The mariner has had feedback critical of his opinion about churches, that they are not a force that does good work as Jesus would want.
The mariner mentioned that a percentage of contribution to the church is spent on missions. However, it is the last priority and smallest percentage. The reader is challenged to review their church budget (atheist or theist). The mariner calculates that for every one thousand dollars in the budget, twenty dollars is deliberately allocated to missions. The dollar percentage demonstrates the distraction of a church from the force to do good works. Nevertheless, this train of thought is not the correct mindset to define goodness. One does not measure goodness with budgets or dollars.
For those who insist on an institutional approach to goodness, the best example of a “church” is a free shelter for the homeless or a free soup kitchen. Another example of institution is relief efforts in areas of tragedy or great want, where volunteers drop what they are doing and work hand in hand with the unfortunate. The dollar contributions spent on these examples of churches is a lot more than twenty dollars out of every thousand; it may be the inverse. Bringing relief to those in need is the first priority. Institutional and logistic spending is allocated only because it is necessary to provide goodness. Goodness is the motivation; personal involvement and sacrifice demonstrate that motivation.
The mariner advocates these institutional efforts. Doing good, as Pope Francis suggests, is what it is all about. The mariner thinks, however, that goodness rests with an individual, not an institution. There is nothing wrong with many individuals coming together for the common good, if institutional structure is a minimized distraction. The one-on-one human experience is the root of goodness. A church can be one person. That is how it was with Jesus.
The mariner was at a church meeting a while ago. Two hours were spent on organization with barely a hint of interest in doing good. It occurred to him that a better use of the two hours would be to organize a flash mob so that in a moment’s notice, everyone in the room spontaneously would come to the aid of a specific person or group of people in the local area. Not much organization needed; goodness is the first priority.
In the last years of the mariner’s duties as a pastor, he had a growing feeling that so much of what he did was irrelevant to society. He finally left the ministry and took a job as a probation officer. Unlike the tasks in the church, his new tasks required him to spend time in poor neighborhoods. He talked with people on a one-to-one basis. He had a conscious awareness that these people were victims. They were victims of being born beneath the crush of a social system where money is king.
Some were able to stabilize their lives with manual labor jobs or even open a very small business. Most, however, had been damaged by family life, repeated failure in efforts to find an identity, and lack of goodness in the culture that entrapped them. Many turned to illicit activity for money and a sense of independence. These folks were his new congregation.
It was serendipitous that his supervisor was an unusual person. His supervisor was polite but always on task. Occasionally, the mariner would have lunch with him. This meant walking the streets of the red light district looking for homeless street dwellers. When he came upon one of these individuals, he would invite them to have lunch with him in one of the local eateries. It was obvious, however, that the individual gained a lot more than a meal. He received compassion – a rare commodity indeed.
The supervisor had the opinion that our job was driven by empathy, not by reinforcement. It is true that some would not respond and eventually return to the courts for violating parole or probation. However, the mariner learned from his supervisor how important it is to keep empathy at the forefront of one’s awareness.
One cannot perform goodness without empathy.
One cannot perform goodness when the institution supersedes goodness.
Pope Francis said faith is doing good. Nothing more.