Skip to main content

beyond faithfulness

I have been reading Gregory Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart.  It is filled with stories from the Catholic priest's twenty years of working with gang members in central LA, an area known for its high concentration of gang-related murders.  The stories of founding Homeboy Industries and offering gang members an alternative lifestyle are inspiring, funny, touching, and they garner my deep respect for all that Boyle and his staff and volunteers do for their community.  And the love and patience with which they do it.  But as poignant as the stories are, I don't totally identify with them.  After all, gang life in central LA is pretty far removed from theology studies in Montreal. 

And then I came to the chapter called "Success."  And things got close to home real fast. Boyle begins with these words:  "People want me to tell them success stories.  I understand this.  They are the stories you want to tell, after all.  So why does my scalp tighten whenever I am asked this?  Surely, part of it comes from being utterly convinced that I'm a fraud."  Yes, indeed.  Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization, relies on funding to meet its operating budget (about 1/3 of the funds come from their businesses which employ ex-gang members: businesses like a cafĂ©, a bakery, a screen-printing shop, a graffiti removal crew, etc.).  And funders like to see evidence-based outcomes; in other words, success stories.  Boyle goes on to tell stories with heartbreaking endings, stories where gang members take one step forward and two back, stories where innocent bystanders catch bullets, stories where mothers are undone with grief and small children are left motherless.  They are not pleasant stories and yet, they need to be told. 

Boyle quotes Mother Teresa:  "We are not called to be successful, but faithful."  And this distinction, he writes, is necessary to weather the ebb and flow of his vocation, and I would add, of life.  Boyle continues: "If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God's business.  I find it hard enough to just be faithful."  And here is where it gets really real for me.  I spar with the "results and outcomes" monster fairly regularly, and though he bloodies my nose on occasion, he usually loses the fight.  However, faithfulness, whom I have long considered a close friend and ally, seems to have become distant in the past few months.  I carry guilt over my lack of diligence in my schoolwork, fret over my lack of consistent writing, chide myself over my slowness to tackle a reading list, feel numb about my lack of self-discipline in prayer, and struggle with small doubts about my ability to teach, my worthiness as a scholar, my desirability as a wife, and my ability to effectively assume a leading role in a faith community.  At times life doesn't feel like success, and I'm okay with that.  But if I lose a grip on faithfulness...

"Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel," Boyle says. "Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified - whichever came first."  This slipping of faithfulness, then, however big or small it may be (and I realize in the grand scheme of things mine is rather small), has opened up an unlikely opportunity for me: to stand with the faithless and say, "I know" instead of standing in judgment and saying, "I'm disappointed."  As long as I can remember, I have stood on the side of the faithful and never on the side of the faithless.  Aside from very brief moments, I have never felt the guilt, the powerlessness, the fatigue, the inertia.  All Jesus asks, Father Boyle suggests, is "Where are you standing?"  Today, I am standing in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar place, the place of the less than faithful.  Perhaps it is a place of greater grace than I previously thought.  Perhaps it is a place to identify with (instead of look down on) the "difficult and belligerent."  Perhaps it is a place to witness the "slow work of God" from the inside.  It is no surprise that even here, I find Jesus standing with me saying, "I know." 

Comments

David Gosselin said…
yeah, numbers, those converted are all old school "great commission" stuff... passé. Who can see into the human heart after all? Do you know a person that can see a human heart. We can guess... We can say a lot, but in the end, talk is cheap...
Shelley said…
I love this book...and today I really needed the reminder, so thanks Matte. When I get focused on success I very quickly get discouraged, and discouragement erodes my faithfulness in a big way...like water in sand...

So thanks.

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

lessons from a theological memoir and a television series about lawyers

It's a hot Wednesday afternoon, so let's talk about false binaries. Basically, a false binary or false dichotomy happens when a person's options are artificially limited to two choices, thereby excluding all other possibilities. Insisting on the limited choice of either A or B leaves no room for middle ground or another, more creative solution. In other words, a false binary assumes the rest of the alphabet (after A and B) does not exist.

Binary thinking is quite prevalent in our society. Either you are for me or against me. Either you are guilty or innocent. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. Either you are a Christian or a pagan. Either you are all in or all out. Admittedly, it is convenient to see things as either black or white, but we live in a multi-coloured world and not everything fits neatly into two categories. This is why insisting there are only two choices when, in fact, other options exist, is labeled as a fallacy in logic an…