I have worked at helping to shape policy at the local, state and national levels. I have testified before city councils, state legislatures and congress. I’ve testified primarily about the structural externals that hobble so many Americans , millions of whom are ground down by poverty, poor schools, ill health, lack of access to child care and pre-school education and constant exposure to fear and instability in violence-ridden neighborhoods.
I have helped to craft and pass legislation. Yes, good, absolutely necessary, and I continue to advocate for more. But the older I grow, the more I think we who focus on policy walk right by the basics, or rather, THE basic: the aching need for every human being to be needed, to be seen as precious, lovable. A juvenile accused of murder once expressed it to me in these unforgettable words: “Commissioner, I’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all.”
Who is there in a broken, terrifying world who says, “I love you; I will not leave you?” Not many. Relationships are messy: parent/child, employer/employee, counselor/client, teacher/student, spouse/spouse, spouse/ex spouse, and so on. To claim another as “mine” is brutally tough because those who feel unloved will push you away, afraid you will leave them as has everyone else in their lives. It is easier for us to focus on the externals rather than to help give an individual a sense that he or she is amazing, has potential, will not be left alone even in the middle of the mess in which they find themselves. Deep down each of these individuals is dying for a relationship, some literally, and Isaiah gives each of us the essential commission: “O Israel, do not fear, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by name. Thou art mine.” This, to me, is the very heart of theology AND social policy.
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