“He’s not there yet, but I’m working on him.”
Ever heard something like that? Tell the truth – have you ever said something like that?
In our task-dominated, project managed world, have you ever treated another person as a problem to be solved, a to-do to be checked off, or a project to be completed?
Worse that that – have you ever felt like the church encouraged you to do that? Evangelism training that works like multilevel marketing, discipleship plans built on moving people from one base to the next, caring plans that are built around group assignments.
Yeah. I’m guilty as charged. I’ve participated in such programs. I’ve built such programs. The church as institution needs these kind of structures – they help provide continuity and consistency.
However the church is also an organism, a community. We teach the crazy idea that people are made as divine image bearers. God shaped humanity to be “a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned… with glory and honor.” (Psalm 19:5) Each grubby clothed panhandler carries the weight of God’s glory; God’s wonder radiates from every frail neurotic who trembles in the corner.
We see the powerful, the accomplished, the athletic, and the beautiful and we easily see glory about them. What about all the rest – the misfits, the oddballs and the awkward? What about the weak and the needy and the not-quite-right? Unfortunately, we tend to think of them as projects to be worked upon. Or we see them as objects of charity who need our help, but have little to give us.
Charles Dickens shines a light on this attitude in Bleak House. Among the richly rendered secondary characters are two social reformers: Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle.
Jellyby’s whole life is consumed by her work of raising interest and support for the African colony of Borriboolia-Gha. She neglects all her relationships and all responsibilities to those around her so that she can focus on advancing the charity that is her life’s work. She doesn’t see the people around her as divine image bearers, but as possible workers who can help advance the mission. People, for Jellyby, are resources to advance her project.
Pardiggle, meanwhile, focuses on reforming the poor of London. In one scene, she visits the home of a poor family, haranguing them with admonitions to change their ways and improve their lot. She is oblivious to the needs of the family – she treats them only as projects to be completed.
Someone once quipped “She’s the kind of woman who lives for other people – you can tell the other people by the hunted expression on their faces.” That’s Jellyby; that’s Pardiggle.
Lord, help us not be that. Even when we work through structures, help us to see that people are not projects – they are divine image bearers who duly command our attention.
Soli Deo Gloria