I need to conclude my thoughts on this book, because, truth be told, I finished it a few weeks ago, and am now knee-deep in The Blue Parakeet, itself a fascinating book about how we read the Bible. I have plenty of thoughts about that book, and I don’t want to forget them. However, there are still a few more gems in The Other Face of God, over which I simply cannot pass. Also, I want to emphasize that this series of blog posts is in no way a substitute or a summary of what Leddy has written. Indeed, I thought the best parts of her book were the very moving stories of individual encounters with refugees and neighbors. I haven’t mentioned any of those because I probably couldn’t do them justice here. Thus, I have focused on her more general observations on ministry because they work better for conversation starters. Plus, they tend to be very timely for me as a member of a church trying to do similar things as she is doing.
For example, it is so easy to become overwhelmed when I begin to fathom the amount of need in some of the kids at our church. And I’m not really talking about physical needs; many of them have more gadgets and toys than my own children have, despite the fact that they are materially poor in other ways. No, what overwhelms me is the depth of emotional need, the deep holes that come from not having a dad or a mom be there for them, or the needs that stem from abuse or neglect, or the heartache that comes from bad decisions and bad lifestyles. There are so many scars that seem impossible to ever heal. And so I get overwhelmed. In her book, Leddy eloquently sums up the nature of this type of ministry, as well as the position that you have to take in these situations:
Yet, to really face another person who is in great suffering is to live with great risk. The suffering can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of great powerlessness…
It seems like a risky way to live, and it is–unless, unless–we remember that there is a third person in the equation. It is not only me and the refugee; it is not only me and the child…
There is the Spirit in-between us, walking along the border. There is the Christ who lives between us and sustains us both. I think the most important thing we can do at the beginning and the end of the day is to place all those whom we will meet that day and ourselves into the hands of Christ, who holds and sustains us both. And at the end of the day, turn over all the cares, works, and sufferings of the day into the hands of Christ. Then go to sleep in peace (125-126).
That’s so true to me. I am only able to rest when I realize that I am not the Physician, the Shepherd, the Savior of these people. Instead, we both rely on Christ to save us. Only by putting myself and Him in proper perspective am I able to have peace in ministry.
Leddy also provides a simply call to neighborliness that I think echoes Matthew 25 a bit:
The invitation to be a good neighbor, to live beyond the forced opposites of friends or enemies, is open to all of us–clergy, religious, and laity. Indeed, it is an invitation that makes all of these churchy categories somewhat secondary. Perhaps there is only one distinction that matters: those who are learning to love their neighbors, and those who remain indifferent to them.
The weaknesses of the church, of each of us, are usually quite obvious. It is rather remarkable how accepting people are of most of these weaknesses. However, I think there is one weakness that people cannot accept and that is indifference to suffering. The church that walks by the one suffering by the side of the road has nothing significant to say about the meaning of the gospel (133).
Even though I do think those outside the church are often more critical than Leddy suggests, I definitely agree that we cannot be adequate witnesses to the gospel while we turn our back on suffering.
Speaking of being a good witness, I simply adore Leddy’s closing words about the nature of our witness for Christ. I’ll end the post with these words because they so ably sum up my whole view of what it means to preach the gospel. They provide a fitting end to a wonderful book:
Ultimately, the preaching of the good news today will have to rely primarily on the text of our lives, on the witness of those whose lives give weight to their words. There is no shortcut, no easier way to make “sense” of the gospel message.
In the midst of the dissatisfied cravings of this culture, the witness of people living with gratitude, with a joyful sense of having enough, is a powerful statement.
In the midst of the weakening structures of political meaning and purpose, the testimony of those who nevertheless have a sense of meaning and purpose is powerful, persuasive.
In the midst of the clutter and fragmentation of the times, the witness of lives that are concentrated and whole is simply eloquent (139).
Quotes taken from: Leddy, Mary Jo. The Other Face of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011. 92.