One thing this naïve country boy has learned over the years of ministry with folks on the street is the reality of the hustle.
What’s the hustle?
The hustle is the distinct bag of self preserving skills – deceptions, tricks, sales tactics, defenses – that allow an individual to survive a jungle of adversity that comes with life on the streets.
The hustle isn’t learned overnight. It’s a way, a paradigm, a lifestyle developed over years of responding to trauma, severe dissapointments, and oppression.
When well-meaning folks come to volunteer with us at Network most don’t realize that our displays of tenderness and compassion to folks on the street are upsetting their carefully crafted hustle.
The vast majority of our street friends have endured unimaginable nightmare-like childhoods which necessitated the self-preserving behaviors. The mindset is I determine to not be hurt again and if anybody’s doing the hurting it’s me. I’m in control.
So, when we offer our gifts of eye-contact, calling them by name, and a genuine pursuit of deeper relationship it causes a dizzying disorientation. After years of hustling there’s simply no psychological chategory for no-strings attached compassion.
The responses to our benevolent care can get weird. Some respond by excessive attachment to us. Others interpret our love as some sort of sexual advance while others are triggered into fits of anger and rage.
Like any addictive behavior the process of transformation usually means things will get worse before they get better. Healing only comes after tearing free from the drug, the relationships, and the places that enable the toxic dependence that enslaves them.
Over the years I’ve acquired a theology that reveals God as the divine disruptor of our hustle.
Religious systems condition an individual into the hustle in a way that eerily parallels the hustle of the streets.
I bump into so many people who are awakening to the no-strings attached tenderness and compassion of God and find it a very difficult gift to fully receive.
Many of our friends simply don’t know how to respond to the doubts and questions that come with our expanding paradigm's for faith. Our changing faith becomes a threat to their hustle.
In response to the agonizing loneliness that often comes with a faith shift many are provoked into a deeper fundamentalism or to flee the spiritual life altogether.
It’s not easy to hold eye contact with God and so all the self-preserving defenses of the ego kick in and perpetuate the way of the hustle.
Leaving the hustle behind almost always means it's gonna get worse before it gets better.
This is the ancient and archetypal story of Israel being led into the detox of the desert after deeply adopting the hustle of Egypt.
It’s Abraham being asked to leave his family and wealth behind to move toward the ambiguous “land I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)
It’s Jesus inviting the rich young ruler to hand over his power and wealth to the poor.
It’s Jesus inviting Nicodemus, a man deeply imbedded in the religious hustle, to break free and be born all over again.
The old stories reveal that God is still actively rescuing us from the hustle - from the fears of being orphaned and abandoned, from all the excessive attachments to security and certainty that come from the safe systematic cacoons that conditioned us.
The path of detoxification invites us to ask the dangerous questions. To risk expressing our doubts. To taste the intimate embrace of the One who says we won't be forsaken.
This Lenten season invites our eyes to meet the tender gaze of God's. And this mutual gazing always creates a death...
...to the hustle.