Monday, July 29, 2013

Sidewalk Counseling Seminar

Today, I would like write here what Mr.Miller and Alicia, from Detroit, said in the Sidewalk Counseling Nacional Simposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2 weeks ago:

Mr. Miller giving a speech
Occasionally my sidewalk counseling partner and I give seminars and workshops on sidewalk counseling.  Usually people like what we say, yet very rarely does anyone step out on the sidewalk to join us.  Even more rare are those who stick with it a year or more.  Perhaps my approach is all wrong.  Perhaps I should describe mild days in the fresh outdoors, cheering words from passing motorists, and the many honors received as a life-saving hero.  Unfortunately, as we all know, that is far from the truth.  Most sidewalk counseling is done in rough conditions with little or no thanks.  You might go days, even weeks, without a success story to tell.  You’re a muffled, frozen odd-ball.  Sometimes even your own wife (not mine, thank God) or husband begins to resent the time you spend away from home in what often seems a hopeless endeavor.  He or she will make comments like, “What about your own children? Your own family?  Your own home?”  But all these sources of discouragement are, to some extent, the very reason I’ve been sidewalk counseling since 1987.  Let me explain why.
One reason I suspect I have trouble in recruiting for sidewalk counseling is because even ardent, Christian pro- life people have to some exent been affected by the ethos of the age. Our age glorifies movement. The philosophy of movement is neaty summarized by a character named Weston in a C.S. Lewis novel, Out of the Silent Planet. Weston explains that the goal of the human race is to speed from one planet to the next, not letting other species hinder our process, because power is the fuel of movement, and its use is therefore justified for moving us on. Movement, he says, is Life. And is this not the thinking of our own time? Do we not tear down the past in a race to an undefined future? Do we not move from job to job, from house to house, from country to country, at a rate which would have confounded our ancestors? Do we not curse our computers when they fail to respond instantaneously to our bidding? In our human communication, have we not sacrificed meaning for speed? Do we not put those who cannot keep up the pace in out-of-the-way homes? Some of them do we not even kill? Success, for us, must be a measurable thing- measured in how many appointments we have recorded in our notebook and how many times each day the cell phone rings.
In the midst of all this, sidewalk counseling is an anomaly. In the midst of the rush, sidewalk counseling is a stillness. Focus and quiet, in sidewalk counseling, are essential. Sidewalk counselors do not chat, they do not preach, they do not chant slogans. They do not bear large signs. They want to be as unobtrusive as possilble, because when they approach a woman or a couple they want the moment to be one of fresh, genuine human contact.
Yet there is another element to the stillness of a sidewalk counselor. He or she must be willing to suffer–an act which does not allow for anger, defensive techniques, protestations or arm-flailing of any sort. Of course there will be successes; there will be miraculous moments, moments of profound mystery and joy, moments of obvious, near-palpable grace. More often, though, will be those times in which the wind whips around you, the day is bleak and bitterly cold, the clients rush in without even bothering to become angry with you, no one listens– then the world starts to whisper in your ear,” Is this the best use of your time? Are you really being effective?” This is the moment at which the sidewalk counselor must embrace his suffering; for in that embrace, in that acceptance, he holds the key to life.
Weston’s definition of Life, of course, was mostly wrong, or terribly lop-sided, perhaps. The definition of life begins not with movement, but with stillness. Life is, in the begining, a presence–an  unmoving, unchanged presence, the presence of God. The only complete definition of life that one can offer is, simply, God.  That’s it. Obviously, then, the closer to God one lives, the more one has of life. But how does one draw closer? What is the essence of God’s personality? In His constant self-gift, we recognize the obvious truth that His essence is Love.
To be willing to sidewalk counsel one must be willing to suffer. But to be willing to suffer is to be willing to Love, an act which takes us to the very source of Life, to the springs of its growth. Time after time, in the midst of the most bleak circumstances, Alicia and I have seen life flame out; we have seen mothers and fathers smile, thank us, and leave. We have seen an abortion clinic at which we sidewalk counseled for two years close, the business having been so affected by our presence that the abortionist was evicted for unpaid rent. Even without these obvious signs of life, though, we would go, trying to be the still presence we are called to be.  As long as love is there, death can have no victory.

By Edmund B. Miller and Alicia Wong

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