Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
As I move into my third year of ordained ministry on the outskirts of reality, I’m beginning to believe him. That being said, there’s still this part of me that wants to walk into every crisis with brilliant theological answers and practical solutions that will make life easier.
Henri Nouwen described this inner urge as the temptation to be relevant. Spiritual caregivers sometimes get to feeling insecure about their sense of call, so they try to make themselves look useful by becoming pop psychologists and amateur social workers. This is dangerous, according to Nouwen, because it takes us away from the task of being fully present with someone. We can’t authentically connect with others in a meaningful way if we’re too busy covering for our own insecurities.
This task is both easier and harder for me, given the particular milieu in which I am called to minister. It’s harder because the experimental nature of the ministry I do and the visible neediness of people on the street make me want to justify my presence in some way. On the other hand, it’s easier because all my fancy theological footwork is utterly lost on someone who quotes Bible verses that don’t exist and reads poetry off a blank piece of paper. As for my brilliant practical solutions, more often than not they’re like plugging up a leaky dam with your finger. It won’t matter one bit when the entire structure eventually gives way.
In the end, it’s one’s physical and spiritual presence that counts. I may offer a ride or some kind of assistance. Our conversation may turn toward the Bible or spirituality. But the real ministry is accomplished by showing up. Being present in the darkest corners of the community sends a message that God has not in fact forsaken us. God is right here in our midst. God is listening to our drunken rambling. God is receiving our gift of books found in a dumpster. God is chatting about last night’s football game by the fireplace. God is learning how to play craps on the kitchen counter.
These friends have been the sacramental presence of Christ to me; now I get to return the favor. In the end, that is my only real raison d’être on the street. The only real fruit of this ministry is that which grows naturally off the vine of these relationships.
After hanging around the neighborhood for a year, someone told me today, “Even though I left God, I can see now that God never left me.”
I guess I’ll keep showing up.