The orange sun shone in the late-summer evening sky as I lifted Mama from her wheelchair in the tree-lined courtyard of “Lo Debar,” where untouchables dwelled on the fringes of society.
Ever since her advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and the cancer, Mama hadn’t stood much. Standing on her own two feet — even if holding tightly onto me and me onto her — lifted her spirits, made her brown face spread into a girlish smile, made her eyes dance.
Our plight with Alzheimer’s and our journey into the nursing home abyss taught me a lot about feeling like a castaway. About what it means to be treated like a societal outcast, like a leper, an untouchable.
It left me with the glaring truth that the church — even Mama’s own — was most often absent. It left me with a bittersweet message that I recall even now with memories of Mama filling my eyes with tears:
Let the church stand.
For too often, it is MIA. Missing in action from the frontlines of any so-called war on poverty. Missing from the neighborhoods where murder rages and the blood of our children runs red in these streets I also call Lo Debar.
The church is MIA from the highways and hedges, where the people perish, sinking in consuming social waters in a dark world in which the church is meant to be the light. Not all churches, but far too many in an age of prosperity Gospel and insular mega-churchianity.
Let the church stand and deliver. Rather than going missing from a modern-day Pool of Bethesda, where the lame, the deaf, the sick and the disabled languish far beyond so-called faith conferences and convocations, longing someday to be made whole. Or the murderous cold gutters where young black men slay each other.
Let the true church lead the way. Rather than being reported missing. Rather than seeming incapable of discerning the difference between “church work” and “God’s work.”
Let the church cease from treating “outreach” like an hors d’oeuvres. Let it become the main course. And let complacency and comfort no longer lull us to sleep.
We have become a church stuck on having service rather than being fully engaged in serving. On going to church rather than being the church. Stuck on pause, we attend church meetings and socials rather than keenly focusing on meeting the needs of the widow, the poor, and the orphan.
Today the church is too often missing from modern-day Lo Debar — that place in ancient Israel that, according to biblical scripture, was a “nothing” town of forgotten people.
Lo Debar — home of the sick, the outcast and the neglected. Land of the brokenhearted.
Through my mother, I came to visit Lo Debar many times.
Lo Debar: The myriad nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, where so many sick and hurting dwell, and where most of the people I saw never had anyone to visit them. Sit with them. Talk with them. Touch them.
Lo Debar. Land of the forgotten.
Most conspicuously absent at these places where my mother spent the last months of her life, with the exception of a few faithful angels, was the church.
And I am convinced that as a church the greatest challenge today is whether to continue to be missing in action, or to choose instead to become a transformative presence in the lives of others.
The challenge simply put: Will the real church — that church built upon Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried and is now resurrected — please stand up?
I stood with Mama in Lo Debar as she watched her last sunset — touchable, held tightly and completely loved.
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