all romantics meet the same fate someday...

One of my abiding guides in these later years of ministry is Jean Vanier.  Often people ask me about my time working with Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement. For those who want to hear my experience (and not everybody wants to listen) I say: Cesar isn't one of my heroes. He was a complex soul who did some powerful and peaceful things in his day for migrant farm workers. He also had feet of clay like the rest of us and sometimes let his fear, ignorance or anger get the best of him. I experienced both his big heart and his willingness to bully and shame those who disagreed with him.

Like many other idealistic young activists, I was knocked on my ass and disillusioned for a few years after encountering the wrath of the "Mexican Gandhi."  I couldn't and wouldn't have any thing to do with the movement for a few years because my heart was broken. And, truth be told, I needed to learn how to grow up, figure out how to keep engaged and do so with a modicum of humor and humility. It is hard work - and some of us simply give up. I read a Face Book meme the other day attributed to George Carlin:  Inside every cynic is a disillusioned young idealist. "So what?" I thought to myself, "such is the way of life. We all get knocked down." The challenge - and blessing of our descent - is finding a way to get back up in love and stop spewing negativity, fear or anger. Chumbawumba put it best:
Here's the thing I like about Vanier:  as much as is possible, he has allied himself with the tears of Jesus. Not the powerful. Not politics. And certainly not his ego or its shadow. Just the tears of Jesus. In a book i am just beginning, Befriending the Stranger, Vanier writes:

Jesus looks at world today, at our big cities, our countries with all their divisions, inequality, hatred and violence and he weeps. Jesus came into the world to bring peace, to bring all people together into one body wherein each person has a place. But we human beings have turned our world into a place of competition, rivalry, conflict and war between races, religions, social classes and countries. The world has become a place in which each person feels they have to protect and defend themselves, their own family, their own country, their own class, their own religions...and so Jesus weeps.

I think of Vanier a lot during this primary election season. There are those who are enraptured with Senator Sanders - maybe even "The Donald," too - and they tell me they are engaged in a "real movement for change." I don't even know what that means: neither Sanders' cadre nor Trump's so-called army is "organized" in a way that can sustain a challenge to entrenched power and capital over the long haul. What I see is a conflation of wishful thinking, romanticism and the intoxicating buzz of being part of those calling out the status quo. But what happens when we discover the current white knight to be just as broken, frustrating and selfish as we ourselves? (NOTE: I am certainly NOT idealizing or trying to sanctify Secretary Clinton. Please know that, ok?)  I can't help but drift back to Joni Mitchell's song from 1970, "The Last Time I Saw Richard."  

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe...

Pete Townsend sang, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss... we won't get fooled again." But we will - and a new season of cynical disappointment will take up residence in some of our hearts for a while. Which is why I keep returning to Vanier and the tears of Jesus as he weeps over our cities and lives. My experience suggests that only by staying connected to these tears can we find a way through our privileged cynicism.. Mother Teresa once said, "May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in."

That's what Vanier points to with his ministry of presence to the most despised and vulnerable: I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes. In another place, Vanier writes:  Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice. But to grow in love requires work - hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies loss: loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts that shelter and define us. I know Vanier doesn't get it all right either; he has blind spots and failings, weaknesses and times when he needs to step away from the fray. That goes with the territory.

Moving beyond cynicism and privilege, you see, is a life long journey - especially for straight, white guys. Having once been enthralled by Cesar, I am no longer interested in being fooled again. Having been addicted to my disappointments, but set free by the tears of Christ, I think Vanier cuts closer to the truth than almost anyone else at this moment in time. I love these closing words: All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.  Lord, give me the blessing of your tears and mine that I may keep close to Jesus. 


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