Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Church Reaching to the Margins

This is a post I found written by a guy named Jay Reimer and it so touched my soul that I had to post this. I hope it touches you too.........................

The Church Reaching to the Margins
February 24, 2006

Recently I have been joining my friends Paula, Thomas and Suzanne on their weekly Sunday afternoon visit to a nearby convalescent home. To be honest, it can be pretty depressing, and a little gross at times. When you first walk into the ward, you are greeted by the scent of human urine and an almost palpably desperate silence, punctuated by the occassional quiet murmur of nurses speaking into telephones. As you continue down the hall, you pass by some of the residents as they sit in wheelchairs positioned somewhat randomly in and around doorways and walls. Some sit with heads down, dozing lightly, while some nod to themselves, and others look up and smile even as their neighbor struggles with an uncomfortable restraint, letting out a pitiful scream of both pain and confusion. This last Sunday Paula and I stopped by Doris’s room, where she sat alone, clutching a stuffed polar bear, no light in the room but the fading glow of afternoon. While Doris was glad to have visitors, all attempts at engaging her and cheering her were met with dismay at her circumstances. When Paula asked if Doris had been out with her family recently, her response essentially damned not just her family, but our whole culture, and by implication the church as well. For most Americans who aren’t taken by death at a tragically young age, this will be our collective fate: withering away from a life of vitality and promise to one of decay and regret, isolation, and for some, madness, in the human dumping grounds we euphemistically dub “convalescent homes.”

Not long ago I read the book Jesus in the Margins, by Rick McKinley, and the idea of bringing Christ to all those who inhabit the margins of life has been bubbling and stewing through my thoughts as of late. McKinley describes some of the characteristics of the marginalized as being a sense of isolation, aimlessness, emptiness, vulnerability coupled with defensiveness, and a disconnect from themselves and those around them. The people McKinley describes are people we all know, or he is simply describing us, and the book resonates with so many because it feels like it’s written to me and for me.

But therein lies part of the problem; the reason why there are people who are feeling left out on the margins in the first place, is that we’re still thinking about me. As much as those of us who have been saved out of the margins of life may still have a lot of work that God needs to do to clean up the mess that is our lives, and dig up the roots of our old worldview from the soil of our hearts, that does not free us from our responsibility to be conduits of grace to everyone God has place in our path. As I was driving to the convalescent home on my most recent visit there, the connection between this fact and the state of the people I was going to visit finally hit me in one of those “No kidding, Sherlock” epiphanies. Is there a group of people in our society that is any further out into the margins than the elderly? In the elderly you have a group of people who, first of all, need love from someone, anyone, it really doesn’t matter who, as long as someone is filling that need. This sort of love can be a tool that the Holy Spirit uses to crack open the hearts of stone that many elderly have spent a lifetime hardening, and it can soothe the fragile and desolate souls of those who have been abandoned. However, our fixation on our own pleasure and pain makes it pretty tough to address the needs, spiritual, emotional, and otherwise, of those who aren’t like us and aren’t directly involved in our social circles.

I think we’re all familiar with James 1:27, which says that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” At best they are visited by our money, but not our selves. Even in the church, it seems that we are bent on achieving the same level of materialistic success that our culture tells us we must have, which means we have basically committed ourselves to spending an ever-increasing amount of our time on the achievment of that success. Practicing genuine Christian community becomes a nuisance, a drain on an already busy schedule, or something we’d love to get around to someday. The return on our investment towards material success comes with diminishing spiritual returns, though. The more time we spend in this quest, the less time we have to invest in others, and practicing a pure and undefiled religion before God will end up on the backburner. Besides ignoring a large segment of our population that desperately craves human care and interaction, we’re setting ourselves up for the exact situation we are so intent on tuning out or pretending will never happen to us. Someday when it’s our turn to be old, who will be there for us with the time and the interest to take care of us? Probably no one, if we’re honest with ourselves.

The first time I went to the convalescent home, I recall going with Thomas into a room with a couple of gentlemen whose Alzheimer’s disease had reduced them to laying in bed and staring at the drabness of the walls, or the television as it sat there chattering narcissistically to itself. As Thomas spoke with one of the men, I went over to chat with his roommate. Above his bed were pictures of someone’s (hopefully his) kids and grandkids, along with some faded portraits of a young World War II airman. I shook the man’s hand and began talking with him about the photos, but he was unable to speak even so much as his name in a coherent fashion. His grip was strong, though, and he did not let go of my hand. I realized that that was probably all he needed, was for someone to talk to him and hold his hand, so I plowed on ahead. As Thomas and I prepared to go look for some other folks that he wanted to visit with, I told the man that I had to leave, but that it was good talking with him. Still clasping my hand, he shook it vigorously and as his glazed and clouded eyes searched my face, he repeated again and again, “Don’t forget me, don’t forget me, don’t me…”

I don’t think I ever will, but I pray that the church hasn’t forgotten yet.


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