I recently had a conversation with René Lamothe…
René is a man of Cree descent who serves as a Spiritual Advisor at Ambrose Place in Edmonton. Rene made a very interesting observation about how we have come to think about or weigh each other as people. He noted that when medicines are made or plants are studied, biologists and chemists will often focus on a plant’s “active ingredients.” Drawing out the things that enable life and purpose in a plant, and discarding the rest. Rene suggested that we tended to do the same things when we look at each other as human beings. We tend to celebrate and venerate those among us who we see as active and vital players in our functioning as a society.
As we reflected on the implications of that, we came to realize that this is true of how we can think of each other even at a neighbourhood level. A community might see a Senior’s complex in their neighbourhood as a liability, and not an asset. Why? Because a community thrives with strong families and individuals who can volunteer and serve actively in their community; running their soccer program and organizing neighbourhood events. What runs behind this thinking? The idea that seniors are no longer active ingredients in a community’s makeup. But is that right?
Or how about people in poverty or people with mental illnesses or addictions? Here too, we might paint brush with some of the same sentiment, believing that a neighbourhood with many people in poverty has few active ingredients to make the community tick. In our broad judgment, we believe people with addictions or mental illnesses do not tend to be contributing members to society, and we are reluctant to see them as such. Rather, we will sometimes discuss them as burdens that we have a responsibility to care for. And while it may be true that people in crisis are often able to give very little, many of them are happy to give from what little they have to make their community stronger.
Maybe our desire to celebrate only the strongest members of the community is unhealthy. After all, in the human body every part plays a role. The mind and the heart do play pretty critical roles with lots of heavy lifting, but the smaller pieces are also of great significance. In the Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul uses exactly that analogy in his letter to the Ephesians to talk about how people should see each other. What should our response be towards those in our midst who are suffering, in crisis, or gradually losing ability?
If I smash the tip of my finger with a hammer, what is my instant response? I take notice. I care for it. I might try to gently massage it to help get circulation back so it is able to be restored. It may be fairly tender for a while and require some time and energy, but my body’s natural response deems it worth the sacrifice. Our bodies are not quick to write off any part as dead weight, instead their primary practice is to nurse an injured part back to health.
Can we cling to the same outlook for each other? People in poverty struggle against many roadblocks that keep them from thriving. Could those of us with strength to do so help clear some of those out of the way? People with fixed incomes are having trouble affording housing in an expensive market like Edmonton. Can we help build creative and healthy solutions that will enable them to live in safety and dignity? People carrying the burdens of trauma and mental illness too often find themselves doing so on the street, in a state of constant crisis. Can we provide safe and supportive places for them to grieve and to heal? People of all backgrounds experience the life-draining effects of loneliness and isolation. Can we work together to enfold each other in safe and warm community; a community that gives life to all of us?
We do not easily give up on our bodies when they are injured; instead we fight for the possibility of healing and restoration. Let’s take that fight for what is possible to the work of restoring, loving and healing each other.
by Mike Van Boom, June 1, 2016