My perspective has taken a real beating over the last couple of weeks. Like a lot of people, I'm pretty self-centered, when it comes right down to it. Maybe more than most - at least it seems like that right now. Like I mentioned in my last post, I haven't ever been too concerned about putting feet to my faith; I've been content to serve God on a church platform or from behind my laptop keyboard (which does have some value, I think). But God's been bringing these experiences into my life lately that have shaken me, changed my point of view. I'm hoping that sharing my impressions with you will help me come to a place of greater understanding - so thanks for listening!
It all started with a simple status update on facebook. My good friend and pastor wrote that he was attending a history-making event called Truth and Reconciliation on the weekend - would anyone like to join him? The description of the event drew me in for some reason; the purpose of the weekend was to seek forgiveness and encourage healing and dialogue for aboriginals who had been directly and indirectly affected in negative ways by the institution of residential schools. And so I went.
I was in no way prepared for what I encountered there. My heart broke as I heard story after story from residential school survivors - stories of abuse and neglect and loss and anger and pain; the stripping of rights and culture and language and identity; and how the effects had been perpetuated from generation to generation. There were beautiful, poignant moments, as well - when church and government leaders offered apologies and promises that were received by the aboriginal people groups represented there, with commitments on both sides to work together for greater understanding and mutual edification. I came away with a full heart - outrage, shame, helplessness and a deep desire to do something; to offer some kind of hope.
The very next night offered beauty and despair of a different kind - we attended a concert by Watoto, an African children's choir from Uganda. The concert itself was wonderful; music full of hope, dancing full of joy, stories of God's faithfulness and protection and redemption. But as the children shared the hideous, deplorable situations out of which they had been rescued, my heart broke again. Orphaned for the most part; some abandoned, others whose parents had died from HIV/AIDS and other diseases, forced to beg and scavenge for food, never sure where they'd sleep or where their next meal might come from...Of course, I know that these conditions exist for many around the world, but that fact doesn't often get right up in my face. I was filled with sorrow at the overwhelming poverty and injustice in the world.
And then, the next night, I had the opportunity to experience the launch of a photography exhibit. Now I know it doesn't seem like there would be much possibility for heart-break there, but the subjects of the pictures on display were seven individuals who had committed crimes, served time in various prisons and had been released on parole and were attempting to reintegrate into society. While many stories of hope and success were shared, they had all encountered daunting obstacles and varying degrees of prejudice, stereo-typing and harsh judgement in the process of making the most of their second chance.
By then, my poor old heart had had just about all it could take. I felt as if I had been reborn, somehow, and didn't recognize myself or the world or my role within it. My own issues and concerns suddenly became minor, minuscule, unimportant, in light of all this suffering and injustice. I'm thankful for the wise and understanding friends with whom I've had opportunity to discuss all this at length - just saying things out loud and having someone respond with grace and understanding has helped me process this overload. But this whole experience begs the question: "Now what?" The overwhelming temptation is to simply throw up my hands in despair, thinking that any effort on my part would be at best an imperceptible drop in this enormous bucket of need. I have never been a person of action; I find myself desperate to start walking the walk; preferably in some major, significant way. But what I find God whispering to my heart is surprisingly simple (or maybe not so surprising, or simple): start at home, love your family, your friends, your neighbours, those in your world who are in need - and aren't we all, in one way or another? As we practice this with regularity, as we ask God to open our eyes to the needs around us, I suspect we might find our circle expanding; the effects of living God's love in simple and concrete and relevant ways will have a ripple effect - all the way to eternity.