Wednesday, April 24, 2013

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 café, 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." 

2 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.