400 years ago, the English poet and cleric John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” His meaning was that we only function healthily when we are connected to others. It’s true that we need one another way more than we could ever imagine. We are created to be intimately connected and since the fall of man we have been disconnected, disjointed and disappointed. Proof that, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
Yesterday, I went out on a cold winter day to serve on a Relief Bus outreach on the streets of Harlem. I met many people who were starving for friendship, for intimacy, for oneness. A man named Ricardo (left) told me about the 30 years he spent in prison. After being separated from society all those years, now he lives in a homeless shelter, alone and trying to make it on his own. A woman named Daisy told me how she was abusing crack and was afflicted with HIV. A Peruvian man named Jim described his deeply dysfunctional family and how it led to his severe alcoholism.
Each one honored me by sharing the most difficult issue in their life. The burden was too much to bear alone. They needed a fellow traveler in the journey to help carry the load. Somehow they knew that pain shared is pain not doubled, but halved. That is a lesson that I need to learn. Maybe that is why we are commanded, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
One of the greatest human needs is to be connected to others. The more we are connected, the healthier we are. The more disconnected we are, the sicker we are–and we are generally sicker than we think. Whenever man becomes an island unto himself, he is living on Fantasy Island and is disconnected from reality. I can hear Tattoo shouting, “Da plane! Da plane!” Look it up Millennials. And no, Fantasy Island was not a reality show where they voted people off the island.
The Relief Bus is designed to become a bridge from these “islands” to family. The Bible calls this spiritual family a body. This body has many parts, but each one needs the other to function properly.
One of the cultural hallmarks that epitomizes what it means to be an American is “rugged individualism”. We are proud to be independent and free, to chart our own course and pursue our own destiny. The freedom we have been given is nothing less than revolutionary. Unfortunately, sometimes we get lost in our freedom and become so self-focused on our own destiny that we lose our sense of responsibility for our neighbor, our brother and the community around us. Even as Christians, it is possible to lose God’s heart for the other, the outsider.
Just as being born an American citizen allows us to enjoy certain inalienable rights, being “born again” as a Christian requires us to give up those same rights on behalf of others. Loving others isn’t about getting our way. It’s about laying down our lives for others the way that Jesus did for us. “He became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9
Family, community and deep relationships are essential to our wellbeing. Our friends challenged with homelessness are surrounded by people, yet find themselves completely isolated. Cut off from love, many times they wither and become shells of their true selves—ghosts who drift through our society, invisible to the masses around them.
One of our core values at New York City Relief is ONENESS which we define as:
Fighting for each other’s hearts” to achieve deep relationship and intimate community with our friends on the streets, and each other.
Jesus describes how oneness is the whole point and his recipe for changing the world:
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me… Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.” John 17:20-23 MSG
Cut off from love, many times they wither and become shells of their true selves—ghosts who drift through our society, invisible to the masses around them.
Some of us accept the concept of being one with God, but one with each other? That’s just asking too much. People are too difficult. This is where we are required to fight, not with each other, but for each other. That is fighting the good fight of faith. We were designed to be peacemakers.
Mother Teresa described it this way, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
It is going to take a lot of effort to overcome the cultural inertia of just taking care of our own business and living a life of “every man for himself.” Many people really believe that God helps those who helps themselves. If that was true, we would all be doomed. God helps us because he knows we can’t help ourselves. That is exactly why Jesus came on a mission to rescue us.
Jesus doesn’t call us into oneness with those who have it all together or those who are worthy. He calls us into oneness with people who are messed up just like us. Jesus is the magnet that pulls us all together into himself.
This oneness looks like intimacy. Intimacy is the goal that God sets for us. We are called to be intimate with God and each other.
How do you know if you are achieving oneness and intimacy? One clue is that true friends tell each other the things that they can’t say to just anyone. To be intimate means to be vulnerable, and to trust someone with the real you. True friends trust each other with their flaws and failures–their secrets.
Ricardo, Daisy and Jim each told me their secrets, because I pressed in close enough to listen and hear their heart’s cry. Each one touched me and changed me. Each one was trusting God for breakthrough in their lives. Each one fulfilled this scripture to teach me about faith:
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James 2:5 (NIV)
They honored me with their dark secrets and I honored them with listening ears and a non-judging heart. We met as equals and our hearts united as one. We “drank of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13) as we prayed together, experiencing Jesus in the midst of us.
We assume that it is the poor who need us, when it is equally us who need the poor. When we see our position accurately, the walls that divide us begin to crumble. It is the poor who Jesus used to free us from the illusions of being self-made people, trapped by our independence. We are the ones who are isolated. They are the bridge from our Fantasy Island to a life of interdependence with our brothers and sisters. They give us a place to live the love of Jesus and to share the material blessing we were entrusted with. They free us from narcissism, separation and indifference. Their lives are the richness our heart aches for. When we meet the poor, we meet Jesus himself. (Matt. 25) He uses them to feed us what we are starving for. The feast is ONENESS. Dig in!
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