One of the things about reconciliation is that if you’re doing it right, if you begin to get to the margins of your comfort zone and engage with those people you would never associate with, take on a perspective that is vastly different from yours, then you will find all the pressure points of discomfort, privilege, and self-righteousness. To your credit, you will also find out where you are gifted, advantaged, and much healthier. And that is a strange soup of emotions to sort through at that point in your disorientation.
For instance, in a visit to Sao Paulo, Brasil last spring, I had the chance to visit a place unlike any other place I’d ever been to in my life, “la casa amarella” — “the yellow house.”
When we arrived there, we were eager to help out where we could and I was given the task of cleaning out the bathrooms. Apparently, on Wednesday afternoons, they opened up the bathrooms with showers to the community so the homeless in the surrounding area could come in for a needed shower. And on some days as many as 150 homeless men and women would come in off the streets and wash away the dirt they accumulated from the week. And while I was still reeling from the thought of more than a hundred poor people coming in for a bath, I was really moved when I was told that there were volunteers who would come in just to help scrub them clean.
I was to squeegee out the thick black mess off the walls and Lysol it all down. I was given thick rubber gloves and rubber galoshes in order to do it well. There were moments where I had to suppress a gag reflex, wondering what it was like for those who cleaned the people, not the walls and floors afterward. There was a split second where I caught myself thinking that the former would be more rewarding than the latter. And that for just a moment, I felt a little bit of pride in what I was doing. Then the thought struck me that I was only here for a few days. Who would clean next week? Was it the same person or another European student trying to get out of military duty? And where is the true act of kindness and reconciliation then?
In the very act of service and selflessness, I found myself aware of how pervasive my sense of self was. How profound is this selfishness that it hides itself in the very acts that project selflessness! At the same time I want to respond to the needs of others, there is a side of me that is projecting a self just as needy. The only difference is whether I hold the squeegee or allow someone to scrub me down.
Many times, I believe our allegiances lie. It’s the reason why we would rather go to Brasil and to do good works and evangelize to them, while simultaneously sit idly by as immigration laws make it very difficult for them to stay in our country. It’s the same reason where our politics speak louder than our churches; or our checkbooks betray where and to whom we are generous. It’s why we say we believe in the diversity of the kingdom all the while our churches look monochromatic. That is where our allegiances lie. Our judgment is far speedier than our grace. Our rhetoric is light years ahead of our actions. And it is largely because we don’t realize the degree of irony between our spiritual (and even physical) obesity and the very call to hospitality and generosity the gospel demands of us.
Where does our identity in Christ dictate to our class, gender, ethnicity, race, political affiliation, or spending habits? Discover where your allegiance lies and you will find some sense of truth about where you are in this pursuit of Christ.