Wednesday, August 20, 2008

god in the house

I stopped by the front desk yesterday on my way out and noticed a big stack of magazines from a religious group. Titles like “who is God” and “what happens when I die” While forcing myself not to pick up the latter I asked the folks at the front why they were there. Some people drop them off regularly one of them said. It’s the eternal confluence of church and state, folks from faith based organizations help us a lot, but the sometimes covert and often overt tension is ever present. Without the support of local churches and religious organizations we would suffer, they offer donations and groups of folks to help with food and supplies. Their service is invaluable and yet I’ve never been able to reconcile the underlying mission of saving souls. Raised on the bible, I know the call for witness but I also know the deeper example of compassion and service to the poor and I wish the latter didn’t always mean the former had to crowd its way into the room.

So I said I’d prefer they were moved, that this information shouldn’t be the first thing folks see when coming to us for help because we are not a faith based organization and if we were representing one faith I’d prefer to represent them all. We have generous folks from Buddhist communities, from synagogues, a very large group of supporters who follow a guru rather than a deity but there is a subtle difference, their service is the highlight, service based on the strength of their convictions with virtually no proslethysing, a standard that settles better into this heathen’s soul. So one of the guys grabbed the stack and tossed them into the trash while another gasped out loud. Some folks want to read that, she said. It gives them comfort.

And I thought he’d acted hastily, I didn’t ask him to toss them, (at the very least I’d insist on recycling) and the divergence of beliefs settles itself right there at the counter, all eyes waiting to see how we'll be splitting this baby. So I asked them to place them in the back where other referrals are kept, so at least they’d be part of a larger representation even if none of the other information is religious. He looks at me and shrugs and digs them out and walks off.

I rail against knowing our place in the fight to save souls, if we stand merely as a staging ground for salvation or if we should simply chalk all of it up to free will and make sure our soup is always hot. We need these groups to keep the wheels turning and yet I know I don’t want the people we serve feeling that they have to subscribe to a belief system and I don’t particularly want volunteers acting as crusaders, offering to drive folks to their church with the promise of a Sunday meal means some might go just for the food and will have to tolerate your message in order to fill their bellies and others will feel full from both.

The ironic thing is that after a lifetime of church I see more faith and hope inside these walls than any service I'd ever been in. Folks who give thanks to their God for giving them the most humble of mercies, people who give the shirt of their back for their brother and will do without instead. Folks who accept their poverty with thankfulness and find ways to do good amidst the relentless struggle of being ostracized in a society who'd rather walk around them than look them in the eye.

It's not lost on me that this compassion is exactly what these volunteers offer, the kindness of their actions means more than I can say and yet I still feel protective of the folks who congregate in this house. And my own struggles with what I believe will forever press me, the fire and brimstone have shaped me in ways I sometimes wish it hadn’t and will forever keep me pulling my own hands away from the heat that others find comforting and to some, the very calling of their lives.

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19 comments:

painted maypole said...

very interesting. not all christian groups leave pamphlets or magazines, I imagine, but I find it odd that no other religions do.

as a christian who serves, i do think the service comes first. but when someone asks why I would choose to serve, I cannot answer without involving my faith. but the service is the best witness there is. a magazine is a poor, poor substitute.

thailandchani said...

I agree with PM. There is something to be said for serving without any expectation of "reward", even if it's theoretically saving souls.

We all find our own path, one way or another. In fact, it seems rather inescapable.


~*

Arwen said...

Part of me is happy that people serve, regardless of the ulterior motive.
Part of me wishes people could do good acts regardless of reward.
I have a lot more to say about this...

Little Monkies said...

I struggle with this too. Not sure if it's my own discomfort with having religion be a topic I don't like or what.

I'd be curious to hear what your clients think. Years ago when I volunteered at a food service organization, I asked a couple of the people that were there how they felt about having to listen to the sermon. Most said it was ok, even inspiring sometimes unless the music was bad or the speaker really boring. Not a big deal to the folks I talked to, which made me realize it was such a big deal to me. I know how close you are to your folks and imagine that you've had conversations about this. I'd love to hear about them.

mamatulip said...

This was a very, very well-written post, Jen.

QT said...

part of the reason I don't have anything to do with organized religion anymore - people seemed to be very into the WORDS, but not the DEEDS

Kyla said...

Yeah, I get this.

I'm having a bit of cognitive dissonance regarding the church of organized religion, I feel like loudest bits of it have gotten to far from the mark, I don't know how to reconcile it to my faith. You highlighted a lot of my qualms here, even though it wasn't about that at all really.

meno said...

Were the pamphlets offering a service? I wonder.

kristen said...

i think putting the brochures with other information that's handed out was a good idea. i for one, would be turned off seeing the religious pamphlets first thing.

for me, faith comes from within, not from an organized group saying what is so.

Omaha Mama said...

Very well written. I don't think you should call yourself a heathen, there's a lot of faith in there I think.
The witnessing stuff has never sat quite right with me, a lifelong Christian. I'm not sure why.

flutter said...

I think, ultimately we all choose our own path, regardless of literature

wheelsonthebus said...

I think that you are absolutely right. If people are supposed to give charity as a part of their religion, then it ought not have attached the string that the recipients need to listen to their spiel.

Hetha said...

I enjoyed reading this so much, it was so well stated and beautifully written. I've seen more faith and hope in the eyes of those living in poverty than anywhere else I've ever been. And it's shared so openly and easily in the form of warmth and compassion, not sermons and pamphlets.

Julie Pippert said...

You really caught the two sides to the coin.

I think PM and Chani said what else I would have.

Janet said...

I think faith and hope comes to us in various forms. In your face religion makes me squirm a little, and I don't know why. But I often see glimpses of God in the most unlikely places.

patches said...

well played.

Mad said...

I found this post intriguing and yet I am bereft of a fitting comment. I just want to say that I'm glad you wrote it.

Gwen said...

It's so complicated because true believers really really REALLY believe that they are working to save immortal souls, which are more valuable than filling today's empty belly, you know? And how do you argue with that?

Rosamunde said...

Interesting to know.