What ‘irked’ me about Channel Nine’s A Current Affair’s “Renovation Surprise” for a family of a teenager with Cerebral Palsy
On 10th March Channel Nine’s A Current Affair dedicated the whole half hour to one story about the Clark family’s need for suitable housing due to their son having cerebral palsy. It all began when Daniel, the son, wrote to ACA requesting funding for a walker, and to consider widening the walls in his family home. ACA did much more, and marshalled an army of volunteers to completely renovate the house in a week costing tens of thousands of dollars. In the meantime, the Clark family were sent to live it up in a hotel for the week. Upon return, they found their home renovated, and now much more accessible for Daniel.
I applaud the efforts of ACA, and all the labourers and retailers who donated time and goods to this project. But the question I want to raise is, is this an appropriate model of support for the Church to emulate?
My concern is not what was done, but rather how it was done. Throughout the story ACA presented volunteer after volunteer, eager giving their time, and having a great old time working away. With touching scenes like this, who wouldn’t want to be charitable?
But underneath it all, having cerebral palsy myself, I could not help but detect a subtext, “Look how good we are, helping out the unfortunate.” With some well-placed brands littering the background, and sometimes the foreground. The fact the family was sent away carries with it the notion people in unfortunate circumstances have nothing to contribute, and the ‘more able’ need to do it all for them. I could not help but notice the old-fashioned “us and them” mentality. And as someone who greatly values their personal space, I find the notion of having my personal space turned inside out by an army of strangers with no ongoing consultancy frankly disturbing. But, that could be just me!
Of course, the family was deeply moved by the gesture. But then, could they really be anything other? Would they have been in a position to say something different was required? After all, the cameras were on, and there was a show produce. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the family weren’t, or shouldn’t have been, thankful. But it does seem a little too impersonal. These are the things that irked me.
The Church needs to do much better, and needs to take her cue from her Lord. Jesus wasn’t only into fixing problems. He was into fixing people. Take for example the woman at the well (John 4:1-25), or the woman with continual bleeding (Matthew 9:18-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48), or the blind man near Jericho (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). This is just a small sample of the intensely personal way Jesus engaged with people. Why did Jesus stop to consult the blind man about his need when it was just so painfully obvious? This is possibly the first time this blind man was consulted about anything! Therefore, not only his sight was restored, but so to his humanity.
We may not be able to restore people to the same extent Jesus can, but we can go a long way to restoring their humanity. We can do this by being wary of any “us and them” mentalities. By not seeing ministry us that which is done to the misfortunate, or disendowed. But rather to see ministry as working alongside others, including them in the processes and decisions. Enabling them to flourish and glorify God, rather then you, their benefactor. In this we can see great wisdom in Jesus words:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1-4.
Such teaching by Jesus reminds us that supporting others isn’t about us displaying our good deeds. Instead, it’s about loving others the same way God has loved us, and supporting them through personal relationships. Such giving of support does not indebt the person to their benefactor, but allows them to grow and flourish under God’s grace.
It’s also worth noting that when it comes to our relationship with God, while it is true that none of us can contribute to our salvation, and are wholly dependent upon God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:1-9), it is also true God expects us to be active on our relationship with him (v10). Not that we are to merit additional blessing, or to be “kept”, but to honour God through what we do as we flourish under his grace.
So, 2 questions to give thought to:
1. In what ways are we supporting those who are in need that enable them to flourish under God’s grace? Are there any examples where people have flourished as a result of being supported by the church?
2. How can we improve the supports we give to enable people to flourish?
Rev Jason Forbes