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What's Right with People?

Last month, at a benefit for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, my friend Arloa Sutter—its founder and executive director as well as author of The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These—said their ministry goals stretched beyond feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, finding jobs for the jobless and giving hope to the hopeless. Their ministry, according to Arloa, also wants to change the way people look at urban youth. Particularly the urban youth that lives in Arloa and Breakthrough's neighborhood, which happens to be not only one of the most dangerous in Chicago, but in all the nation.

"We need to stop looking at what's wrong with urban youth," Arloa said. "We need to start looking at what's right with these kids."

Ever have those moments where the tears just seem to flood up from nowhere? When you can barely catch your breath, let alone stop the flow of tears because something just touched your heart and head in such a profound way? Hearing Arloa say those words was one of these moments for me.

While I know the tears came partly from my own guilt—for indeed tending to look at what's wrong with people¬—another part came from knowing that this was our gracious and loving God speaking directly through Arloa.

Learning to see what's right with people instead of what's wrong comes straight from the heart of the God who, as Romans 5:8 says, "showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." God sees us as his beloved—not simply as a mess of sinners. It's the way Jesus saw people. It's the way his followers need to.

So since I heard these words I've taken them not only as a challenge to me in the way I look at people (of all stripes and from all places), but as a challenge I offer to others. Instead of always looking for what is wrong, what if we looked at what is right?

For example, the US just held elections. I run with a crowd that votes every which way. (In fact, this election, I voted every which way!) Many of my best friends and I will never vote the same way. It's so easy to get trapped in situations where we're battling out ideas with even the best of friends because we're so focused on what's wrong with another person's ideology. And there's a place for that.

However, I think Christians have an obligation to be merciful and gracious and just—and therefore to look for the good. We must ask, "What is right about a 'Bleeding-Heart Liberal'?" We must know, "What is right an ardent 'Tea Partier'?" Asking these questions gets us much further with one another than focusing on the perceived wrongs.

And there's another area, of course, ever dear to my heart that I've been challenging people on. Twice in the past several weeks I've had discussions with people who see the whole "women in church office" issue quite differently than I do.

So, twice, I've asked them to consider: What is right about women in the pulpit? What is right about a woman in any leadership role in a church?

It's an interesting way to frame discussions when we focus on what is right and good instead of always heading to negative. This doesn't make conversations easy or keep them happy-happy (especially since this means I have to ask myself such questions as: What is right about a man who believes he alone is made to lead?).

And frankly, in some areas there is no "what is right." When we veer away from people and into bigger "issues." Nothing, for example, is right about the sex trade. About child abuse. About dog fighting. Yet, even in these horrors, God prevails. Even to sex traffickers, child abusers and dog fighters, God offers hope and mercy and goodness and love. His light shines in every dark space.

All the more reason, I think, to offer some of that light when we discuss and "debate" issues that are dear to us, that we fight for, that we champion. As women leaders—especially as ones on whom there is so much concentrated effort to show what is wrong with us—we need to focus on what's right. What God is doing.

So what do you think? What does asking "what is right" do to our conversations? To the way we see people?

November10, 2010 at 12:24 PM

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