How to restore human dignity

We’ve seen a lot of hard images in the media lately. Even my own small town feels poverty, hunger, gang violence, substance abuse, and a high unemployment level threatening to overwhelm humanity daily.  Crisis is everywhere making it hard to know where to start or who to listen to.  We worry about helping the right way and the right people -What if they are scamming us? What if they don’t appreciate us? What if they are also being helped by someone else too?

If we’re working with a Christian organization, we always have our eye on the bottom line, the decision for Christ. Do our efforts yield an acceptable return for the Kingdom? Sometimes, I think we’re missing the point.  

Hundreds of organizations demand our attention and request our money. Most are wonderful, honest organizations  desperate to help as many as they can.  But we aren’t made of money and the problems of humanity are so overwhelming we often shut down without making any effort at all.  We focus on ‘taking care of our own’ and letting ‘people who know what they are doing’ handle the rest.  

I believe there is a middle ground, simple, tangible ways we can restore human dignity, ours and others, ways which rekindle the human spirit and acknowledge the humanity we share.  It’s fine to write checks to charitable organizations, but we are also called to a messier, more intimate level of connection, a level I find uncomfortable and feel unqualified to engage.  But the God who used murderers, fishermen and women of questionable reputation to advance His kingdom, isn’t impressed with my excuses. He can use each of us to help restore human dignity right in our communities.

dignity

See people as people.

A few years ago I started looking people in the eye.  If I pass someone on the street, I make eye contact and a head nod or a smile.  If a person serves me in some way, I look them in the eye, ask them about their day, offer a kind word. If someone is struggling, I offer assistance or understanding as best I can.  Sometimes I have to bite my tongue. Sometimes I’m faking it. Sometimes I don’t have the extra time. Sometimes I fail miserably.

What I’ve learned over the last few years is that we’ve stopped seeing each other.  Only about 50% of people I greet in passing will meet my eye or acknowledge my presence. We’re busy, important, distracted, disinterested….whatever we are, we’ve disconnected.  I get it. I’ve done it Many days I fight the urge to let everyone move on around me if I can just be left alone.  But in the swirling, hurly-burly mass of humanity are people who desperately need a moment of our time, to receive the simple affirmation that we are in this life and this world together.  When we see people, really see them, even for a moment, we are restoring dignity.

Volunteer locally.  

No matter where we live, organizations are waiting for us to give our presence and our time. If you are passionately pro-life, a pregnancy crisis centers are begging for help. If you care about children, schools, boys and girls clubs, after-school programs and tutoring centers desperately need you.  If you love to feed people, soup kitchens, food pantries, more school systems and seasonal organizations are waiting.  Yes, they need money but  even more they need bodies, people to look, listen, touch, lift, speak, guide and be with community in person.  Jesus great work of restoration was done in the flesh; He asks us to continue His work in the flesh as well.

Listen without judgement.

There’s a fancy church word for this, the ministry of presence. I’m going to be honest, most hurting people simply want to be heard. They aren’t ready for solutions. They aren’t comforted by platitudes, and they for sure don’t need to hear all the things they may have done wrong to get to this place. There may be a time for ‘speaking the truth in love’ down the line, but what is called for in the restoration of human dignity is simply love. We must make time and give our undivided attention.  We may hold a hand, hug a shoulder or perhaps just sit close. When Jesus walked the earth, He was a man of few public words and great public action. He listened to the hurting without correction or rebuke. He was a friend to the very sinners he came to save.

Remember, we are not heroes. 

This is a hard one. Most of us are people of privilege. We’re American (or Canadian, or European, privileged nations all).  We have access to knowledge, services and goods the majority of the world doesn’t have, and to top it off, we have so much money we make up things to spend it on.  Sometimes we feel like we owe the world something.

We owe aid to the poor and assistance to the helpless because we can do something for them they cannot do for themselves. We can save them.  But no. The world has a Savior and He’s not us. Restoring human dignity is about humbly recognizing our place, the innumerable graces bestowed on us, and how very little separates us from any level of suffering. Dignity says, “I am here; You are here. We are here together.”  It does not say, “I’ll show you my way to do this. It’s better.”

Sisters, we live in a world that’s often dark and lonely, but we don’t have to let those be the final words. We have within us what people most need, the bond of flesh, the gift of our hearts, human touch and the beautiful power of compassionate presence.  Humanity is being restored to it’s former position in the Kingdom. Let’s all walk Home together, side by side.

Dana Portwood
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Dana Portwood

Dana is a writer, book-a-holic, lover of dogs, tattoo addict, wanna be beach bum, hair color-er, a survivor of cancer, over the moon about being 40, and a sold out minimalist. She's madly in love with her husband of twenty years and crazy about (or maybe just crazy) raising three teenage daughters.She believes in the power of Love, the miracle of grace, and the strength of community.
Dana Portwood
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