I don’t want to bore you with my own life story (although I surely can), but in some ways I have been asleep since 1971. Before that I was a bit of a peace-mongering activist. Vietnam had that effect on me.
When Nixon was re-elected over the peace candidate McGovern, I was shocked. The fact that Nixon got 2/3 of the popular vote, and all of the electoral votes broke my heart. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t accept it. So I shut down. I became an Amish-Quaker-Pacifist-Episcopalian that kept his nose out of every news source there is. It is a way of hiding that suits me. I have been chastised and vilified for these views often enough to learn to keep them to myself. I have been called a lousy American, which I tend to agree with.
Still, I have always had a sense that I need to do my bit for others, in service to The Creator. I have looked for ways to do my part, and sometimes I actually have.
However, the belief that has kept me holding on to my old views is the the abiding sense that not only am I unable to make a difference, but that I am also unable to see the wisdom in the opposite viewpoint.
I mean Nixon by a landslide…really? I stood convinced that if you try hard and then lose so profoundly, then it’s best to just give up.
Last week I was in El Salvador. It has been since the 1980′s that I have even thought about Liberation Theology. But thanks to the organization Cristosal, and particularly to it’s Executive Director Noah Bullock, I have been kicked awake by the discovery that there just might be something I can do.
I am not saying that I have been fully extracted from my long-held beliefs, however I can state that I am no longer afraid to be made aware of the facts of injustice. I am discovering a way to to willingly contribute to working, with the belief that it just might be, in some tiny way, worthwhile.
Here is why, these words are taken directly from the website http://cristosal.org/
“A human rights-based approach understands poverty not as an accidental condition but rather, the product of a social structures in which the poor and marginalized live partially or completely outside the protection of human rights.”
And even more clearly:
“Foundation Cristosal takes a human rights-based approach to community development and poverty reduction that recognizes at its core the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of every human being. This principle re-positions the poor in the development enterprise from beneficiaries of charity to citizen partners, architects and owners of their own development process.”
You can apply your own definitions to who you see as poor or marginalized. You can apply this to class poverty or to an individual.
Here are some other words, as said by Noah to me and others in a group. I will quote him as carefully as I can.
“If you try to engage with people in order to help them, without investing in their particular history, then all that you are really doing is intervening.”
Perhaps you don’t share in my big discovery. But then again maybe you are one of the many people that I know that have the sense that they would be happy to do more, or offer more, if there was some way to feel as though it would be worthwhile. Something beyond writing a check and wiping your hands.
Perhaps you feel called to missionary work that means that you need to go somewhere and build homes or a water filtration system. Or like me, you latch onto the wisdom of asking people if they are worthy of clean water in their home, and if so, how can they go about the work and process of getting it. After that you can help them in their own efforts, and stand in solidarity with them in their belief that, by virtue of their humanity, they are indeed worthy.
Walter Orantes of Cristosal asked the question, “How do you tell people that are severely marginalized that God loves and cares about them?” It is a tricky question, because you first have to have the courage to ask it. You have to believe, against all evidence, that God does indeed care for them. Then you have to feel as though that there are words that you can put together so that they will actually believe you.
I have woken up to the belief that if I, through the example of Jesus Christ, hold them as equal to all others, and if I can support their own work and efforts rather than telling them what they should do,( or worse yet, do it for them), that they will ultimately stand up for themselves in taking what they have always deserved.
In some ways it is very little different that asking a woman that has been knocked around by her husband for years, if this is what she deserves, in the eyes of God. If she re-discovers her own sense of worth and dignity, she will begin to re-claim it. Perhaps I can help her to do that.
Asking a teenager how his continued use of Oxycodone is going to help him to realize those dreams that we all have for ourselves…can be a kind of Liberation.
And that, I am learning, is doing something.