"this is our efficacy"

Basking Ridge, NJ

After four nights in a row indoors, we spent the next three nights sleeping out (finding shelter one night on a church porch while a storm raged around us). Sunday morning we started walking early and then stopped at the first church we came to. After worship, Don, a nurse just coming off a night shift, shared his own coffee with us ("dark roast with heavy cream") and guided us to the adult Sunday school. Then we ended up staying for two classes in a row, talking with many people. Next, we were invited to lunch at a restaurant with the group, and after that Larysa took us to a historic park and then drove us down to meet my friend Tom, who we were planning to visit. He was gracious about our early arrival. After introducing us to his cat (it seems like we've been meeting a lot of cats on this trip—an answer to Heather's prayers?), Tom took us out to an excellent Thai restaurant. We're resting and getting cleaned up at his place today.

I've been thinking a lot about how this walk has been different from past years. With Heather along we do seem more accessible to people, so we've had more invitations and seem to be treated better than I remember in the past. That also means it's been easier to invite us, less of a risk, so our encounters seem less challenging to people. And the conversations seem somewhat lighter, less in-depth. Which has made me wonder if somehow we're "doing less" for people this year.

But one of the good things I've learned during these years of pilgrimage is that what I do for someone is not so important (what I say or teach, for example), it's just the good effect in their lives that counts. The more that people see their help coming directly from God, the better. And, for me, it's better, more humbling, to not be recognized as "the helper."

I'm still looking for and desiring more opportunities to serve and act compassionately towards others. But I have to remember that Jesus' greatest gift was not the particular acts of healing or teaching (which were relatively few, during only a couple years). His greatest gift was the appearance of his life in the world, a life of utter dependence on the love of God, and his offer of that life to us. This has given hope to countless people and inspired love again and again among us. I hope on this walk we offer something of that inspiration to others. It seems from people's responses to us that something good is stirred in them; and I do think they are happier to see us out here together, rather than just me alone.

Also, the best challenge to people may simply be the life lived (miraculously) free of the restraints and oppressive forces that usually control our choices and actions. Demonstrating that we don't have to settle for "the lesser evil," or give up the highest good (or our true calling) because it's "just not possible in this fallen world." Jesus' life uncovered the falsehood of those excuses. Just living among us, a truly human life, yet not bound by the forces (economic, political, religious, social) that control our lives, he challenged us deeply—and offered hope.

As Jacques Ellul wrote, in a passage I return to again and again:

We have simply to be, and we can only be a question put within the world, a question invincibly confronting it. This is our efficacy. It is the efficacy of the question, a question which society and sociological movements cannot assimilate. Israel and the church have never been efficacious except to the degree that the world has been unable to assimilate them. This is the vocation of the people of God incomparably more authentic than "service" or "works."

It is not at the level of works and their results that this efficacy may be seen; it is at the level of inassimilability.