Friday, November 20, 2015

Fight the Good Fight

Whether it appears to be God's battle or ours, one thing's for sure: we are a civilization of trained fighters. The question is whether or not we're fighting the good fight.

Hint: we're not.

Because somewhere along the way, we've changed what we're fighting for. Today, everything we're fighting - whether we're fighting for or against - is a 'cause.' And heaven forbid we complicate that cause with actual people.

Around this time every year, commercials start to show up highlighting some of the social issues we're facing. They're meant to evoke action, but the action is entirely impersonal. 

Someone will no doubt show us the dirty, disheveled face of the homeless man as he sits near his makeshift home with tattered gloves and no shoes. This, they'll tell us, is the "face of homelessness," as though homelessness was the biggest heartbreak in this whole picture. No. The heartbreak is this man. And he's not the "face of homelessness." He's Bill. He's a real human being, with a real story. Ask him about it. 

But we won't. We'll write a check to the homeless mission, maybe gather up a small number of new gloves or something and donate them to a shelter, and then we'll pat ourselves on the backs for doing "something" about "homelessness." Which is great, I guess. But what about Bill? Maybe you've helped him; maybe you haven't. Maybe, if he feels like walking across town to the mission today and standing in line and judging his own condition against the condition of the other homeless men who are praying for a new set of gloves this winter, maybe, just maybe, he might be given a pair. Or maybe you'll see Bill again next year when he's still the "face of homelessness." 

Or maybe, you'll never see Bill again at all. The anonymity with which he dies proves that for as many people as saw his face this season, no one saw him.

Or they'll show us the photos of families who just don't have enough this season - don't have enough to put presents under the tree for their children. Don't even have enough for a tree. This, they'll tell us, is the "face of poverty," as though poverty was the biggest heartbreak here. No. The heartbreak is this single mother. And she's not the "face of poverty." She's Rebecca. She's a real human being, with a real story. Ask her about it. 

But we won't. We'll drop a few coins in a red kettle somewhere, maybe buy a new toy (but not an "expensive" new toy) and give it to the local charity program. Then we'll pat ourselves on the back for doing "something" about "poverty." Which is great, I guess. But what about Rebecca? Maybe you've helped her; maybe you haven't. Maybe, if she can get an hour or so off her second job to go down to the toy distribution, to stand in line, to pick through the piles of whatever toys are left, maybe she'll come up with something for her kids for Christmas. Or maybe someone will be kind enough to do this "shopping" for her and just dump a bunch of presents on her doorstep one morning so that her kids, at least, believe in Santa Claus, even if they don't believe in her. Or maybe she'll just go to work today the same way she does every day, at her less-than-minimum-wage waitress job, which she works only after a long first shift at the factory, and you'll give her the smallest possible tip, if any tip at all, because she "seemed tired" and "wasn't very engaging" as a waitress. 

Or maybe next year, Rebecca and her kids will be the "face of homelessness." 

Or they'll show us pictures of matted, dirty puppies while Sarah McLachlan sings heartbreaking songs....

This is what I love, particularly at this time of year, about being a Christian. Christians do some of this, too, of course, but there are an amazing number of Christian organizations who refuse to let people become causes. They'll show you heartbreaking pictures of children in foreign countries who don't have even their most basic needs met, but then they'll connect you with just one of those children. And you get to exchange letters with them, you receive pictures of this child, you get to establish at least a long-distance relationship with him or her and know exactly how your generous giving is impacting that child's life.

Or they'll tell you about a village where mothers have to walk four hours each way just to draw relatively safe drinking water for their children, and they'll invite you to help them build a well. Then they'll show you pictures of not just the building of that well, but of the local villagers enjoying their new water. You'll hear testimony from the women about what a blessing this well is, and you'll know that your generous donation had a real impact.

Or they'll invite you to pack a shoe box for a child this Christmas, a child somewhere in the world who doesn't know what Christmas even means. They'll throw in a Bible or some material about Jesus for you and whether you choose which country your box goes to or not, they will show you pictures of the delivery. They'll plaster social media with the smiles of children receiving their Christmas boxes, children who are coming to believe not in Santa Claus, but in Jesus. Because of you. 

I love the way we do this as Christians. Because it's so easy in our culture to do it the other way.

It's so easy to get caught up in causes, to be laboring over the "issues" of our time. It's so easy to be bombarded by the "faces" and neglect the stories. It's so easy to look right past the people. 

But Jesus never looked past anyone. He never got caught up in causes; He caught people up in His grace. Jesus never gave money to the "Shelter for the Demon-Possessed." No. He met them in the streets and set them free. He never sent a few token gifts to the "Hungry on the Hillside." No. He broke His very bread and shared it with them. He didn't spend His time blindly mailing out tracts to those who had never heard of Jesus. No. He put His feet to the dirt and walked around meeting them. Because He understood what it's so easy for us to forget: these aren't issues. And they aren't just faces.

They're real human beings. With real stories. Ask them about it.

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