Monday, September 29, 2008

The With-ness Factor; Being incarnational

I want to expand on what I said in church yesterday about "serving others"...

I didn't have time to talk about the "Withness Factor". When I talk about the "withness" of serving others I'm not speaking with a lisp or writing a typo. It's a part of serving that is often overlooked.

The official term for what I'm talking about is being "incarnational". We talk about Jesus as being "God incarnate"..."carne" being the root word for "meat " (i.e. chili con carne which means chili with meat) or "flesh". So Jesus is God "in the flesh". God came to be
with us by being like us. The name Immanuel means "God with us". So, that's the theological side.

But it wasn't until I went to help with the Katrina Flood Relief that I experienced what incarnational ministry really is or what I'm calling "withness". When my team was in New Orleans for a week I was happy to be there helping but I really wanted to stay there and be with them and see them through the whole ordeal. There seemed to be something inherently wrong with coming for a few days...clean out a few homes...and then leaving. It felt a bit cold. A bit calculated and clinical.

I experience the same feeling when I teach at Arbor Place. Part of me just wants to move in to the treatment center and live with the clients. It seems too condescending to ride in, dispense my wisdom and then leave. I want to be there to walk them through what I taught as well as let them help me walk through my own issues. It's that
give and take of community that validates peoples humanity. No one wants to be merely the object of mercy. Everyone wants to give back as well.

Having these feelings was a bit of an awakening and helped me to understand the Mother Theresa's of this world who go to live in terrible conditions like the garbage dump in Calcutta. I used to think...I
understand helping them but if you live in the dump you will never get the rest you need to help them. In a sense that's true...but the validation she and others give by living with the people is powerful.

So what's the take home message? That when you serve you give more than your time and talent but you give your self as well. You hear what they hear, you see what they see, you feel what they feel so that when you speak or act it flows from a true knowledge of THEM and their surroundings and not what your textbook or stereotype says about them. Plus you give AND you receive. We don't have all the answers. The people you help can help you just as ways you never pay attention! (By the can practice this right in your home or dorm room with the people you live with).

When Jesus said, "Go into all the world and be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8) it might be good to add an "h" now and then to remind us that being a "witness" requires "withness".

(This is the text of my weekly email that I send out to people that want to take my sermons deeper. If you'd like to get that email let me know and I'll put you on the list.)