This past Sunday, I read of a fascinating story in James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful Life. It happened in the early 90s, when the Boyle Heights district of East L.A. was torn by ongoing and lethal gang violence. Here’s Smith’s account:
A group of women who met for prayer read together the story of Jesus walking on water (Matt 14:22-33). The one of the mothers, electrified by the text, began to identify the parallels between the Jesus story and her own. The gang warfare in Boyle Heights was the storm on the sea of Galilee; the people hiding behind locked doors were the disciples huddled in the storm; the crackle of gunfire was the lightning; in both cases death was imminent. Then Jesus appeared and they hoped for a magical rescue. Instead, he said, “Get out of the boat.” “Walk on water.” “Enter the violence.” (pp. 131-132)
I have a cautious nature (except, of course, when I occasionally do reckless things). I get a little alarmed when I hear the way some people have read a biblical text, especially if it means leaping into a dangerous situation because of it. But the story continues:
That night, seventy women began a peregrinacion, a procession from one barrio to another. They brought food, guitars and love. As they ate chips and salsa and drank Cokes with gang members, they began to sing the old songs of Jalisco, Chiapas, and Michoacan. The gang members were disoriented, baffled; the war zones were silent. Each night the mothers walked. By nonviolently intruding and intervening they “broke the rules of war.” The old script of retaliation and escalating violence was challenged and changed. It is no accident that the women christened their nighttime journeys “love walks.”
I’m reminded of Jesus’ words: “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matt 11:19). These moms, with holy imagination, read themselves into the story of Jesus and took action, with love, compassion, and hospitality. Here’s the outcome:
As the relationships between the women and the gang members grew, the kids told their stories. Anguish over lack of jobs; anger at police brutality; rage over the hopelessness of poverty. Together they developed a tortilla factory, a bakery, a child-care center, a job-training program, a class on conflict-resolution techniques, a school for further learning, a neighborhood group to monitor and report police misbehavior, and more. And it began with the challenges “Get out of the boat” and “Walk on water.”
By entering into Jesus’ story, these moms also created a space for the kids to tell their stories, establishing the trust they needed to transform the neighborhood together.
My cautious side still wants to resist what seemed like half-cocked interpretations of Scripture. But then again, my cautious side wouldn’t allow me out of the boat, either.
Not everything done in the name of Scripture, or for that matter, in the name of Jesus, is something that God wills. Not every interpretation or application of a biblical text is warranted, just because someone had a bright idea or a strong feeling.
But the Holy Spirit will not be bound by the overly cautious.
And let’s face it: there may be some things that only a mother can do.