A friend told me recently that he finds it incredibly difficult to speak to poor people, and that this has often been the cause of guilt. What I think it means is that he feels he should be engaging with the poor but something of his life experience makes this incredibly difficult. I think I know what he means, and I think he is being very honest about something we find very difficult to talk about. I mean, how do we enable those who are disconnected from the marginalised to be opened to them?
Now I wouldn’t want to release people from responsibility to those who are materially poor, but maybe a part of the answer to the dilemma is to open our eyes to the marginalised in our immediate environment.
For instance, in our family orientated (often obsessed) faith communities, how do we treat those among us who have been convicted of downloading child porn?
Or those whose life experience and pastoral need encompasses life events we would prefer not to contemplate. How do we include parents who have lost a young child.
I saw this a few weeks ago, and was part of a group who couldn’t answer a request from just such a parent. Other issues which were raised received almost instantaneous outpourings of prayer…but not the bereaved father.
Having noticed the reluctance to pray for him and his remaining family I could only put it down to an unwillingness to engage with the need. I certainly didn’t want to contemplate the possibility for my family. I would prefer that he wasn’t there carrying his grief as a heavy burden. It was too close to me, too obvious. I would prefer he and his grief were kept out of sight.
There are marginalised people all around us. Learning to discern them in our midst trains us to empathise with the materially poor.