I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this seems like sage advice:
How Not To Help With Haiti: Don’t go to Haiti. It’s close to the US, it’s a disaster area, and we all want to help. However, it’s dangerous right now and they don’t need “extra hands”. The people who are currently useful are people with training in medicine and emergency response. If all you can contribute is unskilled labor, stay home. There is no shortage of unskilled labor in Haiti, and Haitians will be a lot more committed than you are to the rebuilding process. If you are a nurse or physician, especially with experience in trauma, and you want to volunteer, email Partners in Health – email@example.com – and offer your services. Or submit your details to International Medical Corps. They’ll take you if they can use you. Do not go to Haiti on your own, even if you are doctor. You’ll just add to the confusion, and you’ll be a burden to whoever ends up taking responsibility for your safety.
On the other hand, someone whom Shaun encouraged to go did, and he Tweeted this:
Setting out my SoapBox. About to step on it for a few tweets. 1st my opinions then quotes from leaders on the ground in Haiti –
ALL OF THE EXPERTS ARE DEAD WRONG…When the earthquake 1st hit, thousands of you immediately wanted to go and help BE the solution, be the hands & feet of God… But you were told by the experts NOT TO COME. You were told to wait until some magical time when things were much better…
The experts were wrong. Some probably meant well because they didn’t want you to get hurt or be in the way, but let me tell you what is missing in Haiti -passionate, hard-working, unskilled, loving, non-experts. They are in SHORT SUPPLY. I mean RARE.
Consequently, the MAJORITY of supplies are sitting unused & the teams of unskilled non-experts I am advising are regularly…9 days later, regularly the first people to have ever visited orphanages and disaster sites. They ALL tell me that we should have IGNORED the experts.
Let me tell you a story that will kill you: The caretaker of the Notre Dame orphanage told @SpenceNix She heard dozens of dying babies trapped in the rubble scream & cry for 5 whole days before they all died. 55 babies died. Nobody ever came….
One more tweet from me then I want to type you a quote from our team on the ground…It is NOT TOO LATE. If you feel CALLED to go to Haiti GO. GO! GOOOO! It is tough work, but GO! I will help you. Next tweets are direct from our teams on the ground:
“The growing feeling here in Haiti is that the BIG ORGS & government don’t really care. It’s like they are here b/c the world is focused here. If they care, little passion is ever displayed. Seems like a job or obligation. Even my sponsoring organization [name of large Christian org] pretty much just set up a tent, gave us a vest and stickers and said go. No support. No passion. No questions. Large amounts of supplies are just sitting in boxes everywhere. I have seen them there for days while hurting people & doctors need them. This has opened my eyes wider to the wastefulness of large charities and benefit of small, nimble, passionate groups..”
“I have been in Haiti for 6 days and I still have not seen one large Red Cross presence. I honestly think social media has saved more lives since the earthquake than all but 3-4 great organizations here now. Passion. Relationships. Technology has changed the game. We saved so many lives today and it was just us doing it bro.” <<<End of quote.
Shaun King: Thanks for listening.
No doubt the debate can still go on – properly-trained specialists vs. American can-do. But if you’re like me, the debate ended, was wholly sidetracked, by the story of those dying babies. The horror – the insanity. The sense of helplessness. I imagine – no, I know – that those who work in ‘care’ vocations (nurses, prison reform advocates, friends to the homeless) know this far more than me.
One such friend of mine mused, wisely yet perhaps despairingly,
Fragility and morality huh? Isn’t that part of our daily experience?
Indeed. And sometimes, we give and give and give – like poured-out drink offerings – and the gaping maw of humanity displays its thirst anew, unquenchable in every moment. When will the suffering end? Am I deluded to think that there’s meaning here?
Lately I’ve been meditating on the words of Julian of Norwich, a 30-year-old woman who lived during a time of unparalleled plague and persecution. She is famous for her ‘Showings of Divine Love‘ and her mystical encounters with Jesus. This excerpt summarizes her central insight well:
For Julian, Christ is both the symbol of human suffering and the sign of divine triumph over suffering. The meaning Julian derives from her first visitation is not that humans are destined to suffer (though we are), but more important that we have been given a sign through the Passion of Christ that we will ultimately triumph over the frailties of the flesh:
For [God] does not despise what he has made, nor does he disdain to serve us in the simplest natural functions of our body, for love of the soul which he created in his own likeness. For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin, and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the trunk, so are we, soul and body, clad and enclosed in the goodness of God. Yes, and more closely, for all these vanish and waste away; the goodness of God is always complete, and closer to us, beyond any comparison. (186)
But the philosophical problem still remains. If, as Julian insists, God resides in us and is “present in all things” (197), how can this goodness share divine space with the presence of evil? Julian states the difficulty of the case with characteristic directness:
Our Lord God . . . is at the center of everything, and he does everything. And I was certain that he does no sin; and here I was certain that sin is no deed, for in all this sin was not shown to me . . . . For a man regards some deeds as well done and some as evil, and our Lord does not regard them so, for everything which exists in nature is of God’s creation, so that everything which is done has the property of being God’s doing. (197-198).
Julian seems to imply here the heterodox view that sin has no reality whatsoever, the acts we label “evil” being merely products of our faulty perception. But a still, small voice within Julian is troubled by this explanation, this act of abolishing sin by linguistic fiat. Inspired both by humility and by curiosity, she presents an argument for the reality of sin from the human perspective:
It seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as he created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all would have been well. (224)
The answer she receives to this childlike query is enigmatic but reassuring: “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well” (225).
Julian, however, is not quite ready to let go her persistent questioning. After contemplating this reassurance, she again asks “with very great fear: Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?” (227) Again she receives a measure of condolence: “You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well . . . . Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness of joy” (232).
There’s more in this analysis, but here’s what this means to me. In the past few years I’ve either been involved with or been close to those involved with human trafficking eradication, ‘people who live outside’ (as my friend Hugh more humanely refers to ‘the homeless’) and the global ‘persecuted church.’ Even more recently, I’ve focused my professional energies and graduate studies to the gargantuan hydra that is our contemporary system of growing, preparing, delivering and eating food. All the greed, systemic evil, seemingly random and senseless acts of barbarism and tragedy can be tough to deal with, to say the least. Stories like the 55 babies dying in Haiti within earshot of people just too busy to do anything about it can be enough to knock the winds out of the sails of Mother Teresa, never mind the rest of us. For those of us who engage this kind of stuff on a regular basis, it can be despairing. We’re supposed to be the healers, the encouragers; where do we go when we need healing or encouraging? To our peer networks – the NGOs or churches or intentional communities that we serve and live with? As most readers of my blog likely know first-hand, they can be some of the most messed-up people in existence…they’re as bad off as you, if not worse! To God? The same God who, it is rumored, stands idly by and allows all these things to happen? Sometimes its easier to be an atheist in aid and social work – that’s one less unsolvable dilemma on your plate (“Why does a good God allow so much misery and suffering?”).
But yet…in the midst of the composted messiness of God, our communities, and ourselves, I’m discovering a deeper equilibrium in the universe, a deep sanity and ‘okay-ness’ that dances on the edge of communicability and wordlessness. It’s not unlike Julian’s divine communication –
All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well…Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness of joy.
It’s as though energy is neither created nor destroyed; nothing is ever truly lost – not a tear, not a laugh or bullet wound or orgasm…it’s all saved and cherished. It’s not that good and evil are illusions, but rather that they’re not the final word on what living is about – there is a deeper life that transcends and includes them both – tapping into this Life here and now (and not merely relegating it to the sweet by and by) is the key to our being healers today, what Burke and Taylor call ‘mystical responsibility.’ But – and this is crucial – the superstructure of the kosmos is Grace; heaven and earth to not rest squarely on our own backs and sweat equity. It all depends on us, yet none of it does. Everything is both at the doorposts of our hearts, and beyond our grasp like gripping a fistful of sand. We can relax – we have infinite momentum behind us. It is accomplished. All will be well.
Originally posted on February 2, 2010.