When an epidemic arises, groups do not just work to address the containment of the epidemic, trying to treat those who can be saved and providing hospice care for those who will die. When a disease ravages through a community, it is a given that there will be groups working towards the annihilation of the root of the problem, the pathogen that is causing the deaths. Maybe during some far-off century, people would leave the epidemic to the whims of precarious gods. But now, it would be considered irresponsible for the root of the problem to remain ignored. When lives are at stake, it would be cruel and inhumane for us to never try to cure the disease or come up with more effective treatment or preventative measures. Whether it is cancer or AIDS, research teams around the world are investing money, time, and effort into finding a cure that would save millions of lives the world over. There is no guarantee that we can ever find the cure, but we could not possibly conceive of a world where no one tried to change the status quo. We support these research teams because the cause is just and personal-- it could happen to one of us, or our family members.
Today, an epidemic of depression pervades our society. This epidemic has a number of roots. The epidemic is partially caused by a competition complex we have bought into. This complex drives us to care for our families, but not beyond. It makes us believe in a dream, raising false hopes in our climb up to a comfort zone that has limited room for people with contacts or luck. The American myth that the tired, hungry, and poor will all be taken care of has led us to a false sense of security--allowing us to be comfortable without heed to the people in our very city that don't have a place to sleep at night. Some people believe that they brought it upon themselves after; they are just lazy and don't want to come up out of their situation. But when our own comfort spheres are pierced with fear from an economic recession and continually rising gas prices, we close ourselves off even further to the community that needs us; operating under survival-mode, my survival against yours, true to the competition complex that we were raised into.
Our Adventist church has realized that such is the world's way of dealing with crisis and hard times, but not the way of love and the way of light that a wise man once preached. We know that Jesus didn't come to discredit an existing religion or establish a new religion, but to fulfill the way of love and show us a better way of life. The greatest commandment He revealed was simply love--love for the Creator that lovingly set life in motion and love for the creation that breathes life. In seeing our world suffer, we realize that our first step in walking the way of love is to act upon that love and make it real-- that community service is more important than a fear-inducing evangelistic series. In 2003, Adventist leaders recognized that we need to do more in the way of community service in order to "connect with local communities." They acknowledged that "we are here to serve," stating that "In our church, community services must become a way of life, not an isolated act, and we must empower our members to be the agent that builds bridges between the church and community".
They were absolutely right. Community service shouldn't just be an occasional Sabbath afternoon food drive for the homeless or once-a-month charity event. Being genuinely concerned for others means that we will also want to search for the root of our current state of affairs. This means seeking change and methods of improvement for our communities, not just our own special interests of retaining our right to exist in the community. I'm not saying that we are capable of fixing all our failings and living in perfect harmony, but I am saying that things can be better. Not only can things be better, in fact, but I think that like with any epidemic it would be irresponsible for us to not try the hardest we can to help make things better for ourselves and our children.
It's so easy to get numb to caring about the rising numbers of unemployed, homeless, and poor. Many of us aren't even aware of the fact that injustices (like children dying due to a lack of healthcare access in rural communities) do exist not only in third-world countries, but in North America as well. With whole communities suffering from home foreclosures and debt infusions, it becomes fairly evident that relief efforts will be exhausted if these patterns are allowed to continue. If we cannot give of ourselves out of love, then surely at some point we must give because we are selfish--because we are not exempt from the clutches of unemployment, tragedy, and loss. We are fed cynicism and depression because the results of our neglect are overwhelming. Efforts at finding the roots of poverty gaps, economic recession, global warming, homelessness, and racial, social, and gender inequality are imperative in order to be able to live love. Imagine what could happen if everyone gave a dollar out of every paycheck and an hour every week to help relief, prevention, and/or research efforts. Now, imagine what could happen if we lived out our days in love: loving the Creator and created, responding with patience, understanding, and warmth, instilling hope in the lives of those around us. This hope envisions that something beyond helplessness exists, that Love is, in fact, still alive. God is Love. This Love in all its Divine essence has never stopped working with us and through us.
At the end of every day, I know that the pressures of balancing a job, studies, and home life are hard enough by themselves, and that any attempts of trying to think beyond my hardships can be difficult and stressing. But I also know that things are not up to a fictitious set of jealous and flaky gods. I am a part of my community. I am a daughter. I am an Adventist. And I can affect my community, my family, and my fellow church members. And because Love does exist, things can change as long as I can love.
Zulema Ibarra received a BA in Emerging Voices in Cross-Cultural America from La Sierra University. Her honors thesis was titled “America: Land of the Poor.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/880