Why I struggle with service

I make my living by inviting people to the city to serve.  So, is service always a good or helpful thing?  For some service is that annual event you participate in to feel better about yourself.  For years I have visited with people as they search for a place to serve - Thanksgiving is a classic example of this.  I have even witnessed parents using this pilgrimage as a teachable moment, “you should be grateful for what you have and where you live,” as if the homeless are an example of what happens to people who are not grateful enough. There are other more mature versions of the one day pilgrimage - the annual church mission trip or spending a year in voluntary service.  I need to be careful here; I realize that service is a holy calling and privilege.  I do wonder if for all the right reasons service has been corrupted, at least the North American version of service.

It seems to me that for many people service is something we do to other people (read “the less fortunate”).  The problem with this is that service ends up being divorced from relationship.  When service doesn’t include relationship then the people we serve lunch to become “the homeless.”  Labels have a way of dehumanizing the other.   This is a dangerous path to go down.  When we label someone it becomes less problematic to treat them as something less than human.

Service- healthy, God honoring service- is always a two way street.  It is about giving and receiving.  It is about knowing the other and the other knowing you.  It is about friendship.  The Kingdom of God shines brightly when unexpected relationships develop.

Enemy Mine

In 1992 Walter Wink wrote this about the United States: “It will be interesting, with the ending of the Cold War, to see what parade of scapegoats, enemies and barbarians are invented to carry out the national shadow.  Saddam Hussein has already performed that role splendidly.  Who will be next?” Have you ever wondered why it is so important to have enemies?  I live in Denver; we hate the Oakland Raiders.  If the Broncos have a season record of 2-14 with both wins against Oakland, it would still be a good season.  I am also a lifelong Vancouver Canucks fan.  After last year’s Stanly Cup playoffs I still find it hard to think good thoughts about Boston.

Our war on terror, at least the part that was directed against Saddam Hussein, has “officially” come to an end.  It almost seems that in preparation for an end to hostilities in Iraq we needed to find a new enemy and so the Axis of Evil was created.

Is it possible that we “need” enemies because friends tend to overlook weaknesses and give us a pass on our sinful nature?   Do enemies reveal parts of who we are, both individually and corporately, that friends would be too afraid or polite to uncover?  Is it possible that Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies because in praying for them a space is created to take a hard look are our own weaknesses and faults?

We need enemies, not because they are evil and we are good.  We need enemies because they are the only people (or nations) with the courage to ask us to look in a mirror and acknowledge who we really are.  When we own the totality of who we are conversion becomes a possibility and the kingdom of God becomes a reality, right here, right now.