what a lot of my missional-in-the-trenches-friends have in common

Common closeup

i’ve been walking a lot lately.  before my surgery it was the one thing that helped best with my pain and after surgery it is part of my daily re-hab & makes me the happiest.   at first i had to have friends go with me but now i can walk by myself (if someone can put on my shoes for me, ha ha).  the other night as i was walking in the cold & dark, i do what i always seem to do in those quiet moments–reflect on life & try to solve the problems of the world in less than 20 minutes.  really, though, i was taking stock of all the amazing friends i have who are doing all kinds of lovely work in the trenches with people–pastoring or cultivating different faith communities & nonprofit agencies & missional dreams, working on the streets with homeless friends, caring for orphans, working with the elderly and mental & physical disabilities, immersing themselves in challenging contexts & giving up all that was safe and comfortable to live out their faith.

seriously, i know so many people doing so much beautiful living in the low and dark places of  people’s experiences.    as i was thinking of their lovely faces & the work that they do, i was reminded that there are some very clear things that everyone-i-know-in-the-trenches seem to have in common.  there’s a similar thread, a shared bond, that we all seem to have.

here are a couple off the top of my head:

none of us make any money.  in fact, we’re constantly scraping for it. right now, i’m tri-vocational (pastoring/leading/cultivating, online professoring, mommying) & almost everyone i know doing this kind of work has had to find other sources of income to somehow make things go.  when i look around & reflect on all of the people i know living out their passion, every single one of them is scraping by one day, one paycheck at a time.  most everyone’s salary is below minimum wage or at least close to it.

everyone loves people more than almost anything. incarnational, free, beautiful, scary, messy, complicated relationships with people are the driving force.  eyes are meeting eyes.  hearts are meeting hearts.  real lives are intersecting with real lives & God’s hope is flowing through people–not through programs or words on paper or some abstract idea.

Jesus is the center of the work, not just the Bible. oh, i know that will get some people’s feathers ruffled, but honestly, i think this is one the prettiest parts.  the Bible is a beautiful and lovely vehicle for so much good stuff, but most of my friends-in-the-trenches center their work around living out the ways of Jesus, of the incarnation here & now, of letting God’s spirit flow without feeling the desperate need to make sure scripture seals the deal or validates its spiritual worthiness.  they also all realize how distorted people’s image of God sometimes is & give space & room & love regardless of whether people actively acknowledge God or not.

seminary didn’t teach any of us what we needed to know. because the work is centered on people & relationships & real complicated lives, on the whole, the conjugation of the hebrew word for something doesn’t come in super handy.  what seems to help the most are 12 step groups, therapy, boundaries & safe people classes, learning how to partner with community and government agencies, and an awful lot of winging-it.  i’m not saying seminary was a waste, i’m just saying that most everyone i know doing really missional work didn’t learn what they needed to know there.  most everything has come through on-the-job-training.  and we’re constantly realizing how much we don’t know and how much more we have to learn.

we all feel a little lonely & long for more outside, consistent support. without the outside-people-doing-hard-work-too-friends i’ve made over the past 4 years i would never still be here.  they have kept me alive in more ways than i can say.  and even though i don’t feel as lonely as i did, i think a common feeling that seems to get on the table whenever we are together is the desire to be connected to more like-minded people who understand what this work is like.  and even though we know it’s really unlikely, we always dream of the sugar-daddies-or-mommies who will rescue us somehow & make our lives easier.

 

we whine & complain sometimes but we wouldn’t give it up for the world. yes, it’s hard.  yes, sometimes the pain and despair get under our skin.  yes, the complications of deep & messy relationships are tiring.  yes, sometimes the brokenness of the system and all the ways it works against the poor & marginalized & oppressed makes us want to throw in the towel.  but the reality is that we are so thankful to get to see the kingdom of God up close and personal each and every day.  little glimpses of life & hope in the darkness keep us going.

i think what God keeps reminding me is that the ways of the kingdom and the ways of the world are two different things, and when i chose this path, i chose a road that was bumpy & inconsistent & scary & hard.  and good & beautiful & full of love. thank you, my dear and brave friends who read this blog who are living out your faith in all kinds of wild & creative & scary & small & big ways.  i am thankful for you & i am glad that at least we can be poor, tired, challenged and happy together.

* * * * *

ps:  i have a new post up at communitas collective called the tortoise and the hare.  it’s a re-post from 2 1/2 years ago right after i started this blog, and i continue to wrestle with what it means to become more tortoise-like.

ppss:  the post i wrote a few weeks ago, most people aren’t one sentence away from being better, got picked up in next-wave ezine. if you didn’t know about it already, there there are a lot of good little articles about church & life over there worth reading.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

13 Comments

  • Kathy,

    Thanks for your wonderful words of appreciation and recognition. It means so much to have friends and allies while doing the work we do, who can offer support in an ‘I get you’ kind of way. I truly appreciate what you do, and your blogs give me a thoughtful and serene moment most every week when I need it the most. I do feel blessed to have you as a mentor, and to be connected to others through you who have become friends in the ‘trauma work.’ It is definitely hard and scary and exciting and joyful, most everyday! I am glad to be poor, tired, happy and challenged with folks like you in my corner. Love to you.

    Robbie

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  • Yep. A few thoughts:

    Regarding #1: I think it would be fun for folks to compare vocational scars. I can’t believe the number of things I’ve done in the past two + years to make ends meet. Hell, they still haven’t met.

    Regarding #2: Especially more than the requisite things that previously separated us from people.

    Regarding #3: I recently said to my wife: “The funny thing is, I believe in ‘God’ less than ever, but I’m in love with Christ more than ever.”

    Regarding #4: I made some #5 friends, read a few great books, and learned I was already more ‘liberal’ than I realized.

    Regarding #5: OMG, so true.

    Regarding #6: I’m trying to give it up right now, but it’s hard. I find my mind wandering back to it like a nicotine habit. Someone needs to make a trans-dermal patch for kicking ministry. I make missional plans in my sleep and wake up cursing my lack of willpower.

    Always good stuff Kathy. Keep it up.

    Reply
  • Love this. I almost wept as I read it – it always feels good to be reminded I am not crazy – or if I am, I am not the only one who is!

    Hugs to you, girl. Glad you are doing better – hope to get to see you soon.

    Reply
  • After doing this missional thing for more than 16 years, I’m more in need of peer connectivity than ever. The hits keep coming from churches and individuals who fail to understand our that our ‘job’ is to inspire hope to whatever has brought a person into our community – knowing that faith looks and feels a lot like love.

    Thanks for such great encouragement – so, so refreshing!

    And Hugh, I’m with you – we just might all be crazy, but it’s a good crazy…

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  • Once again, you knocked this one out of the ballpark. I had some friends visit in September. They all agreed I didn´t have the biggest building or greatest projects, but I did have lots of friends in these parts of Honduras. And that´s what counts. Recently I was robbed, but my Honduran and fellow missionaries were quick to come to my aid. That´s what living in community it all about. When we are down, others support us, and when they are down or hungry or cold, or sick, then we offer that hand. Amen, sistah! Love this post!

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  • Sad everyone else out there makes the same amount as me. However, it sure feels good to know that I am not alone. I thought I was doing something wrong. I assumed you all were well connected, making big bucks, fully supported by all the churches in your area, quoting the bible to everyone you meet, and never ever thought of quitting. I guess misery loves company because this post made me feel so much better about myself. Even though I do complain a lot, I would never give it up. I do however wish I had more peer support. Your blog made me feel not so alone in this. Thank you!

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  • that has been my observation and reality these last 5 years!! hard and wonderful.

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  • sorry i’m just now responding, in my mind i did 🙂 i do that all the time.

    phil – yeah, sorry. i had a feeling you might. thankful for your example, though. it’s inspiring.

    robbie
    – thanks my friend, you are in the trenches, that’s for sure. it is so important to keep getting support and love and other people who look us in the eyes and say “you’re not crazy. or well, you are, but don’t stop, it’s worth it.” lots of love to you up the hill. i am so thankful you are a loving presence for people in so much pain.

    jason – thanks for reading. #6, so funny, so true, but i swear, i can quit anytime. i am so glad you could relate. or maybe i should say “sorry you can relate” now that i think about it, ha ha. very thankful for your voice and heart and i agree, some day we should compare notes and laugh at all the ridiculous-ness and loveliness of it all…peace to you

    hugh
    – yeah, we’re crazy. but at least we’re not crazy alone, ha ha. so thankful for you, too, my friend. and always am thankful for your love, voice, passion for injustice & the power of presence from across the miles.

    donna – so glad that in some little way we are connected out here but i hope some day we could have a real conversation, too; i’d love to hear more about what’s doing up there. we just had our advocates meeting today and i thought of you for some reason.

    lauriematherne – another example of relationships and love is the best currency of all. sorry about the robbing thing, so beautiful that you have friends that love you and swept in. that’s what it’s all about. sending lots of love down to you from chilly colorado.

    wendy – that made me laugh out loud. i wish. but it’s been just the opposite. i thought that was what you got, ha ha. that’s the part that we need to keep connecting on, really–reality. and how we can support and encourage each other from afar. i have told your november synchroblog story a few times now, it really struck me, the lack of one homeless person there at that meeting. anyway, i hope we can connect in real life one of these days. i love what you are doing in richmond.

    zoggdog – sorry we sucked you into the land of no money, tons of work, and a lot of drama and trauma. and of course, without it we wouldn’t have been able to be part of so much beauty and loveliness and hope and joy, too. couldn’t do it without you, that’s for sure.

    Reply
  • thanks for the post. i resonate with the seminary comment. loved my time at seminary, but so much of it was built on an attractional model of church…it is good to link arms with others who are on the same journey.

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    • thanks for stopping by, michael; glad some of these thoughts resonate. yes, it is so good to have some fellow sojourners who understand what it’s like. look forward to reading missionalsuburbia, too.

      Reply
  • Love this. I almost wept as I read it – it always feels good to be reminded I am not crazy – or if I am, I am not the only one who is! Hugs to you, girl. Glad you are doing better – hope to get to see you soon.

    Reply

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