Tag Archives: service

Small Things Do Not Replace Big Things

This is my response to the comment below that was made on my blog a while back:

My point is that people of faith who ache for a lost, dying, and hungry world ought to spend less time worrying about what soda or coffee to drink, or whether to put on a (“fair trade” wool) sweater or turn up the heat, and saying things like “heres to you” to pizza donating murderers, and more time doing things with a little more substance to help alleviate or solve the problems they lament.

Dear Friend,

If people of Faith, and readers and author of this blog, were spending ALL of their time worrying about what to buy, regulating temperatures and toasting murderers, I too would have a problem with that. From what I can tell you see the above steps and actions to be “little things.” They are things that you see as not having any major significance in the world, effecting no major changes, impacting only a small portion of this “lost, dying and hungry world.” I think to some degree you are right. I am willing to admit my choices not to drink coffee and avoid certain brands of other products are “little things” in the overall impact they have on the world. I won’t disagree with you there. I will say, though, that I think these little things are hugely important and have a much bigger impact then you realize, but that’s a conversation for another time. Today I simply want to clarify that I am in no way suggesting that these “little things” take the place of what you consider “doing things with a little more substance to help” (I’ll consider these ‘big things’).

Little Things should take the place of Little Things
When I write a post about what soda to drink or what coffee brand to avoid, I am not suggesting that we take this up as our life cause, schmoozing in coffee shops and talking to corporate elites about avoiding certain products, while the needy remain hungry and poor. What I’m suggesting is that you replace the ‘little thing’ of your choice of soda (usually based on some brand preference and price) with a new ‘little thing’ of a choice of beverage based on a certain ethical or moral value. When I write about turning down the heat in your apartment, I’m not suggesting campaigning for the removal of all heating units in the USA or even quitting your job to have time to chop firewood. I was simply writing about my “little” experiment with turning down my heat, and considering a “little” lifestyle change as it relates to heat and energy consumption. These are little things, and they generally will remain so (I’ll talk about why they are extremely important in another post).

Big Things should take the place of Big Things
Here’s where I think the clarity needs to be made. Turning down your heat, buying one brand of soda or clothing rather then another, takes very, very little time on a day-to-day basis. Turning your heat down two degrees does not then exempt you from serving soup at the shelter for those that don’t have heat. Buying fair trade coffee does not then exempt you from providing drink for the thirsty in your neighborhood. I’ve never suggested, nor intended to suggest, that you can earn your indulgences with a few strategic ethical purchases. Here, though, is were it gets tricky, because the reverse is also true.
Helping out at a soup kitchen does not free you to oppress, or comply with oppressing, people in your city. Sponsoring a child does not allow for guilt-free purchasing of sweatshop clothing that forces communities into needing sponsors. Planting a tree for a community service project does not give you free reign to use as much energy as you want.

Hopefully this clarified things a bit.

“Least of these” ≠ “unsaved”

Least of These BannerI felt it was necessary to address a common misconception that is brought up in the church these days. The thing that is so dangerous about it is that we use religious language and inferences of Bible verses, but we do it in a way that gives us a dangerously inaccurate perception of the people we interact with.
We use the language of “Least of these” a lot in the church, especially when we are talking about “ministry” and “service.” This is not bad wording as it’s the language Jesus used when he told the Sheep in a parable why they were allowed to enter into His kingdom:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Primarly we say the “Least of these” when refer to people in need, whether that be the homeless, poor, low-income, etc. This seems like a good interpretation since Jesus himself describes the least of these as people with real physical needs: Hungry, Thirsty, Needing clothing, Sick, in Prison.
I think having concern in the church about the “least of these” is an extremely important and worthwhile use of our time. In fact it appears to be the longest and most direct words of Jesus about Heaven and Hell, which seems like it should get some attention in our after-life focused churches. (I met a guy in Atlanta who had a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it with the title: Angry Jesus and the quote: FEED THE POOR OR GO TO HELL! which seems like a pretty good paraphrase of Matthew 25 if you ask me.)

The misconception, the danger, and the wayward understanding I hear way too often in the church is an equating of the “Least of these” as “unsaved.” No where in the Matthew 25-where our language of the “least of these” comes from- is there any mention or inference that the people whom the sheep provided for where somehow “unsaved.” If anything Jesus says they are “brothers of mine,” implying they are part of the kingdom if they are anything.
Yet, in our churches today we talk about “ministries” and we tie so closely the idea of providing for folks physical needs with that of “saving people.” We create this idea that when you go to the soup kitchen you need to “tell people about Jesus,” as if they are unsaved, unchurched, and in need of your gospel. Let me make clear, there are a lot of people who need to know the love of Jesus, but there are just as many in the church pews and suburbs around you as there are in the homeless shelters and housing projects. Just because someone can’t make ends meet to put a roof over their head does not mean they some how do not know God or haven’t experienced the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop treating the “least of these” as “unsaved” and start treating them like the sister’s and brother’s in Christ that they are, and even more treating them as the Kings and Queens that they are, since according to Jesus, “Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Conclusion: Don’t stop the soup kitchen and homeless shelters, we need to continue providing for our sibling. If anything we probably need to step it up a couple notches since the most tangible way you can interact with Jesus nowadays is not in a church service or a song, it’s feeding him and clothing him (“When I was hungry you gave me something to eat.”).
What we need to do is stop treating “service” projects as some sort of charity, hand-out, that gives us the jollies, as if we are stepping down from our place of superiority to help these helpless people (Cause that is straight-up garbage).