Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Small Things with Great Love - Margot Starbuck




God wants to separate us from what divides us.

Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor
Author: Margot Starbuck
Foreword: Tony Campolo
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 239

In Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck one thought summarizes what makes her voice fresh: “We don’t have to add lots more overwhelming activity to what we’ve already got going. Rather, the regular stuff of our lives―the commute to work and the potlucks and home improvement projects and errands and play dates―are the exact places in which we express and experience God’s love for a world in need” (20).

If some Pharisees in Scripture were known for laying on heavy burdens without lifting a finger to help, Starbuck is just the opposite. Her whimsical, humorous viewpoint makes the work of reaching those on the margins less frightening. Perhaps unknowingly her style echoes that of Jesus when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30 ESV). I appreciate her gentle spirit, which does not burden readers but seeks to release them into a richer, fuller life.

She lightens the load by being transparent about her own struggles and showing through stories how readers can take baby steps. It is a wonderful primer for those who want to know God’s heart for the poor and move from an insular environment to one that is more open. It is far too easy to become separate from the ones that God loves. This book is a start to bridging that gap.

Along the way Starbuck addresses the many different places in which we find ourselves. One of my favorite chapters is “Introverts.” I found it liberating because it affirms the type of person that I am by temperament and points to ways of loving God and neighbor appropriate to it. It makes a point reiterated throughout the book. We can be ourselves in engaging others.

In keeping with the spirit of whimsy, this book can be read creatively in a way that considers our various differences and roles. At the end of each chapter readers have the option to skip to a section relevant to them. At the end of “Introverts,” if you are female, you can turn to page 75 to read “Women.” If you are male, you can keep reading into the next chapter, “Men.” And so it goes at the end of every chapter. Readers in every walk of life are addressed, and they can follow this adventurous path if they choose not to read straight through. It’s all so good that those who skip around might want to go back and catch the parts they miss.

One part that troubled me comes toward the end where the author discusses the impact of our choices. How we spend and consume has an impact on the rest of the world, and it is right to consider this. It’s not that I disagree, but I wonder if there is more to consider than choosing to pay more so that we don’t support cheap labor. I am simplifying, but I wonder what God would have us do. I have a friend that out of necessity buys cheap jeans. I live in an area where unemployment is typically above the state average. Some people, and I am now one of them, depend at least in part on the meager income they gain from working at big box retailers.

After being denied entrance into our community several years ago, Walmart is getting ready to open in a location that was abandoned after another store that was popular locally went out of business. As I am sure is the case in most places, there will be more applicants than job openings. Even though many local residents strongly oppose this retail giant, others will welcome the low prices. Perhaps an obvious solution is for retailers like Walmart to act responsibly and improve their record in relation to all involved in the manufacture and sale of a product. Loving your neighbor precludes exploiting him. Let justice roll down from the upper echelons to the lowest in every endeavor. What a difference it would make, not to mention the hope it would engender. Do these corporations and the people that manage them have the will to make changes?

If the answer in part is to avoid shopping at big box retailers, their employees might lose their jobs and be forced to find new ones in a scarce environment. Is this a cost that our nation needs to bear to move toward a more just society? It would be interesting to know more of what Starbuck and others think. I don’t have the answer.

What troubles me is wondering if these issues are more complex than we realize. Then again, maybe part of the answer is, as much as possible, to be simple in the sense of not complicating how God would have each individual respond. That in part is what makes this book endearing. Normally, it’s not a matter of doing great things, but small things with great love. 
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