Love your neighbor as yourself, the Scriptures say. John talked about it in lecture the other day. The good Samaritan, like Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains, was a man of action. He was busy, but he failed to erase the bond he felt with the man so he could move on. He was twisted with pain inside for the man, and instead of erasing the man from his world, he moved actively to improve this singular, personal instance of pain he had been made witness to. The good Samaritan made himself a neighbor to the injured man. Jesus’ command in this instance is not to be looking out for people who might merit your attentions in some way, but to be continually becoming a neighbor to those in one’s path.
There’s no telling how much of the good that occurrs in the world happens in just this way — Farmer’s care for the poor happened as he made himself the neighbor of those in his path. He didn’t start out with a master plan to save the world, or even to save all the TB patients in the world. His thought was never even bent for long on the theoretical task of healing all
of Haiti. He focused on individuals. The people who came to the clinic. Particular tasks he found to do which led the way to others. He refused to be sloppy with anything he did. And he refused to lose individuals in a big picture. That’s O for the P for you. They just added up to be almost more than he could handle. Once, I remember, he is irritated at how dificult things are for him and for PIH, and he says that’s it’s just because other people aren’t doing their jobs– which is entirely true. If you spend a little bit of time on that statement, it will stick with you. Other people aren’t doing their jobs.
Ologies fascinate me. They always have. They also drive me to work at defining myself apart from them. When I was young, I often found my parents’ ologies to be mind-bogglingly confining, narrow, and dark. I wanted to open them up to the sky, needed a breath of fresh air, couldn’t understand why the honey of the holy scripture was not sweet and freeing to them as it was to me. I closed my eyes with glory on my tongue at night for years, remembering Ezekiel eating the scroll God gave him of mourning, lament, and woe, and how the words tasted sweet as honey in his mouth. God was gifting Himself to us in His words, I felt, and if we could submit to Him, and Him only, the Holy Spirit would lead us through the necessary hermeneutics and keep us on the narrow path and we would be free to live with as much force of being on that path as we desired, spurred on by His Love. There was something I didn’t see in my parents’ ologies and in my church’s ology, something that would have allowed for a more whole-hearted grasping of God’s word. Something that would have allowed for a more whole-hearted acceptance of the people God claimed– and loved– while they were yet sinners. I saw blockages in love, everywhere. Blockages in the giving– or perhaps simply the transmission?– of Life.
Tracy Kidder notes that Paul Farmer “distrusted all ideologies, including his own, at least a little: “It’s an ology, after all,” he had written to me once about liberation theology. “And all ologies fail us at some point”” (195). What is it that makes our ologies so inescapably inhuman(e)? Like cold, confining skyscrapers gathering dirt and dust instead of like green, growing things full of abundant new life? Jesus said “I am the Vine.”
I identify with his distrust strongly. I’ve always been driven to redefine what I believe and to differentiate it from the mass opinion of the day somehow in the end. I find I enjoy where I agree with people very much and tend to focus on those areas with them, unless they invite a conversation deeper into my search for better articulation of my own relationship with God. Which is not a common occurrence. Even then I am slightly wary, however, and I sometimes find myself wishing I could ask them to take off their shoes.
We’re all cowards in one way and another, trying to justify ourselves in the face of a life filled with remarkable accomplishments. We, like the lawyer in the parable, stand up to test a living soul, seeking to find a way out for our restive consciences, a salve that will soothe our guilt. An opium answer, that we may sink back into comfort and complacency– and pay in misery. In so doing, we step into the shoes of the Death-dealer.
And, as Kidder says, “Among a coward’s weapons, cynicism is the nastiest of all” (209).
But we are all part of the living vine, and we all have unique tasks. But what we all have in common with Farmer and PIH is that our jobs are, in essence, removing every blockage we can to the transmission of Life. How to love? Perhaps that is the question. Is it as simple as Farmer’s recipe of caring for and healing the poor and sick and disadvantaged? Is it allowing ourselves to be moved? Like Jesus was moved by each one he came across?
I keep coming back again and again to the fact that Faith acts.
And faith that does not is dead.
c. Mary Kathryn Gough (huffman, maiden), 9/30/05