April 4, 2015

Darkness Before Dawn

Today is the dark day before the dawn breaks and we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is the day that most Christians forget because it is the day BETWEEN the day He was crucified and the day He rose from the dead. What happened today set the world on its end, and to forget the in between time, lessens the importance of the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection.

How often do we find ourselves stuck in this in between place? How often do we suffer, alone and in silence, in between events and circumstances? How often do friends and family's forget in between the crisis and the resolution of the crisis?

What we do in between times like these matter most because it is in the in between times that people suffer, that people feel most alone, unloved, and unwanted. Let me explain...

The "In Between"

I recently experienced this "in between" phenomenon. I can tell you that it hurts more to be forgotten then it does to be remembered one time out of ten. A friend of mine said it this way, when she too had experienced this "in between" stage of grief over the loss of her mother. Her mother had been ill with cancer for many years, and my friend, stood by her Mom through to the end. It was a difficult process for her to deal with the needs of her Mom all the while she took care of her own family. Yet, because of her great love for her Mom, she did it, and then the end came. Friends, family and peers/colleagues poured out their sympathy for her at her Mom's funeral. The week that followed, cards and letters arrived, all telling her about their deep love and concern for her and her family. Friends brought food, came over to sit and listen, to weep and to mourn. Then as the time passed, these friends slowly returned to their normal routine, their normal pattern of life. My friend, of course, was left with a huge hole in her heart, with the loss of her Mom, and with the process of grieving alone. Sure, she was married. Sure, her husband held her tight at night, and wiped away her tears. I am sure her siblings called her on the phone too, and they wept along side of her. But her friends, those people who said "I'll be there for you," well, they weren't there for her. The weeks passed by, then the months, and no one remembered her loss. No one saw the sadness in her face, the tears in her eyes. No one bothered to stop and ask her "how are you doing today?" And, if they did, they certainly didn't stop to listen as she shared how difficult her day was because after all, it had been a year since her Mom passed away. Surely, she was over the loss by now?

Grief and the heartache that goes along with it are experiences that are intensely personal and the time needed to process the loss are singularly unique to each person. No one knows how long it will take to "get over" someone's passing. No one can put a time limit on hurt.

Do I Even Exist?

The past two weeks, I have had my students study two major social issues in preparation for their last required essay. My students will be presenting a proposal that deals with a problem, and they will be arguing for a solution. The are serving as advocates, and they will be advocating change for a particular social need. The process involved in advocacy is similar to what my student's have done all semester long. They have looked at issues that had definitional and categorical problems as well as looking at the causes and effects of phenomena. Now, they must use the skills they have worked on all semester to propose a solution. In order to help them do this, I chose two major issues: poverty and homelessness. Both of these issues are wide-ranging and have multiple factors for causation. There is NO SOLUTION to the problem. There are many possible options to alleviate the suffering that goes along with poverty and homelessness, but there isn't a "one size fits all" solution.

My goal was to create awareness of the problem because for students often awareness is the only thing we can do when we are looking at major social issues. We can advocate for justice, for sure, but for many students, becoming aware of the problem is the first step in advocacy.

I try to use imagery and video testimony to help my students understand the importance of the issue. I try to persuade them with facts, and without putting on an political spin, I want them to see the problem through human eyes. After all, as Christians aren't we supposed to be the hands, the feet, and the eyes of the Lord? Oh, wait! We are only His hands and feet, so that means we can close our eyes to the poor, the homeless, and the marginalized because all that matters is what we do for them, not how we see them.

There are more than 100 verses in the Bible that address the believer's responsibility toward the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. We are given clear instruction on how we are to deal with the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Yet, when I bring up our responsibility to my students, I am met with blank stares. When asked what they think about helping a homeless person, they simply say they are "afraid" or they feel the person is "trying to rip them off." While I have no issues with either answer because in this day and age, the two go hand-in-hand. There are many people who are mentally unstable, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and who may become violent when approached or reproached. There are also many people who panhandle in order to make a living -- a good living -- I might add. Still, statistics tell us that nearly 85% of all homeless people are "temporarily" homeless. These are not your chronic homeless. These are men and women and children who have become homeless because they lost a job and cannot afford housing.

I show this picture to my students at the end of our week long study on homelessness. I ask them to tell me what the message is in the photograph. I ask them why the creator of the image feels this message needs to be communicated. Most of my students don't get it. They think the message is about homelessness when it is about human connection and compassion. The point of the photo is to admit that the person sitting on the street, panhandling, or begging for money is a person. They are a human being just like you and me. Sure, they are in dire straits, and they may be 100% responsible for their circumstances. Yet, they are just like you and me. They are people. They are human, and they are in need of our compassion.

Jesus said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Matthew 25:35). Moreover, Paul wrote to the church saying that we should be eager to care for the poor. James said that "pure and undefiled religion" was to look after the needs of the widow and the orphan.

I stress to my students that one of the strongest nonverbal communication signals we can give to another human being is to avoid eye contact. Eye contact sends an immediate message. It says "I see you, I recognize you as being alive." When we look away from a person or worse, look through them, we send a very strong message that says "You don't exist to me. You do not matter to me."

As I close out my week on homelessness, I run a video put out by the Phoenix Rescue Mission that discusses homelessness in the heat. I want my students to understand that being homeless is not a curse, it is a failure of our society, of our churches, to care for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. The Bible never tells us to question why a person is poor or to ask them how they got into the state they are in. Rather we are told to take care of the poor. No questions asked, we simply are to look after them. In the video, there is a man who says this:

"I feel like I have no worth. I am worth less than a bug on the street."

Here is a man who is homeless, hungry, and desperately in need of help. I don't know his story. I don't know how he ended up on the street or if it was his own fault. I just hear a man say that he has no worth, no value, no meaning. He doesn't matter. People do not care about him. He is alone, and he has no inherent value whatsoever.

This reminds me of my friend who is still grieving the loss of her mother. It has been over a year now. Shouldn't she be moving on? Shouldn't she be back to the "normalcy" of life?

Then I think about my own life, my own heartache, my own struggles. Does anyone see that I exist? Does anyone really care about me?

It is Finished

Yesterday was Good Friday. Our Lord went to the cross to die in order to save mankind from the penalty of sin and death. He was sinless, yet He took on the sins of the world so that we (all human beings) could be saved, could be restored and reconciled to a loving, but Holy God. We celebrate Easter, Resurrection Sunday, and we are joyful. We shout "He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!" We go home and we have turkey or ham. We play games, hunt for eggs, and generally enjoy time with family and friends. On Monday, we go back to work, back to the grind. We walk pass the homeless man or woman, the poor child, the mentally ill or disabled person. We put our sunglasses on, and we walk past them as though they don't exist.

I think to myself, "Didn't the Lord Jesus Christ die for that person too?"

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