To try to serve others is to be caught up in many tensions, some that beset from without and others that beset from within. How can we remain energized, effective, and true? Here are some guidelines for the long haul:
Be beyond ideology, be both post-liberal and post-conservative
Have an unlisted ideological number! Refuse to be pre-defined by any ideology of the left or the right. Like Jesus, transcend boundaries, constantly surprise, refuse to be classified. Don’t be liberal and don’t be conservative, be a woman or man of faith and compassion and let that take you down whatever roads it takes you, liberal or conservative.
Strive to incarnate both the kenotic and the triumphant Christ.
Don’t be afraid to be nothing and don’t be afraid to be everything! Christ emptied himself and refused to claim any status or to stand out in terms of public titles, distinctive dress, or in any triumphant display of power. But he is too the Christ who rose triumphant from the tomb and who needs to be proclaimed publicly, with color, pride, and display. He is both the Christ of silent, anonymous witness and the Christ of chanting, public processions. Honor both.
Be for the marginalized, without being marginalized yourself.
Walk a fine tightrope! Take your stand with the marginalized, even as you are known for your sanity and capacity to relate warmly and deeply to every kind of person and group. Be known for your radical stance for the poor even as you are recognized for the wide scope of your embrace.
Lead without being elitist.
Be led by the artist, but listen to the street! Be a leader, an aesthete, an artist, a creative person trying to lead others forward, even as you shun elitism of every sort and ensure that every kind of person is comfortable around you. Be a leader, but with empathy, without disdaining others’ culture, sentiment, or piety.
Be iconoclastic and pious at the same time.
Don’t be afraid to smash idols and don’t be afraid to bow in reverence! The problem is that the pious aren’t liberal and the liberals aren’t pious. Be both, one doesn’t work without the other. Great hearts hold near contradictory principles, lesser ones do not. Help smash the false gods that need to be smashed, even as you are unafraid to kneel often in reverence.
Be equally committed to social justice and to intimacy with Jesus.
Learn to be comfortable leading both a peace march and devotional prayer! Do not choose between justice and Jesus, between committing yourselves to the poor and fostering private intimacy with Jesus. Don’t choose between interiority and action. Dorothy Day didn’t. There’s a lesson there.
Be thoroughly in the world, even as you are rooted elsewhere.
Live in a tortured complexity! Love the world, love its pagan beauty, let it take your breath away, even as you root your heart in something deeper so that the realities of faith also take your breath away. Carry the tension between having a hopeless love for the world and a hopeless love for things beyond it. Love the world as you would a lover with some quirks of character and weaknesses that cause you pain. Pray a lot. Cry occasionally. Sneak off to a church as needed and walk in the sun regularly. The church has secrets worth knowing, and the world is also beautiful.
Ponder, in the biblical sense, by carrying the tension inside the community.
Eat the tension around you! Mary pondered, not by thinking deep intellectual thoughts but by holding, carrying, and transforming tension so as not to give it back in kind. Like Jesus, she helped take sin and tension away by absorbing it, like a water-filter that keeps the impurities, toxins, and dirt inside of itself and gives back only pure water. Be a tension-absorber inside all the communities wherein you live. Absorb the bitterness, the anger, the hardness, the group hysteria, the lack of reconciliation, as a water-filter might. Then drink wine with a friend to rid yourself of your own toxins.
Help incarnate a deeper maturity.
Go into dark places, but don’t sin! Stand up for the God-given freedom we enjoy, even as you model and show others how that freedom can be carried in a way that never abuses it. Like Jesus, who went into the singles-bars of his time (except he didn’t sin), walk in great freedom, go into dark places, but go there not to assert human autonomy but to take God’s light there.
Make love to the song!
Forget about yourself and how others react to you! A bad singer on stage makes love to himself; a more mature singer makes love to his audience; a really mature singer makes love to the song. Service is the same. Forget about yourself, your image, your need to prove yourself, and eventually forget about your audience too so that you and your song are not about yourself or about your people, but about God.