Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Drip of Water

This past week I was in Washington D.C. studying hunger in America.  I think it is important to distinguish between trying to solve hunger in America and trying to understand the problem of hunger in America.  We can talk all the talk, but to truly understand something, we have to dive into the problem from different points of view-- the macro and the micro.  Problems are far more complicated than one form of change.  This week we had the opportunity to do both.

This week I have thought a good deal about humanity.  What makes us human? How do we see the humanity of others?  Or more so, how do we fail to see the humanity of others?

One thing that we did this past week was to go to the White House.  We went to the White House a few times.  Once we toured it.  We went to a meeting in the Thomas Jefferson EOB building next door with Melissa Rodgers, a Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (and also a Baylor Grad!).

This time though, we stood outside of it on the street and were to observe power. What does power mean?  What symbols of power did we see?

There were several things people noticed, but one of the most prominent was how there were people inside of that house, going to sleep, and going through their daily routines: brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and tucking their children in for the night.  One thing that I have realized this week is that we often dehumanize those in the White House, in the Supreme Court, or on the Hill.  But after meeting several wonderful (and a few not so wonderful) people, that view has been challenged.  Even if they have views that may be different than mine, they are still human and deserve my respect.  Because even if I don't agree with the politics or ethics of who's in office, I still believe they are a child of God.  And I most certainly would not want to be president.

But being on this trip, I also got to see the flip side of that.

I started to think of what it would be like to be a homeless person laying on a park bench across from the White House.  This week I got to see how easy it is to be active in politics.  We can sign petitions, write letters, make an appointment and lobby, vote, and promote social change through conversation and social media.  But as I thought about the impact that those in poverty could make, I got sad.  I got sad because these are those who we most often dehumanize.  These are those we walk by on the street.  These are those we look down upon because they're a little down on their luck.

As I thought about what it would be like to be a person sleeping on a park bench, I thought about how dehumanizing it would be.  Being yards away from the most powerful people on the planet, but being on the opposite side of a fence, blocked by secret service, machine guns, and snipers.  Knowing that you have a valid point to be heard by high powers, but also knowing that they wouldn't take you seriously.  Realizing the powerlessness and the worthlessness you would feel.  As an educated person, I think it is my responsibility to stand up and acknowledge this humanity to others.

We have a bad habit of dehumanizing people who don't fit into our idea of what it means to be human.  Our idea of what we are.  We often have the most grace with people who fill our idea of what this means by our own contexts.  We view personhood through the lens that we know it--- ours.  When it comes to people of power, we give them tons of crap, forgetting that they have families, deadlines, and pressures.  When it comes to the homeless and those in poverty, we think they should just stop being poor.... as if there is a magic formula to end cycles of poverty and systems that are messed up.

Recognizing humanity requires humility.  Jesus does a good job of recognizing this.  In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well.  He asks her for a drink.  First of all, she is a Samaritan, a group of people that Jews do not affiliate with.  Second of all, a woman.  Women were drastically looked down upon at the time.  So here we see Jesus reaching out, asking to be served, and serving this foreign woman with the gift of living water.  He reaches beyond her gender and social status, and sees her for who she is, and offers her friendship and salvation.  Pretty nifty and radical as Jesus tends to be.

A question that I have thought about, and I know many others have questioned for ages, is what to do when you see the person asking for money on the street.  There are theories on whether you give them money or not.  Honestly, I think we should do what the spirit leads in this regard.  But if you decide not to give them money, or don't have it on you, don't walk around them.  Don't walk a circle around them.  Many of them haven't heard there name in days... or weeks.  Many of them haven't had their personhood acknowledged.

So while you may not be able to give them money or a meal to eat, you can still say hello, ask them how they are, his or her name, or offer a smile.  Think what a great story and example we'd be missing from the Bible if Jesus hadn't reached out and blessed the woman at the well.  Think of what a great story we'll be missing if we don't say hello to some of those who have the most the share.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

China Town with a Taste of Hunger

I saw something on Tumblr last week.  It was on a little, "Did you know?" page, and was something that they had posted that day.  It said that there are more people in the world today that are obese than are hungry.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  

The first thing that passed my mind when I read this was that it was ill informed.  While there are indeed many people who are obese, some of those same people also struggle with hunger.  They struggle with feeding themselves and their families.   Often the food that leads to obesity is the food that is given to those in hunger, or is the food that they could afford.

What bothered me the most though were the comments that people wrote below.  "Wow, I never would have guessed!"  "We're ending hunger!"

I think we do this a lot with a variety of issues.  We try to find one sugar coated statement and we focus our whole mindset, social and political views, and even our own theologies off of it.  We fail to see the big picture because we're convinced that if someone is obese or overweight, that they can't be hungry.  As if hunger is only exclusive to the skinny, the ones with money, or the ones who can afford to be picky about what they put in their own bodies.  And we all should know that this doesn't just apply to hunger, but to a wide variety of issues.

This week I am in this nation's Capitol learning about hunger and what is being done to address it, as individuals, as a nation, as fellow human beings, and as the church.  Here I hope to learn more and widen my own horizons.  I hope to learn as a fellow person, but also as a Christian.  Jesus calls his followers to feed his sheep in the end of John.  It's important to learn about the issue and the people it affects if we should think of addressing it.