The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
I have resolved to spend Advent on the watch for inspiration–concrete examples of love and joy permeating our troubled world, of good news appearing in the wilderness.
No sooner had I made that decision than I found such inspiration in my own neighborhood.
On Thanksgiving morning, I joined dozens of my neighbors for a 5k “turkey trot,” which, in itself, was great fun. But the inspiring part was learning about the local organization that benefited from the money we raised: All Our Kids.
Just a few blocks from my home, Kathy Fletcher and David Simpson have created a haven for at risk young people. All Our Kids starts with Thursday Night Dinners, when as many as 30 young people show up for a meal, and continues with all the support they can muster. “We support the kids who come to us as if they were our own,” they say. “And just like we would for our own kids, we will stop at nothing to make sure that they have the love, encouragement, support and resources they need to be successful, happy, caring adults who are invested in their communities and active citizens who make a positive difference in the world.”
The first thing I noticed about David when we met on Thanksgiving morning was the quiet joy he radiates. When a group of us pressed him on how he and Kathy do what they do, he spoke with both passion and humility. “How does it work?” “How many kids do you support?” “Where do the resources come from?” we asked. He smiled. “We unapologetically ask for help from everyone. And you know, the kids aren’t the only ones who show up for dinner. Every week, we provide a warm, boisterous, all-accepting community–and the support follows.” I hope to join David and Kathy around their table some Thursday night and join this wondrous community.
On that same weekend, I heard a radio interview with Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles. For 30 years, Father Boyle has helped former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Homeboy Industries is now a series of businesses, all created with the purpose of hiring former gang members. Those from rival gangs must learn to work alongside each other, setting aside their mutual hatred and distrust. Homeboy Industries also provides a wide array of social service programs. It’s now the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the U.S.
Listening to Greg Boyle was like talking with my neighbor David. He spoke with quiet joy, a wry sense of humor, and deep compassion. “Over the years we’ve altered our fundamental stance from just finding a job for every former gang member,” he explained. “Now we’re also trying to help them come to terms with whatever suffering and trauma they’ve been through.”
In his latest book, Barking to the Choir: the Power of Radical Kinship (now on the top of my Christmas shopping list for family and friends), Boyle writes:
“During Advent, we are called to prepare the way…to ‘make straight the path’ and smooth what is rocky. Our hardwiring is such that we hear these invitations as a demand ‘to straighten up’ or ‘get our act together.’ But it’s not we who needs changing–it’s our crooked path that needs to be smoothed…so we can be reached by God’s tenderness.”
While I’m actively searching for inspiration, when I stumble upon it, it feels like a gift, a reminder that there is a way to live in this world with hope, and that God comes to us in such moments. And it’s a way of preparing my heart to receive the good news, the grace and love that I cannot bring about on my own.
Are you experiencing good news in the wilderness? Email me or write a post on the EDOW Facebook page, with the tagline #AdventInspiration.