Mission “Because”: Cause vs. People

10 03 2012

I recently came across a letter written by Kelly Finlaw in response to the 2011 BuildABridge Institute:

i have come to the conclusion that there are typically two types of organizations in the social justice world … one type of organization does whatever they do “for” a cause.  in my head i label the “for” people as the legalists and associate them with very hurtful things.  things that i want nothing to do with.  there is an agenda and right and wrong and black and white and not much room for anything but their own ideas.  if you disagree with whatever they are selling then it is an attack on the “for” and consequently, an attack on them.  one brief example – one of the presenters through buildabridge told her story of using music as therapy with palestinian children inside the separation wall in bethlehem.  her research was phenomenal and fascinating.  but when she was done and came home and began to tell her story she encountered people that didn’t understand why she went to the middle east and worked with palestinian children instead of israelis.  i put the people that questioned her in the “for” category.

then there is “because” type of organization.  they do things “because” of the need that they see and the love within them.  they live in the middle with open hands.  anyone can come and join and serve the need.  anyone can agree or disagree and it’s not offensive.  no agenda.  just service to the needy “because” love spills out of them.

There are probably other ways to describe this dichotomy, but semantics aside, Kelly’s distinction is an important one to make.  When we do things for a cause, we constantly must wonder if we have picked a worthy enough cause.  When we do things because of people, there’s no need to wonder.  People are always worthy of love.

Don’t get me wrong: causes can be both important and effective. They can put the stories of individual people into a larger context. They can help us ask hard questions. They can point out systemic injustices. And sometimes they can give us the social impetus to move forward.

But if our justice work is not rooted in real relationships, then we often find ourselves chasing a lost cause.

One of my friends has worked in an African orphanage; another advocated to save the Argentinian rainforest; another is helping free sex slaves in Thailand; several others work for Teach for America/Americorps…and the list goes on.  And when you’re stuck in a “cause” mindset, it’s easy to play the comparison game: is my cause good enough?  are my efforts as noble?  am i really making a difference?  is it worth it?

But then I remember each one of the kids that has wormed their way into my heart over the past two years (right here in the very same city where I grew up!) and I remember why I do what I do.  It’s because of them.

And because he first loved us.

Of course, there’s always more work to do. And I think it’s vitally important to educate ourselves about global — and local — issues of social justice, and to be involved on both a global and local level.  I’m just saying, don’t pick your ’cause’ because of someone else’s ‘people.’   And don’t denigrate anyone else’s efforts (or your own!) because they seem small.  As Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

And as Jesus himself once said, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”