In this world, or at least in this part of it, we are socially conditioned to walk past each other. Seldom do we stop to engage, to say hi or listen to each others stories. Sometimes we make excuses for not doing so – we are rushing to our next meeting, we are fearful of what might be done to us if we stop, or for the socially awkward among us, we simply just don’t know what we would say. In spite of our rationale, we simply do not carve out enough time and space to be in each other lives in meaningful ways.
This is particularly true considering the many people we walk right pass who are in desperate need of help and relief. Be it the woman on the corner holding up a sign, ‘Will Work for Food,’ as we exit the freeway or the homeless man laying on the street as we walk right by, we don’t stop. Afraid of the consequences or perhaps, our hearts so full of judgment for their predicament, we don’t even try to figure out how we can relieve the burdens of those we walk this earth with.
I thought about this as I flew back from a conference in Los Angeles this week. My hotel was about four or five blocks from the conference location and in route to the conference I often passed several homeless men sleeping or simply laying on the sidewalk, making the space their temporary shelter. Me, all dressed up and batting a hundred, just trying to get to where I needed to be so I could soak up all of the knowledge and wisdom this great event had to offer. But never once did I ever think to stop so that I could listen to their stories; I did not even make eye contact!
The irony of it all was that this was a conference focused on social justice! And doubly so, I consistently preach and teach the need for believers to advocate and provide for the least of these. Of course, I prayed for them as I passed by but would good are prayers when the real need was food, clothing, and shelter? What good is knowledge about best practices in the social justice movement if I couldn’t even consider the basic, common sense practices of meeting people where they are?
I am reminded of the story about the Good Samaritan, a story about a man who inconvenienced himself to provide for the needs of someone else. If we are honest with ourselves, and I certainly want to be honest, the truth of the matter is that we do not want to be inconvenienced. We do not want to waste our time, we do not want to give our resources, and we definitely do not want to take time to listen to someone else’s story, lest we feel the undue burden of coming up with a solution. We do not want to enter into the messy life of others; indeed, we are often so lost in making sense of our own.
We need each other in this human experiment called life. We can’t continue walking past each other, whether we are in need or not, and expect to emerge from life successfully and operating on all cylinders. We have to learn to stop, learn to speak, and learn to listen to each other, so that together, we can navigate the messy realities of our world. In stopping, in speaking, in listening, we begin to find our way back into each others hearts, back to a place of trust and human solidarity where we are then able to effectively advocate on behalf of the needs of each other and simply be present for one another. We must get back to these fundamental components of the human identity, so that we can be well and do well. Our collective future depends on it!