“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” -Dorothy Day
Few people, especially in my generation, can say that they've been part of the same church for over 26 years. I'm proud to say that I'm in that category. I grew up in the church of which I am now the Youth Pastor, and even while I was in college in LA (the only period of time when I've ever lived anywhere else) I still attended my church in Ramona pretty regularly. Going to the same church for that long is bound to shape you a bit, it's at least long enough for it to get its finger prints on you.
As I look forward to our move to New Jersey for seminary, I am thinking about the ways in which I have (and have not) been shaped by the legacy of FCC Ramona. I think I can credit some of my balance and my openness to the church, as well as my theological identity confusion. Perhaps the greatest legacy that this church has instilled in me, a value that I sometimes worry we're on the verge of losing, is our reckless abandon in serving others. It's not that we don't think about how we are serving... in fact, we put a lot of thought into how we can meet the needs of others. But, in the past, our discernment has not been an obstacle. We've never been so "careful" about deciding who to serve, who deserves our compassion, that we actually end up withholding it. We have had our moments, of course, and I think that a lot of churches can get stuck in a pattern of over-thinking their mission. We can get so overwhelmed by the need around us that we become complacent and stingy, spending so much time trying to figure out who is deserving of our help that we forget to actually help them.
It's true that there will always be people who take advantage of you... that's part of the vulnerability of the cross. But, as Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” If we believe the gospel proclamation that we are all one in Christ, that God is present and in solidarity with the poor regardless of what they've done or how they ended up in their situation, then our concern is no longer of their merit but of their need. God's economy is not one where everyone gets what they deserve, it's one where everyone gets what they need.
George MacDonald said, "Love is the opener as well as closer of eyes." When we embrace love as our chief conviction then our eyes are open to the needs of those around us but they're closed to the record of wrongs that gets in the way of our ambition to serve. We become blind as to the deservingness of others and utterly open to the affirmation of their humanity.
Jesus was reckless in his service. He fed the hungry simply because they needed food, he healed the sick only because they needed healing, gave sight to the blind just so they could see. He didn't require a screening or an application. His love gave him the freedom to serve and to leave the judgement of the deserving up to God. May we embrace the same kind of freedom, the freedom to give compassion freely and to serve according to need rather than virtue or merit.
It's times like these that get us reflective on our own lives. We pause and take stock of the story God is telling the world through us. You are at the point of leaving/arriving... Changes are coming. Who are you as you enter the whirlwind of change.
Here is a strange phenom for you to consider. When you arrive in NJ, amid the blur of new faces that you meet, a face here and there will stand out. Your mind will trigger a recognition that tells you, "This person in this new place looks, acts, sounds like so-n-so from back home...." It is part of the psychological condition normally called "homesick", though it does not mean you are experiencing it at debilitating degrees.
You are well grounded in the power of love... in loving those known as hard to love or even "unlovable". You are sent out to develop along that line. I am confident that you will be shaped even in that part of your identity, meaning change is coming. However, I am also sure that you are well grounded enough that more shaping does not mean you will stop loving the unlovable and those for whom it is a challenge.
Who knows, you may be the premere Love-a-biggot/redneck-minister on the other end of this move. That would be a twist! But it would be a proper possible shape for you at the other end of this process. But time and God will write that story, not me.
I merely want to bless you and encourage you as you go. You are an important minister with a loving heart. I pray for you and that God raise up more to join the cause.
Blessings from Texas...
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