Monday, June 23, 2008

When We cannot Turn Away

He said, “I'm moved to tenderness by what we cannot bare
Humbled by what we can and do and learn to share . . .”
~Carrie Newcomer

I don’t talk about Friends’ call to service and social action very much. Usually when I write or speak it’s on more inward solitary matters of the Spirit. Yet recently I have felt a need to reflect and consider on Friends’ religious call to act within the world. The work I do is not particularly trendy work for the up and coming liberal activists of my generation. I work in law; human rights investigation and legal aid. I wear a dress-suit to work. I work at a desk, in an office. Not really as glamorous as taking to the streets or traveling to South America, but it is a calling, and it is work that needs to be done. The people I serve come from impoverished communities; they are disadvantaged and discriminated against. I have no doubt in my mind that the work I do is helping to build the Kingdom here on earth. Like any direct service though it can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging.
About a week and a half ago I moved to Virginia and started my summer internship with a legal aid non-profit. About a week or so into it, I was starting to get tired. Change isn’t something I deal well with, and I was adjusting to a new house, new housemates, a new city and a new job. I was getting that; I’d rather be anywhere else, feeling. Then around Thursday I was reminded of why I do the job I do and why although it seems tempting sometimes to quit and do something else, I know I wont.
The actual events that led to this renewal were unimportant and rather mundane. I was typing up forms for people seeking disability benefits under Social Security when I came to the one for “mental retardation.” It occurred to me that the term was no longer politically correct (PC) and probably shouldn’t be used. I then asked myself why the term was no longer appropriate and the answer was because it has been used in a derogatory fashion so often it has become a bad word in our society. Then I got mad. I never have and never will understand why our society judges people’s worth based on things they can’t help, things they where born with. It seems so horrible to me that we could judge people’s worth as less simply because they have a lower than average IQ. Yet we, as a society, do and to the point where the mere comparison of another person to a person with a lower IQ is considered a hurtful insult. Sitting in my office I suddenly had to fight the urge not to burst into tears at the horrible unfairness of a society that accepts, even condones such judgment. In New York State where I am from the state government pulled all services to disabled children who are being home schooled. Often children with sever disability will be taught at home because the school can not provide for there needs or because physically being in the school building would be a major health risk. I to this day cannot understand how my state government justified to themselves and to the media taking advantage of severely disabled children in the name of budget cuts. It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and I do believe that is the appropriate response. It breaks my heart, and not in the way our society uses the term.
There are many reactions people have to injustice, they can ignore it, they can get angry and rant about it, or they can work hard to fix but end up getting burnt out when the problem doesn’t go away. All these responses though, are short term superficial ones. Yet there is another response, a response I believe comes from the Spirit working within us. I believe that when you are confronted with something that truly breaks your heart, you cannot turn away, you can not ignore it and you most certainly can not go back to living you’re life the way it was before that moment. God does this; it is God who opens you up to that moment, to that realization. When I am opened like that I cannot, refuse to act, I could not live with myself if I did not do that work. That is your work, the work God wants you to do and it’s almost physically impossible not to. Your life as been transformed, you have been transformed. Sometimes we all feel burnt out and sometimes we all need rest but when you are faced with work that you are called to do, when God breaks your heart open, you won’t just get burnt out and drop it. God will sustain you better then that.
I have watched a lot of other people my own age attempted to do the job I do. I have watched them get discouraged by the larger picture, by how much still needs to be done and just stop trying. That doesn’t happen to me. Because when I feel tired, when I feel burnt out by what still needs to be done, I ask my if I’ve helped at least one person in one way, and if I can say that I have, if at least one person’s life is a little better because I tried, because I cared, than that will be good enough. I do this work because I could not walk way from it, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I will have to work to do it. I am a disabled student considering law school I have not illusions about how hard it will be. I also know though, that when my work is done if even one person’s life is better because of the work I have done, than it will have been worth it. Good enough for me, and good enough for God.

"Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you..for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:43)

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