Show Up

"Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor, Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek, And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing In the trees in the silence of the fisherman And the heron, and the trees that keep the land They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die." – Wendell Berry

Perhaps the most damning mark against Millennials—especially younger Millennials—is our reputation for flaking out on commitments. Multiple factors contribute to the general truth that when you’re making plans with a Millennial, there’s a good chance that they’ll fail to show up whether they’ve made a commitment or not. Included in these factors are FOMO (fear of missing out), economic anxiety, overwork and difficult to anticipate work schedules, and the ephemeral nature of plans made via text message or a Facebook invite, among others. Whatever the case may be, Millennials have a problem with showing up.

Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, who we call 'Lord.' If that's true then the question is, how do we expect to be formed as Disciples?

This is the first rule of Christian Discipleship: show up.

It is probably obvious that the words disciple and discipline are related. In order to become disciples we have to have discipline. More than that, we have to be disciplined.

Progressive Evangelical forms of Christianity in America, seeking to avoid the gravity of the word "discipline" have invented the neologism "discipled," as in, "I was discipled at The Radical Non-denominational Satellite Church of the New Covenant." But this cute trick of language misses the true relationship that must be developed in community if we are to be formed as Disciples of Christ.

Referring to discipline here, I'm not talking about harsh treatment or some kind of overly strict regimen which coerces someone into behavior they otherwise wouldn't engage in. Like grace, discipleship isn't the outcome of a formula. I'm talking about showing up: in community, in relationship, in service.

In community, showing up means acting like you belong to the place you meet your neighbors. Belonging means recognizing that a place may not be set up to give you anything, but it will form something new in you if you show up. Showing up means that being a mere spectator falls short of the demand of your place. Showing up means acknowledging that your place belongs to you as much as you belong to it.

In relationship, showing up means recognizing people who have traveled down the road a bit further than you and asking them to tell you what lies ahead. Showing up means looking over your shoulder and beckoning toward people on the path behind. Showing up means walking arm-in-arm, supporting people on the path with you. Showing up in relationship means living into the truth that two people have a claim on one another—they belong to one another.

In Christian mission showing up means arriving for service not just when it's convenient, not just once in awhile, but over and over again. Showing up means coming together with those who serve and those who are served to make a place together. Showing up regularly and sharing space with others is what transforms a space into a place and forms people as friends. A place, once made, forms the community that shows up there.

Discipleship flows naturally out of the disciplined practice of regularly sharing space, breaking bread, and giving ourselves to place. But first we have to show up.

Circuit Rider

My boss, Ryan Taylor, and I had an opportunity to contribute to this quarter’s issue of Circuit Rider, which takes on the theme of preaching and serving from the margins. In a piece called “Becomming Poor and Finding Friendship on the Margins,” we write about what it means to offer hospitality to our homeless friends at Network Coffee House.

To an outsider, the work of extending hospitality at Network Coffee House may appear to be no work at all. That is not to say, it looks easy. Instead, it may literally appear to an outsider that social justice work among marginalized individuals is not taking place. The hospitality that we create together with our guests at Network cannot be painted on a canvas, captured on video, or advertised on social media.

Similarity & Difference

Check out the rest of Logan’s series on friendship.

I left off exploring the concept of friendship last time with Buber’s observation, “All real living in a meeting.” We investigated friendship as a concept that has no measurable object but itself, a continuous process of becoming, and as a relationship which contains freedom, joy, and affection within mutual responsibility and solidarity.

Similarity

Normally, we think of friendship as a matrix of shared experience and interests. Throw in a chance meeting and you’ve got a friendship. A quote from one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity, captures this:

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films, these things matter. Call me shallow, it’s the fuckin’ truth.”

It would be easy to cast this sentiment aside as unserious, except I think it sketches around the edge of a fundamental truth: it is impossible to encounter the fullness of another person. Books, records, films, these things can suggest who another person “really” is—and it's how we "really" meet each other.

Remember our short look at Martin Buber’s concept of ‘Thou’ in the previous post? With this language he’s suggesting another person is totally other. Buber wants to say there is a transcendent quality to a human being that is impossible to approach.[^1] Even to make the attempt to meet “what you are like” is folly when we do not first recognize the constraints of language and limited human understanding. Perhaps the best we can do is to approach the Thou of another person through manifestations of our similarities. Encountering and acknowledging this unbridgeable gulf is the basis of relationship based on freedom, mutual responsibility, and a process of becoming.

But this only partially meets our definition of friendship. If we’re content to define friendship through mutual interest, we miss a deeper understanding of friendship based not on similarity, but difference. It is difference which drives friendship as a site of action where need and desire are joined.[^2]

Difference

Shelley Jackson writes of the power of difference in friendship through the metaphor of a book: “A book, like a friendship, has two sides.” Jackson says that these two sides are “you and me” or “author and reader.” The power of the relationship between the two sides comes directly out of their difference. The desire for that which is out of reach of both the reader’s understanding and the author’s ability to express holds the two sides together in a mutual process of difference and togetherness.[^3] The same is true of friendship. We seek to express who we really are (what we are like) through our friendships. We seek to know another person, and ourselves. Through this process we come to know a bit of God—the divine sustaining center which makes friendship possible in the first place, the first thing we all share. We fall short, but the infinite qualitative distinction[^4] between ourselves, the other, and God stokes our desire and compels us to continue searching.

Meeting difference in another person is what drives our desire to continue the process of friendship’s becoming. Difference is also what makes solidarity possible. It fills out our definition of friendship. Most importantly, moments of reconciliation within difference are where we experience joy.[^5]

In an upcoming post, I will more deeply investigate mutual responsibility and solidarity as basic requirements for the fullness of friendship generating freedom and joy in those who constitute the relationship.

All Real Living is a Meeting

Check out the rest of Logan's series on friendship.

Through conversation over the past week, I've been led to continue reflecting on the concept of encounter that I touched on in my previous post, Encountering Poverty. Specifically, I will look into the concept of friendship and how it functions practically, philosophically, and theologically as a relationship. This will be a multi-post exploration, and I thank you for humoring me.


The word friendship shares etymologies with the word "freedom" in English, "freude" (joy) in German, and "philia" (affectionate love) in Romance languages and Greek.

For the sake of illumination, let's take a longer look at "philia." Philia is defined by Aristotle as, "wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one's own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him."[^1] Discussing the same, John M. Cooper writes, “the central idea of philia is that of doing well by someone for his own sake, out of concern for him (and not, or not merely, out of concern for oneself).”[^2] It is important to note, in both of these examples philia is directed toward and concerned with the other over the self.

With this etymological understanding in mind, friendship is not merely affection, but a relationship which contains freedom, joy, and affection within mutual responsibility and solidarity.

Becoming

The edges of friendship are fuzzy and imprecise. Friendship is fundamentally a relationship of becoming. Svetlana Boym writes that friendship is not an object of analysis but a process. It is a process of coming to know the self, another person, and the boundaries of a relationship. Roland Barthes calls it a “miraculous crystallization of presence." Friendship is a site of action where need an desire are joined.

The process of friendship is always imprecise and non-prescriptive. It opens into the universal and cannot be wedged into preconceived models or easily understood tactics of marketing, mission, or outreach. Rather than a relationship of increasing closeness and a fusion of individuals, friendship defies symbols of fulfillment. Instead, friendship has no measureable object but friendship itself—the continuous development of two people into a life where friendship is more and more possible. The only goal of friendship is its own continuous becoming and the becoming of its constituents as selves.

When this process ends, we say people have "fallen out" of friendship.[^3]

Thou

Martin Buber traced the full weight of friendship in his formation of the relationship between I (one, as an individual person) and Thou (another person). For Buber, to relate to another person is to become a person, a self, an "I." And as a person becomes more and more a self, she likewise increasingly understands that another person is himself an "I." But Buber goes beyond the impoverished, individualistic understanding of "I" we commonly hold.

Buber reveals that to relate to another person is to relate to the divinity of that person—her total otherness and transcendent quality as a human being. Another person is not "you," or "they." She is "Thou."[^4] Only this formulation of friendship can contain the fullness of freedom, joy, and affection within the bounds of mutuality, responsibility, and solidarity.

Truly and freely encountering another as a friend rules out coercion, violence, utility, and possession.

It is with this understanding that we will continue our investigation of friendship. And throughout the series, we shall keep in mind Buber's poetic wisdom: "All real living is a meeting."[^5]

  • [^1]: Nicomachean Ethics, 1380b36–1381a2
  • [^2]: "Friendship and the Good." The Philosophical Review
  • [^3]: Svetlana Boym's reflections on friendship play heavily into the previous two paragraphs. I found out today that she died on the 5th of this month after a year of living with cancer. I am thankful for her and her work: “Scenography of Friendship,” Cabinet Magazine
  • [^4]: The Christian theological tradition formulates this as the Image of God (or Imago Dei) in every person.
  • [^5]: I and Thou

Encountering Homelessness

Check out the rest of Logan's series on friendship.

Working at Network Coffeehouse, the goal is to be friendly. Christians being friendly; that’s what Network is. That’s what we do.

Sounds pretty simple, but oddly this makes answering questions about what you do a little challenging. The never-ending question that follows after I’ve explained this is, “Do you have success getting people off the street?” or “What do you do to help people get off the street?” or “How many people get off the street there?”

People want to hear about goals and a narrative of meeting those goals. Numbers tell a surface-level story that is easily accessed, digested, and understood.[^1] Goals and mission statements are a narrative about what an organization will do. It’s a pitch. We then act within that story to conform to the pre-constructed narrative.

But Network is about encounter. Narrative—our attempt to construct meaning—only occurs after encounter has already taken place.[^2] John Hicks, the guy who founded Network, says, “We are friends with real-life poor people.” Friendship takes encountering another person and opening yourself up enough to be encountered by someone else.

The second part, opening your heart to another, is the really hard part. Ryan Taylor, the co-director of Network, has been saying for a few months that a major part of coming to Network as staff or a volunteer is encountering the beggar within you. When you serve the poor, especially at a place like Network where the distracting varnish of goals and pre-set narrative is nonexistent, you will encounter parts of yourself you otherwise try to ignore: racism, prejudice, anger, sadness, loss, loneliness. Every shift I run at Network I meet myself at my very best and my most callous, passionless worst—sometimes in the exact same interaction.

In a nutshell, I found myself saying this at a professional networking event last night. Let me tell you, people looked at me like I was a crazy person. This, too, reveals our poverty. Our unwillingness or inability to encounter a person beyond a narrow narrative constrained by success and failure is a kind of societal violence we participate in without even thinking about it. We minimize each other and ourselves when we fail to encounter each other fully.

Pay attention. It’s the only currency that matters.

  • [^1]: Kierkegaard calls this “glittering externality.”
  • [^2]: Narrative often (always?) functions as a way to gain power over our experiences or the experiences and actions of others.

Barcelona

I had a dream last night in which all of my favorite people from Vanderbilt, including professors, met in Barcelona. We were in Barcelona for one night for a long dinner. This dream was not in color but the table was lit by the warm glow of candlelight. Somehow everyone fit around one table and even though it was very large everyone could participate in a single conversation. My friend's faces were radiant, happy, loving. We ate and drank and laughed. We talked about theology and art and life and I woke up crying.

Shut Up, Grace

It’s amazing how quickly my stupid mouth listens to my stupid brain. Especially when it comes to the reduction of the other. Especially especially when social media gets involved.

This morning, I had a Twitter conversation with a friend. First note: don't do that. Twitter has practically no room for nuance, it isn't built that way, so trying to say something meaningful to another person is going to be difficult. Second note: if you're going to do that, you better put on your generosity pants, because it's gonna get real at some point. Because of the first thing.

It started with an observation, went quickly to debate, and then at some point I stopped recognizing my friend as someone I loved and replaced that person with the image of someone out to get me, out to hurt me. I responded in kind by lashing out with non-sequitur jabs and a childish, reactionary stance. I was called out for it, realized my error, apologized, and now we're good (so you can stop holding your breath).

It immediately struck me how quick I'd been to go low, to strike out at someone I care for out of a sense of self-protection and hurt. It's an old, old story. We all know it by heart. So why do we keep participating in it, keep propagating it? Because we're broken. Because life is a turd sandwich. Because it's easy to scowl at the taste of it and forget how wonderful our loving relationships with others can be when we let them fill us with their intrinsic beauty and worth.

This is the cycle of grace. We harm, are convicted of our wrong, are loved regardless, and feel the urge to love better and more fully despite knowing exactly how we will harm again. The scary truth is, this cycle has the potential to play out countless times per day. I went through the whole thing before 10 a.m. But this is our duty and privilege when it comes to those we encounter: see them for who they are, not for how they benefit you, not for how they might wound you, and not for how you perceive your wounds or their part in them. I forgot that for a few minutes with someone who matters greatly to me when I made them "less than" by guarding myself with mean-spirited humor. I did it in the guise of attacking their argument, when I was clearly attacking them. We are people, and this is what we do. Knowing that we do it will not keep us from it. So we trust in grace to move us forward, deep into the arms of the other who can smile and forgive and show us the love we could not, would not, show.

Take care of each other, folks. And when you don't, try again.

Public Disagreement

I hesitate to call it an argument, but Mark and I had a little disagreement in public the other day. That is, I disagreed with something he posted on Facebook and instead of rolling over he spoke back like the good bearded fellow he is. It went back and forth a few times and we reached a kind of consensus about what we disagreed about and why.

Posting what follows may come across as an exercise in self-aggrandizement or navel gazing, but that isn't how it's intended. We agreed that it may stand as an example civil argument in public, where friendship is assumed and the intellectual foundations of the other's argument is sound.

Okay, so that sounds a lot like self-aggrandizement, but hang with us here.

In the wake of the April 16th bombing of the Boston marathon, Mark posted:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world." - Fred Rogers

With all the pain and horror I see on the videos coming out of Boston, I am still struck as I'm following the coverage by the people who, seconds after the first blast, rushed into the unknown, tore down the metal barricades with their own hands, and ran to help their screaming, hurt, and afraid brothers and sisters.

Mark then posted a statement by comedian Patton Oswalt:

"Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, 'Well, I've had it with humanity.'

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"

And...

This is where our exchange began. It is posted below in its entirety.

Logan: Oswalt argues that "we" are innocent and only the people twisted toward darkness are guilty -- that is until the innocent "wash away" the "evil doers" at some ideal time in the future and we all live in peace. That's nice, but it isn't true. He's a lot more like his enemy George W. Bush than he'd like to admit, I think. Exact same worldview. Two sides of the same coin.

Mark: I don't think he's saying that at all, really. And if you think that, we're reading his quote in very different ways. I'm not saying that he isn't more ideological than he might want to admit, but then again I don't think he's naive enough to argue what you're attributing him. I think what he's saying here acknowledges that there will always be those who wish to hurt and hate, but he's choosing to believe that those instincts/choices won't be able to undermine the good humanity can do.

If you asked Patton, "will we all one day live in peace, will the good conquer the bad forever," I highly doubt he'd say yes. Rather, since he and I and you can look to analogies like comics, I think he would tell you to look at Batman. The good will keep on doing the work of the good, but the work is never done. This is an idea you can't attribute to Bush, who I believe did think in terms of black and white, and that with enough force one would be gone. And frankly, I think bringing the politics that Patton puts out there is a a bit of a non sequitur; when I read his words here on hope and the idea that humanity can be more, and is more, then you might as well take issue with Tolkien and Christ who don't always do a perfect job of dealing with the gray of life.

I'm not saying that Oswalt isn't at times, even often, guilty of some of the same political fallacies as those he rails against. But I appreciate his words here, I think they communicate a truth, and it seems a bit dismissive to take him to task without considering their full merit.

Logan: Mr. Rodgers reaction to what we're talking about here is far worthier of praise than Oswalt's, which is why I initially reacted against Oswalt's, because of their juxtaposition in your post. Rodgers leaves out the so-called two sides of good and evil entirely, focusing on those who bear up under suffering. In remaining silent on the issue of those who perpetrate the kinds of action perpetrated in Boston, he dismisses a world in which some of us are good and some of us are "evil doers," (a word Oswalt actually uses -- evil doers).

I may have projected the notion that Oswalt sees an ideal time in the future, but he clearly does see an ideal and places blame upon bad guys for our failure to reach it. It isn't surprising that he does so. It is a worldview endemic to the culture in which we live. But I think you are projecting your own nuanced view of the world into Oswalt's words.

He claims the majority stands against "darkness." That majority is cast as an army of "white" blood cells on the attack, ready to destroy the darkness of the evil doers and put the world right, utterly wiping out any pain that might have been caused (I mean, he seriously uses the words evil doers. It's impossible not to hear Will Ferrell's W. Bush when I read that word). My reaction to Oswalt is less a critique of his personal view than a reaction to the worn out structure available to us in our culture in reacting to these kinds of events. I too hope that most of humanity would not bomb people peacefully watching a sporting event. I'm willing to admit that's probably the case, though every one of us is susceptible to that option. I hope that of Americans in general too, but take a quick look at @dronestream and you'll quickly be disabused of that notion.

The thing I take issue with most of all is the idea that one individual or a few may be named in this crime and that then the innocence of the rest of us will be established. The people who run toward tragedy are to be praised. However, the idea that the rest of "us," some abstract majority, might also be essentially good doesn't help me sleep at night.

Mark: I think you're missing the forest for the trees, Logan.

What was this quote about, or the post it was attached to? Both speak to the idea that we are tempted to see the terrible this world has to offer and be fearful of it, even to the point where we reject humanity as a whole. This isn't about getting the proper systematic worldview laid out in a few paragraphs. This is about saying, "I could, in these times, focus on all the bad humanity can bring. But rather, (and this is where I feel you ought to give the Oswalt quote more grace) I can say I'm wrong to see that alone. I should think of those who want it to be different."

Are people perfect? Never. Do we all exist in a gray area, moving between the potential for goodness and hatred a hundred times an hour? Of course we do, because we're human. But that doesn't stop us from wanting better. What's wrong with an ideal? What's wrong with hope? The hope here is, the good in people will outweigh the bad. Also, this isn't about having more praise for the way one person sees the struggle than another.

I agree that Rogers gets more to the point more eloquently. But that doesn't mean that others, like Oswalt or those who find value in his quote, aren't striving to understand their world in terms of goodness. And it's a choice we make to do that. None of this was to say that we can permanently place ourselves on one side of a moral line. We'll obviously all find ourselves moving back and forth across lines we even set for ourselves in our own moral code. But still, when we see that which is hate and hurt, we can say "no." We can reject that. We might just as easily find ourselves betraying our own sense of right and goodness one day, but if that's the case, I hope (for me at least) that someone would look me in the eye and say "no," that someone would name my failings and give me pause. That's learning, and that's part of the journey of building a moral sense. In terms of the church, it's exactly what UM doctrine lays out. We're always moving towards a goal of perfection. And lastly, it isn't about helping you sleep at night. It's about clinging to the kernel of hope that, in the midst of the terrible and the hateful this world can offer, things can be made right if people will name and work for love. We can't sleep comfortably because things will be magically OK if enough "bad guys" are caught (that's not how the world works and you're right to name that), and words like this aren't meant to make you rest easy. They're words of action, words to remind us to seek out what's good in people, and words to (hopefully) give people courage to reject those behaviors that can't reside with love.

The best storytellers don't give us the "happily ever after," but they do give us characters who do their best to seek out what is right and stand with those who speak truth. I don't really want to argue with you, because I think we're seeing certain words in fundamentally different lights here. But I do firmly believe that, while moral certainty and the possible elimination of one moral side that could come with that doesn't exist, we can name love and goodness and set our eyes to its fulfillment to the best of our abilities. And really, that's what the initial quotations and my reasons for sharing them were all about.

Logan: I don't disagree with anything you say, Mark. But it matters how we say these things, and so I still find myself in disagreement with Oswalt. It is his last two paragraphs that color the rest. Step back from the events of yesterday for a moment and read his words. He encourages us to feel okay about violence, bigotry, intolerance, fear, misogyny, hatred, and ignorance because the majority outnumber the minority. That must feel great for the people who can do it. But it is an empty product of of our self-obsessed culture that values heroism over love. Our culture values these kinds of responses in the face of something else -- whether it is an amorphous "evil," or in service to an ill defined ideal.

The problem with the ideal is that it is set up specifically to be unreachable. If we were to reach it, meaning -- which depends upon the present deficiency from the ideal -- would crumble. I reject meaning and embrace faithful love in the face of suffering. It is amazing, inspiring, and praiseworthy that people run toward exploding bombs to help their fellows. Yes. It is absolutely praiseworthy and hope-inducing. Oswalt is right about that. But he is wrong about the forces of evil-doers and good-guys, largely because he worships our culture's gods in comics and movies instead of taking them as pulp fiction. He is also wrong about the way we should feel in the face of the death-dealing perpetrated by individuals, and misses entirely the way actions like the Boston bombings and Sandy Hook are connected to the cultural production of evil in which we are all complicit. Maybe arguing with you, my friend, is the way I'm dealing with the events of yesterday. But the forest be dammed. I think the trees matter very much.

Mark: I also agree that how we say things matters. It matters more than most things, given that language is how we do most of what we do when it comes to community. And the way I'm dealing with the events of yesterday is finding language that rejects the worst in favor of the best. I'm not saying Oswalt nails it theologically or socially, but the heart is there and it's what resonating with my own ache as I watched the video loops, refreshing ledes, and reports of casualties come in. And maybe for him, seeking to understand how humanity can make choices for a better shared life can best be explained by the very human archetypes that comics today deal in. I can't speak for him, but that's the emotion I read.

You and I agree on the problematic nature of hero-worshiping and the ease with which one could separate out "good people" from "evil people." It isn't easy. But in the first few minutes after that explosion, it was clear, if only for a short time before it became muddy and gray again. We as a culture will surely have to do some reflection, as we should be doing every time a public act of violence hits our screens. It's not okay to separate yourself from the hatred, violence, and intolerance of the world because you think it doesn't apply to you as one of the "good folk." You're right about that. But in the moments of pain, all that some of us can do is watch a forest fire blaze in its ferocity from a distance before we step in later to examine the ash, the play of cause and effect, the individual smoldering trees. I think we're just processing differently, and I'm fine with that. So yeah, the trees matter. Especially when they're words, because words matter more than lots of things. But so do the initial emotions that lead one to say "yes" to our hopes and "no" to our fears.

So...

Anyway, we both enjoyed the exchange around what is a fraught subject. I, Logan, feel a bit embarrassed for engaging the way I did originally. However, largely because of Mark's graceful response, the thread turned into a conversation worth having. This is largely because of the mutual respect Mark and I have for each other. It is a respect that should be extended to anyone with which one finds oneself in disagreement, especially in public, and especially around subjects that implicitly carry an emotional load.

We hope you enjoyed reading our dialogue.