Saturday, May 01, 2021

Moderator’s Musings

by Blaine Miner

I’ve been challenged each month by the concept of extending charity. The words of Christ push me to examine with more depth what it means to do or not do for those described as the least of the body of Christ.

Several years ago, I decided to attend the National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, in part because of the keynote speaker, Sister Joan Chittister. I purchased one of her books, “The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage,” which has helped me reflect on the theme, “Extending Charity”.

The second chapter of the book focuses on paradox. Oxford Languages defines a paradox as, “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true”. In this chapter, Sister Chittister indicates there are two types of being holy.

In the Brethren context, there are two types of doing service or charity. The first is going out and doing the work in the worst conditions imaginable for the neediest in our community and the world. These would be represented by the Brethren Volunteer Service workers (BVSers) and missionaries. Sister Chittister calls these the saints, the courageous, the salt-of-the-earth people.

The second type are those who see the world and are angered by the circumstances which create the need for charity. These individuals are the passionate activists, the protesters, and agitators, and are often described as naïve, deluded, and out of touch at best. One group we praise, while the other group we ridicule and criticize their works.

Sister Chittister referenced Archbishop Camara of Brazil as he responded to criticism of his ministry. She quotes him as saying, ”If I give alms to the poor, I am labeled a saint; If I ask why they are poor I am labeled a communist”. Charity can be seen as one coin with two sides. But as Christians called to follow Jesus and to act righteously and justly, we must tend to the need and the cause.

Sister Chittister poses the question, ”Which holiness is greater: The doer, the martyrs or those who changers are - the prophets? Which is better,” she writes, “to be prophetic or pastoral? Which is more important, to do charity or demand justice?” She references Jesus healing a blind man on the sabbath and asks whether it was a political, pastoral, or prophetic act.

Extending charity is tricky business. Sister Chittister writes “Charity without prophecy can only serve to make the world safe for exploitation. Why pay more when there is a ’safety net’ for the poor?

On the other hand, prophecy may disturb society but not comfort it.” The danger is that the issue is intellectualized and becomes impersonal. The challenge in extending charity is to both provide care and comfort for those in need and address the situations which created the need.

Jesus’ words sting a bit. “As you have done, or not done, you have done or not done for me”.  What will be your part in extending charity? Will you be a doer, walking alongside, or a prophet who challenges the status quo? Or are you one who is comfortable and wonders what the fuss is all about?