Messy part 1

20 May 2017

How comfortable are you with “messy?”

I’m not referring to your desk or house, but rather people, life and society.

I attended a worship service one Sunday that was full of “messy” people. Some clearly had mental illness. Others were homeless. Still others dressed funny. And (OMG!) some were gay.

Most of us were raised to think with clear distinctions and a sense of who is acceptable and part of our “IN” group and who is “OUT.” (We usually define acceptable and “in” the same.)

We divide people by race, economics, social status, religion, sexual orientation, and a million other categories. The in/out, us/them mentality is surely a fitting descriptor of our fallen world.

We can learn from the great mystics and spiritual leaders of history. Jesus, Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama (and so many others) were transformed from the inside out and filled with compassionate love; they let go of judgment and were freed TO LOVE. In fact, they were very comfortable with “messy” on a very regular basis. How could Mother Theresa have served the poor like she did if she was constantly grossed out?

We may not like tattoos, people of irregular size, other religions, or folks who do things we consider vile and outside the norm. However, life is messy. People are messy.

And what seems to matter is our response.

After the church service I attended with “messy” people, I ate lunch downstairs where even more “messy” showed up. They were homeless, coming on Sundays to eat a weekly meal they can always count on. I was surrounded by people who smelled bad, engaged in strange conversations, and even held their pets while they ate. A lady at my table had her less-than-sterile, “Homeless, please help” sign laying right there next to her plate. It was all rather messy. It was also rather refreshing—not the smelliness or the irregularness of the whole scene, but the opportunity to love, eat and do life together.

I didn’t have to tell them how to get fixed; I just had to be a fellow human.

There are many issues that we as individuals and societies don’t want to face.

As Sister Simone Campbell (nun, attorney and Washington lobbyist) said, “One of the reasons we don’t like “messy” is because we feel the need to clean it all up. We can’t always do that, so we avoid it—instead of allowing it to change us, challenge us, or allow it to break our heart open (to be able to embrace more).”

So instead of taking the high road and just loving, like Jesus and Gandhi did, we judge and distance ourselves. We walk, or even run away. We play the ostrich who hides its head in the sand.

Running away makes nothing better; in fact, it seems to actually make things worse, much worse.

In the words of that great lyrical theologian, Dionne Warwick:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No, not just for some but for everyone*


*Song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Image by Dimitris Kritsotakis in Athens, Greece. Retrieved from:



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