But there is just one thing I refuse(d) to swallow.
When I spent two months in Ireland, I learned a lot about Saint Patrick. I'm a Saint Patrick nerd - but there was still more to learn in Ireland. And there was the one thing I didn't learn.
You know how sometimes you don't learn something - not because someone isn't trying to teach you - but because you don't want to learn it. So, you rope off a part of your mind and refuse to let it in. I would go to lectures and tours and essentially plug my ears and say "La la la la la! I'm not listening. I can't hear you," every time someone would say: "There probably wasn't one Saint Patrick."
It's true. We celebrate and remember and attribute all these things to one guy when it was probably many guys...and of course all the women who - as we often do - worked tirelessly in the unrecorded shadows.
But I didn't like this story. I liked the story of one super-human hero. I like the movie-ready mythic tale: "In a world where slavery and oppression covered the land: one runaway slave returns to fight slavery, challenge oppression, risk his life for the poor and disempowered, and share the story of Jesus in a new way." But for the last part, Hugh Jackman could have played Patrick. Tag the Jesus thing on and I think we might be landing on Kirk Cameron. All the same...this is the story I liked.
No one makes a movie out of several people doing the small work right in front of them that makes a collective movement that changes everything. No one puts neighborhood activist figurines in Happy Meals. I held tightly to my one-guy theory of Saint Patrick.
And, I still do this.
I am facilitating liturgy and leading a workshop or two at Inhabit (a conference for people interested in loving their neighborhood in the way of Jesus) next month. I was just looking over the other presenters and what they do/have done. Instantly, I solidified old ministry-crushes on the ones I already knew and formed new ministry-crushes on the ones that are new to me. New Saint Patricks who have done the impossible.
But then I stop and reflect on every story of change I have watched - and not just read about. It's never one guy. For one thing, there are always bunch of women involved, again working tirelessly in the unrecorded shadows. But more importantly - it's never one person. All the crushable stories of ministries that bring love, justice, transformation, and renewed hope into the world are the stories of many people - never of one person - putting one foot in front of the other on a slow march toward the goodness God intends for this world.
I used to want there to be only one Patrick. One Hugh Jackman figurine all the kids would want for Christmas with special Druid-repelling action. But that's neither the way anything ever happens - nor is it as miraculous as a co-op of small Patricks doing the Jesus-work they wake up to every morning.
But, I'm falling in love with the collection of stories too-small-to-tell. I'm falling in love with all the people who work along side each of the presenters at Inhabit - who I will probably not meet but who are the flesh and bones of the stories of transformation I will drool over when we gather together next month. I am falling in love with the story I once refused to hear: many people in Ireland formed a Patrick Collective to do good among their neighbors, challenge leadership that didn't look out for the least among them, share the Jesus story in a way they could understand, and changed Ireland and the world in the process.
In the Parish Collective (one of many tribes of people conspiring in small ways toward God's dreams for our neighborhoods) - as in the Patrick Collective - we're not writing the epic story of one or a few people who did miraculous things in the nick of time for a struggling Church (though, wouldn't it be fun for Paul Sparks to play Paul Sparks). We're collecting the stories of countless people who are waking up every morning and asking what Jesus is up to in their neighborhood, how they can join, and doing the small but beautiful things that will never earn them an action figure or a feast day with copious beer and potatoes.
PS, you should go to Inhabit and join in the story sharing and conspiring...