So what do you do in the summer?
As a teacher I hate that question because I always assume that it is seeded with contempt that I've got three months of vacation. First of all, June 15 to August 15 is not three months. Second, I don't just lay around the house all summer catching up on the soaps or lounge by the pool all day.
This week, the first full week of summer vacation I traveled with twenty-two teenagers to Southeast Roanoke. While there, we ran a day camp for children in a rather neglected community. I got to watch a sixteen year old spend her mornings working with a three-year old autistic child. I saw a fourteen year old deal with a child who came to camp every day with a different name. A rising eigth grader bonded with a third-grader who still showed the effects of an unlucky birth to a crack-addicted mother. We painted the porch of a WWII veteran because his elderly neighbor cared enough to seek out help and struggles against the odds to make a neighborhood neglected by the city look presentable again. We entered the house of a woman who had a hard time getting rid of things, and help her pack things away and clean up her house. Calming her anxiety was a bigger struggle that sorting through the accumulated stuff.
I learned last week that relationships are the glue that holds humanity together and when relationships are neglected or put on the backburner for other things-- humanity breaks apart. I went to the home of one elderly lady. When she started down the front porch steps to meet me I was afraid that she would fall. Her feet were too sore for shoes. Looking down I could see that her greatest need might be as simple as someone to trim her nails. A lawn mower sat in the lawn, but grass was growing over its deck. Her mental health matched her physical health. She didn't understand that we were offering our services for free. She insisted that her grandson would take care of it. He is a landscaper. He just cant work on her lawn as long as he has paying jobs that take the time. Her neighbor knew her two sons. Apparently they were alcoholics that caused her more harm than good. In this poor old woman, I saw a soul without another soul to care for her. Society has neglected her. No one desires to have a relationship with this lady.
The veteran that I mentioned before, he's no better off. He was so eager to share stories and talk, probably more so than getting his porch painted. It seemed that his only companion was the nurse who came to his house every day to take care of him.
We spent our week in a pocket of poverty. It wasn't as bad as it could get, but compared to my lifestyle it was bad. These pockets are easy to overlook. They're out of the way. We keep them clustered away from the paths that we cross daily. As long as we have food on our table and clothes on our back, we can lay our heads in our comfortable beds and sleep well at night without a thought for the children who aren't sure what if anything they will eat for breakfast in the morning. When we grab a to go cup of coffee and drive to our next destination it's easy to forget the poor old lady who can't get around because she can't get shoes over her untrimmed toenails.
We drive by, we walk by, we fly over, but we seldom stop. Stop to just see and hear America, the world. Outside of our immediate five senses we allow ourselves to become ignorant of the reality of life. We build an excellent buffer with our nicely trimmed lawns, personal automobiles, membership only swimming pools, and comfortable if not pretentious churches. A buffer that we mistake for reality to mask and hide the ugly realities that we'd rather not think about.
It's not that we should all be considering "selling everything and giving it to the poor", at least I'm not so sure that Jesus meant that command for everyone. It's easy to think that our job is to go in and fix the problems. Jesus didn't do it that way. Jesus entered our humanity and lived it with us, and continues to live it with us. He didn't die to end human suffering, he died to enter suffering with us so that we may overcome in time. He performed many miracles, but he didn't end poverty, hunger, or oppression. He endured poverty, hunger, and oppression. By doing so he intertwined the fate of humanity with the fate of the divine. He created relationship with the world.
That is true relationship. Enduring the hardship and walking alongside those in need. Being willing to suffer with another and not just thinking that because I wear better clothes, have my own car, and extra cash on top of it that I can just use my resources to rescue others from their difficulties. Whether it is poverty of the mind, body, economy, or soul, none of us possess the ability to rescue another but through our willingness to live life together in genuine relationships with others. Relationships that intertwine our fate with the fate of others.
Relationship is the glue that holds humanity together. I would bet that where we find humanity in ruins, not just places where people are poor but places that seem empty of hope, we also find that the root of that ruin lays in broken and unhealthy relationships.
That's what I've done and learned so far this summer. I've got a few adventures still ahead. I like seeing the counter numbers and site traffic climb when I post frequently, but lately I've gotten comfortable knowing that when I only get around to posting only every few weeks or once a month I'm only going to get a few readers. But I've got a lot to do if I really believe what I just wrote about relationships. I'll try to post a few more times this summer if you're interested. I've got a few family trips, a week at a youth camp, and a big U2 concert to attend this summer.
So what do you do in the summer?