I’ve always been an avid reader, but for the past eight years my bookshelves have been filled with picture books I read with my children. Fortunately, I recently stumbled upon two picture books for grownups which tackle the complicated issues of pain and trauma. Turns out the one question the brain is constantly asking itself is, “Am I safe?” With no central pain center in the brain, one part of our brain may answer pleasantly enough, yet another part may scream, “No! Run away!” Trauma can then add insult to injury at times, by blaring in our brains like a smoke alarm in a fireless building. Just one past painful event can sometimes have us stuck on an internal treadmill, unable to step off and go a new direction.
For nearly three decades, my father has practiced medicine here in Tulare County and has helped so many people turn off that pain alarmin this community over the past 30 years. Over the past couple of months, we have looked at Robert Lupton’s “Oath of Compassionate Service” from his book, Toxic Charity. Lupton’s sixth and final oath in charity work is a tip of the hat to the Hippocratic Oath:
Above all, do no harm.
To best care for their patients, physicians ask a lot of questions, take your temperature, and stare in your eyes, ears, and mouth. Similarly, Lupton’s organization, Focused Community Strategies, has implemented the best remedies for inner-city poverty by asking the right questions. One remedy is now one of their foundational principles and is found in the Bible, which “…places equal emphasis on both mercy and justice,” Lupton writes. “Mercy is a force that compels us to acts of compassion. Justice is “reasonableness…in the way people are treated or how decisions are made. Twinned together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement [with your neighbor].”
As I read this, I remember a conversation I had years ago with a homeless man in his early-70’s. City of Visalia staff were going to be removing the restrooms at Oval Park and this man was concerned, “Where are we supposed to go?” he pleaded. “We’re homeless!” Mercy, of course, would have me help this man. A few months later, I learned this man was a heroin dealer. Justice, in this situation, would require me to reasonably derail this man’s manipulative mode of operation.
Lupton shares about a pair of homeless men waiting outside his church on Sunday mornings with a sign stating: HOMELESS. NEED HELP. GOD BLESS YOU. When their appeals were refused, Lupton writes, “…their meek can-you-help-me expressions immediately change into and-you-call-yourself-a-Christian barbs. We couldn’t decide which emotion was stronger,” Lupton continues, “guilt from refusing to help or anger from being manipulated.”
To drive the point home, I once saw a man in his early-30’s holding a sign in front of a grocery store parking lot. It just had three words: TESTING HUMAN KINDNESS. If you didn’t give — right then, right there — there is something wrong…with you. In these types of situations, it’s easy to forget what is truly needed in most situations: relationship, accountability, tools, goals, sobriety, and ultimately…whole-life restoration. “What good is a sandwich and a cup of soup,” Lupton asks, “when a severe addiction has control of a man’s life?”
As you go around town, consider what you’ve been learning through VRM. Consider the parents diligently praying their drug-addicted children into recovery and how you can be part of that answered prayer. Consider the 12-year-old boy approaching his teenage years without a father, because his dad spends his days on street corners accepting dollar bills through open car windows. Make a choice to serve those in need with a healthy balance of mercy and justice. Make a choice to do no harm. Bob really said it best, “Mercy is a door…not a destination.”