Step 3: Helping Those Who Suffer – Seeing service in a whole new way
The Soulforce web page is our bare-bones attempt to introduce Gandhi and King’s rules for doing justice nonviolently, not just for God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children, but for all who suffer injustice. Their ways are not the only ways, but they are part of our founding narrative. Over time we have learned more about the intersections of oppression and our understanding has evolved (SEE MORE from WHY RELIGION AND LINK)
Once we have a clear picture of the suffering of other people and once we have a better understanding of the untruths that lead to that suffering then we are ready to “do justice”.
Gandhi and King insist that “doing justice” comes in two stages:
First, help those who suffer.
Second, help end the suffering at its source.
Helping Those Who Suffer for Their Sake
Before we are ready to march off to wage nonviolence against the sources of injustice, we must organize to help relieve the physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering of its victims
Once upon a time…
An athletic young woman jogged on a path beside a deep, rushing river. In the stillness she heard a faint cry for help. A young boy was caught in the current and if not rescued, would surely die. The young woman dove into the river, grasped the boy’s shoulders and pulled him to the shore. She dried him, gave him a drink of water from her Evian bottle and a Power Bar from her fanny pack. A camper who witnessed the rescue built a fire to help warm the shivering boy.
Suddenly, our sheroe heard another cry for help. This time, a young woman was being swept away and the athlete dove into the icy waters once again. Moments after saving a second victim from the rapids, she heard another cry for help and another. Fortunately, other hikers and campers had heard the cries and came running. Some joined in the rescue. Others shared their food and water, built fires, and wrapped the victims in warm clothes and blankets.
The river provided endless victims and before long dozens of brave rescuers were in the water and the river bank was crowded with volunteers building fires, sharing food and blankets, reviving and restoring those who had nearly drowned.
This story illustrates the first Soulforce priority. Doing justice begins when we help revive and restore the victims of injustice.
Gandhi says that justice begins when we help those who suffer…
“…through quiet, solid, substantial work in direct personal service of the masses, suffering for them, organizing them, educating them in the ways of nonviolence and thus bringing about a peaceful atmosphere of solemn determination..”
These words of Gandhi deserve serious examination.
This liberator of the Indian sub-continent with its million villages makes it clear. Healing our wounded community requires “constructive programs” that are “quiet, solid, and substantial” in “direct personal service of the suffering…”
During this tragic plague we have succeeded in creating “constructive programs” that are “quiet, solid, and substantial” for people with HIV/AIDS.
Our lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender Community Centers provide all kinds of “quiet, solid, substantial” services for people who need food, clothing and temporary shelter, medical tests and emergency treatment, legal and financial aid, tutoring and job-training, emergency hotlines and longer term counseling and support.
The Trevor Project is a 24 hour, 7 day a week hotline for LGBT and queer young people in crisis or contemplating suicide. You can reach them by visiting their website or calling 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386)
Helping those who suffer for our own sake
Gandhi insists that building these “constructive programs” is the first step we take in doing justice. But in the same sentence he adds four requirements for these “constructive programs” that we need to hear again.
“…Suffering for them, organizing them,
educating them in the ways of nonviolence,
and thus bringing about a peaceful atmosphere of solemn determination.”
As you read Gandhi and King, you begin to understand the ultimate goal of these “constructive programs” is not simply to help those who suffer. Gandhi used his “constructive programs” to recruit, train, organize and equip the “suffering masses” into a proud and powerful nonviolent force for justice.
It is important to help people who suffer, but it is not enough to provide a safe place, a sanctuary, a healing center. Gandhi said real healing isn’t accomplished until the victims of injustice are mobilized to “do justice” for others. Our wounded are not really well until they are helping other wounded.
If you are on the staff of a “constructive program” you might want to discuss this goal with your colleagues.
Gandhi would say that a Welcoming Congregation must not simply be a place of worship and instruction. It must also recruit, train, and equip members to do justice (for their sakes).
After providing healing and support for those who suffer, a community center or PFLAG chapter must also recruit, train, and organize members to do justice (for their sake).
Our programs for youth and for seniors, even our hospice programs for the homeless or the discarded, should have a justice-training dimension. Never pushing people beyond their readiness or capacity, but always encouraging them (for their sake) to give even as they are receiving.
Why? Because until we are also helping those who suffer (even in the smallest way) we don’t know what it means to be fully human. Until we are working to win justice for another, we will not realize our own “soul force.”
That goes for all of us, for you and for me as well. Gandhi and King believed that we cannot realize our own human potential, our own purpose, our own power until we are “suffering” in a whole new way. Once we suffered from guilt and fear, living in closets, telling lies to survive. Now we are ready to “suffer” in a whole new way. Positive suffering means coming out of the closet, telling the truth, risking ourselves and our resources to do justice for others. The old suffering lead to sickness and death. The new suffering leads to life.
Once upon a time…
An athletic young woman jogged on a path beside a deep, rushing river. In the stillness she heard a faint cry for help. A young boy was caught in the current and if not rescued, would surely die. The young jogger rushed home, wrote a tax-deductible check to SDS (Save Drowning Boys), and hurried off to brunch.
Same story. Different twist. In the first version, the young woman dives into the water and swims against the current to save others. What has she risked personally? But what has she gained in the process? In this shorter version, the young woman writes a check and hurries off to brunch. What has she risked? What has she lost? The lives of Gandhi and King both demonstrate the old saying, “Risk little. Gain little. Risk much and see the difference.”
A True Story…
A closeted gay man feels lonely and afraid. Desperate for support, he sneaks into a UFMCC congregation or a PFLAG chapter or a Community Center discussion group. He gets help and stays long enough to feel a lot better about himself. He finds a new circle of supportive gay friends. He may even find a partner. Then, he returns to another kind of closet in the suburbs where he and his partner live “happily ever after” reading Architectural Digest, buying antiques, taking cruises, and every 3-4 years joining the March on Washington. At the end of each year, he makes a tax-deductible donation to the “constructive program” of his choice. Occasionally he wonders why he doesn’t feel satisfied. Now and then he even asks himself, “Isn’t life more than this?”
Gandhi and King have convinced me that our own wounds cannot heal, that we have not realized our own human potential, that we will not be truly liberated until we give our lives (at least in part) to helping others.
Step 3 on the journey to soulforce begins when we see service to those who suffer in a whole new way. Giving our lives to the cause of justice is the way we renew, restore, and redirect our own wounded souls.
In this case “suffering for others” (as Gandhi says) is not an obligation, something we should do out of guilt or gratitude. “Suffering for others” is the path to our own liberation. Giving time, money, and creative energy to the cause, “helping those who suffer, “doing justice” is not an obligation. It is the final step to healing ourselves. If we spend our lives for others, we will discover what it really means to be human. If we spend our lives on ourselves, we will die wondering “what might have been.”
Now comes the hard part. Gandhi asks us to make two major leaps of faith on behalf of our own healing.