Summoned to Serve|
Performing random acts of service
The value to others of our witness as a Christian family cannot be overstated
By Tom Rinkoski
Tom Brokaw, the network anchor for NBC News, during a question and answer session
with students at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at
Berkeley, offered a revealing comment on the reporting of religion in the news media. He
said, "We [NBC] don't even come close to covering it [religion]. I suppose in part
because we think it's kind of a self-contained little arena. The people that are most
affected by it kind of already know about it." In my mind, this is a scathing indictment of
our efforts at living Christianity. Jesus did not come to preach Good News that is "a kind
of self-contained little arena."
-- In the Gospel for Sunday, Oct. 22, Jesus reinforces the bottom line of Christianity,
"Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant" (Mk 10:43). This supports
the call to service echoed in Matthew 25 and many other passages in the Gospels. At its
roots, Christianity is a public affair. Despite political and cultural notes to the contrary,
Christianity can never remain private and be Christianity.
-- At the same time, I am not after cinematic actions that change the world overnight.
That was not the way of Mother Teresa, nor should it be the way of any mother. At the
Sydney Olympics, the simple act of the athletes of North and South Korea marching in
together did more than all the fancy language of politicians and acts of aggression by
generals. All of us dream of doing great powerful things; writing a novel, designing a car
that doesn't pollute, or becoming President of the United States. However, it is, I believe,
the small random acts of service that make all the difference. Doing the dishes and
washing toilets is a salvific affair! Christianity needs to be lived out in the daily stickiness
of our lives. We need to treat each and every customer we serve with the respect and
attention due them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are called by Christ not to bully
others in the school yard. Acting in the Spirit is a no grumbling, no whining proposition,
because whining tears at the fabric of the community of Christ. We should receive all
guests with honor and respect, including teens who aren't dressed to our specifications.
We should welcome and enjoy the gifts of others as the gifts of God, even if we might not
understand them or they speak in strange tongues. No single activity needs to be noticed,
but combined they should equal a force that is enough to turn the world around. Certainly
a force that Tom Brokaw would hurry to get on the news, because it is Good News!
-- I believe one of the keys to accomplishing this is hinted at in the letter to the Hebrews (4:16): "Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace." In order to get to Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion all needed to gain confidence. In the end they discovered they had what they needed, they just had to believe it. Couples need to salt and pepper their relationship with belief and
confidence in order to render it vibrant. Parents are asked to believe enough in their children to empower them to walk away to kindergarten all by themselves. We have to start acting like we are a saved and redeemed people. And the best person to begin with is the one with whom you live.
-- My son Brian was in an automotive accident as a passenger. In retelling the story he commented that he thinks one way he saved himself from getting hurt any worse was he relaxed instead of tensing up when he heard the crash coming. I think we have the same problem when it comes to living lives of service. When we are calm, service comes as naturally to us as taking care of a sick baby does to a mother and father. But too often, we
tense up with fear or fight. For all the fancy tools and technologies in our culture, we are still easily paralyzed by fear. As for fighting, Alfred Adler, the great psychologist of our age observed, "It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them." Our culture enshrines fighting as a valid, even acceptable, response.
-- Let me end with a quote from the U.S. bishops' document, Follow The Way of Love
(1994): "You also give life as a family by doing such simple things as taking a
grandparent out of a nursing home for a ride, bringing a meal to a sick neighbor, helping
to build homes for poor people, working in a soup kitchen, recycling your goods, working
to improve the schools, or joining political action on behalf of those treated unjustly."
Such activity builds stronger family bonds. It enriches both the receiver and the giver. It releases "formidable energies" present in families for building a better society [On the Family, #43]. The value of your witness which Christian families offer cannot be overestimated. As a family becomes a community of faith and love, it simultaneously becomes a center of evangelization.
(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)