Transforming society from the inside-out: exploring inner depths to reshape external reality
by Catherine Thompson
I think there is something inherently interesting about having an insight into someone’s ‘mind’ and what makes them tick. For me personally, my interest in history leads me to want to understand the subjective experience of those living in the past- their hopes, everyday frustrations, grief, pleasures. Yet I would argue this interest in the subjective mind of others is widespread. You only have to flick through the huge number of ‘inside the mind of a serial killer’ style programmes, or observe the popularity of Love Island to see how this desire to understand the thought processes of others has popular appeal- from psychoanalysis to a close observation of the conversations, decisions and actions of those on reality TV. Even in a society which is often criticised for nurturing selfishness, a curiosity about others endures.
It seems to me that from a Christian perspective, this natural interest in the thought process of others is perhaps revealing of a wider picture. It seems that by understanding the depth and complexity of other’s emotions, we are granted an honest glimpse into the depth and complexity of creation and the world around us. Although vast mountains and roaring oceans can inspire awe, so too can everyday interactions with those around us- regardless of their religious belief system. On a less abstract level, I think our emotions are what make us human, and they are therefore a key route through which we are able to relate to Jesus, because he shared such universal emotion during his time on earth. The depth of Jesus’ fear, frustration, even guilt, can only be speculated upon during his doubts in Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”. We may never experience the exact set of emotions Jesus did in this moment, but for me it remains highly relatable. Feelings of fear, unworthiness and doubt are common amongst Christians, even if not often openly discussed. Therefore, it remains that raw emotion can in many ways help us to access God, because we share some of the depth of feeling that Jesus also experienced.
In terms of Just Love’s mission for social justice, my time working with the homeless outreach group has given me the opportunity to get to know homeless friends, and although I wouldn’t ever claim to know the complexity of anyone’s emotions (I don’t think this is ever really possible!) I do feel as though I’ve managed to build relationships and have interesting conversations. I think this is vital for the mission of social justice – it can be tempting to fall into the trap of addressing big issues whilst forgetting the human experience behind them, especially when these issues become national or international. Of course, all efforts to achieve social justice are crucial, but I suppose this is where particularly as Christians there is a need to ensure that those af
fected by social injustice don’t feel part of a ‘problem’, but rather that they feel loved and valuable.
I think there is also an extent to which as humans we have an instinct to promote the interests of those we care about most – think of close friends or family perhaps. Therefore, the challenge for me is to actively engage with those affected by social injustice in order that we develop this sense of caring for them. Although as Christians we know in theory that everyone is loved and valuable, I think sometimes we are required to have depths of interaction with others in order to truly feel this – or at least I have found this helpful. The more you get to know someone, the more you realise they have an intangible depth that for Christians, points to their divine creation. You discover the personality behind someone who is labelled ‘abused’, ‘homeless’, ‘disabled’, or whatever other categories individuals may be put into by governmental initiatives which although well-meaning, are often simplistic. This isn’t an attack on existing measures in place to promote social justice, but a call to push further, to allow a more transformative justice to emerge.
By actively delving deeper into relationships with those affected by social injustice, we are able not only to have a moment to marvel at creation’s complexity, but we will also be in a better position to promote social justice shaped by those who need to benefit from it, rather than by the image society might have of them as passive victims. An ‘inside out’ approach is needed: as we truly get to know those we want to help, we are energised and reminded of our purpose, as well as more understanding of the issues they face, and the best way to deal with them.
 Luke 22:42 (NIV)
Catherine Thompson is a second year history student at Oriel College.
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