I recently finished Sara Miles’ excellent new book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. Sara chronicles her surprising mid-life transformation from atheist to Christian and her calling to establish a food pantry in one of San Francisco’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Passionately committed to the unconditional welcome of Jesus’ Table, Sara and her food pantry volunteers embrace schizophrenics, drug addicts, little children, ex-cons, and sweet old ladies alike. One particular section of the book has really stuck with me:
So I’d sit down next to people and let them talk or cry; I’d listen and put my hands on them; at some point, I’d pray aloud, without really knowing where the words were coming from. It felt homey, not mysterious. But it usually made me cry too…
If my carefully calibrated difference from others wasn’t going to be the vitally important thing about me, then my identity was going to be bound up with all kinds of other people at their most vulnerable and unattractive…
It was my own weakness, my own confusion and hunger; it was everything I couldn’t be sophisticated and together about. Of course I was going to weep, and pray, with her.
I keep going over Sara’s phrase in my mind – “if my carefully calibrated difference wasn’t going to be the vitally important thing about me…” Wow. Is that difference (or illusion of difference) something I’m willing to give up? My job at an elementary school gives me the opportunity to connect with and offer support to struggling families.
Of course I believe that God loves all people equally regardless of their choices or circumstances. And I want to encourage and show kindness to people facing serious challenges. I care about people whose lives are messy and dysfunctional and I want to help them. But give up my carefully calibrated difference? Allow my identity to be bound up with theirs?
What I really want is to care and to connect, but to still be different. What I really want is to say “I’m high-functioning and you are low-functioning, but that’s OK, I still love you anyway.” What I really want is to pretend that because I am a middle-class married woman with a respectable family background that my life isn’t messy too. I want to say to the mentally ill and high school drop-outs and the folks living in generational poverty “I value you” but I don’t want to say “we are the same kind of people.”
Jesus, change my heart.