i’ve been walking a lot lately. before my surgery it was the one thing that helped best with my pain and after surgery it is part of my daily re-hab & makes me the happiest. at first i had to have friends go with me but now i can walk by myself (if someone can put on my shoes for me, ha ha). the other night as i was walking in the cold & dark, i do what i always seem to do in those quiet moments–reflect on life & try to solve the problems of the world in less than 20 minutes. really, though, i was taking stock of all the amazing friends i have who are doing all kinds of lovely work in the trenches with people–pastoring or cultivating different faith communities & nonprofit agencies & missional dreams, working on the streets with homeless friends, caring for orphans, working with the elderly and mental & physical disabilities, immersing themselves in challenging contexts & giving up all that was safe and comfortable to live out their faith.
seriously, i know so many people doing so much beautiful living in the low and dark places of people’s experiences. as i was thinking of their lovely faces & the work that they do, i was reminded that there are some very clear things that everyone-i-know-in-the-trenches seem to have in common. there’s a similar thread, a shared bond, that we all seem to have.
here are a couple off the top of my head:
none of us make any money. in fact, we’re constantly scraping for it. right now, i’m tri-vocational (pastoring/leading/cultivating, online professoring, mommying) & almost everyone i know doing this kind of work has had to find other sources of income to somehow make things go. when i look around & reflect on all of the people i know living out their passion, every single one of them is scraping by one day, one paycheck at a time. most everyone’s salary is below minimum wage or at least close to it.
everyone loves people more than almost anything. incarnational, free, beautiful, scary, messy, complicated relationships with people are the driving force. eyes are meeting eyes. hearts are meeting hearts. real lives are intersecting with real lives & God’s hope is flowing through people–not through programs or words on paper or some abstract idea.
Jesus is the center of the work, not just the Bible. oh, i know that will get some people’s feathers ruffled, but honestly, i think this is one the prettiest parts. the Bible is a beautiful and lovely vehicle for so much good stuff, but most of my friends-in-the-trenches center their work around living out the ways of Jesus, of the incarnation here & now, of letting God’s spirit flow without feeling the desperate need to make sure scripture seals the deal or validates its spiritual worthiness. they also all realize how distorted people’s image of God sometimes is & give space & room & love regardless of whether people actively acknowledge God or not.
seminary didn’t teach any of us what we needed to know. because the work is centered on people & relationships & real complicated lives, on the whole, the conjugation of the hebrew word for something doesn’t come in super handy. what seems to help the most are 12 step groups, therapy, boundaries & safe people classes, learning how to partner with community and government agencies, and an awful lot of winging-it. i’m not saying seminary was a waste, i’m just saying that most everyone i know doing really missional work didn’t learn what they needed to know there. most everything has come through on-the-job-training. and we’re constantly realizing how much we don’t know and how much more we have to learn.
we all feel a little lonely & long for more outside, consistent support. without the outside-people-doing-hard-work-too-friends i’ve made over the past 4 years i would never still be here. they have kept me alive in more ways than i can say. and even though i don’t feel as lonely as i did, i think a common feeling that seems to get on the table whenever we are together is the desire to be connected to more like-minded people who understand what this work is like. and even though we know it’s really unlikely, we always dream of the sugar-daddies-or-mommies who will rescue us somehow & make our lives easier.
we whine & complain sometimes but we wouldn’t give it up for the world. yes, it’s hard. yes, sometimes the pain and despair get under our skin. yes, the complications of deep & messy relationships are tiring. yes, sometimes the brokenness of the system and all the ways it works against the poor & marginalized & oppressed makes us want to throw in the towel. but the reality is that we are so thankful to get to see the kingdom of God up close and personal each and every day. little glimpses of life & hope in the darkness keep us going.
i think what God keeps reminding me is that the ways of the kingdom and the ways of the world are two different things, and when i chose this path, i chose a road that was bumpy & inconsistent & scary & hard. and good & beautiful & full of love. thank you, my dear and brave friends who read this blog who are living out your faith in all kinds of wild & creative & scary & small & big ways. i am thankful for you & i am glad that at least we can be poor, tired, challenged and happy together.
* * * * *
ps: i have a new post up at communitas collective called the tortoise and the hare. it’s a re-post from 2 1/2 years ago right after i started this blog, and i continue to wrestle with what it means to become more tortoise-like.
ppss: the post i wrote a few weeks ago, most people aren’t one sentence away from being better, got picked up in next-wave ezine. if you didn’t know about it already, there there are a lot of good little articles about church & life over there worth reading.