Friday, July 6, 2012

A Hand Up, Not Hand Out and Other Communication Conundrums

Communication, while a basic human function, can be exceedingly simply and yet ridiculously complex all the same time.  Last week, the reality of the communication conundrum we all often experience in our daily lives was reinforced...through no other channel than that of the source daily communication conundrums worldwide: Facebook.  (Insert lots of "of courses" and laughs.)  All of us have been there at some point.  We send a message by saying or writing something that we believe to be crystal clear and the receiver of the message hears something totally different.  How does this happen?  It is quite simple actually.  We are each a composition of all our past life experiences; those experiences coupled with our unique identities make up our own context, which affects how we interpret the world around us.  

What happened exactly?  Well, to start I broke my own personal rule and posted something on Facebook that although I did not believe to be political in nature, evoked a politics-oriented thread of heated comments.  You know, the kind of thread we all love to hate.  One that goes nowhere and ends up with everyone feeling unheard and not validated.  I say a big, "Boo" to threads like this and somehow I fell into the trap.  And to that, I say a big, "Boo" to me as well.   Anyway, the statement that I made was that I believe insurance company executives earn way too much money at the expense of patients and doctors.  Some earn tens of thousands of dollars per day while the average American earns less than $40K per year.  I implied that while the Affordable Care Act is certainly far from perfect (and to be clear I don't agree with all aspects of the plan), our current system is equally far from perfect.  As you can probably imagine, my statement about insurance executives salaries was read as a campaign endorsement or sorts...someone even interpreted my statement as me supporting abortion.  What?!  Umm...have I mentioned I have three adopted children?  I value the dignity of all human life.  All! 

Two good things came out of the thread.  First, it was a reminder to be careful to chose my words carefully.  Second, the heated discussion further cemented my belief that the widening gap between the rich and the poor is the biggest factor in our national and global problems, and absolutely needs to be addressed in our generation.  Things simply cannot continue along this trajectory, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, without something collapsing.  Most of us seem to want to focus on one or two minor details instead of looking at the bigger problems.  We are majoring in the minors, all the while thirty thousand people die each day from preventable illnesses and 32 million are uninsured in America...the richest nation in the world.  As my Ethiopian children would say, "Mommy, dis is a no!"  

To be clear, I am not a big proponent of hand outs.  As Richard Stearns (CEO of World Vision International) believes, "Hand ups and not hand outs" are the answer.  Hand outs, while sometimes absolutely necessary, do not solve long term problems.  They address immediate needs.  Additionally, continued hand outs create a system where people are relying on the hand out and not gainfully employed, or looking to be.  A great example is the broken state of our nation's welfare system.  Some estimates point to an annual $60 Billion in Medicare fraud.  $60 Billion!  The UN estimates that only $30 Billion a year could solve world hunger.  This is a problem, an extremely costly problem in terms of money and lives.  It is quite clear then that stopping at the hand out and not resolving to offer a hand up does not fix bigger problems.  Sounds like a lot of work, right?  But then again, how many of these problems are due to the prevalent injustices in our world?  As Max Lucado once said, "Many of us succeed in life simple because we were born on third base.  Yet, so many others aren't even born on a team."  In so many cases, human dignity has been completely destroyed.  Without one's dignity, what would you or I be?  

I love World Vision's model of partnering with people to ensure they are giving the hand up needed to start and sustain a purposeful existence.  Their organizational model is the first that comes to mind when speaking of hand ups, not hand outs.  Here is their mission statement:  World Vision is an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The key words, I believe, are partnership, working with, seeking justice, and Kingdom living.  In order bear witness to the good news of the kingdom, we need to work with the marginalized and be the voice for the voiceless.  As Paulo Freire wrote in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, "True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands--whether of individuals or entire peoples--need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

Since I believe I am one of the lucky ones born on third base and that every one of God's children deserves to be on a team, you may be able to imagine how some of my beliefs and passion for justice could be misinterpreted as political statements.  (This is never my intention, I assure you.)  While I am certainly proud of my citizenship and value our freedom, my freedom in Christ...that is, my freedom to serve as Christ served, is a greater driving force than any political issue.  Christians are called to operate outside of and within the confines of our systems.  We are called not to simply memorize the Word, but to live the Word.  Part of living the Word will almost undoubtedly place you in a uphill climb.  However, I believe it is worth every bead of sweat, mocking joke, and sideways glance one may receive.  Most importantly, you will realize you are the path with Christ because he will show up in ways you could have never planned or imagined on your own.  

With the election year in full swing, I prayerfully ask you to consider directing your energies toward the real issues, the big problems that need attention.  The ones that may never be addressed on the circuit or in debates, the ones neither candidate wants to touch.  Be careful not to get pulled into the details and be cognizant of how either party may be using you a pawn...playing on your emotions to win a vote.  That is the nature of the beast.  As Christians we are called to higher living.  To be grace givers and grace receivers.  Most importantly, do not let the ugliness of the debates cause divisiveness in the Kingdom.  Until we all become one unified body in Christ... which crosses party lines...have no doubt, it is nearly impossible to fulfill our collective purpose.  

In closing, Romans 12:1-8 comes to mind:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts,according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
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