I've come to believe that there are two ways of viewing the community of Los Laureles, and poverty-stricken communities more generally (there may be more but thus far I've discovered two). The first way, the most common way, is pity. We see heart-wrenching poverty, disastrously broken lives and seeming hopelessness and the first thing we feel is pity, a sadness, even a feeling of helplessness. Pity's natural, it's a valid emotion, a first response that moves us to reach out and help. I know I felt pity for Los Laureles when I first visited here; I felt pity for La Carpio, a very similar, ghetto-like community on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, when I first encountered it. Both times I was struck with what my eyes were beholding; the homes built out of scrap metal and wood, half-naked toddlers running through dirt streets, the smells of garbage, black water and decay around every corner, the obvious tooth-and-nail struggle that these families daily live through just to survive. Who wouldn't feel pity in a situation like that? The problem though, and the problem I see so often with North American groups that show up to the community here is that they never allow themselves to move beyond pity to something deeper, something more relational. By holding on to that emotion, by viewing Los Laureles through the lense of pity, they allow themselves to control the situation, to bolster their ego and to not have to invest in or truly know the people that they're helping. How's that you say?
Pity in this context is a top-down response, it condescends from me, who is rich and has his life together, to you, a poor person with a life resembling a train wreck. If I refuse to let go of that emotion I remain in control, I can control how much I know and learn about you and what kind of help I deicide you need. I can feel justified about coming in and out of your life on intervals that I decide and I can control how much you know about my life, if at all. At all times and in every aspect, pity allows us to remain in the driver's seat. Pity bolsters the ego because it sees the most essential and critical response as being something that I can give to you, be that material, monetary or spiritual; it's me giving from my wealth of everything to you who has nothing to offer back anything that I could possibly want. This of course makes us feel good and quite accomplished; we can point to projects, hand-outs, events, even souls as measures of our success and the depth of our kindness. Finally, pity allows us to stay aloof from the actual people we claim to want to help, actually that aloofness is what allows the emotion to exist at all, it's essentially an a priori-type response. In feeling pity we cannot know the people, their gifts, their talents, what they might offer us, their stories or their hopes. Pity can't allow for that because if we do allow ourselves to begin to build co-equal relationships then the paradigm is shattered and the emotion ceases to exist.
I can imagine then you've already figured out what the second resonse to poverty is - relationship building. Not just any type of relationship though, I think our best example of how to move from pity to something deeper is to look to Jesus and his incarnational response to his disciples. He lived with them, ate with them, slept and worked with them. He shared fully of himself both materially and emotionally and expected the same in return. You could say that he didn't exactly need the Disciples, being the Son of God and all, but I would contend that he did. He needed the community, the sanctuary, the help, that they offered. Furthermore, he needed the Disciples to carry on his work and build the Church once he was gone. Was it an equal relationship? Yes and No. No, because obviously Jesus had more to offer in the way of everything - he was their teacher and savior after all. But Yes, because both Jesus and at least 11 of the Disciples gave fully of what they had to the other to build and maintain the relationship. So then, just as with Jesus and the Disciples, our own work with impoverished communities isn't one of equal giving and receiving, no relationship is. Rather it's one of learning about each other, sharing of ourselves with each other, loving each other - and out of that we come to know more fully how to truly help each other from the gifts, abilities and resources that God has bestowed on each of us. That's what it means to be incarnational, that's what it means to move from pity to relationship, that's what it means to follow Jesus' example and love our neighbor.
The following then is a video I made that I think sort of reflects what I've been trying to say. The other evening I was struck to set photos to a song that I really like. Every now and then that happens to me, I like a song and imagine a video that I could create for it, rarely do insipiration and motivation join hands but the other night they did. As I began sorting through photos, I found myself over and over being drawn to happy photos; smiling people, people hugging, people enjoying life, that sort of thing. I could of gone the sad, depressing route (I have plenty of photos like that); when making a video about a community near a garbage dump one might expect such a thing. That though seemed disingenuous, a betrayal of the people here that I've come to know and love, a betrayal of the way they've helped me in every conceivable way, a falsefying of the way I truly view Los Laureles. I did choose to include a few "garbagey" type shots, more though for context and less to pull at the heartstrings; and the opening title shot "life in a garbage dump" is meant to be more ironic than anything else, one doesn't usually expect a photo like the one that follows the title sequence after reading a line like that...that was the point. May I digress slightly for a minute? Los Laureles is not a garbage dump, no one lives amongst piles of trash, very few people even dig through the trash once it has been dumped in the landfill. It was once a community in an actual dump but those days are long over - we now live on a landfill, a very verdant and often muddy landfill. I often feel that calling it a garbage dump gives the wrong impression, is essentially a lie and can even be a let-down, in a twisted sort of way, for people that visit us here. Sorry for the digression, that's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for a while, though I doubt the people that needed to see that also read this blog. So, this has been a disastrously long introduction to a very mundane video so I shan't ramble on any further. Here it is:
By-the-bye, I've been trying to post this for days now but have been unable due to slow connections; I truly loathe Honduran internet. That, anyways, is my reason for a lack of posts these past few days.