Learning from Below

There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.

~~~~Dietrich Bonheoffer (Letters from Prison, p.16)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

~~~Luke 15:1

There have perhaps been few times in the history of our country when Bonheoffer’s assertion that we learn from below is more true than now. We are facing a perfect storm of unrest and uncertainty . This has rattled even the most serene among us. We must remember that the scripture and Jesus himself have always told us to be aware and responsive to the down and out of our society.

Too often we ignore the cry of the needy or treat it in a patriarchal way. The time has come for us to listen and learn so that we will gain the credibility to advise and teach. As Bonheoffer says, “waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.” Sometimes it is difficult to rethink our perspectives, but the time has come. Perhaps we have waited and looked long enough. All action should be done in the context of the Christian tradition of selflessness. Nowhere in all of the words of scripture is lawlessness or violence tolerated.

The time has come for us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and do it out of care and love. Too often we have done this out of obligation, guilt or ,heaven forbid, to gain recognition. Such motives can lead to resentment and even a feeling of superiority. Never forget that Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Those words were a sea change moment for his disciples. Children were without power and wealth and of little value. Perhaps we are living in a time like that. Let’s look for the little children of our day and do so with peace and love.


Lord, It’s hard to learn from people we see as beneath us. We acknowledge that all are created in your image and have value in your sight. Help us to look to all with respect and kindness’ so that we might together create a better world. Give us this day an opportunity to learn and grow with such a goal in sight.


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