Sunday, August 14, 2011

Global Soccer Mom

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy. Ezekiel 16:49

Browsing new non-fiction at our local library, I was drawn to a book titled Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier than You Think. I don’t really like the label “soccer mom,” although I suppose I was one for almost two decades. How is a soccer mom different from a baseball mom? Or rugby mom? Or any other mom?

I also don’t resonate with the idea that “changing the world is easier than you think.” Who thinks they can change the world at all? And what, if anything, would be easy about it?

But I’m always interested when non-fiction from Zondervan ends up on library display racks, and skimming the back cover, I was amused to see that author Shayne Moore and I have much in common. She attended my evangelical alma mater’s top rival, Wheaton, has three kids, believes stay-at-home moms are called to make a difference.

Early in the book, Moore describes an incident where she feels God leading her to visit a convent, an unfamiliar setting, where she is shown a “Center for Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation .”

She doesn’t know why she’s there, doesn’t know what God is doing, yet “All the nerve endings in my soul start firing at the same time. I had never heard of a Center for Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of Creation. What do they do there? My world, my church, and my life do not include such a place. My heart pounds as a voice from the depth of me says distinctly, ‘This is what pleases me. This is what it’s about.’”

I feel as if I’ve been on a parallel journey with Shayne Moore. Unemployed for the first time since I took a decade off to stay home with my kids, I’ve been moving forward as if with a blindfold on, listening carefully to that quiet voice I’ve learned to trust: this way. Now wait.

And then – moments of “this is what pleases me. This is what it’s about.”

What it’s about, I see more and more, is compassion. Grieving with those who grieve. Waiting with those who wait. Offering to carry the burden with those whose burdens are too much to carry.

Moore’s journey carries her into advocacy about global HIV and AIDS, and into conflict with a church tradition uncomfortable with the harsh realities of poverty, disease, and human suffering. When first confronted with first-hand stories of African AIDS orphans, she admits: “I have no file in my brain for this information. No context. I am angry: Why have I never heard this? Why aren’t we talking about this every Sunday in church? Where are the sermons and the offering plates for this pandemic? Why are we harping on the same things over and over from the pulpit, yet are ignorant of our neighbors’ suffering?”

We are ignorant of our neighbors’ suffering because we choose to be. Because we’re afraid of the responsibility that comes with knowledge. Because we don’t want to be different from the people around us. Because life is hard enough already, so why make it harder? Because it’s easier to focus on superficial things than tackle the underlying structures and systems that are part of our neighbors’ suffering.

Moore tells her own story of moving deeper into a life of obedience and advocacy, while offering a wealth of statistics and stories about AIDS, global poverty, and initiatives that have been begun, and often set aside, as other economic priorities intervene. She also shares some great quotes.

From N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: “I want to explore justice. I use this word as shorthand for the intention of God, expressed from Genesis to Revelation, to set the whole world right – a plan gloriously fulfilled in Jesus Christ, supremely in his resurrection, and now to be implemented in the world. We cannot get off the hook of present responsibility by declaring that the world is currently in such a mess and there’s nothing that can be done about it until the Lord returns." 

From Richard Foster's Devotional Classics: "The social justice tradition (the compassionate life) is not a set of pious exercises for the devout, but a trumpet call to a freely gathered people who seek the total transformation of persons, institutions, and societies. We are to combine suffering love with courageous action . . . . We are to become the voice of the voiceless, pleading their causes in the halls of power and privilege."  

From Arloa Sutter, president of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago: "Scripture sheds light on the why of poverty by addressing issues of greed, disobedience, isolation, and discrimination, but ultimately the power to overcome poverty and disease lies not so much in assigning blame as in learning to live the Jesus way; to follow him in how he interacted with the poor and suffering, to take up our cross of loving generosity, kindness, and tenacious advocacy for the poor and oppressed."

Thinking and praying about these quotes, I’ve been struggling with the idea of “tenacious advocacy.” Shayne Moore’s tenacious advocacy led her into tension with her church, into partnership with people very unlike herself, and took her far past her comfort zone on trips to Honduras, Kenya, Russia, and the G8 conference in Scotland.

Some friends and I were talking recently about human need, suffering, poverty. One friend said “well, all we can really do is pray and help people one by one.”  I like that idea: I do pray, and I do help people one by one.

But even as I heard her say it, I was sure there was more demanded. As another friend answered quietly, “if we don’t try to change things, we’re complicit in the way they are.”

What does compassion look like? What dose it mean to be “the voice of the voiceless”? Am I really called to join others in “pleading their causes in the halls of power and privilege”?

Shayne Moore concludes: “I may never have all the answers when it comes to what divides the church or our nation; however, if I am sure of one thing it is this: I am not wrong if I am spending myself on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. . . . In our churches we pray the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday and we say, 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven' (Matt. 6:9 KJV). I am confident extreme poverty, the exploitation of women and children, and preventable diseases are not in heaven. I can act in this world, in my time, to fight these things, knowing I am in the will of God."

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.