On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

March 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.

Advertisements

Permalink 7 Comments

On unglamorous redemption

November 14, 2011 at 3:07 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , )

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself standing in front of a heap of rubble – the burnt out remains of a once thriving garment factory in Camden, New Jersey. Recently classified as “the most dangerous city” in America – based on crime data in 6 categories (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft) – Camden is one of the many left-behind cities of America; literally burning up amidst poverty, high rates of unemployment, low graduation rates, crime, gangs, abandoned properties and extremely high levels of ground and water-source pollution. This neighborhood shares much of the same sociological pedigree as Kensington. This was once a thriving site of construction and manufacturing, with neighborhoods built up around factories so workers could walk to work. The collapse of that system of life is evident throughout these streets. Slowly manufacturing moved out of this neighborhood, becoming globalised as wages became ever cheaper with production outsourced to third-world countries. Left in the wake of this exodus of production was the waste of years of noxious chemicals and pollutants, which have seeped into the groundwater and stripped the land so that little grows here. Those with the social mobility to move out of Camden did so, leaving behind the poorest with none of the social support systems to raise them up. Standing in a neighborhood with nothing left to attract corporate America, a community filled with all the waste of the American dream and none of the means for its actualization, I picked up a piece of brick from the now desolate factory and placed it in my pocket – a reminder, a memorial.

“Exegesis”, from the Greek “to lead out”: a critical examination and interpretation of, usually, a text, including investigation into the history and origins of the text, and study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience.

As we “exegete our neighborhoods” and our worlds, it is easy to become disillusioned and throw our hands into the air crying out “there is no hope”. But acquiescing to the desolation in our world denies the possibility of its redemption. If we sit back, overwhelmed by the social issues and their antecedents which we see all around us, we are saying redemption has no power, no hope. It is void. We cannot afford to deny redemption in our worlds since doing so denies its power in our lives. If we cannot hope for redemption in our streets we cannot hope for its work in our selves.

I don’t think many of us who have experienced this redemption would deny its work; rather, I think the answer lies in something Chris Haw said as he stood by the riverside talking of this place he calls home. In response to someone’s question of “What can be done?” he replied, “There are a thousand things that can be done, but none of them are sexy.”  There is little in the process of redemption that is glamorous or sexy or even attractive. But then again, neither was the act of redemption itself particularly glamorous, sexy or attractive. We hope for hope which looks like hope – bright-eyed and optimistic, happy-go-lucky and idealistic. Often the hope we get is the one which raises tired eyes and heads from the routine and repetition, and the messiness of human relationships and forces itself to look to the hills, from whence our help comes from. This hope is often unglamorous. It is tied in with shopping for groceries, and sweeping up trash only to have it reappear a few hours later. The redemptive process is undoubtedly restorative and powerful and can change our worlds even as it transforms our lives. It is the essence of our re-imagining. But it is process. Day in and day out. And it is rarely sexy.

“Christians get allured by the extraordinary: in mission, ministry, and witness the pull seems to be away from the ordinary towards the new, the exciting and the innovative. But maybe the real challenge of our times is to learn to affirm the ordinary things very deeply, doing our church and our theology and our praying whilst deeply engaged with these basic building blocks of life. This is a call for us to deal with the mundane things in our lives, but it is not a calling to dullness -it’s about discovering new possibilities of being creative, with the ordinary things of life.” (John Davies)

Permalink 2 Comments

On bearing one another’s burdens

February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , )

So I have been reading Generous Justice (Tim Keller)  and really just been challenged by this one section on the Good Samaritan. I will copy it out here:

“Another objection [to the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor] comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone” you usually mean “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Bibilical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . .If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not likely to be releived, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”(Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p. 70)

I feel quite convicted by this. Two other scriptures spring to mind:  “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality…” (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I know many many times I have said to beggars at street corners, Big Issue sellers, car guards, and street children, “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything.” or “I don’t have anything today.” Those are lies. Because I do have; but the truth is in those times I cannot give without taking a hit myself – without burdening myself and cutting in to how I live.

The really hard-hitting thing is that when there have been brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, even friends, who I KNOW are in a tough spot or are really struggling, I have used the exact same rationalisation. I have not helped because doing so would burden me and cut into my tight finances. I have given when I have had excess, but really, how often have I given when doing so would have meant me sharing their burdens?

Permalink 42 Comments

on catching rides on dark nights

June 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

and other stuff.

I generally don’t stop for hitchhikers. Brett and I picked up a guy on our way back from J-Bay to Knysna one night on our honeymoon. His name was Ray and flip he had a hectic story… just the week before, while driving home from Grahamstown festival he was hijacked by some guys asking for directions, tried to escape and ran his car off the road and lost control, had a gun put to his head, and ended up literally running for his life! Turns out he used to go to a church in Knysna and knew the pastor who brett knew also. We prayed with him and he offered us a place to stay anytime we are next in the area.

So as a rule I don’t often stop for hitchhikers, but I have recently started stopping when I see a girl walking along the road at night alone. This happens a lot in Stellenbosch and while none of them have taken me up on offer for a lift yet, I will keep asking.

Last night at 11pm I was driving along Tokai Main Road on my way home to Stell. I saw four young girls (all under sixteen) running along the side of the road. They were dressed pretty scantily. I pulled over and asked them where they were going and when they said “just down the road”, I told them to cross the road and get in the car and I would drive them. Which they did. We drove a way down, took a right, and into a dark hardly lit neighborhood, passing a lonely park, and then down to some house. I dropped them off and waited, surprised that they didn’t ring the bell. One girl came back to say they were fine and I could leave since their parents were coming in 15 minutes. I said I would wait. I ended up following them as they walked to the next party, where I handed them over to the mother in charge there. I also told them they were incredibly stupid.

The point is this: I think more people need to take more responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of other people. Those four girls were in an incredibly stupid and dangerous situation and I cannot imagine if I had driven past them and read in the papers this morning that they had gone missing or something had happened to them. So i took the time out of my night, went out of my way, and made sure they were safe – way beyond what it was even reasonably my “responsibility” to do.

I generally don’t give lifts to men ever. Except for one night after theatresports in kalk bay where I offered the car guard a lift back to retreat. He works everynight in Kalk Bay, taking hours to walk to work and back in the early hours of the morning. He earns, on a good night, 50rand. Giving him a lift was a tiny thing I was able to do for him.

I know a lot of people will think this is stupid. Maybe it is. I have a couple of rules about offering people lifts – little things that I think minimise the risk of things going bad. 1. I generally don’t give men a lift at any time of the day or night. 2. I generally don’t give more than 1 person a lift at a time so that there isn’t someone sitting behind me where I can’t see them and where I have no control and am outnumbered. 3. I generally don’t give lifts on lonely roads, at night, or to areas I don’t know. 4. I always let Brett know when I am thinking of giving someone a lift or if someone is in my car. I tell him what kind of person it is, where I am, where we are going and how long it will take approximately. I think calling him is a good idea so that the person hears that I am telling someone who knows where I am.

It’s a really little thing to be able to do for someone. Whether it’s someone desperately trying to get to work on time when the trains are on strike so that they don’t lose their job. Or four stupid little girls who are completely naive and oblivious to how unwise they are being. Or some guy who works longer hours than you do earning what you probably earn in an hour. Or a mother walking with her kids in the rain back from school. Cos yes, there are bad folk out there but there are a lot more good folk who are genuinely just in need of a lift or someone to be watching their back. So take the precautions, definitely. Don’t be unwise. If you are christian, be extra sensitive to the Spirit. Tell someone what you are doing. Pray. But let’s start looking out for people more….

Permalink 4 Comments

%d bloggers like this: