Many, many years ago I was on staff at a camp program being run by another denomination (that will go nameless). They sought to do work projects on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I had previously lived and worked while in the employment of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota. My job was to help the camp program navigate the Lakota community.
At one point during my brief tenure with this program, several staff members met with the parish leadership of a church just a couple of miles from Wounded Knee. The staff members pitched the idea of building volleyball courts on the church grounds that young people could use. The elders of the church silently assented, but after the other staff left I came back and said, “you’re not going to use those volleyball courts, are you?”
“Of course not,” one of Lakota members of the church said, “it’s over a hundred degrees outside. We will just tear it down after you leave.”
I share this story not to shame the good intentions of the camp program, but as we consider what it means to “Love our Neighbor(hood)” this Advent season, that one of the critical components is listening to our neighborhood. Even asking if they need help to begin with is the best practice, because we are adopting from the start the position of someone who “has” while they must be the “have nots.”
To love is to listen. To love is to respect. To love is to abide together as equals. We are up against literally centuries of mindsets here, but to fail to do so is to invite futility, even harm, with those whom we seek to be in relationship.