Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eighteen Years Ago, Father Richard Rohr Said....

It was exactly 18 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1994, when Bread for the World and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry (now called the Lutheran Adocacy Ministry) co-sponsored a great conference. (Thanks to great technical work from Bread member Mike Sims, we have the audio preserved on a cassette tape).

A few weeks ago, I reprinted comments from Bread for the World President David Beckmann from that same conference. Now, I would like to share a few words from Father Richard Rohr from that same event. (This is only an excerpt of his full talk, which lasted about one hour). 

Three Levels of Ministry
We've always said to our folks at the Center for Action and Contemplation that there are three levels of social ministry.  

First there's that hands-on level, that soup kitchen level--people who are clearly gifted to make eye contact and heart contact with the person right in front of you.  The Mother Teresas of this world, if you will.  The people who know how to let the flow happen immediately between them and other people.

The second level is what I call the healing, the teaching, the rehabilitation of persons--helping people learn how to survive, helping people to overcome that tension, that tragedy, that dark side, within. 

And thirdly, there are those who are gifted and called to the advocacy and change of systems
"I believe people at the third stage are quite simply building a dam to stop the swollen stream--building a dam against the "corrupt, dirty rotten system," as Dorothy Day called it--so it would stop drowning and destroying people.
The important thing, brothers and sisters, is that all three of those levels of social ministry in the church--and I believe that every good parish has to have some who represent all three--is that those people at the different levels respect and honor and reverence one another, and that none of them say, "I am the whole Christ...I am the eye, and I don't need the hand. I am the foot, and I don't need the ear."

The swollen stream
And all of us must recognize what I believe is a much more humble position, that most are one little part of the body.  I guess we can call the hands-on people the ones who are picking people out of the swollen stream.  The pain is right in front of you, and there is no time to ask who is worthy and who is unworthy.  The important thing is that the heart be opened and converted to see Christ is in the least  of the brothers and sisters.  There are some many Bread for the World people who are precisely those kind of people, who stopped asking the question of worthiness and merit, which only leads to ego and control.  

There's s a second group of people who aren't picking them out of the stream.  They're helping people how to survive in the swollen stream by teaching them how to swim, teaching them how to build boats, how to float, or maybe throwing other people life preservers. These are people involved in education, in medical care, in affirmation skills.  I work here at the jail with several people who spend the whole week doing just that--teaching those guys and gals that they are reflective of the divine image.  A lot of the past ministry of the church was very much on that second level.  We thought that by educating people, by giving people a sense of themselves, they would not be eaten up by the pain and the sin and the self-hatred of this world.  

What we've come to recognize in the last 20 years especially is that third level.  It still does not have for many people, the kind of credibility that it should have among Christian people.  For many folks, especially good middle class Christian folks, they still think that those who work for advocacy and legislative change are somehow tainted into "dirty politics" and are somehow involved where Jesus was not involved.

I believe people at the third stage are quite simply building a dam to stop the swollen stream--building a dam against the "corrupt, dirty rotten system," as Dorothy Day called it--so it would stop drowning and destroying people.  We have to admit that the least amount of people are gifted and qualified to work at that level.  It takes special skills, it takes special self-confidence, it takes a special kind of extroversion to learn how to work at that third level.  

What I think what is so wonderful about a day like today is that you're people who are willing to address legislative advocacy.  And how can we work for change at that level?  How can we build some dams, so that we don't just keep doing this mop-up work.

I'm so grateful for folks like you, who are willing to say, "How can we change the name of the question itself?" And therefore, hopefully, change a bit of the answer.  

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