Sunday, May 29, 2016

Personal Reflection on After the Wedding

Jacob runs a struggling orphanage in India, but he is no distant administrator.  Rather, he is personally involved with the children, loving them with all his heart.  He is committed to the cause of poverty and he had dedicated his whole life to doing his part.  He visits his origin hometown in Denmark, to attend a wedding.  After the wedding he is made an offer: never go back to India and a very wealthy supporter will give enough money so that the orphanage might be established firmly for decades to come.

I just love how awkward he looks
I could see myself being places in that same vice.  I run a church for the homeless, and we provide services for hundreds of economic refugees in Portland Oregon and its neighbor Gresham.   I’ve been doing this work for twenty years and it has grown as homelessness itself has grown.  We monthly struggle financially, and given that we have very limited political support in city or church, we regularly face extinction.

What if someone gave me the opportunity to make sure that all of my people were cared for, at least as well as I could or better, but I would never see them again, I would not even be able to say goodbye.  Not only could I get a break, but I could do what I have been longing to do for more than a decade: give the work over to someone who isn't exhausted and overworked every day.  However, I would belie one of the principles that I base my work on.  That this work for the poor wouldn't be clinical or two dimensional, but would be personal, based on true friendship and care. To trade my relationships for what fundamentally is a sum of cash changes the very structure of the work I have established, transforms it possibly into a monster, a facade into which a stranger would insert their own motivations and principles.  It is not just my own retirement, a breaking of deep relationship, but turning my back on everything I've created.  I think of this, deeply consider this, on a regular basis, without the sum of money (the possibility, say, of housing half my folks) because I am that exhausted and I often look for an escape route.  But the cost is the trust that I have built.

All this to say that After the Wedding isn't a thought experiment for me.  Well, I suppose it is.  I created and maintain my work with no one but those I serve wanting to continue it, so no one is offering me a sum of money for the name and shell of my work. In the last month I have been rejected from two opportunities to work with the main cities I work with, because my answers are too radical, too insistent that the homeless are equal citizens of anyone else in the city and so worthy of equal rights.  I enact illegal actions, again and again, in order to save lives the city find inconvenient.   I suppose they find my solutions inelegant, or impolitic.  My point is this: there is no one who has a sum of money who would like to infuse it into the structure I created.  I can't get grants, I can't gain support from other churches, I can't even get food from the local food bank.  My work is formed out of a twenty year growing emergency, that the powers that be finally recognize, but they don't want me or my work on the team to create solutions.

After the Wedding threw this moral dilemma in my face, and I "knew" what Jacob should do.  But do I now choose a different option for myself?  Am I a hypocrite because I choose a path for a fictional character, but in my life I would chose the opposite direction?  Pramod, the orphan in India who does not stay with Jacob because he denies his own principles, would he look at me and gently accuse me? 

All this to say that a powerful movie like this causes us to question our whole lives, to re-examine our motivations and hopes.  This one just shaves a bit too close.  It is one of the great films, especially for me, but damn.  

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