Sunday, August 31, 2008

Where is the Church?

A lot of conversation has begun of late over the socialization of our society. With the election fast approaching and one of the major tenets of one of the candidates being seemingly "socialized medicine" I felt it prudent to address a cause for concern that has crept up in society over the last several decades. Namely, the disengagement of the Church from social responsibility.

Now, when I say social responsibility, I am not just talking about whether the Church should care about greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, crime and the like (though I think they should). No, I'm talking about the Church's imperative to look after "the least of these." Very clearly throughout the Old AND New Testaments (for those that believe the NT to be all that matters) the Bible outlines that we are to love the Lord and in so doing love those around us. I don't believe this to be in an "I love you and will thus speak high-mindedly to you about what that love means" type of way. No, I think this is the hands on, experiential kind of love that causes you to eat with beggars, commune regularly with "sinners," and find yourself in the company of those "less desirables" that are a regular (albeit regularly overlooked) part of all of our lives. I'm talking about shaking up the "American Dream" that so many of us (myself included) have adopted as God's obvious vision for our lives. We were obviously destined for a life of lavish comfort and contentment because God wants us to prosper until our 401Ks, Roth IRAs and pension plans overflow with milk and money. But is this really what it's about?

Yes, "a wise man leaves an inheritance to his children's children," but if all we have to leave behind is an ever increasing reliance on stuff given value by how much other people want said stuff, how worthwhile is the inheritance? How worthwhile is it to gain the whole world and lose your (or your neighbor's, or the prostitute hooking to feed her kids, or the displaced vet on the corner's) soul?

Now don't get me wrong, I believe in the power of a hard day's work, of the ability of the interminable human spirit to rise above adversity and succeed against all odds, and of God to give us strength to face any and all obstacles. But does that then absolve US of the responsibility to reach out to help those whose struggles seem a little too difficult for them to bear? Does that give us the right to automatically assume that person X's struggle is because of factors they CAN overwhelmingly control? Does that mean we are not called to help because they should have just worked harder? I'd dare say not.

I am the product of a loving union between a philanthropist/preacher father and a community activist turned bank vice president turned teacher mother. Raised in a middle class home in a middle class neighborhood bordered by the ghetto (gunshots and sirens were occasionally my lullabies). They were married and in love until his passing in 1999. I have a college education, skills beyond my years (some say), and an ability to face and overcome adversity. But I've been homeless. I've been steps away from living on the street, having no job (though I tried desperately to get one), no car, and no money. Was I lazy? Did I not work hard enough? Did I mess up and therefore deserve the life I found myself in? I'd venture to say no. I'd venture to say that sometimes life, in its imperfect, fallen state, deals you hands that you neither want nor expect. Hands you can do nothing to stop and can only play as best you know how. Sometimes, life's just shitty. And sometimes, no one around you can ever truly know (though they may assume- as some of my "friends" did) why you are where you are. Sometimes, the best they can do is pray (always a good start) and offer plates of food, a couch or warm bed to sleep on/in, occasional work where they have it, and understanding...lots of understanding. Because it's humbling to be despondent, humiliating to ask for help when by all accounts you shouldn't need it. It hurts to be weak or in need. But that's where the Church is supposed to be focusing our attention- on the hurting and the needy. We are to pursue the "pure and undefiled religion" of James 1:27 and do so without judgement or assumption of the guilt or innocence of those to whom we extend mercy and grace.

But we don't. Instead, we become internally focused, spending our days worshipping and seeking after "God the provider," often forgetting that we are the hands of that same God to provide for the less fortunate around us. We want our house, our car(s), our happiness and to hell with the poor schlub who can't make his own stars align. We don't believe it is the world or the government's responsibility to provide for those disenfranchised around us. And it's not- it's ours and we've- no, I've been- sleeping at the wheel for far too long. We don't want the government providing aid to those who "can" work for themselves. Great, then let's do more than talk about the problem around our watercoolers before returning to our cushioned desk chairs in our air conditioned offices. Let's do more than look at the rate of homelessness in our cities while we shake our heads. Let's be better than those that blame the pregnant teenager, crackhead, drug dealer, and hooker for their plights while offering no alternative to a repressive socio-economic and psychological system into which they were born. Because make no mistake, where you're raised has EVERYTHING to do with what opportunities you believe you have. It's not the job of the government to fix the ills of society, it's ours, the Church's. But what happens when we're not stepping up? Who's left to carry the weight left behind by our selfishness and introversion? We're His hands and feet, and the government is an extension of the people, even the people of God, and where we fail, someone's got to make up the difference. Someone's got to do OUR job for us.

But what if they didn't? What if we rose to the James 1:27 challenge (for that's what it is) and met the needs of society- not just preaching *at* them but showing love *to* them. What could we change?
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1 comment:

Mark Burleson said...

I agree that it is the church's job to take care of those around us. I believe it is the people's job to take care of those around them..

Though I understand where you are going with if the Church doesn't step up, maybe the government should, but I guess the question needed asked, is at what cost?

Not just fiscal, but control? At what cost do we do things for the "greater good?" How do we control and check the socialization of our nation? IN the name of the greater good, they are about to remove 400 trailer homes in BA. That is a socialist ideal. That bothers me.

How can we be sure that the government is going to do a better job anyway? If they aren't doing a good job, what choices do I have to pull my monies how to manage them better?

So many questions that must be answered before I can ever sport a socialist government plan.