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November 3, 2009 / Hannah

It all boils down to this

For the last year I worked for a private company that provides family services for parents whose children have been placed in the system, and who may or may not be getting them back. I left about a month ago, and just recently realized for the last month I haven’t thought about that job or anyone that I worked with. I quite literally, unconsciously, removed it from my mind for a while. I’ve been preoccupied with other changes that have been occurring until this last week when I’ve begun to catch up with myself.

I just read the book by the now President Obama, written during his years in Illinois about coming of age and his work as a community organizer in Chicago. I have to say I enjoyed it, and for the first time in what has probably been close to a year, I’ve been excited about what could be done to change the direction of this country, and not because of him but because it appears there may be people who are able to hold out for their convictions. The endurance of his hope for change, and the type of work he was doing, were inspiring.

Community organizing could also be called community advocacy. The “organizer” gets to know the community, spends time talking to people and figuring out what the key needs are, then begins to get the neighborhood to unify in seeking those changes, and connecting them with the politicians, police, churches and school administration who control the factors that need to change. Ultimately, if it works, the community begins to change as people realize they have power to change things, change themselves, where they’ve never believed they could.

Over the last year my idealism has given way to cycnicism as I’ve worked with a system that needs to be revamped and with people who gave up a long time ago, who find that it’s safer to help things fail than to make goals. I lost the ability to feel compassion for a while (they call it compassion fatigue), and then it began to come back in sharp pangs during meetings where I heard about things that sent me reeling or when I saw someone who I knew was giving up walking over to the Circle K to get some more of their old memory numbing drink.

The twitching, the stench of sweat and urine, missing teeth, betrayal, black and blue little bodies, and pictures of unspeakable acts drawn with crayons: well that’s the world we live in, it’s not changing. I can dream of a world where my dreams could come true, but I’d only be disappointed. That’s a bit of cynical realism that broke into my heart, but I don’t want to have that perspective. I want to hope, to believe, but I’m afraid when I turn 70 I’ll turn around and look at my life and see a world worse off than when I was 25, and lives that didn’t change.

I know that lives which make up the world will only change when they meet and accept Jesus’ love. I know that it’s a few lives that change at a time, but I can’t be satisfied with a few. The hippi movement proposed a radically different way of living, and it actually changed the country.

Jesus offers the way of compassion, another paradigm-shifter. And what is compassion? What is it not? The dictionary defines it as some feeling akin to concern and pity. It has to be something else too. God wouldn’t have stressed the importance of compassion if it was just a feeling caused by something our hearts know to be wrong. What good would that do anyone? Compassion should be good for the person you feel it for. So if compassion must be good for someone, it possibly requires an action. And who ought we to feel compassion for? Every moment of every day is full of voices crying out, and as Millay points out in her poem ‘Renascence‘, and we cannot bear the weight of the world like God can.

We’re all called to be who God made us to be, yes? So compassion, for you, will be unique. You will be drawn to those who need what you have to offer, and then you’ll be good at offering it. God said that his compassion is more enduring than the mountains. When compassion works in conjunction with the way God has designed me, I shouldn’t have to wonder where it’s going to come from, how it will be sustained.

So what happened over this last year? Fatigue, then balance, but no change. I can’t control the decisions that others make: not CPS, judges, parents or children. I will not make excuses for people, but I can have compassion. I can understand where they’ve been, the cycle of abuse, the need to escape reality, and hope that their hearts are open to a better way. It’s a hard decision, and doesn’t get easy for a long time. But it happens.

So basically, seek God, please, so that he can change our world.


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