Excerpts from an email sent to a trusted friend today in regard to the situation I wrote about in my last post: “The Face of Injustice.”
2 days later, I'm still angry. But mostly I'm sad. and equally helpless.
The situation I wrote about is deeply personal. It is not just “a man” I wrote about, but a friend. It is difficult because I feel like the whole situation has "moved on" and nothing has been done. I spoke with my friend - the man who has still not been paid - this morning. His boss has "apologized," but still no money has been seen. He says there will be pay tomorrow, we'll see. Poor guy. He can't go anywhere, he literally has nothing and no one.
As with any human situation, there are just so many layers. They have no place to go, and so life goes on. It is such a delicate situation. I want to act on their behalf, but I can't because I know in the end it may very well NOT be better for them. The last thing they need is us making his boss even more angry, pushing him away and reducing chances that they would receive any money. And with xenophobic attacks increasing and threatening to get worse again, they would rather be "safe" here and not paid than being in danger out on the streets of the city. Or freezing in the cold with their 2-year old.
Its difficult when these situations that would make great ethics situations to argue over in a classroom become real-life, and action is so difficult.
Its also difficult when the last two mornings began for them by being yelled at by their boss/landlord. Yesterday her. Today him. Will it ever stop?
Also - I feel sorry for their boss. I have not stopped thinking about this situation, about these people. Though I could easily say a dozen terrible things about him, the reality is I can’t stop thinking about him; I feel so, so sorry for him.
The more I know about this situation and the parties involved, the more this is true. The boss doesn't know how else to treat people. He has learned from his own terrible experiences. He has shared stories of his own life: people have always taken advantage of him, stolen his money, broken his heart, etc. He is lonely. I wonder if he has anyone who really, truly loves and cares for him? The stories I have heard suggest not. They suggest a life of being taken advantage of, being used, abused, and spat upon. If this is what he knows, can we expect him to display different actions?
Don’t get me wrong- I am not excusing him for his actions. He is still responsible. But hearing his story - it helps me to be compassionate, and it breaks my heart for him.
Can you imagine living that life? How can I not feel sorry for him? How can I not see his broken side and also seek to love him as Christ calls us to love, to help to heal the broken, even when it calls us to see beyond a thick black cloud of sin and brokenness?
Music. This is what I do when I am too full of thoughts to function: I listen to music. First, I thought of him when I heard a song called “Either Way” by Guster: “Were you ever kind? Were you always cruel? Who’s ever seen that other side of you? Happened every time, so it must be true: where did you learn its either him or you?”
Seeing both sides of the cycle of brokenness and pain is important to staying grounded in why it is we are called to “love our enemies” - a difficult but foundational part of our call as Christians.
That brings me to point 2 - A prayer that is Scriptural and that we've heard a thousand times, but so honest and realistic and appropriate here - "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do..." It goes on and describes pain, ways of people hurting others. Yes, I believe deep down inside, the boss knows what he is doing is selfish and wrong. But truly don’t think he is capable of comprehending the extend to which this is true. I dont think he can, because it requires the presence of real love to understand the ways we hurt each other, the depths to which we dig into one another's souls.
So this is where I've been the last couple of days. Silenced but wanting desperately not to be. Yet trying to act in love. It is a difficult, difficult burden to bare, but an essential one, I believe. Central to all I believe, perhaps the most important thing that influences my life and makes me who I am - even if I know I fail at living it out sometimes - is the idea that Christ came in LOVE. As a Christian I am called to LOVE. To LOVE my neighbor as myself. Specifically, Christ calls us to love our enemies...? I read Scripture often that talks about love, it is central to who I believe Christians SHOULD be. Its challenging, though - like this passage (from Luke 6 - Jesus is speaking):
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ... 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. ... 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Challenging, but I believe this is perhaps the greatest truth of Christianity. or at least it should be. How different would our world be if Christians truly strived to live this out?
The reality is, I don’t LIKE this man! I don’t know that I would have the courage to stand with him, to be the friend to him he so badly needs. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see beyond my emotions that are tied up. I can see that deep within is a broken, hurting child of God - who is, like me, created in God’s image. I also know that as a woman of faith, I am called to LOVE - and not just those who love me. I know that I cam called to love my neighbor… and not just my neighbors who love me.
So. Where does this leave me? Thinking about how my emotions are one thing, but I believe love is something entirely apart from that. I am grateful it is. Can you imagine if love rested solely on emotions? I think people letting love rest only in our emotions is a source of so much conflict and heartache in the world.
I desire to move beyond that.
But I don’t know how.
I'm still praying for guidance. I'm still praying for wisdom to know which action to take. Praying that I remember that every great action requires great risk. I am willing to take risk, but this is more difficult when that great risk is also someone else's. I cannot make that decision of risk for them, and we cannot be sure any action I take would be for the greater good.
This does not mean that I must take no action. There must be balance somewhere. I am praying for a clear vision of what the “third way” might be. For now, I remain in hopeful prayer. I remain hopeful because of the hope I am able to share. Because I am told by my friend that the trust we share as he has come to me offers him hope. Because I am able to be a source of light in the darkness. Because I know that in Christ there is hope for all things, and for all people, and because tonight, I am choosing to look for the good in all people - even in the very ones who have persecuted us. It is not easy. No one said it would be. But Christ is my strength, my hope, my redeemer. Christ is the strong rock and foundation on which I stand.
That is what brings me hope.