As I sit writing this reflection on the Monday of my return from a Gulf Coast tour, my mind is focused on action and compassion for all those involved. I find myself wrapping who I am around those experiencing both devastation and restoration. My daily experience is in constant dialogue with the oppressed, misused, abused, powerless, the powerful, the unenlightened and the enlightened among us all.
Knowing this, the existential question still resonates, “How do we help people to care about themselves and care about others?” This is not an “either/or” proposition, but rather an unavoidable and necessary “both/and” necessity.
We must do for those who cannot do for themselves-as well doing for those who know to do good but do it not.
It is not a question of whose turn it is to help or, more painfully, even volunteer to suffer in the place of others. Reality teaches that to serve, suffer, sacrifice and forgive are the only ways “to be.” All other ways of being are merely lessened, and are fragments of a rightly ordered life that redeems and restores by its very nature.
The extrinsication, or working out, of such a life is necessarily bent towards the peripatetic. Or in the words of Jesus: “Follow Me.” We who can see wholeness (the kingdom) and therefore live lives bent toward wholeness (the kingdom within, Lk. 17:21) are not only required but are compelled without choice to heal, deliver and resurrect.
Why? Because as one lives in a dynamic engagement with the “oughtness” of God, as well as the “isness” of his creation, it is then readily apparent and accessible that communities nor individuals should be sick, blind, deaf, lame or dead and dying.
As people of faith become what we “ought” to be, what “is” becomes less and less desirable. The “ought” must become the “is.” In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, we must “become the change we expect to see in the world.”
I am excited about the possibilities of opportunity that arise from the Gulf Coast’s newest “basin.” Displaced persons who were living in displaced cultures before the hurricane, persons who have only breathed the stale and vapid air of apathy, nihilism, and hopelessness, can now, through the AALC (African American Leadership Commission) and our friends, experience the animating power of hope. They can now experience the visioning matrix of faith and the unifying way of a love that can even love the unlovable.
I am ready, willing and able to offer myself to help the millions of displaced and disheartened persons who have been “hurricaned” into unsettling new worlds. We who are able must not only walk through the Gulf Coast, but we must also march through Congress with feet muddy from the lower 9th Ward, parishes and neighborhood “basins” of the Gulf Coast.
Greg Livingston is pastor of Mandell United Methodist Church.