April 2018

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Really Deep

When I was teaching junior high school students in American studies, one students asked me, "Why do  you always answer a question with a question?" I hadn't realized that I did this, and I asked the student, "Why do you think I do that?" She rolled her eyes and said, "See!" I laughed as though I were being clever, but really I was just doing what I apparently always did, answering a question with a question.

Today in church I noticed that I had internalized the WWJD (What would Jesus do) mantra of the time. Jesus responded to questions with questions, too.

In Luke 10, for example, an expert of the Law asks Jesus, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?" and Jesus answers, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" I've mostly heard that Jesus was clever at getting out of a trap, but really, he's just being a teacher, a really good one as he answers a question with not one but two questions.

Later the expert of the Law presses, "And just who is my neighbor?" Using another teaching technique that I also used, Jesus answered with a story (thus proving that he was indeed a Southerner) about a man who's hurt on the side of the road and two religious men who pass him by and the third, a Samaritan, who cares for him. A good teacher, Jesus follows his story with a question, "Which of these three, in your opinion, was the neighbor to the traveler who fell in with the robbers?"

Our pastor Karla picked up on the Southern theme as she reflected on another Biblical Southerner, the prophet Amos, who preached to the northerners, the Yankees of his time and place. "He was a brave Southern man preaching to a reluctant Northern crowd." (I'm pretty sure her message was that Southern hicks--her word, not mine--are Yankees' neighbors, too.)

In this reflection on "Who is my neighbor?" Karla was thinking especially about Salvadorans she met recently in Guarjila, a rural Salvadoran town with which our church has a sister relationship. In the reflection, she challenged us to think about who we see as our neighbors in this time when the gap between rich and poor is getting "deeper....wider." I usually hear that the gap is getting wider, but I appreciate this new image of the gap getting deeper. 

After all, I can walk easily across a wide field that separates me from my neighbor, but crossing a deep cravasse is harder to imagine. The image reminds me that crossing over that gap requires not just a little effort, but some tools and ways of thinking that I don't now possess. 

After the sermon and some prayers, we sang the hymn, "Help Us Accept Each Other," and I was particularly drawn to the line, "Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some, to love them as we find them, or as they may become."

The line and Karla's reflection called to mind another group of people who I do not always recognize as my neighbor: the most down and out drug addicts whose lives are described in a book by a doctor who worked with a drug-addicted community in Vancouver, BC. (The book is In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and I recommend it if you're up for an intense non-fiction read.)

The doctor reflects on his role and the philosophy of the group with whom he works to serve the people he meets as they are, helping to ease their lives rather than trying to change them. As he tells some of their stories of physical and sexual abuse, of abandonment and violence, he asks who he is to judge them, to think that he knows a better way for them to deal with the trauma of their lives than drug use. 

Is there a better way? It's a good question. I also have a friend who was similarly abused and yet has overcome her alcoholism, and I think that she is more whole than the people about whom I am reading. Is it honoring them to let them live their lives as they do, or is it giving up on them? I'm not sure.

The question calls to mind for me Mother Theresa's comment, "If you want to work for the poor, live with the poor."

In choosing to work among this community of people living with addictions--many in addition to mental illness, PTSD, debilitating diseases like AIDS...--the good doctor has chosen to live among the people he serves...or at least to work among them; he actually lives in another neighborhood.

How can I judge anyone whose life I have not lived? It is too easy to say that I cannot, since I do judge adults, for example, who violate children. 

Perhaps the better question is, "Who is my neighbor?" If my neighbor is really among the least of these, and I believe my neighbor is, then there are too many of my neighbors in this world that I do not know, and thus their concerns are not as urgent to me as they would be otherwise. 

But I cannot know everyone's story, so what I am to do? That's the question I'll leave you with today. Maybe you'll respond. That would be great. Then maybe both you and I can learn something from this.

Teacher Mary

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