Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hopping Mad (What Seems to Be Emily's Constant State)

We have a little organization in our community that caters to the needs of the disadvantaged youth in our area. This organization has a center where the kids can go after school, and two nights a week, during the school year, the doors are open for the kids to come and hang out to play games and socialize with each other. This organization was developed in direct correlation with a questionnaire that was sent to all residents about what they would most like to see in our township. An old house has now been bought, and money is being raised to renovate that house, so that when a family of one of the kids who attends the center is in need (as happened a couple of years ago when a woman who had four young children was about to get kicked out of her apartment, putting them all on the street), they can have temporary housing and food.

I have volunteered a couple of times to help serve the “snack” at the center on Monday nights (one of the nights they are open), and my heart goes out to these kids. On the surface, they’re a bunch of noisy, rambunctious teenagers, into the video games the centre provides, dressed in the “coolest” of fashions for their set, all trying to prove how tough they are. However, this “snack” we serve is always something substantial (chili, tacos, barbecue, etc.), and they come back for seconds and thirds. They’ll eat just about anything we serve them without complaint, but they particularly love brownies, and I get a kick out of watching them gather around hopefully, before “snack time” has been announced, with their eyes on the brownies, trying to wheedle some out of us before they’ve been allowed to eat. These brownies never last long. My friend who bakes them has been known to say, “I could bring in 10 dozen brownies, and we still wouldn’t have enough.” Obviously, these kids don’t have anyone at home baking brownies for them.

I also see many of them out on the streets. They like to skateboard. They smoke. They walk around in groups. One of these days, I’m going to stop thinking about it and just stop and offer them a ride and talk to them. I’m pretty sure they’d resist at first, but I’m also pretty sure they’d eventually latch onto an adult who seems to care.

This community center has its faults, not the least of which, in my eyes, is that it was founded by a Christian organization that is pretty fundamental. However, the people who run it, the college kids who spend lots of time volunteering, and others who volunteer all love the kids and come to this special ministry with very good hearts and the best of intentions. It’s one of those places where those of us who can agree to disagree all come together for a better, higher cause, and that’s what Christianity should be all about. Working with the center, I am reminded that I need to remove the beam from my own eye before focusing on the speck in others’ eyes (Matthew 7:5).

However, sometimes the other person has a beam in his or her eye, too, and that just makes me hopping mad. I’m on the outreach committee at our church, and we voted recently to up our donations to this community center. I’d love to do even more, inspiring the kids to become involved in ecojustice and other outlets where they can feed a passion. My feeling is that there are some who can never be “saved,” so to speak. They are destined always to live on the fringes of society, perhaps to lead lives of crime. However, I would not be me if I didn’t believe that at least 90% of them are young enough that all they need is some positive intervention from truly caring people to help them find a better path, one that will capitalize on their innate talents and lead them to productive lives.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I learned that one of the young members of our church expressed the opinion that he did not want us to give them so much money, because the kids who go there are all “drug addicts.” Huh? My immediate reaction was rage. This is where I get so frustrated with “talking the talk” and not “walking the walk.” What about all those bracelets a lot of the young people have taken to wearing that say, “What would Jesus do?” Is that mere talk? Or maybe these young people have not been taught what Jesus really would have done. So, here I am to tell you what I think he would have done (and why he’d probably be crucified all over again were he suddenly to appear in the majority of towns and cities across 21st-century America).

Jesus would not have turned his back on “drug-addicted” teenagers. He would have realized that the drug addiction was merely a symptom of deeper problems and pain. Just as he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, just as he told stories about Good Samaritans, he would be right there today, at the center of this community, trying to help these poor lost kids – kids that society has dumped on all their lives. That’s what I believe. That’s why I’m a Christian. And the beam in my eye is that I don’t see how those who don't feel that way can call themselves “Christians.”


Anonymous said...

I had a friend who was trying to find out any information she could about her father, whom she never knew. She ended up contacting the Salvation Army, a Christian group who have access to a lot of data and their response was 'We won't help people who were born out of wedlock.' I mean, what century are we in? I agree with you, Emily. If it's not about helping the disadvantaged, the suffering and the poor, what is it about?

Anonymous said...

(Difficult to comment here BTW - trying again!) I totally agree that Christianity is about helping those who need help. Isn't that the social gospel - you love God through loving others? And on the topic of helping "problem kids", I think that any intervention that's done with respect and enthusiasm makes a difference. I've seen it with kids in my office - when I participate in their imaginative worlds from a position of respect and caring then it definitely helps. The advice is secondary.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Beautiful post. Thank you for once again demonstrating what a true Christian is. Maybe you can bring that intolerant church member to the community center and hook that person up with one of the kids to see if they might form a connection that helps them both.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully you or someone else has had the opportunity to point out to that person the inconsistency between the beliefs they profess and the attitudes they have, and they'll be the better for it. We've all said assinine things in the past (well, I have anyway). The important thing is to be able in retrospect to realise just how assinine they were!

In a similar vein I came across this from Gail Collins in the NY Times today (sometimes it may look like I'm a publicist for the NY Times but, trust me, I'm not):

Opening for a McCain rally in North Carolina last weekend, Representative Robin Hayes said he wanted “to keep the crowd as respectful as possible.”

In order to pursue that goal as efficiently as possible, Hayes then announced that “liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.” This was an especially unfortunate turn of phrase given the fact that he had begun his remarks by saying he wanted to “make sure we don’t say something stupid.”

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, that's a horrible story! Whatever happened to Christian charity?

Pete, that's exactly what the social gospel is all about. Meanwhile, how hopeful to know that any kind of intervention, as long as respect and enthusiasm are present appears to do good.

Danny, those were my thoughts exactly. I told Bob he ought to talk to that young man about getting involved at the community center.

Lokesh, oh yes, I've said plenty of assinine things in my lifetime. Oh, and that's me, "A real-American-hating liberal," out to get those who work hard and believe in God.

knitseashore said...

How very sad. As you pointed out, the new testament is so full of stories where Jesus went where no one else would go, made friends with people no one else would be friends with, helped people that were considered beyond help. He was chastized for it, but he kept on doing it because it was the right thing to do, and what God would have us do. Some of the people he helped accepted that help, and their lives were changed. A few of them (the rich man comes to mind...) didn't accept his help, and so he gracefully let them make their own choices and go on their way.

One of the many lessons I see here is a reminder not to stereotype. Not all of these kids are drug addicts. One of them could end up to be a pastor him or herself someday! (God does amazing things like that). And not all Christians behave like Christ would have us behave. Hopefully the world remembers and sees the "walk the walk" Christians as much or more often than the "talk the talk" ones. And also extends forgiveness to those who haven't quite made that leap yet.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works for a nonprofit that offers chemical health treatment for women I can attest that even today with all we know about the causes of addiction there is still a huge stigma attached to it. I think what community center is doing for those kids is fabulous as is the additional funds your church has voted to send there. Even if it only keeps one or two of the kids from winding up on the street or in jail, it is worth it.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Knits, yes, you are so right about not stereotyping and also about forgiveness. Forgiveness is another key ingredient.

Stef, that's what I'm always saying, "Even if we only help ONE person, isn't that one person worth helping?" Of course, my hope is that we help many more than one, but every single one is worth the effort of at least trying.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so sorry. I'd be angry too. The person who made that comment has a lot to learn (as we all do) and maybe other people's examples, including your own, will help that person think differently about drug abuse.