Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Focus on Material Resources Ignores the Untapped Resource of Compassion

We live in a world that is interconnected.  This is a readily-acknowledged sentiment. From the Christian belief that we are all a part of the body of Christ to the secular understanding that everything from poverty to disease to environment connected, we have many ways to engage in conversation about this largely agreeable fact.  But turning this conversation to unified action is very difficult.  Why?

Because live in a world where attempts to address issues, bring solutions and bring justice are compartmentalized.  Most non-profits focus on specific causes and needs, segregated by income, race, geography, or disease.  The fact that our world is interconnected with each part effecting the other seems to fall by the wayside.  Many of these well-meaning efforts are also deeply entrenched in a bureaucracy that is rigid, resistant to change and is more focused on institutional survival than mission-completion.

I was talking recently with folks about the kind of service and activism we engage in here at William Penn House.  It is always difficult to articulate exactly what we do here in familiar vernacular because we are not focused on one issue or another.  We truly believe that everything is interconnected.  We view our role as nurturing greater consciousness. A few years ago, we embraced the term "radical hospitality" to define our work.  It fits nicely with our belief that there is that of God/goodness in all, and as we build relations based on this deep faith in each other, good things and a more peaceful world emerge.  What this also does is affirm another aspect of a fairly universal belief: all people have  But in the world of social justice and social service with countless compelling issues, especially in a town that has hundreds if not thousands of cause organizations, it can feel isolating.

We also live in a world of finite resources.  The waters that flow around us now are the same waters that have flowed since the dawn of time, albeit now much more toxic and yet needing to nourish more people than ever.  Our capacity to absorb garbage is seriously limited.  The fossil fuels that take thousands of years to create are being depleted within decades.  We also work against ourselves with health issues - making healthcare extremely expensive while supporting unhealthy nutrition and health habits, and not using all the resources (such as self-testing for HIV) to encourage people to do for themselves what they can, instead fostering a dependency on others.  We basically keep going back to this notion that we have endless pockets of material reserves, that we can talk about the needs magically meeting the needs of others while continuing with our own over-consumption.

But there is a resource that is unlimited - our capacity to care for and love each other, and to do so with at least an effort of grace, rather than ego.   In attempting to live this way, I have also learned to appreciate a Jewish way of doing things that is build on concentric circles: we start in our immediate surroundings, tendign to the things closest to us (such as the environmental work in our backyard, being in fellowship at Capitol Hill Methodist Church's morning breakfast with many who are unhoused) and going out from there, never ending but not starting with a vision fixed on a far-away place that ignores those around us.

In doing this, we really see how it all is interconnected.  Tapping into these limitless resources of compassion that is good work, even if it does feel lonely at times in a society where material things continue to be the idols of worship.

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