Tag Archives: Community

Compassion and Nehemiah 3

There is no more important posture one needs, in rebuilding broken things, than compassion “a willingness to suffer” with those who languish under the weight of ruins. Suffering with another person is the willingness to enter into the mess and, with a Christ-like reverence for those whose lives are broken, being present with them in the reconstruction process. As Thomas Merton said in The Sign of Jonas of God’s compassion: “I am noisy, fully of the racket of my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there!”

The ministry of Young Life played an important role in my adolescent years. My local leader, Phil, served as a constant presence in my messy young existence. He shepherded me to three impactful weeks of summer camps, bravely sought me out for short conversations at school events, was willing to look like a fool week in and out performing skits and outdated pop-songs at our weekly club, and organized regular nerf-war games in his church fellowship halls on Saturday nights. I am confident that this kept us out of a lot of trouble we might have otherwise conjured up. I was a mess of a kid, emotionally and relationally. There was no more vivid symbol of this than my first camp experience. The night before departure, I came down with a wicked cold. I lost my voice and I became a flowing fountain of mucous. By the time we arrived at camp two days later, having sat and slept in a fifteen-passenger van, there were three Kleenex boxes worth of tissue-balls piled around me and scattered throughout the van. At Young Life camp, arriving in wild style is one of the most important aspects of the week. They pulled us immediately out of the van and took us on a clothes-soaking ride atop a giant intertube on the massive Minnesotan lake. Soaked, we were rushed off to a spectacular introduction to the rest of the camp grounds. I found out later that Phil spent a small portion of his free time that day gathering up the moist tissue balls to throw them away. I shudder. If anything, Phil resolved to suffer with me on the first leg of what would be a decisive week of my life. I’m sure this was only a small glimpse of the ways Phil suffered in those years for giving me a role model in return. Ruined as my house was, Phil lived with me there for a season.

Without compassion the kingdom of God cannot be established. We see another symbol of this reality in way Nehemiah chose to dwell among Jerusalem’s ruined house and rally together those there living in ruins. As told in Nehemiah 3, he catalyzed everyone as manual laborers, from the unlikely High Priest with his order to the Gibeonites who the author tells us had some relationship to those in charge of Judea. This means that there were tensions of authority inherent among these two groups. The author describes the complex community of co-laborers and their work in a counter-clockwise fashion, beginning at the sheep gate (near the temple) and ending at the little north-west portion of the wall that stood between the muster gate and the sheep gate. This mean that in that section the priests and the goldsmiths and merchants worked next to one another. Would that be true in our day as well. May professional Christians and business men somehow labor side by side. Some workers focused on the gates, while others performed epic restructuring of long stretches of the wall: “Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate; they rebuilt it and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the dung gate’ (3.13). Some worked in relatively common sections, while others worked near the palace and grave of David. People from all classes and tribes suffered together to rebuild Jerusalem. Only the nobles of Tekoa ‘would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord’ (3.5). Lord, let not our nobles be like Tekoan nobility. The author of Nehemiah gives us no sense in this chapter of discord or a sense of self-importance rising from one quarter or another. Almost all put their shoulders to work, and the picture is of great harmony as the psalmist celebrated, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity” (Psalm 133.1). With such concord, the community would be ready to take their stand against inevitable opposition, coming in the next chapter as a great cloud of sand.

Where Spirituality and Social Action Collide: Some Wisdom

First: The active life must be surrounded not with acts of devotion (we are often too busy for that).  The active life must be filled with the age old skill of listening to God in every circumstance that comes our way.  If we find ourselves in a season of dryness or depression as someone who is trying to make a difference, we approach the season itself as a gift from above and abandon ourselves anew to the higher power Who cares far more than we ever could.

Second, we pay attention to our limits.  We can over-express our call to join God in the dark places.  We trust that God will protect us as we join Him, though we also know that we cannot work along side God in every way.  We listen to the ways we have been uniquely made and led and gently but decisively press into limited areas of God’s broken but sacred creation.

Third, obedience is less about gritting-it-out especially when you don’t want to.  It is more about what originates in the hidden sanctuary and the guidance found there.  I used to hate the part of ministry where you had to approach somebody in the cold or worse write a card to him or her if they put their name on the attendance ledger that week.  I disingenuously did it anyway out of a lower sense of obedience.   Obedience as more of a faithfulness to our unique selves and what bubbles up from it.

Fourth, in social work, we often experience a God like impulse for care.  This can be very dangerous.  I put myself in a kingly role while you, poor you, are the recipient of my care.  This way disregards the hidden nobility in others and the texture of God’s kingdom that persistently reminds us of the spiritual riches we might find in the marginalized and physically destitute.  In reaction to this possible abuse of power, some throw the baby out with the bath water.  We must not crush the impulse to be God-like, we must reorient ourselves to God’s true self.  When we discover that God is a glory giver, not a glory grabber, we see that our most God-like moments will be filled with suffering and self-giving.

New Christan Lamentations Songs

All over the world today, Christian radio reaches workaday ears.   Whether folks are driving to their job, passing the day away in the shop, or enjoying a music-filled sunset on their friend’s porch, religious waves will find them.  My daughter calls them “God songs.” Recently, in my part of the world (the American Midwest), a trend of lamentation songs has washed across the station, all suggesting that we have ignored a portion of our people.  “Step out on a crowded street, see a girl and our eyes meet, does her best to smile at me to hide what’s underneath.  All these people going somewhere, why have I never cared.” Or another: “A traveler is far from home. He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row.  The weight of their judgmental glances tells him  that his chances are better out on his own.  If we are the Body, why aren’t his arms reaching. Why aren’t his hands healing? Why aren’t his words teaching?  And if we are the body, why aren’t his feet going? Why is his love not showing them there is a way?” And there are others.  In all of these songs the main voice paints a picture of a wounded or broken person and laments about our inaction.  And in the case of this last song, the main character wonders why.  Why is there a whole population of people out there who the privileged refuse to see?  The implicit answer: perhaps there is something suspect about our motivations.  Maybe there’s something flawed with our inspiration. But what is it?

Global Community Development

In a wounded and globalized world, our hope rests not on the skills of world leaders but on the heart of its 5.9 billion people. Where it is no longer possible to avoid boundaries of race, ethnicity, class, gender and where the inhabitants of this earth lie bloodied in the ditches of injustice, we need masses of humans who can move beyond a mere respectful lack of engagement to a reverential and intentional willingness to call forth the hidden nobility in every person one meets.

This is my occupation. Right now, I actually get paid to do Global Community Development.  Most days are not so vibrant. But there are moments when the European American woman rocks the small boy from Benin asleep as his parents work side by side serving the local community. And then I know that the future is upon us.

The story of the Samaritan, taken from Jesus’ ancient parable, tells of an integrated heart that exerts compassion and justness, action and peaceability. In fact, as the literature of Early Christianity suggests, the Samaritan’s Heart is Jesus’ heart. The final words of his parable include a call to ‘go and do likewise”. Jesus knew that the future of the world would rest on integrated hearts. If we hope for a world where brown and white skinned brothers and sisters walk hand in hand in the massive parks of our flourishing cities, we their grandparents must open our hearts to become Samaritan Hearts. We need to fill this broken world full of faith, hope, and love. Read on in this blog for some guiding lessons I have learned along the way.