…To live to the point of tears. - Albert Camus
We all have a story about how we came to be who we are. That story is made up of many thousands of smaller stories: An origin story; stories of struggle and triumph; stories of love; found and broken friendship; gaining faith, losing it & finding something simpler and stronger in the aftermath.
We bear stories of unbearable loss and stories of sudden moments of insight and waking up. Times when we failed to stand up for what we know is right and moments of courage and conviction.
Each of our stories are open works
. Still being written. Still discovering what is possible. Learning and unlearning and trying again. It keeps us on the edge of our seats!
Stories certainly shape us but not all stories are create equal: when I met my wife, when I celebrate the birth of one of our children, when I understood, for the first time, faith, God, and the biblical story in a whole new way. Or became a Quaker. Those are stories I return to again and again. Those were all “mirco-conversions
” in my life. Moments where my story jumped tracks and headed down a new or different path.
Looking back, many of these conversions come through the deep, and sometimes challenging, conversations with friends, colleagues, family members, and even strangers. Sometimes they came through a gentle suggestion or a simple, yet profound question that provided the opening.
How do we grow? What waters the seeds of God within?
I use the shorthand convers(at)ions
for thinking about this that has never caught on with anyone else - for good reason - but has stuck with me. 😉 In this view, conversions and conversations are intertwined and this interplay names a participatory dynamic where real change can happen. Any conversation, if we are open enough could be itself be a point of turning. If we listen carefully enough to allow ourselves to be changed by the stories and actions of another then conversation can become conversion.
Conversations can also be experiential. Watching something unfold, feeling something in our body, taking part in a revolution - even one without words - is a dialogue between other viewpoints. It is a conversation between what I known, who I am in the present, and how this new experience, new truth, new friendship opens me up - perhaps even through a broken heart - what I have known.
How did you grow? What has water the seeds of change and revolution in your own life?
What has led you here when you could be over there? Why do you believe what you believe now and not something completely incommensurate with your current state of mind?
These are questions a good friend asked me recently and I continue to contemplate and wrestle with. Not only do I want to understand what has “watered the seeds of God within me,” but I also want to know how to remain open. And how to help others remain open as well.
The Church is a Church of and for the Poor
I want to share one part of my life about how the seeds of God were watered within me and how I came to understand the role of the church as a church of and for the poor.
My parents were divorced when I was young (I was a 1 year old). I lived with my mom and step-dad growing up, though I visited my dad and step-mom every other weekend. For most of my growing up my mom’s side of the family was poor, working class. They worked hard but the jobs they had access to were at best lower middle class jobs. After my step-father’s terrible car accident in the early 90s, he was no longer able to work. The 8 of us lived on his social security check, with my mom finding odd jobs to help make ends meet. When we got old enough, my brothers and I got jobs and helped buy groceries, toiletries, and pay rent.
We struggled financially as so many families in this country do. It was not uncommon to have lean cupboards and to scrap the bottom of the checkbook. As my friend Ron says, “when the end of the paycheck comes faster than the end of the month.” As a kid you don’t necessarily know or understand the extent to which your parents struggled. They tried to shield us from a lot, but looking back I see that there were clearly very hard times. I honor my parents for what they went through, how they carried themselves in all of this, and all we learned through this experience. Even though we’re taught in America to think of poverty as something shameful, I completely reject that. I am grateful to have grown up how we did and see how the seeds of God were being watered throughout this time.
This is where I pinpoint one key convers(at)ion: the church is a church for the poor. There were numerous Christmas’ where the Catholic Church we were a part of provided Christmas gifts for me and my siblings. I remember as a kid thinking there would be no gifts under the Christmas tree and waking up to the surprise of more than enough for everyone. Seeing my parents’ faces in those moments leaves an impression. Later, there were other times that the elders of a non-denominational church in town we attended paid bills or our mortgage when they heard our house was being foreclosed on. One final, favorite memory was working with my uncle who ran a food distribution center through a large church in Canton, Ohio. We worked with the poor and homeless there, got to know their names and stories, and shared groceries with them. Seeing my uncle interact with these people who had become his friends was powerful. As was the fact that afterwards, we could select groceries we need to take home for our family too.
All of these experiences are woven together in my story. No one ever said the words “the church is a church of and for the poor,” nor did anyone teach me to read the Bible through the eyes of the poor, but I learned how to do that implicitly and experientially. I learned that the church was to be a place that takes care of its people, especially those who were vulnerable. Later these seeds would grow and be watered as I met so many others who could help me articulate for myself these things in clear and more theological ways.
What’s a story for your own life where seeds of revolution, love, and change are all woven together and paved the way for where and who you are today?