For the past five years I have been a pastor in an urban setting on the front line dealing with the poor and homeless. In that time I have learned first hand that the reasons for poverty and homelessness are many and varied. In other words, it's complicated; and complicated issues defy easy solutions. But when one is looking at the issue from a distance, when one has no personal involvement in the problem, it is easy to pontificate as to what needs to be done, which is why many people will trust politicians who promise easy answers to complex problems. This kind of pontificating is a problem of both the political and religious right and the left.
My friend, Andrew Hamilton has experienced the same kind of up-close and personal ministry that I have, except his experience is with immigrants both legal and illegal. He writes,
It is one thing to protest immigration laws (as well as the many other social justice issues) and the oppression our culture causes. It is an entirely different matter to work with and care for these people who have migrated into this country (whether legally or illegally); to come to a place where you call them friend.
During my time in Massachusetts I had the privilege of working for a company whose employee list was made up of a majority of these delightful folks. Working with them in what were often times difficult situations I developed real relationships with some of these who face difficult circumstances resulting from having left family behind. Many of the challenges surround their assimilation into a foreign culture whose values and priorities are drastically different.
What I discovered over this span of time was the difference between talking about such circumstances divorced from the human beings who are living them and the (very) personal nature these circumstances are when they are connected to faces of my friends. Immigration may be an "issue" facing the United States of America, but not for me any longer. It represents life and death for many of my friends. The politicized bigotry attached to this national and church "issue" is the source of fear for numerous people who simply want to work and provide a better future for their families.
How I used to think about this particular "issue" was a safe way for me to talk about it and not truly be invested in it. I could talk about what the Bible says about treating aliens. I could preach about the command to love our neighbor. However, I never really had a horse in this race. I knew of these people but didn’t know them, much less call them friend. Now when I hear politicians (as well as some people, including Christians) pontificate about immigration using bombastic language, I hear the words directed at my friends. This is not a political issue. It is highly personal. The problem with western politics (national, ideological, or religious) is that they remove the human element and replace it with language games. I knew this before, but somehow I lost my way.
Having said all this, what I mean to say is that things of faith are personal. They are shared and expressed publicly, but they are very much personal.
Indeed. Thanks, Andy.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)