October 24, 2018
I guess you could say this is a bit of a blog makeover or reboot. I haven’t written much lately. It’s been one of those items on my to-do list that keeps getting continued on to the next list. I’ll get to it later, I think. Now’s not a good time to post anything, I reason. When I have more time to think through, really think through, what I want to write, I’ll do it then.
Months have passed. Is it ever a good time to post anything, really? There’s always something going on somewhere that affects somebody. It’s not about having the time; it’s about making the time.
So here I sit. Planning to write now, determined that it’s an okay-enough time and that I can make time to be creative. Years ago it may have been an array of crumpled papers finding themselves in (or around) the trash can. Now, it’s a blinking cursor and a lot of backspacing.
A coworker encouraged me to come up with a name for the blog and I finally did that: Missional Musings. Apparently I like alliteration, as I was trying to find words to either go with my name or missions or serving… Besides, I really like the word “musings.”
What might be the purpose of Missional Musings, you wonder? I think the best ways I can describe it are to speak the truth in love, to move beyond our assumptions or initial reactions, to challenge our perspective and maybe, just maybe, try to see the world a little more closely to how Jesus would. At least that’s what I try to do in my ministry and my life. I’m not always successful, but it helps ground me in most situations.
I was at a conference recently and that morning had a memory reminder pop up on my Facebook feed that was a quote from a book that I love and really challenged me to think through the way we serve others while still honoring their dignity. I reshared it, because it was so good. That very day, during one of the breakout sessions, I was shocked to see the author of that book was in attendance. I’m not one to go up to people and strike up an unprompted conversation, but I had to share with her what an impact her book had on me. It was one of those really cool experiences, and it felt good to be able to tell someone what a difference they made, not only in my life, but hopefully in the lives of those we work with – our neighbors and the folks who come here to serve.
This was the quote:
There is a great need for a deeper understanding of the paralyzing effect long term poverty has on people. Even highly educated and experienced people can miss the point when dealing with people who are struggling with impoverishment. Though fraudulent people come in every walk of life, most people of poverty do not want a hand out. They are tired of the shame. But finding a way out of this dark pit can be overwhelming. Again, building relationships with people and encouraging them to recognize their strengths is the beginning to building self-sufficiency. -Nora Stanger, Diamonds in the Dew, An Appalachian Experience, 49.
I’ll just lay it out here: I see and hear so many comments about people who “abuse the system,” and while I don’t deny that there are people out there who aren’t truthful, my heart breaks when this seems to be the first reaction to someone receiving help.
Research shows that individuals aren’t living in poverty just because of bad choices or decisions they’ve made. It’s not a “simple” matter of being lazy. There are so many factors, some of them being choices and behaviors of the individual, but many of them are actually related to political and economic structures, and human exploitation, such as predatory lending or discrimination.
Yet, we often blame people for the situations they are in, and not just with socioeconomic status. Victims of domestic violence are often blamed for choosing the wrong person or staying in such a relationship. Those struggling with addiction are often blamed for choosing the substance over their family or for taking that drug in the first place. It goes
on and on. I’m not saying that people aren’t responsible for their choices, but we all make crummy decisions, we’ve all done something we probably shouldn’t have, we’ve all probably been wronged in some way. So why is it we’re quick to throw blame at certain people, especially anyone who could be considered “the other” (those who we think are not like us)? That blame leads to shame, which compounds the situation.
Have you ever had to ask for help? It can be demeaning and embarrassing, especially when you imagine (maybe rightly so) that people are judging you for the situation in which you find yourself. I once had to ask for help in a certain situation, one that wasn’t my own doing, but one that I blamed myself for “allowing” to happen (as if it was somehow my fault that I was going through this horrible thing). I think about the reaction of different people – sadly, some who were in the very position to help in said situation responded with the most judgment of all. Some who I think were really trying to be helpful were asking questions and saying things that really weren’t helpful at all. Others though, responded with kindness and listening ears. They weren’t trying to “fix” the situation, they were simply trying to help. Instead of shaming and blaming, they were helping me in that moment, not only with the immediate need, but with encouragement, hope and support.
People aren’t items to be fixed, they are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter where they are in life. Oftentimes I think our desire to fix comes out of the best intentions and from the most caring hearts. We want to help, we want folks to have a better quality of life. Yet, when we take away someone’s power or voice because we “know better” what they need, we’re stripping them of their dignity and adding into the vicious cycles that keep people paralyzed.
What does this look like in my own life? I try not to assume I understand what someone else is going through. I try not to imagine I know all the answers. I try not to “fix” other people, although I will take a stand to speak out against injustice or wrongs. The systems and the processes can be fixed. People should be loved and encouraged, even when they feel like they are struggling to find a way out of the dark pit of poverty, abuse, substance us, or whatever it is. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just be there to listen, to support, and to encourage. The dark pit can be a horrible place, but it’s not as dark when there’s someone walking beside you.
This is really the driving force behind the ministry we do – walking alongside our neighbor. It’s in those moments of walking alongside our neighbors, those times when we help in the moment, when the words of encouragement and support are offered, when we offer hope, that the light of Christ shines through us brightly.