Chaotic Lives

I have a confession to make.

Much of the time, I’m not sure how much of this online ministry I do with hurt kids is real and how much of it is someone putting me on, playing me a bit, just to see how far they can take me.

I got some confirmation this week that what I do is real, and I do it with real people.

But my doubts … emerge from the fact I deal with young people, children, and many of them with autism, in crisis, who seem to meet me just as some really awful things are about to happen in their lives. This isn’t to say awful things haven’t happened, but I’ve held hands through a staggering number of abductions, rapes, emergency room evaluations, and desperate situations where I’ve had to remind, over and over and over again, to call 911, have hope, be brave, and hold on.

Part of me wonders how real any of this is when it happens so often, with such a stunning sameness. Some months ago, I took to referring to something I called “The Rapists Union,” men who seemed to wander Stevens and Spokane Counties watching young women, luring them, abducting them, hurting them, all with a shocking impunity. But that was just a private shorthand, and although I have been told — again and again — this phenomenon is real, it’s still hard for me to believe sometimes.

Largely because I’m, at heart, a good bourgeois citizen — middle-class enough to believe that chaotic, unordered lives are largely the fault of the one in chaos, and not the society or community or even class they live in.

After my first pastoral internship went kablooey, and Jennifer and I were casting about, lost, unwanted, abandoned, hurt, I remember sitting with the director of field education at LSTC, Rosanne Swanson, and telling her, as Jennifer and I scrambled to find a place to live, “Don’t worry, we’re good at this.”

And she sighed.

“It would be nice to get you to a place where you don’t have to be,” she said.

Meaning, I think, there seemed to be a sense on her part that this scrambling, this knowing how to fall on our feet, was as much a product of our own choices and our own chaos as anything else. If I could just live the right kind of life, self-ordered and self-disciplined and properly attuned to social cues, I wouldn’t need to know how to land on my feet.

I wouldn’t lead a chaotic life.

And maybe, if that’s what she was saying, she’s right. Who knows? I suspect the ELCA, at its heart, sent me packing because they just understood I was not properly bourgeois enough. They couldn’t say that, or didn’t know how, or simply didn’t know that’s what they were concluding, but it’s why I’m not a candidate for theirs or anyone else’s ministry.

Because clergy, perhaps more than any other “profession” in our society, is aspirationally bourgeois. Calm and pious and self-disciplined and well ordered.

(And I have a whole blog entry scribbled down in my head on this.)

Few of the kids I deal with come from stable homes and lead stable lives. Even if they weren’t in foster care, most would likely not lead stable or peaceful lives. Based on my informal survey, most of the kids I deal with find their way into foster care because one parent dies and the other goes to prison — and sometimes one is the cause of the other. A lot of violence and a lot of drug use. I know this happens to the bourgeois too, but there is more room for error in a bourgeois family and a bourgeois community.

To be blunt — proletarians are rarely kind to each other, are often harsh toward their children, and frequently view violence as the only proper way to deal with problems. Proletarian life is visibly disordered in a way bourgeois life is not1.

And I am an emergency worker. Like a paramedic or a police officer, I deal with the wounded or the worst-off, in the worst neighborhoods or worst communities, the often times uncomprehending wounded who don’t entirely know how to explain what has happened. Only that someone is hurting them. And it needs to stop.

It is hard for me at times to believe a portion of the world is this callous, this brutal, this chaotic. I regularly ask myself, ask Jennifer, ask Kaylie, ask Bethany, “Is this real?” Because, even for me, cynical as I am, sometimes … I doubt.

It is the bourgeois in me who doubts. Whose experience of this world is almost entirely second hand, and whose understanding is filtered through those young people who have taken the time to stick with me and let me into their lives. I can’t tell a 14 year old sex slave to make better choices, because those choices aren’t hers to make, and needed to be made when she was 10, or four, or before she was even conceived.

But I don’t understand this world. It is too foreign to me. I don’t question it’s reality, at least not often, but I am past trying to make sense of how or why. I have never understood cruelty, organized or otherwise. It has never made sense to me. Not when I was subject to it, and not now that I am first on the scene to help.

I doubt sometimes. But only because … I believe.

  1. Note I say here visibly. ↩︎

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