From The Inside Out
May 11, 2004
The Salvation Army exists to share the love of Jesus Christ, meet human needs, and be a transforming influence in the communities of our world.
Before I start, I need to make a few statements of clarification;
1. There are many people in the Salvation Army who are beautiful, compassionate and Spirit filled.
2. The Salvation Army has made an enormous difference in the world throughout the years and should be proud if all that it stands for.
I keep reading articles and attending meetings in the Salvation Army that strike me as patronizing and condescending towards those whom many of us refer to as friends. It’s amazing how many meetings I have attended at which the participants, many of whom are seasoned veterans in the caring profession, have discussed how to ‘fix’ people. I hear comments about how long it would take for us to make someone healthy and how we care for our poor people. I’ve even heard it suggested that since people often don’t appear to want our help, we shouldn’t even bother helping them. I hear so much ‘us’ and ‘them’ language that I find it difficult to believe we are actually invested in people’s lives.
Then I read articles printed in magazines such as Horizons and the trend continues. I have read articles from high ranking S.A. leaders about how “…we must go into communities and transform them”. I read stuff about how we must give a “hand up and not just a hand out”. I read about how necessary it is to do ministry to the poor. I even hear that we should serve the poor, which is a better idea but still not quite right. I often find this language to be very one-sided and arrogant and I sometimes can’t believe my ears and eyes when it is used.
Who are we to think we can give a hand up? Do we think we don’t need some fixing ourselves? Are people ‘our poor’? Do we own them? Are we prideful enough to really believe that we can transform a community without ourselves being open to transformation? Can we share the love of Jesus Christ without experiencing Christ at the same time?
For 14 years I have worked amongst Toronto’s homeless community. I started with the goal of ‘saving’ people. God has given me gifts that I felt I needed to use in order to share Jesus, meet needs, and transform communities. I have learned some valuable lessons in the midst of that arrogant start to my ministry career. Some of the lessons I learned were that I was the one who needed to be saved, I was the one who needed my human needs met and I was the one who needed to be transformed. I found that the people I went to ‘save’ actually were the instruments of my own salvation. It was in the context of community amongst very broken and poor people that I heard the voice of God clearly. I discovered that I was very broken and poor myself. I have learned that while God may have chosen and used me to be the instrument of touching and changing people’s lives, most importantly He brought me here because He knew I could hear His voice best in this context. He knew He could reach me here.
In Isaiah 58, we see that if we go about rebuilding walls, restoring communities and helping people in need, then and only then will our light shine and will we receive healing. So after my 14 years of working amongst the poor, it is in my own life that I can see the most visible results of God’s work. And it is those whom I first went to save and transform whom He has used effectively to save and transform me.
So then we look at our organizational mission statement. I should first say that there are powerful elements of beauty contained in it. However, is it one-sided? Is it slightly arrogant and even a little patronizing? Is our mission to simply share Christ with others or should it include experiencing Him as well? Do we exist solely to transform communities or should our mission include letting communities transform us as well? We all know that the Salvation Army could use a little transformation these days.
My experience has led me to the conviction that if I want to be the presence of Christ in a community, than I must learn how to experience Christ in that community. (“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14) I do not own Jesus. When I think I can bring Him somewhere with me, even if that is a dark alley in the inner city, I need to realize that He is already there when I arrive and that I can experience Him in that place.
I am a man of pride and sinfulness. I am broken. I struggle with insecurities and sometimes have a poor self image. I often feel the need to be known and heard. I occasionally have been known for having a short fuse and very little patience. I struggle with eating too much and watching too much TV. I live with Multiple Sclerosis and have questioned ‘why me?’ I am far from perfect.
But I know that I am healthier than I was when I started this work. I know that God has found a way to reach me. I know that I need to be me and not pretend to be something I’m not. And I know that God will continue to use my humanness for whatever He wants to accomplish through me. And that is all I can ask for.
My purpose, ultimately, in writing this is to seek humility. Let’s not assume that we have all the answers and that the people amongst whom we find ourselves need us. Let’s not try to share Jesus with people until we’re ready to meet Jesus in people. Let’s not try to meet human needs without acknowledging our own needs. And let’s not try to transform communities until we ourselves are ready to be transformed.
LIKE BIGFOOT, LIKE ELVIS
God of surprises,
While I really don’t know what you’re up to most of the time, I thank you for breaking into my life in the most unexpected places.
Forgive me for ever thinking I could leave you behind when I step out of my usual routine.
God of unlimited imagination,
I praise you for once in a while blowing my mind by revealing yourself to me in wonderful and bizarre ways.
Forgive me for not tapping into the depths of your imagination.
God of a warped sense of humour,
Thank you for making me laugh at your wonder in ways I didn’t think you had in you.
Forgive me for sometimes taking myself and things around me too seriously.
God of all creation,
Thank you for showing me every day how limitless your creativity truly is.
Forgive me for sometimes forgetting your creativity in my own life.
Thank you for showing up once in a while and reminding me of where you hang out.
Forgive me for so often not noticing you.