As someone who has been actively involved in the life of the last three churches I've attended - as a vestry member, a former youth leader, and a person keenly interested in organizing exciting and thought-provoking events and speakers - I'm always one of the ones encouraging others in the congregation to live outside the four walls of the church and to engage in the larger community. I once read that the people in the church aren't the ones who need help, but it's the ones outside the church who are in need; as such, I think it's important that congregations get more involved in the life of the larger area they serve.
Suggesting that people become more involved and actually becoming more involved are two different things, however, and I have fallen far short of realizing the mission that I'm encouraging others to undertake. In doing this, I'm also falling short of what it means to be an Episcopalian and a Christian.
In an address to the Urban Caucus in February 2007, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori talked at length about what we as Christians are tasked to do in the world. As she said, "That vision of a healed and restored world is what you and I are charged with being and doing in this world ... Jesus himself acts out those images in feeding the multitudes, healing the sick and urging the people around them to feed them and restore them to community ... The Millenium Development Goals are a contemporary illustration of the work that Jesus did himself - and of the work to which he continues to call his followers ... We would do well to recall that we cannot love God whom we do not see if we do not love our neighbors who we do see. The world is not reconciled as long as some live without - without food, good news, adequate housing, peace, clothing or justice ... The work of this church is to build a world of shalom ... adequate food, drink, housing, employment, health care, education, equality, and the peace that only comes when justice is present and available to all."
I talk a lot about what I see wrong in the world and what I think should be done to fix it. Jesus, however, didn't talk - he acted. If I don't start acting, I will never - as the Presiding Bishop wrote - live into the full stature of Christ. So why don't I act?
At this stage in my life, my mind (politics) and my heart (faith) are really coming into conflict with each other. As I wrote a few months back on this blog, my position on the death penalty changed when my belief that everyone should receive a New Testament forgiveness (heart) superceded - after much internal debate - my desire for harsh, Old Testament punishment (mind). Many of my friends and I have debated the current health care reform efforts in Congress, and I am torn between my belief that everyone should have health care coverage (heart) with the belief that the government shouldn't be the body responsible for running the program (mind). I am conflicted about the fact that something should be done to end world hunger, disease, and poverty (heart) versus the thought that we shouldn't leave it up to organizations like the United Nations (mind).
Does this make me a flawed Christian? Of course; there is no perfect Christian. Is it too late to change and become more actively involved? Of course not; it's never too late. But as I blogged quite a while back, there's a certain amount of cynicism that I must overcome - especially when it comes to confronting those on the street who approach me for help. It's easy to help those you don't see - the food banks and homeless shelters that solicit through the mail and receive assistance through my tithes at church. The difficulty comes in helping those right in front of you, and that's undoubtedly where I need help.
Again, I turned to the Presiding Bishop's words: "Give to everyone who begs from you, and lend expecting nothing in return ... none of what we have is really ours; it belongs to God and we are only stewards ... Don't give anything with strings attached, for those strings are a kind of shackle that binds the receiver and the giver. Give freely, and set the other free in turn."
All of this can actually be summed up as a series of two questions presented to us during the homily of a mid-day Eucharist I attended earlier today: “What is it that makes God concrete for you? What do you do to make God concrete for others?”
What makes God concrete for me is simple: my family, my friends, my health, and the activities in which I'm involved. But I have a long way to go if I'm going to make God concrete for others - and become a better, more effective Christian in the process.