One of the all-time most made comments about the work of JUSTembrace in Uptown has got to be: “I could never do what you do!”
The first time I heard this, I cringed – but I wasn’t exactly sure why. I understood what people were saying – the “types” of people we’ve been building community among are intimidating, unfamiliar, even scary to them. I get it. Yet, I have never been able to fully swallow this idea that we’re doing something other people cannot do.
So, in what has become my protocol for mental dissonance, my mind opens up a new folder and I begin to subconsciously work and work and work on the issue. Each day’s experiences are filtered through the various folders in my head of unresolved philosophical, theological, sociological (etc) issues – till eventually things click. It’s never a big epiphany – it’s just that the light finally goes on and I know how to articulate what was going on in my head and heart since the very first cringe.
So I’m finally ready to address the statement: “I could never do what you do!”
Yes, you could. And the reason you don’t isn’t because of “them” – it’s because of you.
Now before you get defensive and tell me how much you hate city life or how scared you are of homeless people, or the baggage you carry about mental illness because of personal experiences – hear me out.
What JUSTembrace is all about and passionate about promoting is NOT – let me say this again – IS NOT – focused on a people group or a demographic or a social issue.
Our target is not homeless, marginalized, isolated, mentally ill or addicted people.
Well, not exactly.
Our target – is to live and promote a lifestyle of Restoration. A lifestyle means something that is innate in who you are and the choices you make every day. Not how you live when you are visiting a homeless shelter to serve food, or when you are on a mission trip to South America. A lifestyle is just who you are.
A lifestyle of Restoration is not only what we were created for – but, if we are honest, what we long to live.
So – am I saying that you need to be “on” all day, every day?
No, not at all. I’m saying that we shouldn’t only live out the Golden Rule when we are volunteering somewhere – because that’s not Golden – it’s an impostor.
The Golden Rule – “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”
The “ah hah” moment where the cringing paid off and I finally understood why what we’re doing isn’t special or requiring special skills came when I realized this:
In each of us we have a compass that tells us how to treat the people around us. And it’s as simple as understanding how we would WANT to be treated.
Let me unpack this word “want” for a second. Often we treat people how we think we SHOULD be treated. The problem is, however, our understanding of how we should be treated is tarnished with legalism, self-righteousness, and often painful voices from our past and present.
In order to discover how we “want” to be treated – we have to be able to see ourselves as we really are. For many of us this is the root issue keeping us from living lifestyles of Restoration. We cannot release our neighbors from the expectations we have on them and see them as vulnerable humans because we ourselves are living bound by expectations – robbing us of the peace that comes from acknowledging our humanity.
I believe we all struggle with this.
I know I sure do.
Each and every day.
As I live in my neighborhood and I see the discomfort between the affluent and the poor, the stable and the unstable, the haves and the have-nots – I long to live an example of the Golden Rule.
I’ve really been seeing this at Starbucks where I’ve been working the last few months. We have high power business people come through our lines as well as filthy, horribly smelling homeless folks. We have mentally ill people yelling obscenities in the pauses between their order and we have every ethnicity you could imagine trying to order using the Starbucks vernacular.
I love every minute of it.
If I were in another country, how would I want to be treated as I ordered my coffee? If I struggled with mental illness – if I lost it – how would I want to be treated? If I had a stressful job and little patience for people around me, how would I want my barista to treat me?
Deep within us is a longing to be treated with dignity, respect and accountability to our humanity. We want to be treated by others as if they understand how fragile our lives are and how beautiful the act of living is.
This doesn’t mean making life easy for people – giving them a fool’s gold version of the Golden Rule that just sweeps things under the carpet. Sometimes it means being reminded that we’re worth eye-contact and a smile, or being reminded that we can make another choice, or having a cruel word returned with a gentle one.
This is how you live a lifestyle of Restoration.
It all starts with being able to see those around us – no matter where we are – as beautiful, vulnerable, fragile humans created in the amazing image of our God.
From this place we can handle ANYONE who comes across our path. I understand it doesn’t make it EASY – and I’m not at all trying to say it is so – but you CAN do it – we CAN do it.
I encourage you, the next time you see someone who is revolting to you – think about the Golden Rule. Think about how fragile your own life is – and think about what it looks like to life Restoratively in that moment.
That is what a JUSTembrace is all about.