I’ve been in tension around enabling/dignity violations/justice/compassion issues for a long time. I have worked for years among those experiencing homelessness. I have seen countless groups come to downtown Atlanta, pass out sandwiches, or make a documentary about “Justice for the Homeless” and feel good about themselves, as they pulled away in their church vans or went back to their private college to pursue their degree in sociology. I have seen government programs keep people from working or living their best, because the threat of making over $500 a month would dismiss the $747 benefits they were receiving from Social Security for their disability. I have seen families push fathers out of the house, because if the Housing Authority knew their was a single man living with a woman, she and her children might lose their home. Charity givers, and Do-gooders, wield so much power in our society. How is that power used?And then, I have seen a more excellent way.
I have watched people care for those by just being a friend. Perhaps the most dignified way. What ways have you seen that are MORE excellent?
Some forms of charity (Many of which I have participated in an my christian zeal) not only come from an imperialistic/colonial perspective- pushing oppressed people with a power-down or hierarchical approach, but ultimately rob others of dignity and create a sustainable “neediness” that does not empower. This enables dependents to keep on depending.
Depending on the Baptist Church to preach to them every week so they might receive a sandwich. Or
Depending on Uncle Sam to give them a house.
Depending on American Youth Groups to come do a week of evangelism and save the brown people, so the national pastor can hopefully ask that American Church for money to build a wall.
Often, this “I know Best” pedantic heroism baptized in our faulty understanding of the Great Commission births beggars. It’s not Justice or Righteousness to continue oppressing a marginalized people to see liberation as hand-outs or worse, what we think they should do for a “hand-up.”
Everyone has something to contribute.
Everyone holds wisdom.
Everyone can work or create.
Everyone can bring something to the table.
Did you see Jesus in those that the world marginalized? (Matthew 25:31-46) Those they call the “least of these?” Jesus may need a cup of water. So give it to him or her if s/he is thirsty. But did you also bow down in front of Jesus and ask for a parable, wisdom, or healing. I suppose it’s easier to give a “project” or “object” a sandwich or visit a “needy” person when they are sick. I know it has been for me. BUT what, if I saw the IMAGE of GOD in front of me. What if I treated that person as if they were the living Christ.
In Eucharist, or communion, we see the great equalizer. We all gather around a table. We all can bring either a tablespoon of garlic or a strip of chicken to a potluck. Granted, some of us bring ambrosia or Swedish meatballs, but everyone brings something. This common meal approach could so benefit the way we do activism, advocacy, and charity. Paul rebukes the rich Christians in Chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians about getting drunk and eating to their hearts delight and not sharing with others. He challenges them to probe their hearts. They have missed the point of communion or eucharist. It’s to share and contribute with all.
In a similar vain, those who steal are commanded no longer to do so, (Ephesians 4:28) but rather to work so they might have something to share with the poor. And later another rebuke comes, that if one does not work, one does not eat- but wait read it it context. (2 Thes. 3:10)
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you [f]keep away from every brother who [g]leads an [h]unruly life and not according to the tradition which [i]you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to [j]follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat [k]anyone’s bread [l]without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would [m]follow our example.10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
This scripture probably doesn’t mean what I thought it did. However, it does point to unity, and not taking advantage of other Christian’s hard work.
So what about Eucharist/Communion as a framework?
There’s been much written about Eucharist and communion, by far smarter people than me. So read up on their thoughts about it. We know about the symbolism, the togetherness, the unity, the oneness. What if we practiced this in our framework?
These meals are to be common. We are to share. (And no, the government doesn’t force us to do so, nor does the church guilt us to do so, but we give from a cheerful heart.)
Sometimes our Justice work can seem very colonial like. A few social justice warriors screaming about the issues on *behalf* of a marginalized people group. What is a better way to do this? It reminds me of the whole straight ally controversy that darted around our circles years ago or currently the raging social media wars around race and refugees. I think there is a way for everyone to contribute. I am no expert on activism- ask someone else. But, I often wonder how individuals must feel when our service objectifies them instead of asking them for wisdom and leadership.
In Eucharistic fashion, we share together from our work and our talents. It’s not about a few controlling the resources of others, its not about one person having all the wisdom, and its not about beggars remaining on benevolence.
There is a forward motion- a togetherness- that propels everyone to work, and everyone to contribute. Everyone becomes a part of God’s family. There are no longer society driven separations. Diversity, yes- but no separations of Greek and Hebrew, Rich and Poor, Male and Female. The evil systems that drove an empire to exclude creep up inside churches and even *progressive churches* from time to time.
It is in the table of Christ, a radically subversive view takes place. A melting pot. A shared meal. Everyone is dignified. Everyone can serve. Everyone can be a priest. Everyone can be salt and light.
Everyone has something to give!
How does that impact the way I do charity, advocacy, and activism?
What do you think?