It occurred to me that when, a few days ago, I referred to my “small group” this was probably a foreign term to some readers.
A “small group” in the context I was using it, refers to a small group of people (in our case women) from our church who meet on a weekly basis to study and grow.
I griped a little about the study we are doing now – Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Community, but I do believe I tossed the possibility into cyberspace that I was hopeful it might improve, that I wasn’t sure if I was going to dislike the study all the way through.
Today I can admit, I like it much better.
One issue that was eating away at me in the beginning – a focus primarily on serving within your own little faith circle – was rubbing me entirely against the grain. I didn’t want to devote the next 40 days of study concentrating my efforts on serving others specifically according to which church they attend or according to whether they attend church at all.
Thankfully, that’s not the gist of the study.
You see, my panties were all in a bunch, because I don’t believe in spreading love categorically.
I don’t believe in sharing love conditionally.
I don’t believe in choosing “worthy enough” or marking off check-boxes.
I do believe we are asked to love, period.
No conditions, no strings attached.
I don’t get to judge whether someone is deserving of love, because, quite simply – no matter how many times I might be tempted to ask that question – “Is he deserving? Is she deserving?” – Every single time, the answer is going to be yes.
About a month ago, I started reading Tattoos on The Heart, by Gregory Boyle – a Catholic Jesuit priest who’s devoted his life to working with gang members in the ghettos of Los Angeles.
At first, I didn’t think I’d like this book. Something about Boyle’s writing style didn’t jive with my personal taste. A few meager pages in however, my mind was completely changed.
The stories he shares are heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, insightful, and full of respect for the individuals about whom he writes. His storytelling – his humor, his acuity, his desperate and unflinching love for these people to whom he’s entirely devoted his life, is nothing short of a stunning inspiration.
The particular copy of the book I am reading is from the library. If it was mine – if I owned it – I would have highlighted more than half the book.
There is a section I cannot seem to move beyond this week. It’s long, but I’m going to share it anyway:
Sr. Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “How do you work with the poor?” She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s as basic as crying together. It is about “casting your lot” before it ever becomes about “changing their lot.”
Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified – whichever came first.
The American poet Jack Gilbert writes, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.” The strategy and stance of Jesus was consistent in that it was always out of step with the world. Jesus defied all the categories upon which the world insisted: good-evil, success-failure, pure-impure. Surely, He was an equal-opportunity “pisser-offer” in this regard. The right wing would stare at Him and question where He chose to stand. They hated that He aligned Himself with the unclean, those outside — those folks you ought neither to touch nor be near. He hobnobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered Himself ritually impure in the process. They found it offensive that, to boot, Jesus had no regard for their wedge issues, their constitutional amendments or their culture wars.
The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten-point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with His brand of solidarity. They wanted to see Him taking the right stand on issues, not just standing in the right place.
But Jesus just stood with the outcast. The Left screamed: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” And the Right maintained: “Don’t stand with those folks at all.” Both sides, seeing Jesus as the wrong size for this world, came to their own reasons for wanting Him dead. Both sides were equally impressed as He unrolled the scroll and spoke of “good news to the poor”. . . “sight to the blind”. . . “liberty to captives.” Yet only a handful of verses later, they want to throw Jesus over a cliff.
How do we get the world to change anyway? Dorothy Day asked critically: “Where were the saints to try and change the social order? Not just minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery.” Dorothy Day is a hero of mine, but I disagree with her here. You actually abolish slavery by accompanying the slave. We don’t strategize our way out of slavery, we solidarize, if you will, our way toward its demise. We stand in solidarity with the slave, and by so doing, we diminish slavery’s ability to stand. By casting our lot with the gang member, we hasten the demise of demonizing. All Jesus asks is, “Where are you standing?” And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, “Are you still standing there?” – Gregory Boyle, Tattoos On The Heart
This passage has given me countless moments of pause since I first read it.
I think we can insert any of us into “the poor”. Certainly, yes – the literal poor. I don’t want his message lost here. The marginalized, those on the streets and in the ghettos, those who fight every day just for survival. Yes, the literal poor. But, I think, we can take these words and apply them no matter where we live or who we encounter on a daily basis.
You love someone by standing with them, unflinchingly. Over and over and over again, whether or not they disappoint you. Whether or not they are showing “improvement” by our book. Whether or not they are making healthy choices, whether or not they are doing what “they are supposed to do” by our standards.*
We are not called to judge, we are called to love.
I want to be aware of where I’m standing. I don’t want to be standing on the Right and shouting that whoever is not like me or doesn’t live up to some specific standard ought not be associated with, and I don’t want to be standing off to the Left spouting hot air that someone ought to change this or that or the other thing.
I don’t want to be shallow wind and stinging judgement.
I want to stand there in solidarity with Jesus and the person who’s right in front of me. Because I need Love and solidarity just as much as they do.
When I look around me, I want so stop seeing differences and entertaining criticisms in my head. I want to look into the face of the stranger across from me and know that they are just like me, regardless of where they are from or where they are headed.
I want to stand rock solid, in the same place, dependable and unflinching, over and over and over again without fail and regardless of outcome.
Not much was requested of us. Just love.
It’s one simple word.
*Dear Reader, I want to be sure to say here, that I am not in any way saying that if you are in a dangerous or abusive relationship that you should stick it out for the sake of love. If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, please seek professional counseling and intervention.