Thursday, April 26, 2007

Social Action

So, my good friend, Doug has asked me to partner with him in facilitating a conversation among friends next weekend. It sounds like fun. We'll be covering general topics like ecclesiology, community, culture and social action (the topic laid on my shoulders). The topics are general enough to be mined for quite some time. So the set up is this: 20 minute presentation followed by 45-50 minutes of question driven discussion.

My responsibility is to talk about social action in 20 minutes, packing enough fodder for an in-depth discussion.

As I've been praying and thinking over this, a three step process has come to my mind as a way to understand a persons or community's movement toward social action.

From ignorance to awareness.

From awareness to compassion.

From compassion to action.

As I discussed this with Doug, he thought that covering each step would be too much for a 20 minute session, so for the time being we're going to explore what it looks like to bring a person/community from ignorance to awareness. Here's where I'd like some feedback.
  1. What do you think keeps individuals/communities from being aware of the needs of those around them?

  2. What do you think are some steps that faith communities can take to raise awareness?

  3. How do communities choose which issues to shed light upon?

  4. What do you think are the most pressing issues?


Nate Youngblood said...

It's hard for me to really comment on one social issue being more important than another. Ultimately, I think poverty plays a role in so many of them...the haves vs. the have nots....even most racial issues have their roots in this biggie....

The only other thing I would comment on is the need to step into these things with Humility. I have, the church has, a bad history of trying to fix these things from a far off place, where we never have to address the darkness in our own hearts. I can't really ever truly address poverty until I recognize how greedy I am.

Josh said...

yeah, i think you are right in pointing out the difficulty of choosing social issues to focus on. But you do bring up a great topic/theme when you talk about poverty.

I would ask in response, what are some creative ways that we can illustrate and drive home the reality of poverty within our faith communities? We can do the usual in showing pictures and telling stories, but I wonder if there are some other creative ways.

And about the humility factor...well said.

Jordan said...

Interdependence. If someone is poor, then I am poor.

More later...

Kipper said...

I would suggest alongside Nate that bliss is the primary reason people choose to do nothing. I don't honestly think that in such a global society, coupled with the modern information age, that many if any can claim to be ignorant of the social issues facing our world. Until people are willing, such as the example of John Wesley, to step into these areas of social deficiency directly, bliss will continue to strap us to our easy chairs.

I had a professor in college who insisted on taking us one Sunday to the Church of the Nazarene in downtown LA. As a part of our learning experience, we were pushed into attending Sunday services, and then walking in our Sunday best down the streets, past the suffering, in order to buy food for our hungry tummies. It was a profound eye-opener; one that would never let us sit by so idly again.

Brian said...

Great opportunities here, Josh. My two cents:

1. Keep to Scripture - in your presentation and in directing people to both see need and where to engage. The Spirit speaks to us through Scripture as communities. For instance, where in our community and Jacob's Well, we have been reading in Colossians and have "stumbled" upon this issue of slavery which our community is feeling called to engage in. I just think Scripture gives us vision and appropriate lenses.

2. Part of the move from ignorance to awareness, it seems to me, is the temptation to feel bad for people, but not relate to them. As Josh so clearly stated, we must realize that WE are THEM. This is vital in seeing, understanding (or seeking to understand) and action.

Nate Youngblood said...

Youthworks is starting to really try and start discussing this issue (poverty) with our youth this summer...we've continually struggled to know how to even breach the subject. Practically, I think it starts with helping people see that poverty is not an issue of "deciding" to be poor...or "just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work really hard, and you'll be rich." But working to expose the fact that many, many people are stuck in a place that is incredibly hard to get out of. So, we're doing some role-playing games with budgeting, and a few other things, to help people see that it's not a n issue of "he or she won't work, won't learn, and wants to be poor." It's an incredibly complex issue on it's own, without adding the hyper sensitive middle class of christiandom into the mix. We figure, along with the experience of working with the poor, the will help break down some sterotypes, and open the door for some discussion and thought.

Josh said...

Jordan, I'm interested in hearing you develop the idea of interdependency. I think that is loaded with weightiness.

Kipper, what your professor did was brilliant. Thanks for sharing that story. It is those kinds of stories that I am looking for.

Brian, thanks for your reminder to mine the scriptures in this quest. It was scriptures that has driven me to this. You can't manuever through the texts without tripping over innumerable references about God's love for the oppressed and his desire for freedom for all people. I am especially fond of Isaiah 61 which Jesus quotes. Are there any scriptures that you have found compelling in this arena?

Nate, I am interested to hear more about how YouthWorks is going to explore the idea of poverty. Most of your sites are with people who are stricken with poverty, aren't they?

I know one way that we have explored the idea of equality is that we have created space for our kids to play with the kids they were ministering too. This levels the field quite well.

D.G. Paul said...

All very good thoughts.

Just off the top of my head after reading these...

1) There definitely is a sense of detachment from poverty/injustice. Our sense of injustice is more practically honed to "that person got the promotion that I deserve." That's why I really liked what Kipper's professor did. If you step into the story of injustice and see the imago dei being spit on, stepped on and brutally ignored, you can't help but FEEL the inequity. This leads to storytelling...and then the community is able to start associating their story with the story of inequality and injustice.

2) I would say that while it is impossible "ignore" the injustices that exist in the flat world we live in, I don't think that makes people aware. It simply means that they willfully turn the channel, click the "X" on the pop-up, walk in the opposite direction of the homeless beggar, take a longer route to work so they don't have to see the urban decay. This seems to be yet another destructive tendency in consumerism...choose to willfully ignore. I'd say "awareness" means an almost inability to ignore. So the question would be: How do we teach people to NATURALLY want awareness? Because right now, we don't want to be aware, we'll choose willful neglect every time. It's easier and we'll always choose the path of least resistance.

3) I LOVE what nate was saying with interconnectedness...but again, until people experience connectivity, it's just an ethereal, esoteric concept that's fun to see scripture through when talking about community.

Anonymous said...

This opens up alot of questions about our church and how this MUST be taught. I am full of responses to your friends comments. For your friends I am 43 and Josh's uncle in Cleveland Ohio. I am/involved in church through the process but have essentially dropped out beause of these type of questions. Josh, I have in the past felt better by preaching in the inner-city or doing a heaven train run to feed and cloth the inner-city folk, I felt better when I got home. I am not sure of the lasting effects of such a mechanism. I balance that "feeling" with what I feel after I read the Gospels and see Jesus not just reaching the poor but empowering them. I then ask myself how does one do this in the church. When we lived in KC I worked with JOE? With the city work and Jail stuff, part of the seminary stuff that I did. I was able to amazingly de-tach myself as I came home to my wife and new son in Overland Park. It was quite amazing really. I then really believed that people needed to make better choices, a bad history does not write a future. Mom, Nana has made all of us kids believe that we could be what we wanted. As a have, not a have - not, I have come to a realization, I believe this also comes from having a teenager who struggles with what he has when he sees others with both more and less. It may not be a choice. It may trully be a necessity of life that we will always have dis-enfranchised people who live on the margins of society. I then ask myself how do I minister to these. For me I realize that it must be a daily awareness and activity. You can see that the flip side of daily activity with wealth could trully change a person. Josh as you know 2 years ago I bought properties in the city of Cleveland, I did this both as a investment and as way to be in the city. Now I look back, and even with all the events I see that God has brought me here for a reason. I have come to realize many things one is that I must go into the city and seek the image of God in others. This is not done in a one day trip or even a short term trip with a group of kids, I tried that. The other is to value people as image (bearers). What I mean by that is that these people are important to me, fixxing a toilet or a wall is fine but what else do I have, I have Christ. Christ in me in the inner-city. Most of tenants have no HS diploma, no internet, but they all have play-station. Most if not all smoke and do some type of drug, but are on Gov't assistance and are late with rent or I recieve partial payment. All have never come in a relationship with someone who talks to them and hives them care and love from a perspective of Christ. Yet most would tell you that God is on there side. How do I or anyone overcome the reality that people need ministering to. Humility, and realizing that but the Grace of God I am here. And absolutly no Judging. Just friday a tenant told me I am 1st man that accepted him and made him feel like a man. I "valued" him. Poverty is not always a choice, what it is often is nothing more than a level of society. Maybe a neccasary level.
The struggle with all of this is that our churches today, mine included, often value wealth and all its trappings. It is like the bad kid in class that gets the attention because he is bad, when the good kid is left alone because he is a problem. Wealth may be the problem, the seperater.
How can this be taught to today's generation is the question, Living and working with people of less material may be a start, but what if this was done without a safety net. I know for 2 months I cared a gun as I worked, I was told it would be smart, I then after a situation happened that I would be unable to take another life, I sold the gun. Valuing people can start by a teenager starting conversations and friendships with the outcast at school, Valuing people. We instead often value their welth or their position. Know the Bible reference here? It must be what can I or do I leave behind not take. The dependance and selfishness of our day is built into our heirachy of living. We always say do better, what if that is better. I was in a conversation once with a man who was a achoholic who told me his father died of a drug overdose, he said he was glad he wa not him. Intereating perspective. Race does play into this but I am still very much wrestling with the reality of race in Cleveland, I would say the more in contact one has with the "others" of this world the better for ones Christian walk. I remember a proff I had at Seminary who said us whitey'swho live in suburban houses and who pull down a good salary from churches have no idea how Christ loved the poor. At first I was angered by the statement but now I think of how modern church's would rather wrestle with idealogies than than men and woman who have problems with enough food to feed their 5 children.
Enough for now, forgive the typos
Uncle Dan

Kipper said...

There is a great hymn in the Nazarene (and several others') hymnal that has always spoken truly to this issue. Ironically, profoundly, perhaps even providentially, when we seminarian graduates were presented this as a gift from the seminary, the bookmark was placed on this particular hymn.

When the church of Jesus shuts its outer doors,

lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer, ...

Lord, make us 10 times more aware

that the world we banish is Christian care.

Nate Youngblood said...

At this point, Youthworks isn't sure exactly how it's going to address these issues. We're really seeking to know how we can best help the church begin to be aware and address these issues. I speak for the organization hesitantly but here's the rub for us. The communities we're in are often poor. The tendency in short term missions is to create a 'disney world' type experience...which often gets to the point where one is pimping the poor. I think it's easy for those of us who are struggling with these issues to expect others to join with us in our place of questioning. The reality is that it's all about steps, and the journey towards knowing him and his heart. That means starting a conversation...getting people to open their eyes and look past themselves and their So, we've had to learn how to address these issues without alienating the audience (the church) but still being direct enough to inspire change while working hard to be respectful of the communities we're in. It's an incredibly hard balance. Sometimes we get it right in a community and amazing things happen, other times it's a n incredible struggle. So, we're trying to develop new ways of doing that... helping people to connect relationally across social barriers, challenging them to re-think the way the world actually functions (sometimes you can't do everything you set your mind to) and helping folks realize that poeple are oppressed. Some of this happens naturally through exposure (suburban folks spending time in the inner city or on the reservation) sometimes it happens through a game (homeless excercise) or through scripture (what does the lord really say about the poor and the oppressed?)
Ultimately we struggle with our own identity as a short term missions organization. Having spent a year and half on the missions field, I'm not always the biggest fan of short term trips (espeically for adults) but if it helps get folks to think about it, and gets youth who are 12-18 thinking about it...and motivated to live differently...maybe even living and working in these places, then it's worth it. The short-term is never the solution. Anyway, a few thoughts, maybe not all that helpful.

Jordan said...

I think interdependence is a virtue that needs to be cultivated in our churches. This virture will ultimately lead to social action.

Our society is becoming so individualized. We have our own houses, our own rooms, our own beds, our own phones, our own computers, our own homepages, our own whatever. I think before we move to social action, we have to deal with the individualism that causes social inaction.

I think an answer to this is for our churches to create cultures of sharing. For example: Kate and I do not have a TV. We still like a variety of shows though, but when we watch them we end up going over to friends houses to do so. There is a context to build relationships, and to build interdependence. My wife wants to watch Grey's Anatomy, but to do so she depends on a friend.

The more we develop the virtue of interdependence the more natural social action will become.

Josh said...

Doug, welcome to the blog conversation. Glad you could join in.

Uncle Dan! Great to have you weighing in on the conversation. Thanks for your stories. For me, my contact with people immersed in poverty has often been those short term contacts on mission trips or service nights at the Mission. It is interesting to hear the perspective of a land lord. I loved the story of the guy who said you made him feel like a man.

Kipper, great song. There are some quality songs that wrestle with love working out of us.

Nate, short term missions have bugged me at times, but in our ministry we balance ministry close to home and ministry in other places. This helps our people understand that God's world and love is bigger than normally expected. But again, that sounds like it is only to benefit our kids.

Jordan, thanks for breaking the interdependence issue out for us. I need to tell some good climbing stories, but am dependent on you coming over to PA to tell them. Can you come soon?

As we are talking some things are surfacing here.

1. The distance between people.
2. The dominance of poverty.
3. A theology of abundance (there's enough for everybody)
4. Consumerism/Capitalism makes poverty something we think we can distance ourselves from.
5. Indifference
6. Everyone has value. But not everyone sees it. And the people who do see it don't always know how to restore it.
7. Humility is needed.

This conversation is far far far from over.

Kipper said...

A couple of recent thoughts came to me last night. The first came from my wife who not only is up on this discussion but found this quote in a book and thought it appropriate: "Understanding is the one-dimensional comprehension of the intellect. It leads to knowledge. Realization is three-dimensional - a simultaneous comprehension of head, heart, and instinct. It comes only from direct experience."

The book is "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman. The thought it left me with was more of a clarification. You see, I both agree and disagree with Brian's statement about holding to Scripture, but at the time I wasn't sure as to why.

Think of this as a bunch of flowers that you see in a store, clustered together in one of those black pots for display. There in the store, the full potential of the flowers is unfulfilled, unless of course one can make a visual leap with the imagination to the place where such flowers will finally rest. But otherwise, it's not until they make it to your cart, the car, and then into your home where, delicately arranged into a new bouquet in a crystal vase, they're placed on a coffee table or mantel, whereby their potential is "recognized" by beautifying the room/house.

Scripture is much the same way. I can stand in the pulpit, as I once did, reading James' philosophy that pure religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. I can even come to an understanding that that is what pure religion is. But until that Scripture makes its way into that setting, until I change the venue for the Word of God, those words will never be realized in or for me. Changing the setting for Scripture brings it to life...and perhaps us with it.

Josh said...


Thanks for that quote.

Thanks for clarifying your thoughts on Brian's statement about scripture. I think what you say is true, but am unsure as to the implications.

Also, I think that when we talk about the Scriptures, we must also have the theology of the Holy Spirit in mind. I believe that there is something sacred in reading scripture, that God uses the spoken word to "haunt" us through the week.