Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Soup, Soap, and Salvation

Anytime I enter a conversation I always try to bring about an opposing view. This is not because I like to argue or even like to be that guy, but because I truly believe that it is always healthy to be challenged to consider a view you would otherwise not consider. This has caused me to be yelled at, my salvation to be questioned, and all kind of other volatile reactions over the course of my young life. We once met some friends who lived in a pretty rough neighborhood. Their reason for living thee was to teach their neighbors about Jesus. I find this admirable, like I do many other urban ministries at face value. As we were discussing this I said something that caused a lot of opinions of me to be formed and like a more recent time when I said this exact thing in a class within the context of discussing ministry caused a lot of heated discussion. “Jesus alone will not solve the problems.” This does indeed sound a little irreverent, but it should be unpacked for better comprehension.

I’ve seen and heard so many well meaning people say that all people need is Jesus, that knowing Jesus will solve all their problems. If they would just trust Jesus things would be different. To this I strongly disagree. I think Jesus will transform a heart/soul and bring to life that which He intended upon creation. I think following Jesus and His ways will lead to a life that matches better to the blueprint of original creation. I think that lifestyle is more fulfilling and a liberating way to live. I do not think walking into a context with many needs with a simple message will change that environment in and of itself. If someone is hungry and they ask for help, what good does the message of Jesus do for their biological and physical need? Do they even care about this message or their morality when they are in need at a basic human level? To both these I answer strongly no. Abraham Maslow, a brilliant thinker of his day, one who has impacted psychology is a huge way, prescribed that the human mind processes needs in a progressive hierarchy. There are 5 levels within this hierarchy, physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow recommends that needs must be met on each level before progressing to another level. For instance, a starving man will not sit down with you and deeply discuss the need of respect among peers to be functional in society. Most would agree to this, but to say that a starving man will not sit down with you and receive the message of Jesus sounds heretical. A heretic is not what I would ever hope to be described as. A discussion of respect is only on the esteem level; Jesus falls within the self-actualization level. According to Maslow one cannot likely skip levels of needs, the mind will not allow for it.

Is it possible to effectively spread Jesus without getting your hands dirty first? If the brain does indeed think and process needs the way Maslow prescribed then it is believable that the message of self-actualization cannot be conceived until the preceding needs are met. This self-actualization thought process includes, morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts. Within this level the Jesus message can be accepted and understood or at least considered. I would challenge many of my well meaning peers to consider this reality and get their hands dirty before they speak a word of spirituality to someone. I think this is a beautiful union of spirituality and psychology and moves closer to what I think Jesus wanted from us, a lifestyle, not just a message. Maybe Maslow understood this Jesus thing more than that street preacher does. Maybe there is something to be learned about the biology so many seek to convert to spirituality. I think Salvation Army may have this idea down pretty well following a simple message from their founder William Booth, “Soup, soap, and salvation.” Salvation comes after the other needs are met. Maslow and Booth would agree that Jesus is the ultimate need of people, but the needs preceding Jesus cannot and must not go unattended.

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