How are we followers of Vincent at doing dishes?

by | May 29, 2019 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 1 comment

How are we followers of Vincent at doing dishes?

Systemic change has a bad rap. Actually, it is a badly misunderstood concept. It is really a very simple idea. And it can be summed up very simply “Do the dishes!” Talk about putting systemic change in everyday language

Shane Clairborne has a reputation for “walking the talk.” If you have any doubt read his classic book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Reflecting on the vast difference between visions of community and social change, and the actual work and practices that these things entail, he shares a quote that he came across in a community he once visited:

“Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.”

Now there’s thought!

Shane Claiborne still does the dishes.

A reviewer drove home the point.  Ben Katt wrote

Shane Claiborne still does the dishes. I mean this quite literally. When he left a dinner in The Simple Way space that was hosted by a common friend of ours, Shane took his plate, utensils and cup to the kitchen to wash before he went home for the evening.

But, of course, I also mean more than this. Shane Claiborne still does the dishes — the ordinary, everyday, simple stuff on the city blocks and street corners and row house front porches of his neighborhood.

  • He says “Hello” to his neighbors (or maybe it was “Howdy”?), calls them by name, and asks them how they’re doing.
  • He kindly, but firmly tells the young man subtly (to outside eyes!) dealing drugs on the corner, “We’re keeping this corner clean.”
  • He helps organize a prayer vigil to mourn the victims of recent shootings in the neighborhood, and is actively involved in the development of the neighborhood park.
  • He walks an out-of-towner to the El train stop a few blocks away.

Shane still wants a revolution — and towards that end, he writes and speaks widely about war, poverty, gun violence and, currently, the death penalty — but he hasn’t stopped doing the dishes. In fact, as he told me in our RePLACING CHURCH Podcast conversation, it is precisely the doing the dishes, the daily life and community in the neighborhood, that informs and guides his work around issues like gun control and justice. His neighborhood is at once his anchor, his reality check, his muse.

St. Vincent’s way of saying it 

“Let us love God. But let it be with the sweat of our brows and the strength of our arms!”

I am quite sure he would resonate with the additional thought “… and do the dishes!”

Vincent certainly paid attention to details. His conferences to the Daughters of Charity are filled with his attentiveness. Here I would like to suggest some details we might not think of.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that it was his attention to details his observed in the stories by and about Jesus. In our desire to do more than just bind up wounds but also prevent the wounds from occurring, we might do well to follow Vincent’s example of reflective reading of the scripture to see parallels in our lives.

Doing the dishes of systemic change

  • Do I do the dishes of getting to know the person in front of me?
  • Do I do the dishes of asking the very simple question, WHY? Why is this happening?
  • Do I do the dishes of looking around to see who can help change the “why”?

See a related reflection by Craig Greenfield

1 Comment

  1. Sr. Marjory Ann Baez

    Thank you for your creativity!

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