Whole Life: Service and Social Justice

by Adam Setmeyer | Oct 09, 2014


By: Jeanne Grammens Hidalgo, Campus Minister

I had time this summer to actually read a whole book— it was a gift that was sent to me by a friend who knows me well, is an avid reader, whom I respect greatly and who often puts the right book into my hands at the right time! Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle, was written by a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries is a gang intervention program located in Boyles Heights, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. Father Boyle’s honest, reflective and probing vignettes of his experience with gang members was helpful to me in addressing the tension I feel between promoting service work and working for social change. One is popular, one not so much. As Archbishop Don Helder Camero is quoted as saying, “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist.”

This reality is something I wrestle with in my ministry at Marian University. It is easy to invite students into service. It makes us feel good to serve others. It is rooted in our faith tradition, our gospel values. You don’t even have to be “religious,” to believe in the value of helping others! Social Justice, while I believe can come out of service experience, seems to be a different entity. Social Justice demands a shift in something, which almost always makes people, including myself, uncomfortable.

One of the things I worry about in offering students opportunities to serve, whether it be through STARR , Alternative Spring Breaks or our new Indy Urban Plunge, is that we who are privileged to have or be earning an education, who probably know where we are going to sleep tonight and are confident that we will have food to eat this evening, well, that we approach those who don’t naturally have those “privileges” with a sense of “we are here to help you.” The real truth, as expressed in scripture, is that those with seemingly less, often are the ones who help us—who help us to grow in gratitude, who impact us with their humility, their joy and faith. They often offer us the opportunity for transformation.

Fr. Boyle hit a chord with me through his insights gleaned from many trauma filled years walking amongst gang members in extreme poverty and violence.

“Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Great Ballroom.

Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not a ’man for others’; he was one of them. There is a world of difference in that.”

I believe that is the beginning of addressing the tension of serving versus working for social change. If we take the time to walk with “the other,” to develop relationships, we soon realize that there is no “other,” and we begin to be invested in their lives and become natural “companions” who want to share our resources to work for change together!

Recently, I came into contact with a local woman who exemplifies this magnificently. LaShawnda Crowe Storm is a community builder in Indianapolis, currently working in Marian’s own neighborhood, the Northwest Area, on a Quality of Life Plan. For more information, visit, www.nwqol.org.

In the words of another who walks with the poor, “When asked how doI work with the poor,” Sr. Elaine Roulette, founder of My Mother’s house in New York responds, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor. It’s as basic as crying together. It is about ‘casting your lot’ before it ever becomes about ‘changing their lot.’

May we grow in awareness that we are all one; that in sharing our time and eventually our lives with those who seem to have less access the basic “goods” of life—food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, that we are responding to Jesus gospel call to “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt. 22:39) and our own lives will be transformed alongside those we are seeking to serve.

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