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She hears the Cry of the Poor: A Reflection on Charity, Justice and Silence

Introduction

Each one of us, individual, group, and institution is uniquely positioned in relation to the rest of the world. We all have power to influence our surroundings, however, to a greater or lesser extent. The situation around us, thus, resembles and mirrors the state of our minds and hearts. Our conviction, commitment and notion of responsibility towards everyone and everything shape our societies. We are the products of our choices, actions, and silence (indifference). Let us take a moment to reflect on our society, its state, our role in the outcomes, our responsibility or the lack of it, our capacities and limitations. In the spirit of truth and faithfulness what decisions and actions ought we to take to transform ourselves and our society for the better.

Composition of Place

Imagine three people, one walking on foot, one driving a big car (the most efficient you can imagine) and the third one, yourself driving, cycling or walking on foot, or on a bus (where best you can place yourself). Picture the road, the way you experience it: the dust or the mud, the potholes, how narrow or wide it is, its crookedness, and the darkness or a smooth, straight, and well-lit road. Acknowledge the fact that your personality compounded by your means of transportation determines how you navigate the road, the speed, skill, consciousness of and interaction with other users. As you negotiate your way through the potholes, mindful of the impact of each move you make on yourself, your means of transportation, and on the other users of the that road. How conscious are you of the road signs?

Now, Picture the person with that big car. She cruises past you and many others, flying over the potholes as if they don’t even exist, and if at night, she does that on a full beam, leaving everything behind him/her covered in dust, or mud, eyes hurting and minds confused. A moment later, you hear someone screaming and shouting for help. It’s a hit and run; someone has been left lying helplessly on the road., covered in blood and her life fading away. Suddenly, you’re faced with the reality of, on the one hand, an injured person calling out for urgent help; and on the other hand, an offender to chase after. Of course, there is a third option, to continue with your life, minding your own business. What do you do?

Interpretation and analysis of the Human Condition

The response to the above question is a matter of choosing charity, justice, and silence. Charity is an act of kindness shown to the other regardless of our duty towards them. Justice, however, is a responsible action or decision that expresses our duty towards self, the other person, and the other created things. Silence sums up all the indifference, disinterestedness, indecision, and inaction, the often easier of all responses supported by whatever justifications. These three roughly summarize all our responses to the various situations we are faced with as we encounter the people as subjects and relate to objects around us.

The world is comprised of three kinds of people, the powerful, the weak and us. You and I are very conscious of who we are in relation to others. We recognize that we are weak as compared to some, but more powerful compared to others. The powerful are those who have the means, as depicted by the person driving an efficient car, that makes one less conscious or unconscious of reality (or its effects) like a drug that makes a patient not to feel pain even if the wound is visible. The irresponsible wielder of such power trample on others, knowingly or ignorant of the impacts of their decisions, words and actions on both human beings and the environment. These are the leaders of all kinds: political, traditional, and religious among them. Some are the educated, the wealthy or well to do, and those variously more gifted than others, yet lacking in prudence.

Talents and power we hold in trust of the most vulnerable to further the common good, that is to respond effectively to duty, to respect, promote and fulfil the rights of individuals and groups, and, furthermore, to promote the integrity of creation. Like a driver on the road, we are trained and certified to operate powerful machinery (the means, be it wealth, offices, and institutions). We are guided by rules and regulations, and we are expected to be more conscious and responsible on the road, life of the society. Diplomatic statuses are means for furthering the common good, not our self-interests. Our titles, doctor, professor, pastor/ Father, honourable, excellency, constable, general, eminence, lord, sir, and so on are not our own but given by society and held by us for the same society. They resemble the responsibility trust the society have in us to execute noble, specific, and important roles for its wellbeing. All these means elevate one for oversight but can easily become a source of detachment and indifference to reality.

The second group are the weak and vulnerable people of this world; the poor, homeless, workers, women, widows, orphans, uneducated, minors, and the faithful. They are travelling on the same road with little to no means of cushioning themselves from reality. If it rains, they get wet and in winter they feel cold. If the sun scotches, they thirst and burn. They have nowhere to hide, no ways of escaping the effects of natural and manmade disasters. If there is drought, they get hungry and die, they have little to no alternative sources of livelihood, their options are slim. If diseases strike, they perish, they have neither health insurance nor access to healthcare. Sometimes they lack the knowledge to prevent themselves from all kinds of harm. Their only weapon is the involuntary sound of their cries when hit by calamity, hoping that someone will hear them. They have even gotten used to the pain such that they think it is normal. Maybe they have lost hope, or they are paralyzed, thus they just agonize in silence. They feel like second-class citizens, always giving way to others.  

Most individuals and groups fall in the third category. They occupy the position of neither the power nor the weakness, but they have access to the first and second. They can choose to identify with whomever they wish on the wide spectrum of the society. These are, in short, a variety of individuals, groups and institutions that are conscious of their capacities, limitations and duties towards their fellow human beings and the rest of creation. Some identify with the first haves and are comfortable, silently enjoying life and all the benefits. Some are like passengers riding on a bus, members of an institution. They have earned their seat at the table and have a sense of entitlement to the goods and services they enjoy, so they ride along. So long they get where they are going safe and sound, they are happy. They prefer to look upon themselves as victims of the system, law abiding citizens, faithful practicing members and so on. They are not driving; they are driven by someone who is also doing his or her job. The driver decides by the book whether to stop or proceed. Who wrote the book anyway? Unless the light is green, they don’t move.

We all feel somehow like we are in that bus, just riding along. We have targets, job descriptions, personal lives, family, and friends, so we love peace at the lowest cost. We are very loyal creatures. To whom? is the important question.

A Charity based Response

Being human demands that we feel moved by the suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters. We should feel moved to extend ourselves and our belongings towards the suffering. In this way we participate in divine nature, reflecting the image of the Creator in whose image and likeness we are formed.

Since its establishment in Zimbabwe, the Church has been involved in a lot of charity work ranging from running schools for the poor to minimize ignorance, orphanages to provide home for children who have no one to care for them, hospices and hospitals to care for the sick and terminally ill in the society. The Church has provided shelter, food, and education for refugees and the homeless, victims of war, political and economic migrants, and drought-stricken populations. HIV/Aids programmes ran across the country and the continent when the need was urgent, so did food relief programmes and others. This work has continued to date and made a difference to the lives of the suffering people of Zimbabwe. A practical and immediate response to the cry of the poor is necessary and should never be neglected in the mission of the Church in the world. We are called to be charitable and should continue with our good works.

A Justice or Rights Based Response

All human beings are equal in dignity. Any action, by an individual acting in her personal capacity or on behalf of a group, that diminishes the dignity of another individual or group is, thus, not acceptable. Human beings have the capacity to reflect on and evaluate their actions and those of others guided by basic principles that govern the right treatment of others and right conduct in civilized society. As a Church, guided by the law of love that demands that we love our neighbour as ourselves, it is our duty to act justly towards one another regardless of our race, status, sex, or creed. This is as important as the duty to advocate for the correct treatment of our fellow human beings by others. This duty demands that we speak up against oppression, abuse of power, corruption, and other forms of injustice. There is a price to pay, and that is exactly what being a disciple of Christ implies.

Many of us (Zimbabweans) have reduced ourselves to victims of the system, blindly following codes and rules of our institutions, nation and any form of organized grouping, championing these at the expense of our conscience and true religion. We have seen the police mount roadblocks, and conduct raids on private property; teachers need to survive so they move content from the formal lesson to the extra lesson; pastors claim to offer solutions to every human problem at a material cost. Furthermore, one turn against his neighbour and inflict unspeakable harm (physical and emotional) in the name of loyalty to their collectives. If your left eye causes you to sin, better you pluck it out.

It all hinges on the faith we place in systems. Though faith is formally organized along objective religious, scientific, or political systems, it is accepted and lived subjectively. In other words, it involves a personal encounter, response, and conversion. Jean Paul Sartre would posits that we are condemned to be free, even if we think our hands are tied. We are called to be just and to promote Justice. When we fail, let’s not justify ourselves but acknowledge our failure and address the injustice within and around us.

Not Silence, but Silenced

A child, from the day she is born, learns to communicate her frustrations and desires. She annoys, nags and, no matter how dirty, always gets attention and redress of its grievances. Just as she did when it was in her womb, the mother always comes to a child’s rescue, mediating its relations with the often-harsh world. The child grows and learns how to direct its message to whomever, whenever and, however. The process of its socialization into a system begins and continues throughout life. Sometimes learning happens through experience, the best teacher. But what kind of experience? We learn to express our desires, thoughts, and feelings, but also to suppress them. Through abuse and neglect, a child learns silence, timidity, and bitterness. Through love and care, it learns confidence, tenderness, and responsibility. Whichever the case, someday the child learns to defend what she loves, but never at the expense or in contempt of the woman that raised her.  

Silence, on the one hand, means he is satisfied. On the other hand, it means he does not know what to say or how to say it. Further still, he may know what to say but he cannot say it, meaning that he is silenced. The kind of silence of the Church and her sons can neither be a sign of satisfaction with the status quo nor a lack of understanding of reality nor failure to read the signs of the times. She and her sons know what is happening, hear the cry of the poor day and night, whom they live among and accompany in their home, the parish, school, hospital, workplace, and on the road. The Church and her sons know what to say but hold back because they have been silenced. Could it be the scandals of her past and present, or the fear of losing what they have and hold in this world, including life itself? Have we grown too dependent on our “friends” and fear losing their love and support even our siblings, her children’s expense? The child is grown up. It is now its turn to return the favour, to defend its mother who has been silenced and disgraced by the world and especially by her own children, its siblings.

 

We pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to come and reign in the Church, to free us all from this “upper room” in which we have been confined to by somehow genuine, but human reasons and fears. The Spirit will give us the courage to break out of these chains and proclaim the Truth to men and women of our time, loud and clear, without fear or fervour. The Spirit will remind us that death is not the end but the beginning of life; that the hope of mankind is the resurrection from the dead. We are called to be prudent, mindful, respectful, and patient, but even more, to allow the Spirit of God to radically transform us and the world around us.

The Common Priest

Tawanda Chamba is a freelance writer, independent researcher, and commoner. The is a father of one and husband on one.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Shacky M Meleki

    Real and powerful, you nailed it man. A wake up call to the man inside of me

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