make advocates not buildings
i have been on a bit of a rampage these past few weeks, so i am going to get on my soapbox for a moment (surprise, surprise). you see, in the last couple of months i have been an advocate for a few different friends connected to the refuge who have needed a little help navigating social services & standing up for themselves in various ways. i wholeheartedly believe in the art of advocacy, a little extra support & strength, someone to help give voice to the voiceless & ensure that the powerless don’t get stomped on. when it comes to social services, i honestly think that no person should ever, ever, ever have to go do that alone. it’s just too hard and humiliating and beyond confusing to navigate. i have a graduate degree & consider myself sorta, kinda, halfway smart, and the whole process, language, letters in the mail, automatic denials, hoops you have to jump through, have made me more and more angry as the weeks have gone by.
and i think where i go with some of my anger is: where in the #&~)*!@#? is “the church” in this process? most everyone sitting in the social services waiting room is already in a tough & brutal spot, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. and they’re there trying to figure out the system on their own with basically no one to stand alongside. the last time i was there i saw a veteran get so frustrated on the check-in process that he threw up his hands & stormed out the door. i was so sad, i wanted to run him down and say “come back, i’ll do this with you!” but i was tied up holding another single mommy’s hand as she was having an anxiety attack at the thought of losing some of her benefits. i thought to myself “everyone here should have someone else with them to be a support & strength, an in-the-flesh advocate.”
psalm 82:3-4 includes this cry:
“defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
although the psalmist is crying out to God, because we are called to be a reflection of God’s image, i believe this verse is a call to advocacy.
and i’ve been wondering, more than ever, what would it look like if christians continually cultivated the art of advocacy so that our “neighbors” would have voice, support, and encouragement when they needed it most? (ps: i need to add that i am very mad that anyone who is part of our faith community even has to access social services because we, as christian brothers & sisters, should be helping meet those needs together. but the harsh reality is that a lot of people with money & resource seem to be looking for programs for their kids & inspiring sermons & just don’t see themselves as equals with honest vulnerable strugglers so the resource ends up staying in systems that self-perpetuate instead of directly to care for the hurting. i always want to cry out: “i have a single mommy who needs that money so she can change her life, but instead you’re going to let it pay for printing costs & building overhead & salaries to keep your cool church’s worlds spinning ’round!“). i really believe the resources are out there, they are just allocated in the wrong places. sorry, i digress.
but i’m not afraid to say, i think churches should be cultivating advocates instead of building buildings.
so what would that look like?
it always, always, always starts with relationship. friends don’t let their friends do hard things alone. period. without relationship, advocacy just can’t happen. this is why i am so passionate about incarnational relationships–in the flesh, face to face, heart to heart. this means we have to invest deeply in the lives of each other so that we know when someone actually needs help, someone to stick up for them a little extra for a season.
a willingness to step into the mess even when we don’t have any answers. - advocates don’t have to have answers (this is what we always think). we don’t have to know the ins and outs of the system or what programs or resources are available. the only thing we need to be willing to do is say “i’ll figure this out with you, you will not have to do it alone. you need to try to use your voice but if you can’t, i will be there to help you.”
we need to get mad on others’ behalfs. we must get in touch with injustice, what it looks like, smells like, tastes. there’s nothing more healing for another person than to have someone say “this is not right!” social justice advocate john perkins says, “when a person stands on the side of the oppressed, he decides to trade comfort for concern, apathy for action, violence for nonviolence, hate for love.”
we can’t keep “leaving it to the professionals.” – we make assumptions all the time–”oh, i am not a professional, they need to figure it out with their caseworker, therapist, doctor, lawyer, you name it.” okay, that’s my point: sometimes people need help navigating things with the “professionals”! this crosses all socioeconomics. “voiceless” takes many forms & has nothing to do with education or pay. sometimes, because of shame & abuse & insecurities, people lose their voice and a 50 minute session once a week isn’t going to get it back. we need people to help us practice standing up for ourselves, to be good coaches.
commitment to the long haul – if every person with margin was a tangible life-long advocate for a person without margin, i believe the world would be a radically different place. i know that’s overwhelming for some people, that thought, but i do believe that we need to take a much longer view of relationship. we are called to be people’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters for different seasons & our adopted “family” means we are in it for the long haul no matter what. one of the reasons it is so hard for hurting people to trust other people is that they continually get ditched & it becomes so difficult to trust.
the truth is, we probably all need an advocate now and then. when i was going through an extra hard time a few years ago exiting an unhealthy church staff, jose stuck up for me in a powerful way i will never forget it. i had become voiceless, beaten down, and he stepped in and said a few things that needed to be said on my behalf. in that moment, i got a picture of God’s heart for me.
whether we are young or old, educated or uneducated, shy or loud, there’s always someone out there who needs us to stick up for them now and then, to be a voice when they have none, to restore a little dignity & offer a little hope for the journey. that’s advocacy.