- Jack H. Bender
Salvation. Not what you think.
Last week I received, as a gift, Anne Lamott’s newest book Dusk Night Dawn because the giver and I have a mutual friend in Anne Lamott. She is always vulnerable, describing her former alcoholism and her current litany of faults. Readers end up loving both Lamott and themselves. Through her vulnerability she gives us permission to name and accept our faults.
Her writings are always wise and sometimes funny, and they are often funny and sometimes wise. It took nine pages for me to find a gem worth writing about, actually, three gems in one paragraph!
“The hardest work we do is self-love and forgiveness.”
Those damn Puritans are still chastising us, even if it’s from the grave. I’m not good enough. I’m not as gorgeous as those on TV and the movies. I’m self-centered. I’m not grateful enough. I’m unlovable.
“I know to serve the poor, reach for beauty, and to rest.”
This is a pretty respectable summation of a life mission. Avoid naval gazing. Reach for higher angels. Take care of yourself so you can serve. Selfcare demonstrates that you value life.
The half-sentence that resonated the most: “...salvation will be local.”
That’s what this blog has been about. We are to save each other—in the here and now. Not as a ticket to heaven. Not to look good to the neighbors. Not to raise self-esteem. We are to save each other because we are supposed to save each other.
Salvation. Salve is applied to wounds. The first (and non-theological) definition of salvation is “the preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss.” Ask black Americans about police violence, the jobless and evicted about ruin and those who have lost someone to COVID-19. We are in constant need of salvation. But we are also in need to save. Grace meets need. Historical Jesus saved the people right in front of him. He freed people from what they were bound. His followers eventually came to see that he was encouraging a way of life characterized by love, humility and generosity to others. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32, NIV) Followers called their lifestyle the Way.
While I have stressed in this blog that the poor deserve our attention, we are in an era whereby we observe people of power and wealth in need of salvation as well. Lamott, again, “Sometimes the poor are in pearls.” Grasping at power and wealth for the sake of power and wealth can look pretty ugly.
Since “salvation will be local,” we have to realize that intimate relationships are essential to the work of solidarity. It is probably best to jettison the word “salvation” altogether because only equals, at a fundamental level, can be intimate. When I think about how others have supported me, cured my blindness, helped me transform in some way, I think of those that allowed themselves to be vulnerable in my presence and those that truly listened to me. Those that have been vulnerable to me have, in essence, said, “I trust you. I trust you to not judge me, share or weaponize my vulnerability.” Those that have really listened to me have implied that I am valuable, worth their time to slow down and listen.
What we must not do is “fix” someone else. After listening to someone describe their pain, we must refrain from giving them advice. Our restraint sends a powerful message to them—you are capable of guiding your own life.
We may not come by these social skills naturally. We may need a mentor or a community. Jack Jezreel, in A New Way to be Church, describes the process Jesus used to develop his disciples. “In the act of gathering, he forms them, he trains them, he challenges them, and he enlightens them. And then he sends them.”
“Salvation will be local” is both empowering and hopeful. The scale is reasonable. Resources are close by. Have courage. Reach out to the poor, with pearls or without.