This past weekend I attended the Denver Faith & Justice Conference with hundreds of other social workers and non-profits. Aside from promoting our screen printing business, I was excited to meet other like-minded people and gain some more perspective on working with the marginalized in our city.
Over the course of the two-day conference, I began to notice a distinct theme that coursed throughout our discussions. As people who work and live among the marginalized, homeless, and hopeless of the city of Denver, it can be difficult to hold the opposing forces of hope and despair in a healthy balance.
On a daily basis, we struggle to help those who have been completely broken due to trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, and other unspeakable horrors. Somehow, despite the overwhelming opposition of hopelessness that these street youth face, we attempt to speak love and joy into their bleak lives. It is in the midst of this tension, directly between these two opposing forces, that we are called to stand as followers of Christ.
Each day, we are forced to look at the hard realities that surround us – anger, despair, hatred – but we are also called to hold these forces in balance with generosity, community, and hope, which we know to exist.
Jesus calls us to stand in the ‘tragic gap’ between corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism, holding each of these forces in creative tension. On the one side, we face a bitterness and hopelessness that causes us to believe that people will never change, that there is no hope for hopeless, and that we can never make a difference among the marginalized of our city. We refuse to allow the gravity of the tragedy surrounding us to truly impact us, and our hearts begin to become calloused. On the other side, we face unrealistic optimism, in which we choose to ignore any hint of imperfection in our world. We are called to stand amidst this constant chaos of contrasting ideas and serve, by loving as He has loved us.
As Parker Palmer explains in his video, Standing in the Tragic Gap, “There’s the heart that’s broken into a thousand pieces by trying to hold these tensions, scattered around on the floor, that takes us out of the action as we crawl around, trying to put our hearts back together. But then there’s the heart that’s broken open by these tensions, into largeness, into greater capacity, to hold both the joy and the suffering that comes with being human, and that comes with living with one another.”
We are called to live, as citizens of the Kingdom, with hearts broken open, not denying imperfection or grief, but also not living a state of idealism or fantasy.
Gregory Boyle explained it best when he wrote, “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on the issues, but rather in standing in the right place – with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”
Let us choose to keep our hearts tender, not calloused. Let us choose to love the unlovable and see God where we would rather not see Him – in the faces of those who are the hardest to love. Let us choose to stand in the tragic gap, allowing the hopeless to finally embrace hopefulness.