Monday, January 11, 2016

Now What? A Note on Small Beginnings

Several weeks ago I shared Yolanda's story here, then my Resolution for 2016, then how the Steven Avery case has impacted my thoughts about our criminal justice system. All three were the sort of difficult posts that make a writer assume the worst about how it'll be received, but you guys are different, and I was blown away by your responses. We are a people who knows how to care. We are born of selfishness and the easy road, it's true, but we're quick to recognize our own humanity, and that goes a long way.

I read every email and comment (I always do) and when Katie's note came in, I asked if I could share it. It felt particularly representative of many of you, along with myself.

"i don't want to simply like and share someone else's blog posts and let myself feel like i'm doing something and part of the movement because i nod in agreement. but i struggle so often to know where i can begin. my financial state means i am living in my parents house, in middle class, suburban america. but my heart just aches and aches to do more and be more and love more and better and more tangibly. and not be a part of the group that excludes. 

 i just don't know how to be thankful where i'm at and do the best i can without the frustration when it feels like the best i can do is write the check and hang the mittens on the tree. i want to make up a bed and simmer the soup. i so desperately want to. how do you know how and where to start? how can i learn to be content and thankful where i believe god has me for now, without being so content that i never discover how to keep moving forward and loving well. 

 i just feel stuck and lost and directionless and at the same time feel way too privileged and way too far removed from where jesus spends his time."

Unfortunately for Katie, I find myself asking similar questions. Aren't we all asking more than we were five years ago, or even one?

I don't feel equipped to offer profound answers, but I'll give you what I do have.

First, I don't think there's a certain amount of "caring" that qualifies as "enough". If there were a benchmark, knowing us, we'd strive and claw ourselves into a frenzy meeting it, then check the box and move on. It's between each of us and God. It begins again every day and never meets its end. He compels us, speaks to us, leads us. And yes, sometimes he leads us back to bed with a cup of tea. Maybe someone needs to open their door to you and offer sanctuary in your season of loss. We all take turns being poor and needy. That's one of the things that makes the kingdom of heaven here on earth so beautiful. But it will also require the laying down of ourselves for the sake of another. It will eventually look like spending what might already feel spent.

Second, I think the hardest work has to begin in our hearts. Perhaps the hand-wringing and book-reading is more important than we think. It's in the quiet that new life often grows, and though we're a people who value press conferences, national movements, and tightly run ships, the kingdom of God begins with a seed pressed into the mud.

A few days ago I watched Michelle Higgins' prophetic talk at Urbana15 and I urge you to do the same if racial reconciliation, justice, and the simple, profound love for each other is something you're desperate to learn about. We have the opportunity to stand with the marginalized and the pushed-around. We get to truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter, and it is our privilege to say it with those who live it every day.

Knowledge is a powerful seed, and we have to be hungry to learn

On that note, here's a stack of books I currently have under my roof, some of which I've read and others I'm either in the process of reading or hope to be soon. I can only tell you that separately and as a collective, they are being used by God to change the way I see folks around me and my place within the kingdom. They make my heart beat faster, and once that happens, well, change has already moved into the room.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders by Chris Hoke
Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Compolo
Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Eckblad
The New Jim Crown by Michelle Alexander
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Justice by Adam Benforado
Go Set A Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee


The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne, Ph.D.
Educating All God's Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstraps America by Linda Tirado
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein
City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles 
Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton 
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Acknowledging the tension is such a good place to start.  

Beyond this, we have to be open to God's leading. We have to be willing to notice. When he brings a neighbor our way, we can love them. When he brings an injustice to our path, we can take it up as our own. When he leads someone we've thought of as "other" to our door, we can open it and be ready to listen. We can teach our kids now instead of allowing them to figure it out later. We can simply be done pretending to not see what is right in front of us.

With all my heart, I believe a person who wants to love their neighbor and do justice will be given opportunity. God won't let us miss the chance. He knows we need it more than the person we think of as being on the receiving end.

I'm hopeful this will be the year we all take one step forward in areas we may have once believed did not belong to us.

Can you imagine how different 2017 would look if in 2016 we each just took one small step?


*Amazon affiliate links used