Recently I was told the story of a dog who was left alone at home all the time while his owners worked. They never played with or petted the dog. One day the owners came home and the dog had completely ripped up a recently purchased $1500 sofa. The owners decided the dog had to go! Before taking the dog to the animal shelter they called a relative they knew who loved dogs and offered the dog to his family. Somewhat reluctantly the relative took it and the dog became a part of their family—their children played with it, the adults petted and loved it. It never destroyed another piece of furniture! Why not? Because the family showed it love and attention every day!
People are not so different from dogs in this respect. All of us need to be shown love and attention. I remember youth in my high school classes that were obviously neglected by their parents—one of them told me they saw me more in a day than they did their parents and I only saw them 1 hour a day!!. Many of these youth, at home, were only given attention when they got into trouble—and so they did so on a regular basis. In my classes they were often belligerent, destructive of school property, were continuously causing trouble because the only way they knew how to get any “strokes” (attention) was by being a problem. Even though it was negative attention, it was at least attention!
Thomas Harris, in his book, I’m OK, You’re OK tells of babies left alone and abandoned at a hospital by their parents. If the nurses did not have the time or take time to hold them and play with them and love them, the babies would die—not from any apparent physical cause, but from lack of human touch, affection and attention.
All of this is so true of our life today. As our population expands more and more and we are more and more urbanized, we feel more and more isolated. We are “attention deprived”. We all need these “strokes” that others give us. All of us may have experienced the loneliness of being in the middle of a huge crowd and not seeing any familiar faces feeling a sense of isolation and fear. We fear that if something happened to us, no one would care. I know I certainly have had this feeling of just being “another face in the crowd.”
This is the problem that those who are poor, homeless, outcasts, or prisoners face. They have no faces for most of the rest of us and therefore we tend to fear them and keep separate from them and anticipate they will be destructive and harm us.
One of the lessons I learned at our Bread and Cup Ministry that served 60-100 meals every Friday to homeless and needy in Hutchinson, Kansas, was that when I interacted with these people, when I knew their names, when they shared their life stories and concerns with me around the table, I no longer feared them. I had put a face on them where before they were just a faceless stereotype.
There are so many people in our crowded world who don’t have faces or names—they’re “muslims”, “terrorists”, “bums”, “rich”, “poor”, “fat cats” “Democrats”, “Republicans”,” liberals”, “conservatives”, “activists”—and I could go on and on. We avoid putting a face on them by referrring to them in this way. But when people have faces and we see their unique, individual, God-given uniqueness, we are able to share our common humanity and learn not to fear but to love them. Only when they have faces!! I became not just a “pastor” to my “Bread and Cup” people, , but I became “Pastor Jim”. They came to our wedding when I married the lady who began the Bread and Cup Ministry and some brought cards or small gifts they really couldn’t afford! They were and are our friends whom wecan talk with and be touched and loved and touch them and love them and share their hurts and fears and aspirations. Only when they have faces!
Jesus said: “Love your enemies, do good for those who hate you“. He was on to a great secret:
The antidote for hatred is love.
The antidote for fear and alienation is found in putting a face on people and loving them as God’s children, even though they may be unlovely and unloving.
Until we learn this and practice it in our daily lives we will live in the fear that most of our nation and world is living in at the present time!