It’s cool to care about Africa. Only the trendy buy Fair Trade coffee. Using plastic bags to hold your groceries? Why, that’s so 2002. There’s no doubt, nearly everywhere you turn you can find a social justice “expert.” While all of this is good and well, I often wonder what good is really done in the long run if we as consumers are merely raising funds and awareness for society’s most pressing issues but fail to be active participants in their solution.
I heard Donald Miller speak at the Love (as it turns out) is a Battlefield event Friday night, benefitting Blood:Water Mission. He talked quite a bit about the nonprofit organization he helped found, The Mentoring Project. He stated that raising awareness for the fatherlessness crisis in America was one of the easier part of the process. In fact, raising such awareness has recently become cool and trendy, and who doesn’t want to advance themselves further socially ? If you raise awareness and send in a donation? Even better. However, the part he found incredibly challenging and difficult was to begin engaging in the actual work of mentorship; hanging out with teenagers is confusing, frustrating and you sometimes have to do very unglamorous things such as explain hygeine. However, physically lending time to a kid’s life is arguably the most crucial part of the foundation’s work.
Don’s challenge for himself and those in the audience was to strive be active participants in the actual work of social justice, for funds and awareness alone won’t change the world. The approach of inactive engagement is what Phyllis Tickle refers to as “inhumane kindness.” That phrase hit me in the gut on Friday and is serving to illuminate the perversion that comes from using a social justice crisis to bring about self-promotion. My hope is that the lesson will remain and that I’ll be quicker to engage in actual service instead of lip service the next time around.