There’s an old cliché used to describe varying levels of response to any given circumstance. The cliché said, “It all depends whose ox is being gored.” In other words there are problems and then there are your problems.
It is similar in meaning to the wag who declared the difference between major and minor surgery is that minor surgery is when it happens to you. My surgery is never minor.
At the precise moment I write these words history is being made. My daughter-in-law is in the delivery room giving birth to our first grandchild. I know that approximately 360,000 babies enter the world each day, but this one is different. This one is personal.
The underlying premise contained both in these cliché’s and my current experience causes me to wonder how many of our deep societal issues would be handled differently if only they were to become personal, if instead of being society’s issues they became mine.
To put a specific point on it, like you I have been exposed to more articles, broadcasts and commentaries on homelessness in Central Okanagan cities than I care to count. The level on which most of the dialogue occurs makes it clear that for most of us it is someone else’s ox who is being gored. It’s a problem, even a problem that affects me, but I haven’t made it my problem.
I concur with all the usual thoughts surrounding the issue. Addiction, mental health issues, unemployment, irresponsibility, lack of socialization and numerous other factors all enter the equation. However, it is rare for anyone to passionately address the personal aspect that for each homeless individual their situation represents a tragic waste of human potential. If one of my loved ones was in that situation it wouldn’t just be that they live on the street or suffer from one problem or another, it would also be that all the hopes, dreams and potential in them was not being realized. What a horribly personal, tragic loss.
Without question there are systemic issues that must be addressed. This is a massive societal challenge. Also, without question, however, are the deeply personal narratives of each individual life. The real problem is that we have allowed the situation to reach such a magnitude that it is overwhelming if it becomes personal.
I know that I cannot solve the problem known as homelessness in Kelowna. I know that I don’t even like to drive on Leon Avenue downtown. It is overwhelming and depressing. However, I also know I am fully capable of getting to know one individual personally. I am capable of getting to know one life story. I am capable of wisely taking a few initiatives that might help one person’s life take a more positive turn. I can make it personal.
In one of His most profound teachings, Jesus of Nazareth said that one key to life was to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s about as personal as it gets.
Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Kelowna Baptist Church.