In 2007, I read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, along with what felt like everyone else.
It was a time in my life when my faith was crumbling, the experiential, teary-eyed, on-fire-for-Jesus days giving way to a numbing depression that I didn’t understand. I felt unseen by the church as I flailed in loneliness, and the solutions that were being offered to me — Beth Moore Bible studies and women’s groups — felt false, Band-Aids slapped over a broken bone.
But the active, revolutionary faith of Shane Claiborne struck a true and clear note in my soul.
I still remember the inspired awe I felt when I read about the time that Shane and his friends moved in with a group of homeless families who were living in an abandoned cathedral. I applauded their passionate, city-changing activism. I coveted their wild, riled-up worship services full of freedom songs and gospel choirs and dancing.
The rightness of this movement toward simplicity, toward the abandoned places, toward repentance of privilege and toward solidarity with the poor was obvious to me. It still is. It is one of the handholds that helped me climb out of my own season of doubt — the idea that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that we might help usher it in.
I wanted it. I wanted to be part of it…
And then I moved to the suburbs.
I am an introvert. Spacious quiet energizes me, and while I have no problem being social, I find that it exhausts me to be too long with others.
I love the work of Shane Claiborne and the New Monastics. I understand that living in community with those in the margins is holy, important, necessary work for each of us. But I also understand that being with people drains me in a very real, physical way. And I’ve never been entirely sure what to do about the tension between these two truths.
Recently, some friends moved in with us while they were between homes, and those four months of doing life together with them and their two children was extraordinarily tough for me. I love them, and I believe in the holiness of hospitality. Yet during those long months of chaos and clutter, I realized that there is something inside of me that actually breaks under this expression of love.
When this happens, I begin to withdraw. I lose my ability to connect deeply. I move into survival mode. Without the physical space that my introvert soul craves, I am unable to offer the emotional and spiritual space that is necessary for community to thrive.
During those months, I learned that when I am living immersed in the love of God, my capacity to love others is endless — but my ability to express that love in personal interaction is not.
Is there room for me in the irresistible revolution? Is there a way to honor the soul God gave me — the one that needs space and silence and nature and beauty — while still working to bring forward the Kingdom? Can I make myself low while still living in a quiet neighborhood and spending long hours staring at the pond?
In November, after the Paris attacks, governors in the U.S. began turning refugees away. That day, someone in my Facebook newsfeed posted a meme — the silhouette of the holy family trudging through the desert. “If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about Middle Eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away,” it said. I put my head down on my kitchen counter and cried.
The Syrian refugee crisis had been flickering in and out of my consciousness for a while by then, but at the beginning of the Advent season, that meme lodged into my heart like a thorn. I found a local refugee center, Arrive Ministries, and filled out the online application.
My plate was full. My second book would be releasing in a few months, and with that came all sorts of pressure to be visible and available. Christmas was coming, with all of its events and expectations, and we were getting the house ready for our family friends to move in.
I looked at the list of opportunities. New neighbor volunteers. Resettlement service volunteers. Adult literacy training. My introverted heart fluttered inside of me, wanting to help, and yet so aware of its own limitations.
In the end, I chose to work in the Refugee donation center. It felt like a cop-out, a suburban, guilt-assuaging kind of “volunteering” that had nothing to do with social justice or Kingdom work or the irresistible revolution.
And yet, perhaps, that’s not true. Perhaps the pursuit of justice is not something that requires me to sacrifice my introverted soul – but rather to lean into it.
Nearly every Thursday for the last five months, I have spent the morning at the Arrive Donation Center, folding towels and blankets, hanging coats, organizing gloves and hats, stacking frying pans so that they don’t topple over.
It is some of my favorite work of the week, and I think it’s because I’ve found a way to serve that aligns with how my soul has been crafted.
Because I feel most at rest when my environment feels quiet and calm, I take special care to box the boots according to size so that they don’t clutter the aisles and are easy to find. Because my introverted soul does community best over quiet, intimate meals around the table, I take special care as I assemble sets of dishes, doing my best to create beauty from the hodgepodge of donations, making sure there is enough extra to serve friends.
I sit on the floor, and from that low place, I am learning the beauty of humility, repenting of my unseeing eyes, learning to love. I think about the hands that will prepare this food as I wrap the serving bowls in newspaper. I don’t pray audibly, but each wrapped glass in the silence of the donation center feels like its own small prayer, its own small revolution.
And maybe, in the end, this is how we help usher in justice: not by trying to be someone else, but by owning our particular hearts, by accepting our limited capacities, and by letting God’s endless love pour from the fragile, earthen vessels of our bodies — bit by ordinary, revolutionary bit.
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