The debates will rage on through the centuries, whether we human beings are naturally good at heart or naturally self-preservatory. The mainstream media has given us one picture to imagine of the region affected by Hurricane Katrina. "If it bleeds, it leads." On a personal level, however, I suspect that we've all lost track of the number of times we've heard, "What can we do?", "I wish there was something I could do!"
If there's one thing the bloody media has shown us, it's the realization that when we are presented with images of horror, we generally feel a fundamental compulsion to fix things and to give freely of ourselves to others.
The community that I grew up in took quite some time to realize this as fully as it has in recent years. For a long time, it was a community of worship and mutual service. One area that it seemed to suffer was in retaining young adults who had been brought up in it. Other interests overtook these youth as they became adults and drifted away. But just a few years ago, this community came to the realization that the youth were simply not being challenged. It wasn't that the communal life was too difficult a path... quite the opposite! The life in the community was too simple, too easy, too warm and fuzzy, too sheltered. While their parents had their hands full trying to live a righteous life, the youth were losing touch with the realities of trauma and pain, and the true answers their faith could provide to these realities.
The community woke up to the world around it, a world of poverty. As we mature in our faith, we discover the many degrees of poverty... spiritual poverty. But according to one famous psychologist, our material needs do in fact have a strong impact on our spiritual well-being. Specifically, food and shelter are a more fundamental need in our hierarchy of needs than the feeling of being loved. Our material needs are often much easier to grasp and describe. For youth who are stepping out into the world for the first time, it's crucial that we somehow make that personal discovery that we are called to serve. As we leave the nest, we find ourselves at a crossroads, choosing either to serve or be served.
The community established a working relationship with Habitat for Humanity, and suddenly countless youth were set afire with passion for serving. Suddenly things clicked. The community had discovered how to jump-start the spiritual growth of an adolescent generation that was already being jump-started in many other directions.. entertainment and consumption.