Greg is having the summer interns read The Other Face of God, by Mary Jo Leddy. Leddy has lived with refugees in Toronto, Canada, for about twenty years. Her book is a reflection of the spiritual effect that “the stranger” has on a person and the way such encounters help us to better understand ourselves and our place in God’s kingdom. So far, it has been really fascinating…especially because she includes a lot of stories!
In the first chapter, Leddy speaks of “the summons,” that thing that calls us past ourselves and into service for God’s kingdom. Her “summons” came from specific refugees she encountered while living in a group home for refugees, called Romero House. In speaking of such “summonses,” she says,
It is in these moments that issues of ‘justice’ or ‘the environment’ dissolve and become refocused so sharply that they are heartfelt. There is no walking away; there is no going back. The way ahead is not clear, but the road has closed behind you. Justice is no longer a sometime thing, but a lifelong task.
I have participated in many earnest discussions in church groups about the difference between charity and justice, the works of mercy and the works of justice. The works of mercy are often described as hands-on, one-on-one, direct service of those in need. In contrast, the work for justice involves struggling for systematic change so that there will be less need for charitable activities.
As I have reflected on my twenty years at Romero House, I have come to understand that mercy is a dynamic response that begins when one’s heart and mind are touched by the need and suffering of another person. We are summoned by mercy. If one begins to act mercifully, as one’s compassion deepens and expands, then one is inevitably led to an awareness of the systematic causes of such suffering. At the reach of mercy, one is moved to act with justice…
Without mercy, the categories of concern can also be oppressive, those categories that are only the mirror image of the categories of contempt that are so easily used: the poor, the victims, the abused, the oppressed, the refugees, the marginalized. Even when we use these categories in describing our concern and care, it ends up reducing real people to a category of concern.”
It’s funny that Greg and I are in Nashville now, working in close conjunction with Y.E.S., because I definitely felt my first true “summons” through the children I met in that ministry. A couple of years ago, as Greg and I were reflecting on the purpose and direction of our lives, I even remarked to him, “The time of my life that I felt most alive was at Y.E.S.” And I think that was because for once, “the less fortunate” were not simply a category of concern to be analyzed from a distance. They were people with names and unique personal circumstances that I came to know well. They were people with whom I played and ate, people whom I tutored and took on trips. And working with them didn’t feel like “doing a good work”; it just felt like life.
My interaction with Y.E.S. started with acts of mercy, and yes, they did escalate to concerns about justice. My feelings on immigration laws and the public education, for example, have been forever changed by the names and faces that made those issues concrete and immediate, not philosophical and abstract.
Regarding Leddy’s last paragraph, I must confess that sometimes I do feel uncomfortable when I sit around with a group of middle-class Christians–even Christians from my church–and philosophize on how to best help “the neighborhood” or “the poor.” There does seem to be something slightly dehumanizing in lumping people into a generalized “category of concern,” even though, practically speaking, it seems hard to avoid.
What about you? Have you ever felt a “summons”? And do you agree with Leddy’s sentiments about “categories of concern” and “categories of contempt”?
Quote is from:
Leddy, Mary Jo. The Other Face of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011. 28-29.