This past week I had the opportunity to attend two meetings as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative’s (MIC) community outreach training. As a faith leader of my local sangha and director of the Open Way Mindfulness Center I have been serving as our representative at a variety of MIC meetings, events, functions, trainings, and workshops since its inception, about 3 years ago.
On Tuesday I went to a training offered through the MIC by Doug Walker, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, who traveled here specifically from DC to offer the training from Healing Communities. From their website:
Healing Communities is a framework for a distinct form of ministry for men and women returning from or at risk of incarceration, their families and the larger community. Healing Communities challenges congregations to become Stations of Hope for those persons affected by the criminal justice system.
The training was being offered to a host of different congregations so that we could open up dialog, brainstorm ideas, and hopefully move forward with an action plan in order to open our doors and create a safe environment for individuals returning back to the community after being incarcerated. Healing Communities aims at addressing concerns and issues that might arise within faith communities and also helps shed light on the social stigma involved for those coming out of the prison system and their families. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 1 in 32 Americans are under correctional supervision, which means in prison, jail, or on probation or parole. And since 95% of inmates will be eventually be released from prison at some point that means this is well worth our time as faith communities to address in terms of how to best support our congregations, since the chances of this affecting some of our members, on some level, is extremely high. This isn’t an issue for certain areas of the country or certain demographics of people. This is a matter that concerns us all.
During the training on Tuesday a local Methodist pastor shared the quote above, stating that it was the creed of Methodist leadership, “Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.” I had never heard this before and it very much struck me as being important enough to jot down so I wouldn’t forget it. When I looked it up online I discovered that it originated from an American humorist and writer by the name of Finley Peter Dunne. As it turns out, Dunne’s quote is from an essay he wrote about the state of newspapers:
Dunne once wrote the following passage mocking hypocrisy and self-importance in the newspapers themselves:
- “Th newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward”.
- – From Wikipedia
Since then Dunne’s quote has been adapted and used in many contexts and is often enmeshed within ministry work. I really connect with this quote in regards to faith leadership roles. It makes a lot of sense to me and has offered some good food for thought.
A primary focus of both the Healing Communities training and the MIC meeting we hosted at the Open Way Mindfulness Center last night entitled Better Together (which was a conversation about community service and some of the unique issues facing Missoula and how we can engage our particular mindfulness tradition in getting involved both individually and collectively) was about developing relationships. In terms of supporting men and women during the re-entry process and also getting our sangha members actively involved in community service work forming, building, and sustaining reciprocal, genuine relationships is the most important aspect. It is the nature of relationships and the web they form that unites people together, that offers inspiration, motivation, and ripples outwards to positively affect others. Relationships take time. They take active participation, interest, and an authentic drive to connect.
I think many things can be whittled down to the importance of relationships really. Whether it’s with business, family, volunteer service, politics, creative endeavors, social communities, hobbies, interests, activist work, or otherwise our relationships are what bind us together. Our relationships are what make us who we are. And its the building of even more relationships that often serves as the best kind of support and nourishment that we can offer and benefit from.
May healing communities and the relationships they foster abound – in all of the many ways that this can take place.
P.S It just occurred to me…perhaps sometimes, it is we ourselves who are the comfortable that need to be afflicted by giving our time and energy to help comfort those afflicted.