May 30, 2017

With Fear and Trembling

"work out your salvation with fear and trembling" 
-Philippians 2:12 

Last week the Underground Network hosted a seminar called "The Problem with Fear." When I heard that they were planning it I reached out to a few of our leaders and community members who I know struggle with fear. One of those people in particular seems to always struggle with anxiety and fear when facing something new. As I have watched and worked with this person over the years I have seen them crush one challenge after the next. From my vantage point, it seems like they would begin looking back and concluding that all the things that previously intimidated, didn't kill them. Not only that, but they were almost all easily faced after that initial, albeit horrifying leap. 

It doesn't seem to work that way though. Each new challenge seems to be an encounter with another monster and no matter how many have been slain before this one, each new monster is seen as monstrous. I have been frustrated in watching this, as I know what this person is capable of. I do remember the former monsters, battles, and challenges that I've watched them face. They are a bit of a formidable monster themselves. "You shouldn't be afraid of this one!" I think to myself. And yet...

Frustrated or not, I cannot overstate how impressed and inspired I am as I see their heroic movement toward what makes them tremble! I stand in awe, and as I watch her be brave I recall the above verse from Philippians, and I tremble.

May 8, 2017

Reciprocal Restoration

Mark, David, and Richard before dinner
One of our core values at the Well is direct relationship. We pursue these relationships with each other, with the poor, and with people very different than ourselves. We have seen these relationships bear fruit in our own lives, so much so that we've realized there was a deficit we didn't know we had: we need to be among the poor. You do too, and it's not so much that you need to serve the poor; you need their friendship.

In the Book of Luke, Jesus shares a parable about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus was laid at this rich man’s gate where he begged for sustenance. In the story both men die and Lazarus, the beggar, is carried by angels to the side of Abraham, while the rich man finds himself in Hades. The rich man cries out to Abraham for mercy, and asks him to send Lazarus to warn his family about this hell. In the end, Abraham refuses, saying that the rich man's family has Moses and the Prophets to be warned by. If they do not listen to the prophets, they will not benefit from the warning of a dead man raised to life. This man had all his comforts in life, and would have been familiar with Lazarus. Even in death, he does not speak to Lazarus but instead addresses Abraham. In life he is divided from Lazarus by his gate, and in death by the chasm between heaven and hell; in neither situation does he acknowledge Lazarus. Stanley Hauerwas reflecting on this story said that "the rich man doesn't want to have contact with Lazarus because if he does he knows he will have to change."

Regular contact precedes friendship, and friendship changes us, especially friendship with the “Other.” It breaks down the walls we have in place, and builds a bridge across our differences. Friendship breaks down the hierarchy we thought existed. This is why the rich man did not contact Lazarus in life or death. When you become friends, differences in age, culture, language, politics, religion, ethnicity, etc. no longer hold the weight of division they once did. That division is filled with meaning and understanding, a bridge built by friendship. This is why direct relationship is one of our core values at The Well, and one we are constantly learning to embody. I want to tell you about six volunteers at The Banquet that have learned this value, and inspire me to seek friendship with the "other."
Grant washing the dishes

First, there's Richard. I've known Richard for almost five years. He taught me how to serve at The Banquet, and brings a wealth of wisdom from his years in the food service industry. These days, Richard is more family than friend. Once homeless himself, Richard has continued to prioritize and serve the people he once slept beside on the street and in low-income housing. Through issues with his own health and the long bus rides from his home, he continues to serve at The Banquet because he believes God has called him to and it gives him joy.

Then there's Grant, who began volunteering with The Banquet with his homechurch two and a half years ago. For a year, he coordinated members of his house church to volunteer with us on a weekly basis. Even as other members were unable to come, Grant continued. He has many responsibilities as a husband, new father, engineer, and friend, but he also continues to prioritize regular service at The Banquet.

Hefziba and Charissa
Hefziba has volunteered with The Banquet for about 4 years. She began during the last year of her undergrad at USF, and continued to become an integral member of the Banquet team. Even when she left to spend half a year in Africa in missionary training and traveling, she returned to Tampa and came back to our team joyfully. She is currently in a graduate program at USF and had to miss a semester of the Banquet because of a class, but that does not mean she disengaged from serving and direct relationship with the poor. Wherever she goes, she brings that with her, and she will always be a beloved friend at The Well.

Next is Eche. She began volunteering on Tuesday evenings at The Good Samaritan Inn, and joined us on Thursdays when we moved to the same location. Eche is a young Nigerian woman that just graduated from Pharmacy school. While living in the area during a 6 week rotation last fall, she began volunteering with us because she wanted to invest in her neighborhood, even if it was only briefly. She is soon moving across the country for a new job, but even so she has not held back in her involvement or commitment. She has fully engaged in the needs of her neighbors in her temporary home and been a gift of life to the people of the Good Samaritan Inn.

One of our most consistent team members is Mark. Mark began volunteering at The Banquet two years ago this summer, and has rarely missed a Thursday since. Mark is a professor, a theater critic, a play write, a husband, and a father. I asked him recently why he continues to come to the Banquet and prioritize serving. He shared that, to his understanding as a Jewish man, it is his obligation to serve the poor and feed the hungry, citing Isaiah 58. He continues to come because he believes God asks this regular practice of him, and he sees The Banquet as a wonderful way to fulfill this religious requirement.

Finally, there is David. David, a professor at USF, has become a beloved member of The Well community over the past year and a half. He began with us by asking his local community garden to donate a plot of land to us, which he tended to weekly and dropped off the harvest with us. You can read his story in his own words here. To summarize, David realized he had an aversion to the homeless, poor, and suffering, much like the rich man in the parable above. With that realization, he committed to do as much as he could to help. When I asked him why he continues to serve, he said "because someone has to." He once heard someone say, "why should I help them at the expense of my quality of life?" and this solidified his conviction that our society lacks genuine compassion and fueled his commitment to do something about it. David continues to serve to combat that self-focused attitude in himself and in our society.

Each of these team members embodies the values of the Well. They are an inspiration to us all. One is an engineer, two are professors, one a graduate student, one a pharmacist with a fresh doctorate degree, one retired, and another a writer. They are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist. Yet with all their differences, they find themselves at the same table, prioritizing serving and being in direct relationship with the poor in their city. They teach us it is possible to have families, thriving careers, hobbies, goals and aspirations, without forgetting the hungry, the poor, the lonely and forgotten. It is possible to include them in your circle of friends, and gain the privilege of being counted as their friend. And this friendship necessitates change, especially in ourselves. Perhaps it is mandated in so many religions to serve the poor not because it is good for society or moral, but because it changes everyone involved. The proud are humbled and the hurting are comforted in the kinship they find together. Finding this kinship is not possible without each other.

I urge you to join us at The Well. We need more team members, and while we are committed to building this community of friendship and kinship no matter what, we want you with us. If you are interested in joining, you can fill out this form. We need you, and I have some friends I think you would love to get to know.