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.