Unexpected Gifts: betraying community...

As I finish my time with the Marin Foundation, I’ll be writing posts based on chapters from Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher Heuertz, a friend of mine and of the foundation.

Judas's head must have been spinning. Being scolded in front of his friends must have embarrassed him. He might have been frustrated and confused by the seemingly mixed messages Christ gave on responding to poverty. So off he goes... to literally sell out his master...

Betrayal is one of those realities of life that can be hard to wrap our heads around, mostly because it almost always catches us off guard. We don't see it coming. We can't predict its culprit. We can't prepare for our response. We don't know the intentions of our betrayer. And in those cases where the betrayal is our doing, sometimes it can feel as if we are watching from outside our bodies as we get caught up in the forward momentum of whatever is happening.

Chris opens this chapter talking about the most infamous betrayal ever: that of Judas Iscariot. A man clearly concerned with the welfare of the poor, we see Judas in Matthew 26 frustrated with what he sees as a gargantuan waste of resources in the anointing of Jesus by the woman. Immediately after Jesus scolds the zealot for his apparently messed-up priorities, Judas makes a proverbial deal with the devil, betraying his master for a mere 30 pieces of silver. Even here, the Gospel writer gives us very little insight into the intentions of Judas. Hence, we're left with two millennia of speculation that has led to him receiving a seriously bad wrap.

Have you ever betrayed yourself? Done something you never thought you'd do? Crossed a line you wish you'd never crossed? Compromised your dearest values or deepest convictions? 

My personal answer, unfortunately, is yes. Countless times. In clinical terms, I've heard it called self-sabotage. The reality is when we betray ourselves, the impact is often widespread. Rarely does self-betrayal ever affect only us. Worse, the ways people respond to our self-betrayal can hinder our ability to recognize just where we've gone wrong, making us feel more like victims than perpetrators. At least this is how Chris describes it.

A few years ago, I was at the University of Illinois Chicago finishing up my Master of Social Work. On the clinical track, I was interning and working for a mental health agency here in the city. It was at my employment position that I experienced one of the worst examples of self-betrayal in my life.

During this time, I was adjusting to living on my own out of campus housing. My depression had surfaced. I was struggling in a long-distance relationship. Anxiety attacks came often. One day, I had a crash after an outing with some of the housemates for whom I was providing care. Unable to think, not aware of what I was really doing, I asked a client for a medication. This decision would ultimately lead to me losing my job, my internship, and my place in the program. Even though this was over five years ago, I still feel the devastating effects of this betrayal of self. How would my life differ if I'd only stopped to think for a moment? What impact did I have on the client whose trust I abused and took advantage of? What long-term harm did I cause them? Could I ever right the wrong I'd done? Could I ever be redeemed?

I remember the meeting where the program administrators questioned my motives, my ability to practice effectively, my sense of ethical awareness and responsibility. I was young and dumb back then, and my mistake evinced this reality. Still, I wish I had done things differently. I wish I hadn't acted so thoughtlessly. I wish I hadn't betrayed myself.

It's important to note that in authentic relationships and dynamic communities, most betrayals are simply immature expressions of love

We each have a best version of ourself. Unfortunately, because of our needs, our vulnerability, it's often hard to live into this best version, settling for a lesser façade. Yes, there are times where betrayal is deliberate, even malicious. Most of the time, however, the feeling of betrayal stems from a misunderstanding. Furthermore, betrayal rarely happens in situations where the betrayer and the betrayed aren't in close relationship to one another. How often have you felt deeply betrayed by a complete stranger?

Chris ultimately suggests that friendship can serve as a remedy for betrayal. Not the usual kind of friendships that center on full reciprocity, but friendships where sometimes we are the primary receivers, and sometimes we are the primary givers. He shares the story of Tuna, a Bengali man who often prefers to go without a meal over eating alone. He's not afraid to ask someone to take him out for lunch or tea, and he's vulnerable to ask for someone to pay for a movie—with ice cream to follow.

When I first moved to Uptown, the neighborhood on the north side of Chicago where my partner and I still live, I met a man on the train, Brian. An older African-American man, he rode the Red Line several hours out of the day. He wore slacks and a polo, carrying with him a leather folio that held simple resumés and a laminated wrap sheet. Brian was very open and honest about his past as a felon. His eyes were kind, his voice deep. He gave some of the best hugs.

Brian taught me to see past my assumptions and presuppositions. His speech on the train would first ans foremost ask for money for transportation, followed by housing, food, and then whatever else he needed. More than anything, he wanted a job, something to keep him off the streets. Brian disappeared for a while, and when he reappeared, my heart leapt. I sincerely missed him and worried about him. He's been taken back to County on a minor charge. That night, I gave him rent money for a month, and he gave me his honest self. Brian told me that he too was gay. As a black man in his late 40's who spent too much time behind bars, I knew the amount of trust it took for him to share this with me.

Thanks to Brian, I can't think about homeless people the same way. I can't think of betrayal the same way. Community, in this day and age, is complex, vast. We have to think about it differently. We have to do it differently. Brian might not have much to give me. This doesn't mean we aren't friends. It just means we've redefined what friendship means. What it means to love each other.