By John Janzen
WINNIPEG – I am kind of the new guy at Inner City Youth Alive. After six years at Siloam Mission and a decade in Japan previous to that, I have finally landed in the place I’ve been hearing about since I first came to Winnipeg from our little farm in Killarney.
So far it seems like a really good fit, because at ICYA they wrestle with a theme that has been front and center for me lately. My spiritual journey took a serious turn in the last few years. Life conspired to shine a stage light on the idea that love—and what it means to act lovingly—isn’t as simple and obvious as I once thought it to be.
I should have seen it coming. I’ve long been attracted to a famous quote from a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky who wrote, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” If I were to interpret what this wise old Russian was trying to say, it might be that deep understanding comes only from living through tough times.
Life in the North End, on the corner of Salter St. and Aberdeen Ave., brings a person into touch with tough times. In my first few months here I’ve spent a lot of time working with our fearless leader Kent Dueck. He has spent 33 years walking alongside people as they claw their way through some very difficult situations. Not a lot of people have that kind of staying power. But its effect was apparent to me lately when a local family was about to have their baby apprehended by the authorities. Who did they call on to be their advocate? Kent.
In some situations, Kent has three generations of relational connection—he knows the grandparents, the parents, and the children. He has been up close and personal for a long time, so he has a much fuller understanding of the situation. His love has balance.
For example, while one distant-but-powerful authority might say, “These are bad parents,” another opposing but equally-as-distant group says, “These are good parents!” However, someone who knows the families well can do a much better job of evaluating the truth of a given situation, because of the hard work of relational connecting that has been done over years. Beyond that, a relationally-connected person likely has far more authority to speak into the lives of someone going through troubled times. Generally, people are far more likely to listen and change when they know they are loved and that you are going to stick around.
I think “love” without relationship can get really unbalanced. When “the people with the answers” are distant from the problems they think they are solving, they tend to see things as much more black and white than they actually are. The actual complexity of a problem can seem simple from a distance.
Understanding grows when you are deep in the dirt and stress that comes with long-term relationship. It doesn’t get simpler, but it can get a lot clearer. Anyone in a healthy family knows this dynamic. How often have you seen someone with a simple and rigid opinion, then transition to a gentler opinion when someone in their family is affected? When we love someone, we listen long and investigate carefully, because we want to know the truth. Only a true diagnosis will lead us to solutions that bring us to health.
Mr. Dostoevsky might have said that this very thing is the “harsh” love that is so different from love in dreams. Dream love is really only niceness and a sort of detached fandom — it’s not the kind of love that brings us into the fullness of all that we are meant to be because it values us too much to accept anything less. The blessing of life at Inner City Youth Alive so far has been that staying in that warm, fuzzy, dream-love realm is not an option.
John Janzen is Director of Development at ICYA. He attends Faith Covenant Community Church in Winnipeg, Man. Many EMCers are involved in the ministry of ICYA in Winnipeg’s North End.