In a class I took this semester a professor said that the role of the pastor is to live within and be comfortable with tension. What he meant was that pastors need to be able to see the ideal and recognize the way that things should be while at the same time recognizing that things are not, in fact, the way they should be – and to learn to be comfortable working in that ‘in between’ space of knowing what should be but never quite seeming to be able to get there.
As I’ve mentioned before one of the things I do at Degage Ministries is help in the ID program that helps people get state-issued ID’s when they’ve lost or don’t have the proper documentation. We help them get what they need and most of the time it’s not being able to come up with the $10.00 that the Secretary of State charges to get one. So we upfront the cost and ask them to ‘pay-back’ some or all of that cost when it arrives. Most agree to pay $3-5, some agree to pay it all, and others insist they can’t pay any.
Sometimes coming up with the money is really a big deal for these folks and sometimes it isn’t. Tension. Why can a person not have 10 bucks for a state ID but can ask to leave to go outside and have a cigarette from a pack that cost them at least 5 of those 10 bucks that they don’t have? Tension. Why can one person who really can’t afford it be so grateful that we are willing to help them out that they say, “I’ll find a way to come up with $10, I’m just grateful you’re here for me right now.” Tension. Why when I’m working in the kitchen is one person thankful for the free donut and the next person walks away in disgust because we ran out of muffins before he got there? Tension.
Tension is all around us. It’s what makes us calloused toward helping others who seem like they aren’t interested in helping themselves. It’s what makes us want to help those who need it while at the same time wondering if we’re being taken advantage of when we do.
The folks at Degage have learned to live and work in that tension. They do what they can to mitigate being taken advantage of but the struggle – the tension – still remains. And they are constantly wondering what to do about it. But it doesn’t stop them from helping and helping well. They are still meeting the needs of the poor and homeless and meeting them well.
Living in tension comes part and parcel with living the Christian life. It’s part of the already and the not yet. It’s part of knowing that God’s kingdom (in Jesus Christ – the already) has come but not fully (in the Second Coming – the not yet). So we live in this space in between – filled with tension and navigating it’s swirling waters is challenging.
Living in tension means helping someone who really needs it, and if that means helping someone who maybe doesn’t it – well, so be it. It is God who justifies not me.
In the meantime, I’ll do what I can for the ones who need it. And, if along the way, it means helping someone who doesn’t – well that’s part of the tension and I’ll continue to watch out for that too. But not, I hope, at the expense of the least of these.