Pastor Mickey Correa
THE PRESIDENT: Those are values that help guide not just my family’s Christian faith, but that of Jewish Americans, and Muslim Americans; nonbelievers and Americans of all backgrounds. And no one better embodies that spirit of service than the men and women who wear our country’s uniform and their families.
– Barack and Michelle Obama
“That we care…”
The lack of empathy is usually considered to be at the root of narcissistic pathology. But the wound is far too deep to just stay at the deficits of narcissists. Christopher Lasch, who back in the late 70s wrote The Culture of Narcissism, said “We demand too much of life, too little of ourselves.” And while I am not necessarily going to the extreme of saying we are diagnosable narcissists, I wonder if maybe this lack of demanding too little of ourselves in terms of our relationship to others is what keeps us from truly caring for the sick, the hungry, the stranger? We want to help, but we also fall into cliché traps like “God helps those who help themselves.” Toxic charity can permeate even good intentioned people when the lack of reflection grounds such giving. There is such a thing as doing and giving, without actually caring. For some, giving and serving is about fuzzy feelings inside that make it the right thing to do or even some ulterior motive like a tax break. Even in our communities of faith we often run away from the deep conversations of giving and serving. For many, giving is some sort of guilt assuaging antidote without inner reflection on one’s own privilege that keeps another at bay on the social class ladder. But what if we actually cared, like CARED? Caring does not just start with opening our pockets; it begins at understanding our privilege, of all the “isms” that keep others at the receipt of our “gifts.” During this season of Advent, challenge yourself to think about your privileges. At the course I lecture on Social Work Theory and Practice at The City College of New York, I often engage my students (many of whom are first and second generation immigrants and often non-native English speakers) in a simple exercise. I ask them to list 10 things others would perceive in them as privilege. They struggle with this exercise because they feel just because of the many demographics they fulfill, they cannot possibly have such a thing called “privilege.” But as I lead the discussion and engage in the reflection myself out loud, we often find in our reflection that while difficult to at times point out, if we want to be change agents in the world, we must start with how we think of ourselves. If we are able to think of our privileges on the many levels it comes from (race, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc…) becoming mindful both of “self” and “other,” this simple exercise can become a spiritual practice of knowing what love of God, self and other engage. Caring is about becoming attuned to one’s “unchecked baggage” and inviting another to be a part of one’s reality. Advent is a good place to start, where God and human may become attuned to the deep wound of existence.
Prayer: Loving God, help me to love myself in such a way that I might be honest to myself, and more accepting of others as a reflection of your tender yet challenging place in the world.