Dear Reader – (day 17) Solidarity

Dear Reader

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.

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*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.

Dear Reader – (day 9) Guerrilla Love

Dear Reader

I wasn’t sure if I would write about this here, but I went to our small group this morning and it’s the only thing on my mind right now. If I don’t write about this, I’m going to end up writing about my messy house or how I don’t feel like working out or how I ate too much junkfood this weekend – and we’ve already done all those things too many times.

So here it is. You’re going to get what’s on my mind.

As a group, we are supposed to decide on a project we can do to reach out to the community. We’re supposed to dream big and expect large and seemingly impossible results. We are supposed to decide and move forward and watch God go to work as we move to intentionally love the world around us.

This is the thing though.

I don’t know if I can dream big and impossible right now. I don’t know if that is really what God is asking of me at the moment.

I don’t know if I’m really supposed to focus my efforts on something that feels so big I can barely wrap my brain around it, and it makes me feel like I’m being sucked down a vortex as I puff a brown paper bag.

I understand what the author is trying to do. I get it, and I don’t totally disagree.

I just partly disagree, for me, right now.

Because I just came to understand that it’s OK to look at my life in the context of seasons. My season is not the same as your season, or my pastor’s season, or my group leader’s season, or my bff’s season. It’s ok if I can’t do it all. God loves me anyway. I don’t have to perform. My season is one with four school aged kids, nighttime activities, trying to provide home cooked meals, and civil homework time. I’m trying to keep Loving Mama in the house instead of Mama Grizzly.

It’s a season where I consciously chose not to go back to the shelter this school year because I felt I needed to be available to help out in the kids’ elementary and because I felt a stirring in my heart to make art with an abandon I’ve never afforded myself. These are all things I chose carefully and prayerfully.

Less. More focused. Reign in my orbit and do smaller but more genuine things.

So why now, am I in this group whose purpose is to focus out and big?

I don’t know if I can go big or go home. If they make me chose, I might have to go home.

And this is where guerrilla love occurred to me.

Why not stay right here in my community. duh.

And know these people well. duh.

And find out how I can best love them? duh.

Why don’t I: JUST. DO. THAT?

I don’t know if this defeats the purpose of the study. We are all supposed to do a project together.

But what if we all chose to Guerrilla Love?

What would that look like?

15 people loving ferociously and on the sly.

It might look like showing up unexpectedly to stock the freezer of a recently widowed friend with 3 homemade soups, 12 burritos, 2 roast chickens, 3 lasagnas and 3 batches of Picadillo.

It might look like muffins for the security guards at school, who keep our children safe.

It might look like hand-written notes to the people in our lives who changed us at our core.

It might look like a phone call to a friend who’s battling depression.

It might look like taking a few extra minutes after class to hug the friend who just lost her sister in a car crash.

It might look like donating funds for a sick mama.

It might look like making a CD crammed full of inspiring music for a friend whose spirits need lifting.

It might look like babysitting for a mom who’s been pent-up with her sick kids for 2 weeks.

It might look like showing up with a take-home dinner for your little one’s teacher who you just learned leaves her house at 6:30 AM with her two littles and doesn’t return home again till 8:30PM, then turns around and does it all again the next day.

It might mean sending an encouraging note to someone who’s doing a hard thing right now.

It might mean having meaningful conversation with the grocery store clerk and learning that she’s having surgery in a week, and maybe she could use a help picking her kids up from school.

It might mean taking several minutes to put away your phone and focus here and now on these people under your roof. To look them in the eyes, touch their cheeks and really hear how their day went.

And if that’s all from one person in one week – all those lives touched, about 20 – if each of our 15 people chose to consciously Guerilla Love –  that’s 300 people whose hearts have been touched.

Those are some staggering numbers. And this is how God speaks. Through us.

At first glance, it might seem small fry. . . But I don’t think it is. These are things that matter. They’re things that people will feel, genuinely. These things require us to connect, to invest, to care.  And whatever we choose to do now, for this project – it’s supposed to be something sustainable.

Isn’t this how we want to live, truly? With our eyes open, appreciating, loving, aware?

While I’m in this season, I think I can actually do this. This doesn’t feel like a vortex suck, this feels like an exhale.

I can manage this. I want to do this. I already believe in this, but now is the time to DO it instead of just think it.

Sign me up for Guerrilla Love.

Driving Blindfolded

Simply say yes; Driving blindfolded

This is a never-posted oldie, but it was the start of the story that’s currently underway. I didn’t want to post in real-time, because what if it went nowhere? What if I failed? What if, what if, what if?? But I don’t care anymore. I’ll catch you up, and then we can watch it unravel together. We’re going back to June 2013 here. It’s similar to some of the posts I’ve published before, but for some reason I felt much more wary of posting this one in particular. Since it’s the true beginning I didn’t want to leave it out, so I do apologize if it feels repetitive. . . but so began the journey.

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Gimme Some Messy

Guys – I feel like I’m all jammed up inside. Like there’s all kinds of stuff circulating around in the soul part of me, and I can’t quite identify what it is that’s trying to bust free.

Desires tease me by staying just out of reach and not making much sense.

Dreams thump me between my shoulder blades, sort of rap-tapping to remind me they’re still there, but when I look them square in the face, some part of me tells me now is not the time.

That dream has to wait.

I’m knee-deep in gimmies right now, and my heart is tied to a little boy in Africa, a young mama in Indiana, and a tweenager outside the grocery store (story to be told another day). Continue reading