I had a dinner conversation the other day with some insightful, delightful people who asked about the trip to South Africa, what its highlights and challenges were, and what it's meant to me. It's always an interesting question, when someone asks how the trip was — to say “good” seems insufficient, and in some ways I'm still figuring out what it means and how that is evolving, even as I'm becoming more aware that it is changing somehow. That became especially clear when one of the hosts said to me, “I read the blog of your trip. Are you still angry?
This was one of those God-moments that casts your gaze inward, when in the considering you learn about yourself and what the Lord has been up to. I won't be able to recreate exactly what I answered, but it was (I think!) something like, “It's certainly changing, and in process. I'm not feeling the same way, because those posts were pretty raw. It seems to be turning into something more like a compulsion to ask important questions.”
As faithful followers of Jesus, there are times when anger is the only appropriate response to the presence and effect of evil. Jesus showed it himself in the Temple, tossing tables and brandishing a crude whip. His anger, though, is systemic — he despised what the sacrificial system had become, and most especially what it did to the poor and powerless in the Temple's hierarchy.
We ought to have that kind of anger as his followers, anger at how people can be unheralded and unnoticed by our culture and our society. That kind of systemic anger, anger at the broken system that surrounds us and how it resists change, I think is appropriate and faithful. I think of our elderly treasures, sometimes sitting ignored by family, and how we've lost the reverence for the wisdom of family stories. I think of our preteens and teenagers, already bombarded with sexualized expectations for beauty and build (have you seen those magazine covers for teenagers lately??). I think of our children, who are being targeted by advertisers as young as 4 and 5 years old. The system in which we live is failing them, and you and me, too.
What I experienced in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu was a stark reminder that our world is not the kingdom of heaven. The brokenness of our world isn't abstract, it has the face of beautiful children, lonely teens, desperate women. And that same brokenness traps me, too, just not in the same ways. You reading this blog are trapped, because broken systems trap us all, even those who seemingly benefit from them.
But the real question for us as followers of Jesus is, once we've noticed brokenness, once our heart's been moved with the Lord's compassion, now what? You who have been reading this blog with me have asked that, and I've asked myself, too — what do we, what can we, what ought we, do?
I think we might begin together at two different levels. First, our hearts should go around the world, because that's what God loves. And there are places in this world where need and suffering is more acute than you and I can hardly imagine. Find an outlet for your compassion that makes a difference. For Amy and myself, besides our tithe we've been supporting an organization called “2,000 Wishes” for a number of years, together with my parents and aunt and uncle and several others in my family. 2,000 Wishes sets up and supplies feeding stations for orphan children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Amy and I periodically turn to each other and say, “Let's feed some more orphans.” We've also just committed ourselves to supporting a child through Compassion International, because that's where our heart and our passions led us. Find a way that sharing your blessings can make a difference — tithe to your church, give away more. Sharing blessings makes a difference.
And second, let's do something together right here at home. While the slums of Rio or Khayelitsha present poverty at its most potent, we also have the poor right here in South Bend, in Valparaiso, in Chicago and Indianapolis and yes, even Baroda, MI. There are hungry children in our own neighborhoods, elderly men and women despairing in loneliness right next door, desperate teenagers right around the corner. We know that, but we probably don't know them. Perhaps that's a place to start? What if each of us, you and me, made an effort this holiday season to get to know someone outside our comfort zone? To meet them with an expectation of learning from them, and praying to see them through God's eyes? What would that be like as a first step?
At the close of our final session, one of my colleagues on the trip to South Africa talked about “doing the next right thing, with courage.” Small things, blessed by the Spirit, make a difference — that's what our shared history with God shows us over and over.