On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Well, how much to you really care?

The essence of Christian love is a respectful and caring concern for the welfare of othersÑespecially others different from ourselves. Difference relates to matters of age, race, religious persuasion, culture, gender, health, poverty, sexual preference and a myriad of other attributes. Somehow, Christian love is wrapped up in the difference between compassion and affection.

Compassion demands empathy–a feeling with the other. It’s more than feeling for. That’s sympathy–a noble feeling, but unrelated to Christian love. Bill Booth once asked:

How many compassionate tears does this world get from you?

A good question. How many?

I think most of our tears come from being asked to donate portions of our income in support of the organization –income which, in part, will be used to pay for some social worker to minister on our behalf to the poor and destitute. Those aren’t tears of compassion. If we wish to maintain the identity of our Army as a compassionate, caring fellowship of Christians who express love for others, then those who wear the uniform need to invest portions of their lives in showing that love.

I am definitely not advocating any less service from educated and trained professionals. Actually, we need more, but we’ve come to believe that the delivery of these services is much more complex today than when Salvationist of another century simply gave someone a meal. We’re still serving meals to hungry people and it doesn’t take a social work degree to dish up and pass out a plate. Some of those who take the food need to be referred to a professional to assist with a multitude of other needs and services available in the community. These professionals deserve to see what this Army is all about. I suspect some of them wonder. They won’t discover this Army unless its soldiers rub shoulders with them.

All of this relates somewhat to the perennial question: How many Salva-tion Army’s are there? We hear the response–“all one Army”, but, in fact, it often doesn’t reveal itself that way. Individuals perceive the Army according to the way they relate to it. If the person goes to the corps for worship, it’s seen as a church. If the person works in social service office, it’s seen as a community agency. We tend to see the church ministry separate from the social service ministry. Church takes place in the chapel on Sunday. Social services take place back in that back room during the week. Sometimes, we’re even reluctant to assist someone in need on a Sunday. We tell them to come back tomorrow. And in the social service office, it’s rare that we explore someone’s spirituality as a contributor to their social problems.

I see others in the Army are a little concerned about this as well. They’re having a CARING MINISTRIES CONFERENCE in November design-ed to examine ways to integrate the delivery of professional social services as a compassionate Christian ministry. I suspect they’ll also seek to find ways to involve lay members of the organization in the process. Christ was firm in his mandate that we care for one another–that we find the least among us and minister to that person’s needs–that we recognize that loving a “brother” or “sister” is much easier than loving a total stranger–and that we realize our skill and dedication in showing that caring spirit is a principal criterion for the final judgment of our lives.

Whether we are assigned “sheep” or “goat” status doesn’t depend on the number of sermons we’ve sat through; not on the quality of our musical groups; not on the number of times we’ve read the Bible through or Bible verses we’ve memorized. We will receive our inheritance from the father depending on the dimensions of our unfailing love for others. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and gave me something to drink, 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.

So, how’s your sheep or goat status? I don’t think God expects you to do it all by yourself. It’s okay to organize. But each of us have to do something. We’re an Army that cares for someone when they’re down. We lift them up. We assess and meet their needs. We keep them around as long as we can, and we encourage them to accept Christ and love others.

I think that’s what this conference is going to help us understand how we as lay people can involve ourselves in the process. I think I’ll register for that conference. How about you?

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