magnetic attraction to stigmatised people

10 10 2012

Several comments and conversations after yesterday’s post, I want to offer some depth to what I was feeling, because I’m just a local vicar trying to work out my faith rather than being a politician or an economist, and I’ve always aimed to have something positive to say rather than just being another angry blog voice. 

So, here are some stories. 

  • There was a woman who sold sex. Not by choice. She could only hang out with others ‘like her’. Though she wanted to worship, she was always stigmatised for not having a proper job, a proper life. Scum, slag, whore. One day some people came along and actively sought to engage with her, and not for sex. Instead of humiliating her publicly as was the sport of their day, they humiliated the pious who stood in judgement over her. They showed her love.
  •  There was a woman who had had multiple partners. She was stigmatised by others who would not spend time with her. Multiple fathers for your children and a substance abuse problem lost you friends, made you defiant, lonely and stuck in a spiral of hopelessness. The community had given up on her. Failure. Alkie. One day some people came along who would not allow her to be defined by society’s labels even though their own reputations were at stake. That was part of the change that turned her life around. They showed her love. 
  • There was a man who was disabled. Society pitied him and those who could, supported him. He knew it was especially good to beg near where the religious gathered, as they were known to be generous. One day instead of begging outside the gates, he was able to dance in. Someone forgotten, abandoned, judged and shunned suddenly placed at the centre of God’s healing of the world. He had been shown love. 
  • There was a man with mental health problems. He was a bit wild, lived alone, and was stigmatised and best avoided. Loon, head-case, failure. One day some people came along who listened to him even when he ranted at them, who welcomed him into their homes and even bandaged his wounds (well, put a plaster on his toe). For a time he was part of their community, though he was very difficult to love. But he knew he was welcome.  They showed him love.  
  • There was a young man who had grown up with money, and did his best to be good. What he didn’t understand was that being good and showing love are very different. When he was told a story about love for your very different neighbour, it was too much, because given the choice between his personal wealth and loving his neighbour, the wealth would probably win. Showing love is costly. 
  • There was a parent who hadn’t worked for 15 years, who was de-skilled, who struggled with debt, with substance abuse, and was therefore difficult to employ. Accidentally coming across some people who cared about him even though society labelled him, stigmatised him and gave up on him – with good reason – he began to see hope, began to receive training, and maybe one day will work. They showed him love. 

All of these stories are about Jesus; some of them are old real stories, and some of them are new real stories. I tell them not because they ‘prove’ any political point. I tell them because time and time again Jesus had a magnetic attraction to stigmatised people. He came to show the world that God had not abandoned them, and he did that by going to the abandoned and showing them love. It was a love that challenged them (go, and sin no more), but it was first and foremost a love that went to them before the challenge. To challenge someone, make sure they know they are loved. 

We can’t go to Jesus for a model of politics. But we can go to him for a model of society. Not colluding in conversations that stigmatise and demonise another group is a start, because if Jesus were to walk in on those conversations or read those blogs he would probably start talking about specks and planks and humiliate us in front of our friends. 

Our society is heavily in debt, and the government need to do something, of course. Whatever they do, we are the people on the ground, we are the people who can help the people. The church is the biggest people-movement on the planet. The local church is the hope of the world. Let’s be hope. 

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5 responses

10 10 2012
neil stewart

No such thing thing as just the local Vicar, bet you can also cook!

10 10 2012
Fran

Yep he makes a mean chicken wrapped in bacon, and great focaccia bread!!!

10 10 2012
Hazel Manley

I’ve been thinking about your blog(s). Perhaps part of the problem is that today we are using money as a tool for changing people’s behaviour.
Whereas, a few decades ago, people would choose certain behaviours because they believed them to be right or wrong (generally as a result of their beliefs), now everything is relative so we need a tool to get people to do what whoever is in power thinks is best for society (or most economically efficient), but using money to control people’s behaviour means if you are wealthy you can decide not to work (paid or unpaid), to have children outside a family structure, drink or smoke yourself into an early grave, or fritter away large sums on pointless luxuries, but if you are poor or vulnerable and therefore dependent on others then you have to conform to whatever standards are imposed by those handing out the money (set for you, not them).
None of this changes hearts or lives. Only one person can do that. He hung out with all sorts. He didn’t fudge the issues, or patronise, or soft pedal truth; no-one was worthless or beyond his reach. He showed them the Father and challenged them to change because of this encounter and paid the price to enable them to do it. Like all magnets, he both attracted and repelled so whilst some found new life in him, others wanted to kill him.
We need to stop trying to use financial fixes for spiritual poverty. That’s not to say the economy doesn’t matter but to say we can’t ignore the fact that although Jesus fed the 5,000 with good solid bread and spoke out against exploitation; he also kept firmly in mind that he came for the spiritually sick. We need to find a way to say this is wrong or this is right, not because you will lose or gain benefits but because God wants you to live life to the full and lives that please him and somehow we need to find a way to say it the way Jesus did: unequivocally but with real love. Now that’s probably a bigger challenge than fixing the economy

10 10 2012
Fran

Where you invest your love you invest. Your life. (Mumford lyric)

11 10 2012
c2drl

A part of the problem today, it sems to me is that the Government feels it has a right, and a duty to interfere in the ethics and morality of society. It sees itself as in charge, rather than the (civil) servants of the community.
So education has to be tightly controlled by the state and Church schools are prescribed in their actions or they get no money, So helping those in need is not a job for charities and churches but for the government, and access to such help becomes a right. Charities today are often just conduits for government grants, to be spent according to the latest whim of the incoming minister, not grass roots caring in the community.
All this then comes down to money, as Hazel says, using money as a tool to change people’s behaviour. Any local vicar worth their salt, such as you Kevin, can tell them that this is the wrong approach Money creates dependency, and need shaped to fit the perceptions of the paymasters, not changed behaviour.
The local Church,Synagogue and Mosque has a vital role to play, but has been marginalised by the market economy and no longer has the ability to act. It is the duty of government to act and the right of those in need to receive; this is the message we are given and have colluded in taking on board.
There is no right answer to ethical issues. To believe there is, is to be a victim of enlightenment rationalist thinking. We are called to share the pain, to ache and worry and seek counsel from God in helping these people and that isn’t done in a decreasingly powerful Westminster, much less in an increasingly powerful and remote Brussels. Its done by the local vicar and his ilk, supported, not by taxpayers but by philanthropists motivated by love; often but not always the love of God.
Long live the local vicar and thank you God for all of them.
So what are we going to do about it?

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