Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Love is Why I do what I do.
This is the written copy of the talk I was asked to give at the JVC Re-Orientation retreat that happened this past weekend.
When first asked to give a talk on social justice I kept asking myself the same question; why am I involved in social justice issues? And as I’ve come to find out in the past five months the answer is quite clear; it is for the people.
One of my favorite quotes is from the book Jesus for President, by an author many of you are probably familiar with; Shane Claiborne. He says, “the tragedy today is not that the rich don’t care about the poor, it’s that the rich don’t know the poor.”
In my job, getting to know my clients on a more personal level was one of the most important things for me. I work at a place called the Beans and Bread Outreach Center, which is a homeless day shelter. There I am a case worker, meaning I meet with 8 clients per day and try to assist them in whatever they’re looking for; clothing, housing, employment, health care, substance abuse treatment, etc. During my first week there my boss sat me down and said very bluntly, “you are not going to be able to help everyone, don’t expect to.” While that stung my unrealistic belief that as a JV I was going to save the world, the next bit of advice was even more profound for me.
“But if you want to make a difference, treat every client with the respect you would anyone else, look them in the eye, listen to their story, and give them a smile. These are things they won’t get from anyone else in their day.”
I have tried to do that with every client, no matter how frustrating they are to work with, and I have seen the difference in the way they act around me and me around them. They come to me at their most vulnerable, and without knowing anything about me besides my name, they trust me.
One of my clients is Mr. Fleming. After I’m done working each time with him he always says the same thing to me. “You looking out for me?” Of course Mr. Fleming. “You got my back?” I got your back. “You’re my man.” And every time he says that I almost start laughing because I start thinking of the movie Rain Man and totally ruin the moment. R-I-C-K, my main man.
But why does he, or any of my other clients trust me? In the several times I’ve met with him all I’ve done was get him on a couple housing waiting lists and get him a couple of cell phones. He is still homeless, and probably will be for quite a while. It would seem that I have done next to nothing for him.
The reason I treat my clients the way I do, the reason I’m doing JVC can really be simplified to a single word: Love. We express our love by our actions in every day life, with everyone we encounter.But what is maybe even more important in my daily interactions with my clients is the love that they show me. They know that I will not be able to solve all of their problems for them, but out of love they come to meet with me, and trust that I really do have their best interests at heart. I don’t know about you, but this is something that I cannot do easily with someone I just met. It’s both inspiring and humbling, and allows me to see the best in people.
But it is important for us to make sure love does not just become a word without meaning. We can not simply tell people that we love them, we must show them. This love ties back to our faith. Our faith is love based, the love Jesus had for everyone and everything. Our faith is also action based. If our faith is to be defined by the way we live our lives, and the actions we take, then our love must be as well.
This love is our blessing and our curse. It is our curse because it will stick with us forever. There’s no going back to the life I led before I got involved with social justice issues, no matter how much I wish I could at times. I will not leave JVC on my last day, walk out of my office and forget about my clients, or the many issues they are facing. I care about them too much. We can not see people we care about suffering and not do anything, it is unforgivable. I hate to be the most cliche JV of all time, but this love has ruined us for life.
But this love is also a blessing because, again, it will stick with us forever. We will dedicate our lives out of love to serving the poor, and in turn, to serving God. We will become one with the poor in spirit. We will realize that what we’re working for are not only political issues, or social issues, but ultimately, people issues. We will suffer with the marginalized in their hardships, and celebrate with them in their triumphs. We will come together to work with people who are, as we’re slowly realizing, quite similar to us, to work towards common goals, a common future. Love is our motivation, our guide, our direction, to serving God and serving others, and becoming one with them.