On the Corner
BY ROBERT DOCTER –
We have a spirit within us so that we can reflect upon ourselves. God arouses that spirit, and our spirit relates to his spirit. That kind of self-appraisal is not an easy thing to do. It’s sometimes unpleasant. No! It’s often unpleasant, for we are very imperfect beings. When we stand apart from ourselves and view ourselves from a different perspective we are truly shocked to discover the multiple ways we disappoint God.
One of the images displayed in this confrontation with self pertains to the quality of our relationships with those around us–with our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our fellow church members, our pastors and officers, others in our community. The quality of these relationships often receives a passing grade.
The principle message of God through Christ has to do with the quality of our relationships with people who are different from us. Today, there remains only a very weak tension in our Army with the church growth principle that people will only choose to attend church with those who are similar to them. Is there any tension within our membership on this point? If so, I don’t sense it. There is, however, a considerable amount of that tension in me.
This Army must always reach out to people in Christian love who are very different from us. We find them in the back alleys and dark streets of our society. We find them lost in an addictive fog. We find them seeking emergency food and shelter. We find them in rest homes and nursing hospitals. We find them in cardboard boxes, cuddling a bottle, huddled against a sudden cold. We find them as victims in disasters. And we find them sitting next to us in the middle of a back pew.
They differ in income level, style of dress, success in life, skin color, national origin, gender identity, education, language, religious background. Some smell badly. Some seem out of touch with reality. Some are punctured with multiple piercings. Often, they are the marginalized of society. Often, they seek our assistance because they want some human connection.
Too often, we meet their physical need, say “God bless you,” and send them on their way. Too often, we delegate that crucial helping relationship to professionals. We should not criticize this reality. This is good, for case management requires professional assistance. But is there anyone available to nurture a different kind of hunger–to engage in treatment interventions to satisfy even an undetected need–a spiritual need? Rarely.
How did we get to this point?
Most of us are somewhere in the middle-class levels of society. We are the following generation whose forefathers were among the rescued destitute. Most of us have never felt the pangs of hunger, the blast of cold in a winter night, the embarrassment of going to school without shoes, the loneliness of difference, the fears of homelessness, the grip of hopelessness. Most of us worship with people just like us. Most of us have almost no experience with the realities of poverty except to write a check and delegate responsibility to someone else. The passion for the poor has all but disappeared except in our social service programs.
Consequently, we are unable to empathize with the poor. We have formed congregations and worshipping communities designed not to reach out to those different from us, but instead, to those just like us.
We cannot withdraw from our ethos and ethic and continue to be The Salvation Army. We cannot abandon our identity. We cannot shrink from diversity. We are much more than the neighborhood church. Our creed requires us to love others –all others–not just the ones like us. Acceptance of that responsibility provides us with remarkable opportunities to live the cause of Christ.
In these times, the Army operates significant and important social service centers designed to meet the unique needs of the urban poor. What is missing in most of these centers are volunteer soldiers simply being available to assist interested clientele in exploring their spiritual well being.
We have available thousands to touch. All that is required is a close personal relationship with Christ plus time and effort. Whether or not there is time available is determined by our priorities.
And, I guess, that’s exactly what I’ve been talking about in this entire piece.