In Here, Now, with You, Gregg Louis Taylor invites the reader to pay attention to six ways of experiencing God’s animating movement of compassion. Grounded in the real-life context of experience and the encouragement of relatable stories, plus providing an interactive process for meaningful conversations, reflection, and application, two questions shape the book’s content:
1. What every day experiences open the door to compassion’s movement in our lives?
2. How do we recognize and embrace such encounters to cultivate rich expressions of "compassionating" lives and leadership?
By learning to be compassionate just as God is, we become more authentically connected to one another and expand our awareness of the
God who is always here.
If you find yourself stymied by a spirituality gone stale, mired down from going through religious motions, and yet suspect there is much more, this book is for you. If you are a church leader who wants to cultivate a wildly welcoming,
compassionate space of grace in which anyone connected to or touched by your community feels accepted and loved, Here, Now, with You is written with you in mind.
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About the Author
Recognized and sought out for his compassionate and relatable way of inviting and inspiring others to love and be loved, Gregg Louis Taylor speaks regularly to a variety of audiences in large and small gatherings, including churches, conferences, and leadership events. Gregg co-hosts the reClaimed Podcast, is a Fellow with Project CURATE (Center for Urban Reconciliation and Theological Education), and a former board chair of the NACR (National Association for Christian Recovery), which offers resources and training and hope to individuals and churches engaged in addiction recovery. An ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church, Gregg’s 30-year pastoral and leadership journey has taken him into multiple contexts: from major urban environments to maximum-security prisons, stripped down rooms of AA, NA (and many other A’s) to well-adorned sanctuaries of big-steeple churches. Gregg has worked to close gaps that separate people, give voice to the voiceless, and build communities of authenticity and hope. Currently, Gregg serves as pastor with Houston: reVision, an organization which connects the city’s most disconnected youth with caring adults and positive peer relationships. Prior to joining the reVision team, Gregg was the pastor of Mercy Street, a diverse community of radical grace and hospitality for marginalized and hurting people, many recovering from addiction. More information about Gregg and his work may be found at gregglouistaylor.com.
Read an Excerpt
How I Look, Yo?
The quest for compassion-filled living and leading starts here: learning to see one another and ourselves with compassion, the lens through which God sees us all. We begin here primarily because the sum and substance of spirituality and the essence of being human is a growing, deepening, and transforming awareness of mutually inherent belovedness. That is hard won. Mainly, I think, because God does nothing outside the context of relationships, as a mentor once told me.
You could argue that if looking for a foolproof plan to assure every single person of his or her belovedness, surely God could have thought of a better way, especially since pain and messiness come with the territory of interacting with one another and the likelihood that this approach guarantees things will go wrong in all kinds of ways.
Naturally, this creates a tension: awakening to a sense of our belovedness does not happen in a vacuum of isolation but only occurs within the context of the relationships that constitute our lives. And yet, the relationships that form our lives often create a void of painful separation that poses a significant threat to awakening to such a thing. In other words, you can't see someone else's belovedness if you are not at least in the process of recognizing your own; and you can't recognize your own unless someone else sees you as beloved.
We learn to see ourselves by perceiving how others see us. We see others the way we see ourselves. And the way we see ourselves has a profound impact on how we understand the nature of God and our capacity to trust how God relates to us. Since emotional pain is social and awakening to belovedness is communal, we cannot escape the necessary condition of belonging to a community that beholds us in such a way as to reveal our belovedness and reminds us of it when we forget. And we do ... forget.
José is laid-back. Chill, you might say. Reserved yet reluctant to let anyone get too close too fast. Some of this is personality; some the result of the dehumanizing and violent trauma he's endured and the emotional survival skills he's sharpened because of it. Understandably, he's guarded. Some might perceive this as indifferent. At nineteen years old, he finds himself in the same life situation as many of the kids who grow up in the gang-affected streets of southwest Houston. Lacking education and well familiar with the juvenile justice system, he spent a significant amount of time bouncing around juvenile lockup, then county jail once turning seventeen. With all that, opportunities for "advancement" have been few and far between. Now, with a new baby and baby mama to take care of, he needs a steady job. You'd be right to assume that José is not at the top of employers' must-hire lists. Too much risk, they would say. But a friend with a roofing company cares and is more than willing to give him a shot and pay well. It's a late November day when I pick up José at his apartment for a lunch interview with his potential employer at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. Actually, it's not really an interview. The job is his if he wants it. Roofing is physically demanding work. I have my doubts about whether José — a buck-twenty soaking wet — will jump in after hearing what the job entails. But all goes well. He starts tomorrow.
On the ride back to his apartment, I'm curious about what's going on in his head. "So José, what do you think? You a 100 percent?"
"Yeah, dog! A hundred and ten!" He certainly sounds enthusiastic, confirming his excitement with a fist bump.
"I was thinking you might need work gloves, boots, and maybe some other stuff for work tomorrow. You got any of that at your apartment?"
"No. I ain't got none of that."
Pulling into a store, we gather necessary gear for his new job. As we pass racks of winter coats making a limited appearance in Houston, I'm reminded that the forecast has called for temperatures to drop and for the weather to turn wet and cold. I ask if he has a warm coat. Tugging on a thin, hoodie pullover he's wearing, he says, "I got this!"
"Hmm." I point to the winter coats. "What about any of these? You think they might be a little warmer? Pick whatever you want."
For several minutes, we peruse the long coat aisle, which stretches from the front of the store to the back. José runs a hand over the garments, getting a feel for the merchandise. He tries on a few, of varying sizes and colors, and puts each one back. This one is too big. This one is too small. This one is too. ... Finally, it looks like he's found one that is just right. Then I catch sight of something that catches me a little off guard. In the middle of the store, oblivious to the crowds walking by, there is José somewhere in his own world, standing almost statuesque. Time seems to have stopped. He arches his back slightly and lifts his head just a little. Slowly moving both palms up and down the front of the coat, feeling the freshness of the fabric, he alternates looking left and right, perhaps checking to see if any of his fellow shoppers have taken notice. As he returns his attention to me, our eyes meet.
"Hey, G. How I look, yo?" he says, posing in front of me, still brushing his hands on the front of the coat. It's apparent I'll be serving as his mirror.
The question hangs in the air between us as something radiates from José I hadn't seen much before. Dignity, pride, and a sense of worth — no, worthiness and amour propre rise from the depths of his brokenness to break the surface of his defended exterior. I'm telling you, he's a sight to behold. Beaming. "José, wow! You look great! You look like that coat was made just for you!" Not a huge smile but a subtle grin cracks the left corner of his mouth while his head nods in agreement. "Yeah. Yeah, G! I like this one."
How I look, yo? Truth be told, it's a question we all wonder about, maybe not out loud in the middle of a crowded store but silently among the competing voices fighting to gain a foothold in our hearts. It's not so much a question of, Do I look good? but more like, Am I OK? Am I adequate? Am I loved? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care?
As much as we pretend otherwise or prefer it not be the case, How I look, yo? is a question that requires someone else to answer for us. Standing in front of a mirror to ask and answer it for yourself, well, it loses a little something.
Social psychologist Charles Cooley theorized in his concept of the looking-glass self that how we see and feel about ourselves is primarily determined by how we perceive the way others see and feel about us. Especially early in our development, regardless of words we hear spoken, more than what we may think in our heads, there exists a gut feeling within the heart of the personal operating system that intuits, positively and negatively, how we are viewed by others close to us and by those sharing the communities in which we live.
So, for example, if I feel that I'm seen by others as wanted, a gift, someone who matters, and a person to be celebrated, it's likely I will begin to behave out of a grounded sense of worth and dignity, living with self- confidence and a hopeful view of the world. If, however, I get the sense that others see me as worthless and unwanted, less than or undeserving, I will likely learn to believe that about myself and live with a heavy dose of shame coupled with a corresponding, paralyzing sense that I am a nobody. Either way — or more likely a combination of both — how we see ourselves then shapes how we view others and influences our interactions with them. And, I would suggest, how we see ourselves has a profound effect on our gut-level perception of how we feel God truly feels about us. How I look, yo? is not just something we ask others; it's a question we seek God to answer as well.
After a worship service several years ago, a woman named Mary approached me crying with her head down. She was living in a transition house trying to get her life back on track after years of drugs, prostitution, and incarceration had beaten her up and beaten her down. The long, arduous journey she had endured was visible in the deep lines that crisscrossed her face, the shame she carried evident by the way her eyes struggled to meet mine. In treatment again, she was trying one more time to engage her painful past and reclaim a hopeful future. Through a flood of tears, she tried to speak her struggle through a trembling voice: "Pastor, I want to pray but I just can't. I'm nothing but a drug addict. Everyone told me I was a waste and they're right. If you knew the things I've done. I don't even know where to begin. I don't know what I would ever say to God. He wouldn't want to hear what I have to say anyway."
"Well, Mary, let me ask you this: If you were to tell me what you would like to say to God, what would that be?"
In broken speech between sobbing heaves, she began, "I'd say ... I love you, God. I ... need your help, God. I don't want to ... be alone anymore. I want ... what you want. I want more of you ... in my life ... in my heart ... I want you to forgive me ... I want to love you, I want you to love me." At that point, she looked at me for the first time. And with recognition and surprise in her water-filled eyes, she said with a slight giggle, "I just prayed, I just prayed, didn't I!"
"Yeah, Mary, you did. You sure did. And God hears you. God sees you. There has never been a time in your life when God did not love you. There is no expiration date on that. You, my friend, are deeply loved and not alone."
A daughter of God, who somewhere along the way felt that God saw her as a waste, found a grace; this beloved one who learned to hide her face in disgrace felt divine embrace.
I imagine Jesus was seeking an answer to How I look, yo? on the day he followed the crowds into the Jordan River to be baptized by a wild man from the hills. Hundreds of eyes watching, river water pouring over his head, I'm guessing he was a little unsure about what lay ahead. As he came out of the water, the answer he heard — and felt — rained over him to soak his soul, like heaven had spilled over its banks onto that little patch of earth to confirm for him and immerse him within God-created identity. "You are my beloved son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life!" Not for the first time or the last, Jesus became grounded that day in his divine belovedness. Something that would come in handy throughout the next few years when a genuine sense of himself was at risk of running aground. Something that comes in handy for all of us.
The quest for a compassion-filled life begins by learning to see and be seen by a love that liberates, a kindness that releases us from prisons of pain, and a grace that grounds us in divine belovedness. We all need to know that God sees us as beloved sons and daughters, looked upon with great delight. We all need to be reminded that, yes, in fact, God chooses us and marks us with love. To get there, we need human context, a relational environment that creates a conduit of compassion through which we are seen and empowered to see one another by this kind of love. We need someone else to see us. Genuinely see us. We need someone to see more in us than we see in ourselves. To see in us more than has been communicated to us by the haters around us, more than the fears and self-condemnation within us, more than the mistakes we've made. To bear witness to the imago Dei we carry. So there remains no doubt we matter, we are in this together, we are loved — and, more importantly, that we are lovable — we are mirrors, each of us, called to behold one another with the gaze of compassion. We are created to reflect and reveal each other's built-in divine dignity. Looking upon one another with eyes of compassion allows awareness of inherent sacred worth to rise from the debris pile of whatever has broken our spirit to reveal our loveworthiness. To behold the fundamental belovedness of others is to catch sight of our own.
Jean Vanier calls this the primary characteristic of being human:
To reveal someone's beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention. ... The belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is ... at the heart of being human. As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are — with their sometimes-hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses — we are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all."
Compassion agitates the spirit, activating our attentiveness to treasure buried beneath the surface. It stirs us to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen." I suspect most of us must learn (or relearn) this kind of seeing. Growing up racialized in 1960s Mississippi, categorized and isolated because of her skin color, was more than difficult; it was traumatic for Shandra. Now in her mid-fifties, she talks about trying to find her way in a world wounded by cultural, political, and socioeconomic divides, in a community overtaken by a storm of anxiety and resulting unwillingness to understand the "other." She remembers the racist place of her youth, which honored hatred and dehumanized human beings who were, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "harried by day and haunted by night by a nagging sense of nobodiness, constantly fighting to be saved from the poison of bitterness."
Trying to survive in a world of violence and embodied cultural shame, she learned to remain invisible both physically and emotionally, finetuning self-protective survival tactics, cautious and selective about whom she would let into her life or not. Mostly not.
"I learned to see and not see." Shandra begins telling her story with a view of an unforgotten past only she can see. "If I was walking to school or to the store and I saw you on the street, I would see you and not see you, so I would stay hidden, stay unnoticed. That was the message from my parents and family. See but don't see, they said. If I didn't stay hidden from you, if I didn't see you but let you see me, that was trouble. That's just how I was taught to cope. Living like that hurt me real bad, not just then, but as I got older.
"It's taken me a lot to learn not to live like that. A lot of loss. A lot of pain. A lot of fear. A lot of truth. A lot of help from others. A lot of love. But now, yes, now, I can see you and let you see me, and life is much better for me."
Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it, someone once said. True enough, I guess. But there are a lot of reasons for not seeing beauty in everything and everyone. Like being trained "to see and not see" because somewhere along the way you got the message loud and clear that to genuinely see others and allow yourself to be seen by them would create a vulnerability that would become a mess of trouble. A disadvantage like that would need to be avoided at all costs. My hunch is, however, that if given the opportunity to choose between a life of self-protective hiding in the shadows and a life opened to see the beauty around us and divine dignity within us, most of us, like Shandra, would choose the latter. At least we would like to.
What if, with a lot of love, a lot of grace, and a lot of help, we could unlearn how we've learned to see and not see by cultivating compassionate catching sight of each other? What if we learned to behold with kindness the more than mere mortals with whom we share the collective space of our lives?
For ninety days in 2010, Serbian-born artist Marina Abramovi? exhibited her work The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. During that three-month period, over 800,000 people came to see it.
Unusual expressions occupy the world of art, but the uniqueness of this exhibit was that it was made of trust, vulnerability, human connection, and some would say divine encounter. For hours each day, six days a week, for ninety days, Abramovi?, dressed in a bright red gown, sat on a brown, straight-backed, wooden chair. Opposite her was another chair just like it, empty and waiting for someone to occupy it. Strangers lined up by the thousands just for an opportunity to take their place in that simple wooden chair and sit with her in silence. In exchange for their willingness to meet for a moment, Abramovi? offered each person a few minutes of her undivided attention. She looked softly into each of their eyes, allowed them to stare into hers. No words. No sharing of personal histories. No touch. Just present and attentive, Abramovi? held each person in an unbroken, conscious gaze of compassion.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Here, Now, With You"
Copyright © 2019 Gregg Louis Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Considering Compassion 1
Prologue Conscious Contact 3
Chapter 1 How I Look, Yo? 9
Chapter 2 What's It Like to Be You Today? 17
Chapter 3 Pain Demands to Be Felt 27
Chapter 4 Here. Now. With You. 37
Chapter 5 F-Bombs, Faith, and Fit 51
Chapter 6 Would You Like to Pay with Love? 65
Part 2 Conversations and Cultivations 73
Chapter 7 How to Use Part Two 75
Chapter 8 Catching Sight 81
Chapter 9 Getting Curious 87
Chapter 10 Coming into the Pain 95
Chapter 11 Closing Gaps 101
Chapter 12 Church 109
Chapter 13 Counting 115