When I was 5 years old, my family lived in India for 6 months. Three years ago we went back to visit. I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to travel across the world to a place so totally different. When we're guests in someone else’s home – let alone someone else’s country – we bring gifts, sometimes tangible gifts like flowers or a dish to share at dinner. We always bring intangible gifts of new perspectives, curiosity, fresh ideas, good news.
Jesus surprises people by reading familiar words in the temple, because he’s not the expected to say them. He brings good news when he comes back home with a new voice, with surprises about who he is becoming.
I think I brought more good news to India as a 5-year-old than a 30-year-old. The 25 years in between these journeys across the globe have pumped complexity and confusion into my mind like plaque clogging arteries, and the corresponding sickliness I found in India three years ago offered a divine moment of clarity about who I am and who I want to be in this world.
We're living in such strange, change-filled times that we have to adapt and learn to stay engaged with the world around us. And actually, I think we have as much UNlearning to do as learning. When Jesus tells us to be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, or when he tells us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and when he teaches us through his own living and dying to trust God so fully, Jesus reminds us that we have wisdom and joy deep within us when we can unlearn some of what we've learned in our growing up, when we can unpeel some of the layers we've acquired to insulate ourselves from the challenges of the world....
I was raised on Gandhi’s story and wisdom. I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj (autonomy) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away. Gandhi sounds pretty Brethren to me. We are so serious about Matthew 25 and Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison. I’m grateful that my faith and family have raised me to think of others throughout my day as I’m making choices, just like Gandhi asks us to do.
Yet so often (in India and the US) I apply this principle throughout my day and feel an ongoing sense of guilt. There is always more I can do. India helped me learn that if I maintain an identity of a fixer, I will never find a moment of peace.
So how do we heed Gandhi’s wisdom? How do we follow Jesus’ command to visit those in prison and care for those who are sick when the prisons and hospitals and nursing homes are overflowing and there is no end to the need?
To see India at 5 and at 30 is the greatest gift. I needed to reencounter my 5-year-old self and reclaim some joy and freedom. This is the way to dynamic justice. We must rise to the occasions that greet us day after day, but we cannot define ourselves and the people around us as problems or fixers. We must be able to look in the eyes of the people holding cardboard signs at street corners and highways ramps, whether or not we give them cash.
Look a person in the eyes, and be able to smile without fear, judgment or shame.
This is what Jesus did. This is what Gandhi did. They didn’t just smile, they didn’t just serve food at the soup kitchen, they didn’t just lobby leaders…they asked provocative questions and told stories and made pronouncements to both the powerful and the powerless, to the beggars and blind and lame and unclean.
Jesus demonstrated the astounding nature of deep love – to fully accept, and then to invite to another way of being. He saw right into the soul of the people he met. He named their struggles and shame and pain. And he invited change. He didn’t make his love dependent on people changing, but he provoked change from a place of radical acceptance. “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me” he pronounces “to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and sight to the blind – to set the oppressed free.” Jesus’ good news sets us all free from being too much or too little, as he loves us into change.
My 5-year-old self wants to simply accept the world and its people. My 30-year-old self wants to change everything now. The only way to engage justice without disowning my own humanity is to weave both together. It’s the very same way we do justice to our own souls each day – to accept ourselves with love, and out of that place of care, invite the best of ourselves to the forefront. My life is my message, wrote Gandhi.
A just life does involve suffering, but it does not involve shame. Awake each day with such tenderness toward yourself, so that you can share it with others. Aspire to justice in small and large ways throughout your day, and invite others to do the same. Grow the circle wider and wider through joy, not guilt. Together our small steps of justice will bend the universe. Thanks be to God for good news....