October 21, 2016
When I Spoke, You Listened
Most of us have been taught to avoid triangulation in communication, but it can be a valuable tool for promoting peace and justice. Triangulating by asking Jesus to “re-speak,” through the power of the Holy Spirit, words we are unable to receive is good triangulation. The gift of learning at our Lord’s feet is always available to us through scripture and prayer, and daily life becomes a dialogue of faith when we give ourselves to God in this way. These dialogues of faith often become the foundation for raising voices of advocacy.
The diocesan Commission on Peace, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation is working to organize voices of advocacy that promote reconciliation, restoration, and healing, and I am grateful to be a part of this work. Seeking to better understand human systems that produce dysfunction and despair has been part of my training as an anthropologist. Now, as a priest, I understand that Jesus calls us to faith that sees beyond the landscapes our brokenness and sin have created. Christian advocacy is about seeing a horizon of hope through the eyes of our faith and asking Jesus to use us as his ears and heart and hands.
Public education is one of the landscapes where we, as the body of Christ, can listen to needs and seek places to serve. Education reform is not always about creating a new, better plan; it is about speaking love through action and manifesting God’s love to children in our communities by being present in their lives. In the 2010 documentary, Waiting for Superman, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada, observes that we too often try to save children after they are already lost, instead of coming alongside them while they are still longing for help. We can do better.
Here at Nativity in Dothan, we are reviving our relationship with nearby Selma Street Elementary. After reading the book Toxic Charity as a vestry assignment, parishioner Elizabeth Welch went to Selma Street and left a note for the resource coordinator that simply said, “How can we help?” God’s timing was at work. To our delight we found that the school is preparing to launch a new program sponsored by the Wiregrass Foundation called Bright Key, and they are in need of volunteers to meet with students in a newly renovated space called the “Dream Room.”
Church missioners and anthropologists have learned in recent years that effective advocacy for justice listens first, and then asks where help is needed. The dreams of wholeness and health, of dignity and opportunity, are already there. Often, there is already a plan, but a lack of resources to realize it. And as many of us know from our own families, what children need from us is our time and attention, not more “things.” Our help needs to be more than writing checks.
If you are blessed to worship in a church that already partners with a school and have not yet explored whether God is calling you to serve in this ministry, please pray about what he would have you do. If your parish doesn’t have a relationship with a school, maybe now is the time to stop by and leave a note to say, “How can our church help?”
This post originally appeared September 26, 2016 in “The Coastline” an e-publication of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. It is reprinted with permission.
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