We had the privilege of hearing Shane Claiborne speak at Wild Goose again this year. His talks always seem to be both amusing and deadly serious at the same time. He covered a lot of important ground and maybe some other day I’ll do a post summarizing some what he said.
This morning I’m reflecting on something he said in his talk titled “Political Misfits and Holy Troublemakers.” He talked about personalizing stats–about putting a face on them.
If someone reads that there are millions of hungry children in the world, that doesn’t have the same impact as learning that little Sally next door is hungry. If we learn that there are thousands of homeless people living on the streets in America, that stat doesn’t have the same impact as learning that Jimmy, who we know, has no place to sleep and is living in the woods.
Shane’s community in Philadelphia (The Simple Way) puts faces on the stats. People who are hungry, homeless, incarcerated, abused, marginalized, etc. are not abstract stats on some government report. They are people his community knows and loves.
We try to follow this model with Grace and Main Fellowship. We first develop and cultivate friendships with people. Then, we don’t help “the homeless.” We help our friends who are homeless. We don’t feed “the hungry.” We help get food to our friends who are hungry. Y’all get the picture. It makes a huge difference in how we see things and how we respond to them.
I’ve heard Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries say that homelessness is not a housing problem, it is a relationship problem. If anyone reading this post suddenly was struck with a calamitous series of events and lost his or her job, home and savings, would you spend even one night on the street? Of course not. Because we know people we can call who would put us up and help us through our crisis. People who are homeless are homeless because they have no relationships like that. Either they never had them, or they’ve been destroyed.
Stats can numb us. Tony Campolo once preached a sermon in which he told the congregation something like, “I have three things I want to tell you today. First, last night while you were sleeping 30,000 children died of starvation or malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh-t. Third, more of you are upset that I said ‘sh-t’ in church than you are about those children dying.”
It’s very easy to realize that he was right about number 3. But I don’t think the second point would have been true if he’d said, “Last night while you were sleeping Timmy Smith, who is 5 years old and goes to church here, died of starvation.” In that case I’m confident the entire congregation would be horrified, grief-stricken–and ashamed.
So back to Shane’s point: we need to put faces on the stats. Literally, where possible (and it is much more possible than many folks realize) and figuratively where it isn’t.
Then it becomes personal. Then we feel a sense of urgency about it.