In the work I do, I live for the moments which offer me hope. Thankfully, tiny glimmers of hope are offered frequently. The past month or more, it has been difficult simply because there is so much anxiety. Whether it is caused by food insecurity, violence, drugs, politics – everyone seems to be on a razor-sharp edge.
But then this week, this happened.
A young man came into Pantry. I remembered him because he has an unusual name. The odd thing was that he gave another name to the registrar. He said his name was William Thomas. I called him by his real name and asked him if he needed emergency food because he had just been in a few days before. We worked out the details of what he needed and went our separate ways.
Later, I saw him outside, so I went to talk to him. We started talking about the current drug scene, relapses, chances of recovery or dying. We shared a few sad stories.
Unfortunately, it is a story that many have told. He is addicted to fentanyl; his life has blown up, and he wants to quit. He asked me to pray for him, so I did. The good news is that he has a May 5th date to enter rehab. The scary news is that between now and May 5th could be a lifetime. It is so easy to die.
It happened that at the next Pantry two days later, Tony, a guy who works with a Harm Reduction group, unexpectedly came in. I told him about the young man and asked if he could offer any help. And because this is just how the Holy Spirit works, in walks the young man. I introduced him to Tony, and they talked for a while and made some plans. As the young man was leaving, he hugged me and said, “I don’t know why you love me, but I know you do.” He then said, “I won’t let you down.” I reminded him that this isn’t about me; rather, this is all about him. He agreed and gave me another big hug and said, “I won’t let ME down.” I don’t know if he will keep the appointment with Tony but the desire to do so is where the hope lives.
Later a friend of mine posted a quote on Facebook that resonated with the way I felt about this moment:
“As followers of Christ, we are called to be midwives of the new creation, not gatekeepers of the old one.” To act as a midwife is to be the intermediary that waits and watches as another labors, to hold onto hope as it is born and then to share in the excitement as hope is being realized. I know that this young man has a very hard and dangerous road ahead of him, but I must say, this encounter left me feeling as though I had helped midwife a new birth of hope, both in him and in me.
He trusted me with his story because I listened, because I shared with him my own sacred story, and because he believed my love. He trusted that love.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about trust. Individually and culturally, we are taught not to trust others. We are taught that others must earn our trust and they do this by doing what we believe is the right thing to do. It recently occurred to me that is not the way that Jesus did it.
Trust is a funny thing. I remember too clearly telling one or more of the many children I helped raise that they had broken my rule (aka my trust) and that they would have to earn it back.
How many times have you heard someone say or maybe you even said, “I should never have trusted them.”
When we say that we trust someone, it means that we believe they will not hurt us. If they do hurt us, we withdraw our emotions to protect ourselves from being hurt again. There are moments of broken trust even in good relationships. Recovery of that brokenness is based upon how much we open ourselves to forgiving, to working through the hurt, to being vulnerable, or trusting ourselves not to inflict hurt upon another again.
If we attempt to BE trustworthy rather than thinking we need to trust someone, what difference would that make? If there was no level of reciprocity, that our desire was only to be trusted, what might that change?
I think that being a midwife must be a bit like being a good shepherd. At least, in watching Call the Midwife, the midwives are more concerned for the well-being of their patients, both the mother and the new baby. They are that calm presence.
The sheep hear their shepherd's voice. They know that voice. They trust the shepherd because she takes care of them, being there when they need her, making sure they have food and water, that they are as safe as possible.
The shepherd carries a crook because sheep do not always do as the shepherd wants. The crook is used to help the wayward sheep back into the fold, to rescue a sheep that has fallen, or even to ward off predators. The shepherd cares for them steadfastly, unconditionally with no judgment for the one that strays off.
A shepherd puts the needs of the flock before self. The shepherd’s interest is only for the safety and well being of the sheep.
We do not need to be the Gatekeeper. That job is already taken and it is not ours. Yet, what if we become a good shepherd in our own lives? What if our purpose is the wellbeing and safety of others rather than expecting them to earn our trust or to live up to our expectations of how they should act?
Our world today is packed with thieves and bandits – false leaders – in corporations, in politics, in government, in our churches, all causing us to distrust. Too many are there for profits first and collateral damage does not matter. The collateral damage equals all those whose lives have been altered due to gun or drug violence, environmental injustice, poverty, and all the “isms” used by oppressive factions to control the majority. The whims of a few determine the fate of many.
In the Acts of the Apostles it is written, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
We are called into community, into like minds, with our hearts set on God, caring for all whatever the need. Just like the Apostles –
– Spending time together praying, breaking bread together, in all things possessing glad and generous hearts, always praising God, and having the goodwill of all the people as our work.
And as they did these things, “ … day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Jesus “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Abundant Life is the opposite of society’s status quo. When the status quo supports oppression, the peacemaker is called to challenge it. Jesus challenges the status quo continually as should we as followers of Jesus.
We as a people born into a capitalistic nation have forgotten that we are a part of God’s creation. In this greedy dog eat dog, I-me-mine world where to win is profit and to profit is to win, competition is about being better, smarter, faster than the others in the contest. Theologically, we focus on what we perceive to be another person’s sin or lack more than we do the abundance of God’s love for all, for any who have need.
As a result, we treat the gifts of one another and this earth as less than sacred. We do not trust one another to love the way God loves us. ... For God so loved the world … In fact, most of us are quite certain that the fellow next to us does not care at all about us much less love us. Truth be told, most of us probably feel the same. I doubt that people in Jesus’ time trusted one another anymore than we do. Yet, that has always been Jesus’ message. Love.
Jesus didn’t ask people to trust him. He didn’t tell people that he trusted them. He simply trusted and shared God’s love and continued to talk about that love.
Jesus did not come to set rules and regulations for us to follow or else be thrown into hell fire. Jesus came to show us how to be liberated, how to free ourselves from the oppression, and that to trust in the love and faith of God alone is the only thing necessary. With this, all other things fall into place.
Faith is our spiritual understanding that God exists and is with us always. Faith leads to Trust. It is in God’s love that trust is born. If we believe that God’s love is steadfast, unconditional, always with us, all that matters is that love. It is not something we earn; it is through God’s grace that Love is always there. We don’t earn love and we don’t earn trust. We simply love and we simply trust.
We do not have to know or understand why God loves us. We just need to know that God does love us, each of us, everyone of us, steadfastly, unconditionally, just because that is why we are here. Love. It is all there is.
It is in that love that we become midwives or good shepherds of a new creation born in love to be loved and to love in turn.