There is a famous poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic poet. The poem, translated by Coleman Barks is entitled “Moses and the Shepherd”.
In this work, Moses challenges a shepherd for his manner of worship. The shepherd, in his prayers, offers to feed God, clothe him, and keep his room clean and safe for him to sleep at night.
Moses is appalled and chastises the shepherd, rains down fury over someone diminishing his Godde in such a manner. How does one feed or bathe the all-mighty Godde, too powerful to have a need for food or personal hygiene support.
The shepherd, feeling deeply chastised, tears at his clothing, repents to Moses, and wanders off into the desert.
Now Godde, overhearing this exchange, gets seriously hacked off at Moses and calls him out for two things. First, these are some seriously snobby, prescriptive ideas about worship. Second, who is he to impose those worship standards on someone else?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
f seeing and knowing that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It's all praise, and it's all right.
It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, 'burning'.
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!
The shepherd, in his unassuming, unschooled worship was on to something. And it is the simplest idea, and the hardest to execute. And it’s this:
Love is a behavior.
Love is something we do, not something we feel. It is something we are in every moment of our short deployment on this earth. You have heard me say we are hardwired to connect. Simply stated, we exist to love. And this propels us to action.
We talked about this when I was here in July, I asked those of you who were in this room then to commit to an act of microadvocacy in your lives. To build intimacy by changing your relationships. We wrote them down, and left them here. And I want to hear how that went for you later. I promised you I wouldn’t forget.
I also promised you I was planning on pushing further, and that’s totally going to happen, too.
The Revverent Lynice Pinkard states that living the gospels, really LIVING them, is the ultimate act of revolution. She states:
The church is an extension of Christ — literally Christ’s body — and an alternative to the militaristic, consumerist, alienated way of life that has become the norm.
I fundamentally believe that God’s love manifests itself in the world on the “yeast principle”: it springs up everywhere that the Spirit is fully alive. God doesn’t try to create empire or theocracy. That is what we don’t seem to get. If we were all totally open to the Spirit of Life, it would send us out into the world to replicate that Life. One sign that a church is full of the Spirit is when it begins to replicate the Life of God in the world. Churches are too often like black holes — they want to draw people in and jealously hold on to them the way a black hole draws everything into itself, even light. The Kingdom of God generates light and energy like a star and sends it outward.
Let’s talk about the word guerrilla for a moment. Guerrilla warfare has a pretty negative connotation nowadays, but hear me out.
The current definition of guerrilla warfare is used to identify small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces in an impromptu way and without authorization.
This makes guerrilla warfare seem like a group of bored teenagers who are tired of playing XBox and decide to go pick a fight at Church’s chicken just for something interesting to do.
This wasn’t the original intent of the term. Guerrilla, in Castilian Spanish, simply means “little war.” In the 18th century, the term was used to describe the members of small, mobile forces who set out in opposition of the larger, inherently unwieldy ones. They would mobilize local citizens and target the opposing forces and their resources in these very specific ways designed to weaken their hold and remove the profit from the war efforts. Instead of fighting head on, which is clearly a losing battle, they pinpointed their efforts where they could make a difference. They moved in low and slow, and removed pieces of the infrastructure until the entirety collapsed like a Jenga game.
And I’m kinda thinking this is the only way we can save the world.
If y’all are lucky, you are fairly insulated from the local drama we experience in San Antonio politics, but there was a recent dust-up that made state news. About three years ago the city made it illegal to panhandle. I have mixed feelings about this. I have been cornered at gas stations and then cursed at when I didn’t hand over the requested money. At the same time, it seems like one more way to criminalize the poor. Honestly, I think I would take the occasional curse out or windshield spit than heap more legal trouble on individuals who are already disenfranchised.
Just this past September, however, SAPD Chief McManus decided to take things further. He announced a plan to present a draft ordinance to also make it illegal to give to individuals who are panhandling in off-limits areas. Off limits areas being pretty much any public space.
Money, food, any items of value. My kids and I? Handing out granola bars, warm sweaters, cups of coffee? Criminals by this measure.
McManus essentially wanted to make compassion illegal. The plan was publicly denounced t by Scott Krause of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Nate Schlueter of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast sprang into action, making the plan public and inviting commentary and feedback. Then a Change.org petition by David Cisneros gathered over 1500 signatures in a matter of days.
According to the Express-News, a few weeks later, when Chief McManus presented to the City Council's Public Safety Committee, this item was missing from the agenda. When asked about it, he replied:
“If you don't have an objection,” McManus said, “I'm not going to bring it at all.”
The four city councilmen on the committee reportedly laughed, having had already made it clear that they would not let it move forward to a full city council vote.
So a few guys in Austin – a blogger, a lawyer and a guy running a program to feed the homeless – along with a 25 year old LGBTQ activist in San Antonio, shut down the chief of police of the 7th largest city in the United States. They didn’t charge head on into a losing battle…they targeted our humanity, one Jenga block at a time.
They reminded us what Christianity really is. The Grits for Breakfast blogger, Scott Hensen noted that maybe we need to remind a few people of Matthew 25:25
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Lynice Pinkard said it…the church is literally Christ’s body.
This isn’t a story that is unique to San Antonio, A 90 year man was arrested for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale this past week. I don’t understand how you can denounce homosexuality as causing the decline in morality, but then not buy a homeless man a cup of coffee so he can get out of the rain. My father and I were talking about a dear family friend a few years ago, one of the few Republicans he will actually let in his house, which says a lot. He is a wonderful man in so many ways, this family friend.
Speaking of this person, my father said, “You know, I love him, takes such good care of those he considers his family. I hope one day he realizes the whole world is his family.”
Reverend Pinkard says the same thing -- which is that we need to build a circle of care so wide that no one is excluded. We are Christ in action, and everyone is deserving of our care.
But that’s a difficult thing concept to sell.
To love wastefully and give recklessly — that scares us.
But our goal is progress, not perfection. If we can’t love our enemies, we can start by loving the people who love us back and then move on from there to people we find a little suspect, and then to the people we don’t like at all… Real relationships aren’t investments. Community is not a contract; it’s a covenant.
This is her personal ministry and her challenge to us when she states.
It’s not our job to read Isaiah and then go sit at Starbucks and talk about what a sad place the world is. It is our job to collaborate with each other and activate that love.
So many couples in my private practice come in because they are desperate to change their lives but don’t have any idea where to get started. I’m going to let you in a secret. There is a definition of crazy that some of you may be aware of but most people are not.
In the end, “crazy” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So in my practice I operate as the permission giver. Permission to try something different, to build new relational bridges through changes in behavior. No one leaves my office without a specific action plan. For those of y’all who were here in July? You know I am a college professor, and I give homework.
Last time I asked you to engage in an act of microadvocacy, to make a difference in your relationships by affecting one small change. Lynice Pinkard said that’s where we start, loving the people who love us back. Then it’s the people we find suspect and the people we don’t love at all.
Did you ever watch the 90s cartoon Pinky and The Brain? Every episode Pinky asks “What are we going to do tonight, Pinky?” and The Brain responds “The same thing we do every night….try to take over the world!”
So now you know what’s coming…. I have a new plan for world domination.
The Dalai Lama says that you have to know the rules well before you can break them effectively. But that’s the easy part. What are the pieces of the infrastructure comprised of?
I am going to pass around a basket full of Jenga blocks and a pile of markers. I want you to write on one block one of the things we are up against. We are going to represent the power structure in a tangible way. Then we are going to come up with an action plan to start knocking pieces out, one at a time.
And that is the harder part. How do we work as guerrilla soldiers to start knocking these pieces out? How do we weaken the structure, bit by bit?
The Buddha said “However many holy words you read, however you may speak, what good will they do if you do not act upon them?”
Guerrilla soldiers found they were successful when their actions diminished the profitability of war. Our fears make us ripe for profit when we are paralyzed into inactivity or scared into reactivity.
This recent election cycle? We spent 4 Billion dollars on it. Feeding the poor? This is what we can’t afford?
When we own our humanity and compassion we are proactive. We behave our love. We navigate the world as the Shepherd did – through love in action. We are the literal body of Christ. The Dalai Lama also says that love and compassion are treated as luxuries in today’s society, when in reality they are necessities. There is no profitability in caring for our community, so we have been duped into thinking we aren’t supposed to.
So I’d like that to be our discussion today. I’d like to discuss your individual attempts at micro-advocacy and how this congregation can move further into action. I realized that I just asked a small room of people in the hill country to take on the entirety of the military industrial complex. But four guys just took on Chief McManus and won. We can do this.
One more quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (because, you know, that’s how I roll).
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
So I challenge you to the burning, the yeast principle, and the guerrilla spirituality of a behavioral form of love.