Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The way we treat our most vulnerable citizens . . .

The way we treat our most vulnerable citizens is the clearest mark of a great nation. This realization is straining to become one of my core values. But it had a bit of a road block when I was getting off a plane the other day. Right in front of me was an older woman in a wheel chair. She bordered on obese and a young female gate agent was wrestling her up the ramp. With no room to matriculate a strategic pass, the rest of us shuffled behind impatiently. I said to myself, "Why do we even let these people on a plane?!" Instantly a schizophrenic civil war erupted in the dingy corridors of my soul. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for affirmative action, handicapped accessability, elderly inclusion, etc. I just don't want to be personally inconvenienced. And now, at the end of a semester, I am reflecting again on this principle. You see, students struggling with grades and absences, those on the academic bubble consume more time than any others, especially at this time of the year. Are they worth it? Well, put crassly like that, the answer seems obvious. But my impatiences during the subtleties of being inconvenienced may betray a more sinister reality. Let me be clear though. The question is not whether they are worth it (whoever the 'they' might be). The question is what kind of a nation we will be, or more to the point, what kind of a person I will be. Greatness is in the little kindnesses most unnoticed during moments of the greatest inconvenience. And that I cannot afford to live without.


Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

I hear what you are saying, especially the larger question of what kind of nation/people will we be, but I struggle with your comparison. Your struggle with showing kindness to the lady on the plane is indeed a flaw that I think we all wrestle with. She can not help that she is in a wheelchair. But from my limited expierence, the students that are struggling with grades and absenses and need that extra grace and kindness brought it upon themselves. They don't study. They stay up all night, "trying to beat that next level." They really like the way the pillow feels on their head at 6:42a.m. Not all of them, mind you, but most of them. Are they worth being kind to? No doubt. But is it wrong to channel your time and energy on those who try? Clearly Jesus showed compassion, kindness, and so on to the disenfranchised, but was it to those who could care less? It seems the "vulnerable citizens" he had this kind of compassion on was either those who could not help it (children, demonized, etc.) or to the disenfranchised who at least tried to follow him (Woman in Lk 17, Blind begger Lk 18, woman at the well Jn 4, many others). "Your faith has saved/healed you."
Again, I am not sure I got at the bigger question you raised, but you are going to have more than enough oppurtunities to show kindess during moments of inconvience. If you were to show the equal amount of kindness and gave your time to all possible inconviences at Ozark alone you might never see Barbara. Reviewing someone's paper in the dorm can be inconveniet to me. I can have two people who need a paper read at 1 in the morning, both on the edge of failine, both "vulnerable citizens." But if one has been working on it all week and one has been golfing all week but typed it that day, I am going to show my "little kindness" to the former.
I could be missing your whole point. I could be being prideful because I think I try and others don't. I don't think so, but maybe. All this to say, I think showing compassion to an obese paralytic is different than showing compassion to a student who could care less. Good words though. Needed words.

May 10, 2006 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Bacon said...

This raises a very difficult question for ministry. Some people are spiritually "obese and cripple." Some are 70 years old, have been in church all their lives. They are still living on their parents' faith and have very little interest in developing their own. Is it truly theologically correct to ignore them for those who really are spiritually interested? Can we write them off as "the 99"? Or is this just a way to justify impatience with Christians who are too slow and in the way?
I don't mean to spiritualize your point, this is just an issue I've been wrestling with.

May 10, 2006 at 12:15 AM  
Blogger Naomi said...

Right now I am finishing an internship that has given me much experience in working with people with disabilities. These people often set the example for childlike wonder and reverence of the Lord.

Ellie, who has Down Syndrome, says to me, "May-omi, I love God and talk with him everyday. Do you love God?"

Jeanna, whose body is so skinny and bones so fragile, cries when she hears that baby Moses was adrift and alone on the Nile, but dances whenever she hears a song about Jesus.

Noah cannot talk, but his eyes can sparkle while he listens and learns that God made his mouth.

I want to hug and kiss them for their honesty and pure love! It is so easy to see the glory of the Lord in the innoncent. It is so easy to love them.

I think that if we look hard enough and listen long enough, we will also find the glory of the Lord in those whose words and actions may not be so pure or innocent. The more we learn that the unlovable, the inconveniences, and the tramplers are capable of childlike wonder and reverence of the Lord, the easier it is to hug and kiss them.

May 10, 2006 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Moore said...

WOW. All three of the last three comments were excellent. Let me briefly address each. Arod, let me complicate your question. The more I know about students who submarine their own semesters the more I realize they too are crippled. I ask them privately about their stories and I become shamed by my judgmentalism--had I their story, my resilience would not be near as impressive. Obviously many are lazy and culpable (this is a particularly important message for a generation that eschews any kind of personal responsibility). But I am increasingly skeptical about my own ability to judge or arbitrate other's failures. On the other hand, the woman in the wheel chair may be far from innocent in her own circumstances. Often our self-destructive, selfish, and sinful behaviors have consequences that inconvenience others. Now what do we do? Perhaps Jesus' advice in Matthew 7:1-2 is most appropriate.

Jeremy, my hear breaks for you right now because you have had to wrestle in pragmatic terms with the investment of time and energy. Because we are limited creatures in space and time there are always those who get short-changed when we make those hard decisions about who receives our love, time, and attention. The question is seldom right verses wrong but better vs. best.

Naomi, your rich experience may be the model for us to follow. This may be the best. I suspect I know what Henri Nouwen would say. I'm just not ready to forfeit the fellowship of those who inspire me intellectually or affirm me socially. (I almost deleted that last sentence, not because it was untrue, but because it was too true, too revealing).

May 10, 2006 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger stephen said...

"I'm just not ready to forfeit the fellowship of those who inspire me intellectually or affirm me socially."


ouch. Way to cut to the heart.

May 11, 2006 at 11:28 PM  

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