of an innocent individual. Ask any mother or father worth his or her salt as a parent and I believe we will hear words which convey compassion in order to protect his or her offspring.
Second, acts of compassion can not remain among our homogeneous groups or persons we have an affective relationships; compassion must extend to those like us. How much in need are these men and women?
It is here we are having difficulty right now. Our inability to enter compassionately into the lives of "others." It is very disconcerting this past week to see Christians make arguments against compassion. We begin with arguments which implicitly value American citizenry above Christian principle reflective of eternal citizenship. Second, we apply Old Testament text which were given to a covenant people-Israel-expecting a non-covenant government-America-to honor those text. Our American government is not a theocracy and under no obligation to obey those texts. Christians must offer and apply these texts of compassion first and primarily to ourselves. How will Christians who live in America act compassionately within local churches in our individual vocations? More specifically, to those in political office, you have the difficult challenge of executing your duties as an duly elected servant and your Christian principles. Elected officials are part of an entity designed with the purpose of protecting its citizens and use of the sword on evil. Therefore, if you are pro-life in matters of birth, "How does compassion influence your pro-life principles to address the current refugee discussion?" "How does compassion influence your responsibility to execute the sword in order to bring about justice?" To the larger Christian community, we must ask ourselves "Why are we appealing to establish a criteria first to carry out compassion when this is antithetical to the Gospel?"
Christians, Jesus did not cast judgment first when he demonstrated compassion. Jesus extended compassion through instruction for the soul and nourishment for the body. How can we go about living compassionately in our context and live as a prophetic voice which powerfully encourages all to be compassionate abroad?
Finally, I have this fear in one weeks time we will return to business as usual. We will use the immediate situation of Paris and by extension Syrian refugees as ideological footballs to be kicked around for a moment. We will pontificate on Facebook, Twitter, radio programs, and television for a moment, returning to "normal" life when its time to cut turkey and watch football. So I ask myself, do we as Christians truly have a significant grasp of what it means to live compassionately in the Church, America, and World. I am glad you changed your Facebook profile picture to the French flag but then what? When the refugee situation fades into to background there still will exist people in our context-homeless, orphans, abused, and others-still in need of persons who will enter into their suffering.
The Church-the people of God-stand on the other side of the resurrection. We are men and women empowered to see and act with compassion. As God entered into the suffering of humanity and reconciled humanity back to God through the cross, we now enter into the suffering of humanity because Christ has triumphed. He has made us alive because he is alive. Therefore, to live means being active and aware. It means being able to move into situations which are powerfully difficult and situations in which we will not completely understand.
I don't want to suffer alone. I am hoping someone will see me in a storm of emotional, physical, or spiritual distress and say, "I am coming to suffer with you because God in Christ showed compassion and suffered with me."
Let's go people of God. Let us move into difficult human experiences and be present. Let us join with some person, group, or ethnic group who needs to discern the presence of God in us and be his hands, his voice, his ears to act in a way which will have people declare, "I have seen the Lord!"