Wrapping Up the Week – 3.16.13

A long-awaited spring is still a distant thought as our temperatures plunged to the low twenties this past week. So.Cold. Our heat went out on Thursday night and Friday opened with cold nose, cold toes, and cold heart. While the nose and toes still feel cold, the heart is warmed through tea and talk. Pizza also helped.

This week Communicating Across Boundaries went from Outrage to Pity to Social Commentary to Roots – I loved what you added through your comments, some that agreed – some that called me out! Thank you.

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning

On a New Pope: Peggy Noonan’s essay in the Wall Street Journal on the new Pope begins this way: “I’ll tell you how it looks: like one big unexpected gift for the church and the world.”  And indeed her essay made me stop, pause, and give thanks. I am not Catholic – but as one who believes in the worldwide Church, this picking of a new Pope is important. The author goes on to give some personal observations of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. It’s a beautiful and encouraging essay so I urge you to take a few minutes and head over to read Go and Repair my House.

From the article:

“He is orthodox, traditional, his understanding of the faith in line with the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He believes in, stands for, speaks for the culture of life……He loves the poor and not in an abstract way. He gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order with no money. He lives in an apartment, cooks his food, rides the bus. He rejects pomposity. He does not feel superior. He is a fellow soul.”

On White Saviours: Be ready to be challenged and perhaps angered by this essay, written a year ago by Teju Cole. I gave you a couple quotes and a preview in You Can’t Empower Those You Pity but here is a link to the entire article. I would love to hear your thoughts, good, indifferent, or bad.

From the article:

“How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.”

On Social Media: Do you use social media? Of course you do! Yo arrived at this blog via FaceBook! (Just Kidding) This chart is funny and has some smart advice. Take a look at the Social Media Flowchart! You can find it here. 

On the Printed Word vs. the Electronic: Remember that post I did on “Who ‘Kindled’ Your Parents?” Where the discussion went around the world on the merits of paper vs. electronic (or vice versa?) Take a look at this 30 second video that shows with surety: Paper is not dead!(Note – you don’t need to understand French to enjoy this!) 

On my Bedside Stand: And there’s nothing new….life has left little time for reading this week. So I ask you: What should I be reading? Thanks in advance for the suggestions!

Thanks so much for reading and responding so intentionally to CAB!

You Can’t Empower Those You Pity

“The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”~ Teju Cole

It was after we had been in Pakistan a week that I realized, despite the bleak surroundings of still present flood waters, mud and brick homes that would have to be rebuilt from the foundation up, and scarcity of basic supplies of food, that not one time had I felt pity for anyone we met.

I had come back to Pakistan after seeing my childhood home, Jacobabad, devastated by flood waters in the fall of 2010. Seeing the New York Times picture did a number on my soul and a few weeks later I was on the ground in Pakistan, and my heart was in Heaven.

IMG_4874Every day we were surrounded by women and children. Women in brightly embroidered shalwar/kameez with dupattas gracefully draped over their heads. Children of every shape and size, some picked on by older siblings; others naughty as can be, into all sorts of laughter and mischief; older teens, slightly more self-conscious but curious and eager to ask questions and observe.

Their resilience was remarkable. Their ability to withstand this devastating flood courageous. They were so much better than me – there was nothing to pity.

We laughed until our sides ached; cried until our souls felt crushed; raged at poverty and injustice; got excited at seeing a mom learning how to care for a wound; felt joy as we watched women and children gather around when we arrived; and each day at the end of a long, hot clinic, we were satisfied. We were not leading – we were being led by a dedicated and gifted team of Pakistanis. I had been on many trips to serve in the past – yet this was the first time I had been on a service trip where I was led by someone from the country where I was serving.

And not once had I felt pity for those who came into our lives.

Maybe that’s why this trip was going so well — because pity doesn’t help. You can’t empower those you pity.

Pity insults. Pity humiliates. Pity sees others as ‘less than’ not ‘equal to’ or ‘above’. While compassion is a vital part of love and moves us to action, pity looks on as a superior bystander.

In the last few years a conversation has started about what is termed the “white Saviour complex” – when people like me get on planes and go to places like Pakistan, thinking they are going to save the masses from starvation, devastation, and Hell, trips that are sometimes made of pity for the less fortunate. And there is merit to what has been said. Teju Cole wrote a challenging and provocative piece about this last year soon after the Kony 2012 video went viral. It was a piece that first made me cringe, then made me angry, and finally made me nod in agreement.

Too often we go with heads and egos held high. Too often we want to serve instead of to learn. Too often we pity those around us. Too often we decide what those around us need – instead of asking them what they need.

So what do we do – just stop going? No – I don’t think so. But asking ahead of time what is needed is imperative. Realizing that we don’t hold all the answers is critical. Humility of heart and body must be present in all we do.

If we go with pity and seeing ourselves as doing any ‘saving’ then several things happen: We burn out, unable to last long. We subconsciously want to be thanked and praised. We fail to respect the very people we have come to serve, instead seeing them as incapable of being partners and leaders. We don’t acknowledge the bigger problems behind those that are visible. We don’t acknowledge God as God – and us as human.

I know a post like this just begins the conversation about service. It’s a big topic, but as churches and other organizations around the country get ready for summer service projects, gear up to ‘go’, it behooves all of us to dig deep and ask the hard, but important question – Why, really, are we doing this?

And If we go? Our charge is to go in humility, with a heart to learn; never to go out of pity and above all, know we are not, will never be, the Saviour.

“There is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.” Teju Cole in The White Saviour Industrial Complex