I am listening to a sermon by Rob Bell that I downloaded from his church’s website. After I read his book and started listening to his music again, I wanted to hear his oratory. It turns out that the sermon I chose somewhat at random, entitled “The School by the Side of the Road” was actually an interview with one of his parishioners named Rachel Pater. She caught my attention when she started her story by saying that she had been thinking about a question he asked almost a year earlier. “Do you hear the cry of the oppressed? If you don’t, could it be that you are a part of a system that is oppressing someone else?” She said that she was a little offended by this question. I’ve come to a point in my journey that I look at the innocence and ignorance of that response with nostalgia. The bliss of being 21 years old. But then, she made me laugh. She said, “I considered myself a very just person and had always thought that I had a sense of justice and that I would never be part of a system that oppressed someone.” Here’s the good part. “I grew up with 2 older brothers. I felt from a very young age that I knew what justice was and I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting it most of the time.”
Rachel made me sit up and listen further when she quoted Shane Claiborne, my current nemesis, when he said, “The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, it is that they do not know the poor.” She talked about how she worked as a copywriter for a non-profit, humanizing the statistics of refugees, but never really felt shocked or personally offended by what those statistics meant, by what she was writing. She didn’t know any poor people.
She was telling my story.
She went on to talk about her choice to teach at an alternative high school and told stories about how hard it was but how joyful it was, too. Those are my stories. I have told them. I still tell them. I loved my urban kids. They had a vibrancy that I have not experienced anywhere else, except when I get to hang around the edges of community here on the west side of Chicago.
Rachel is not the only experience that I’ve had lately that tells me I need to go back and teach those kids again.
I wonder how this will play out.
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