Patrick B. Reyes on Called to Live
In this episode, Patrick Reyes shares his story of growing up in borderlands where he cried out to survive, found guideposts in familia and community, remained present in suffering, and found pathways in and through community to a calling from God to life.
Welcome to Public Worship and the Christian Life, a podcast by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In this series of conversations, we invite you to explore connections between the public worship practices of congregations and the dynamics of Christian life and witness in a variety of contexts. Our conversation partners represent many areas of expertise and a range of Christian traditions offering insights to challenge us as we discern the shape of faithful worship and witness in our own communities. In season three, we focus on congregational ministry with and among youth by exploring five themes: youth agency, theological questions, the role of families and parents, intergenerational community, and multiple pathways for youth.
Kristen Verhulst 01:04
I am delighted today to welcome Patrick Reyes to the podcast. Patrick is the author of the book Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood. Patrick, thanks so much for doing the podcast today.
Patrick Reyes 01:21
Oh, thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Kristen Verhulst 01:24
Patrick, you are senior director for learning design at the Forum for Theological Exploration, which you describe as a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities. So I wonder if I can just ask you to tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do here at FTE, and really lead us into this book that you wrote, this wonderful book.
Patrick Reyes 01:54
Of course. Thank you for the invitation. By way of introduction, I say this to everyone when I introduce myself: I'm sitting between five generations of Carmelitas. There's five generations back of Carmelita, my grandmother's name, who, if you read the book Nobody Cries When We Die, you learn a lot about my grandma. My daughter is named after her, and I'm sure there will be one in five generations who will carry on the spirit of Carmelita. So I really sit in this in-between space as someone who grew up in California who is formed and shaped by my lineage, my family, the people who surrounded me with love, and grew up in an education desert, as I talk about in Nobody Cries. Less than a percent of a percent have a graduate degree in anything. The childhood opportunity index says that Salinas and Bakersfield, California, the two places I grew up, are on that list for bottom ten cities for where folks can find opportunity and access to resources. So this kind of shapes my work even at FTE, which has been doing pastoral leadership support since 1954, identifying, equipping, and supporting the next generation of pastoral leaders and since 1968 doctoral students of color, which is how I came into the organization, to oversee the doctoral initiatives, was looks like everything from our fellowships to our support for deans or presidents who are doing diversity, equity, inclusion and access work on their campuses. And so all of this work boils down to mean how do we gain and equip a new generation of Christian leaders who are really able to address the challenges of the world through Christian communities, through their congregations, through their institutions of higher learning and theological education? We do that through grants and events, convenings, and resource development. So I love my job. I love my work. The people who I get to work with are inspiring and passionate, and that's how I feel about the work and the love and the energy I put into it as well.
Kristen Verhulst 03:53
Thank you. And let me just say too, Patrick, thank you for sharing your story. For those who have not yet read your book, it is a story that has trauma and tremendous pain. But it also is a story of deep grace, of God's grace to you, and through your family and other important people in your life that brought you to where you are today. It's a story of survival, I think is what you talk about. So I know for those who have read the book, they understand better why you wrote this story. But for those who have yet to read your book, take us into why it was important for you to tell your story.
Patrick Reyes 04:37
I wrote Nobody Cries When We Die really because when I was going through my formal education experience, I didn't have a lot of instructors of color, didn't have any Latino instructors. I got into theological education based on a whim. A pastor who I talk about in the book suggested, “Hey, you’ve got something here; you’ve got an undergraduate degree, which is tremendous. Have you ever thought about ministry? You should go think about this place.” And I went off to my graduate education, and I just didn't see my family, my community, the practices, the love that my grandma had put into us, which were deeply rooted in her faith, reflected in anything I read. I was learning someone else's history, someone else's traditions and practices. I just wondered, where are my people? Where's my story? And so I set out after I completed my doctoral research to try to figure out what was actually missing in the vocational literature from a community like mine. So I did my best to do—this is part spiritual autobiography, part theological reflection, and vocational resources. It's a whole package of a whole bunch of things that are trying to take account for the trauma, the abuse, the violence that I experienced and survived growing up, and to recapture this idea that vocation, or God's call for us, for so many of us, is just to survive. That's sometimes enough. Breathing is enough. And really taking serious that notion of what would emerge if that was the foundation as opposed to vocation defined as a cool job or something I want to do or I'm passionate about. What if it's just about surviving? I’m trying to do an inventory of all those people—my dad, the Christian brothers, my grandmother, my community that raised me—who helped me do that and do that well. So that way I could do the same for a future generation.
Kristen Verhulst 06:33
I love how you noted in the book that it's not about arriving somewhere; it's really this journey, and it's a journey we each do, but we do it together in community. It's been out for a couple of years now. What have you been hearing from people who have read it? What are they reflecting on, or what has captured their imagination as they read your story?
Patrick Reyes 06:58
I guess just the pouring out of stories. We're story-based people; stories beget more stories. And I think that the amount of love and appreciation and stories that I've heard from readers where they tell me their story, I mean, that's been the exciting piece of this book coming out: that this has opened up an avenue for people to really unearth parts of their vocational journey, their life story that they were hiding, or they were told to push aside, or they were told didn't matter. And I think Nobody Cries really opens up a space where those moments are moments to wrestle with. It doesn't mean you have to theologize your way out of them or say that—I say there's no redemption in suffering; you don't have to find a redemptive arc in your story, but that's still the story, and how do we wrestle with that? So one of the things I've just loved is the outpouring of letters and emails of people telling me, Hey, this is my story. You told me yours, I want to tell you mine. And the amount of heartache and prayers and community building I've been doing has just been overwhelming and I'm really grateful that that has been one of the responses. And the other response is reflective of general conversation we're having in the United States around the rising tide of Latinos in the United States and the vast diversity of experiences that we have. It's for me igniting a new way of talking about Latinidad. What does it mean to be Latino in this country and the various groups and to say that, hey, Nobody Cries is not speaking for all of us. It's a unique experience of a Chicano in Northern California. What does that look like for other groups, for other people to tell their own story, to tell the nuances of our communities, to tell how some of our communities are just completely, vastly different and this doesn't relate at all? How do we have those conversations in the Latino community? And I've really been grateful for that because that's taken me back into my own community I grew up in; it’s taken me into communities I've never thought I'd be a part of as part of international youth gathering where it was all folks from Latin America and Central America that were wrestling with the book and the text, and the places where folks who have access to reading and writing, to higher education, they know the context out of which this book speaks, of gang violence, abuse, violence—they know that's happening in their communities, but they may not have firsthand experience of it either. So how do we equip a new generation to teach that, because they're going in pastoral leadership to go back and think through these things with folks who are on the margins in their own communities, in their own Spanish-speaking and Latino context, Latin American context, Central American context. So that part has been really great, to just be able to have conversation with young folks. Nobody Cries is a book for young adults, and I just love the stories that are pouring out from folks who are reading it.
Kristen Verhulst 09:55
Thank you. You touched on this idea of multiple narratives, and I think that's one of the ways we can really listen to each other is to acknowledge we all have a story, each one of us. These stories, though, do feed together to a bigger narrative, which is God's story. I love too how you right at the beginning went back in time, back in history. We're all part of a longer historical story. What do you say to those pastoral leaders who maybe don't quite understand stories that are very different from their own? Perhaps it's a leader who hasn't had a lot of experience with trauma or pain. What encouragement do you give to these leaders so they can understand a story that is very different from the one, perhaps, that they grew up in or are familiar with?
Patrick Reyes 10:51 I think I'm not doing anything dramatic in Nobody Cries here by saying “center others’ stories and be able to be a good listener.” Even in my formal Western education in the various settings that I've been in, which have been mostly Protestant mainline, I’ve been taught that if we can listen well as pastoral leaders to the the stories, the challenges of our community, we’ll be better pastors, we’ll be better youth ministers, we’ll be better educators. And I think there's a piece of this for me that it's really about the humility. I try to lift this up in Nobody Cries. I get a little bit more to it in my second book The Purpose Gap where I really try to explore, Hey, if you can sit with someone long enough to hear their story, to hear their word into being, into life, that this is actually what the pastoral call is for, that this is what we can do better than any other field out there. I mean, I can't even imagine how many times we've all had that doctor with horrible bedside manners. When you're trying to talk about literal life and death things, they don't know how to sit with you long enough. Pastors are actually trained to do this work well. So if we could sit with these stories and decenter—and this is just also to say that I try to take inventory in Nobody Cries where I say people of color in this country have to know multiple bibliographies. We have to know the Western canon, what they give us in formalized education, but we also have been tasked with knowing our own traditions and practices and histories that are either being erased or pushed out of the narrative or just were never even considered. And so for majority culture folks to really have some humility here to say it's OK—in Nobody Cries or even my second book, The Purpose Gap, where I center BIPOC folks, that's not to say your stories are not important. It's just to say that there's tons of literature on those stories, and just center BIPOC stories for a short minute to sit there with them and to listen to them and hear. That's what we're called to do. And some of us, I would say most people of color who have been raised in this country, have a clear understanding. That's what we've been doing our whole lives, that we go to school K through 12 and sit there and listen to other people's stories centered and wondering, where are our people, where are our histories, where are our traditions? And so we actually have a skill of doing this. And this is an invitation for majority-culture folks to do the same, to sit there and say, Hey, well, tell me more about that. I'm actually curious. You have wisdom. You have practices that can offer something really powerful for the world and what it needs right now.
Kristen Verhulst 13:31
Yes. And I think there, too, privileging the voices that over history as we look back have not been allowed to speak, but also to say that there is a lot in the borderlands, in the margins, where there is life, and there is newness there that we maybe aren't so quick to see, perhaps, folks from the majority culture. Is there anything you can say about places of pain that give insight to ways to grow together as community?
Patrick Reyes 14:06
Yeah, I think a lot of places, institutions, youth ministries, churches, places of higher education are wrestling with this very question right now: that we know that the world, our world, I should say, the U.S. is greatly diversifying, that the graduating high school class this year was majority (56 percent) nonwhite. So the tides are turning. We are not just a number for a program to fill up the tradition and really making the space to say we need to be codesigners in what comes next, that this is an opportunity for us to really reimagine our institutions and structures with a new center. I say this a lot, that the higher education, theological education I went through, even the youth ministry programs I went to, they did not have Chicano young brown men in mind when they were designed. The systems that were in mind for us—in California where I grew up, we're more likely to go to prison than we are to go to college. That's by design. That's not an accident. It's not because there's something wrong with our psychology. It is literally a design. So this is an invitation to really think through, Hey, how do we redesign with these neighbors that we have in ways where we can build beloved community together? And I think that's a great invitation, and it takes a lot of humility. And the biggest challenge here really is in this moment where it feels like there's a lot of scarcity, where institutions are having those challenges—we don't have the people in our buildings, we don't have them in the pews, we don't have them the classrooms—how are we going to maintain this? The question is not how are you going to maintain; it's actually, How are you going to allow it to transition, to die and resurrect in a way that is new for new groups where we can imagine communion together? I say this all the time: I bring my ancestors to every single conversation, both my European ancestors and my folks who have been on this land for several hundred years. And when I meet folks who don't know how to do that, majority-culture folks who don't know how to bring their ancestors and their folks, we can't design together. There's an assumption of power there that, hey, we already have the system. We don't have to do all that work. Well, actually, no, we're in a really creative moment in this greatly traumatic time that we're all in, that our institutions are begging us to find a new vocation where we can imagine a broader set of stories, traditions, and histories. And I would just say this too: It's not even about settling on which ones we need to get to the future. It's about building those institutions, those churches, those places that can hold all of those narratives, all those relationships together. And if we could do that practice—I say this a little bit in Nobody Cries—this was a reflection on me in higher education at the very end of that book that I was at a primarily white institution that was going through a major transition. And my invitation to them was, Just imagine with the students you have: you have faculty and administration who are majority white, and you have majority people of color in the student body. Imagine with them what this institution will look like instead of saying, . . . Where are the kids we used to have? That's the challenge we're in to say, Hey, you actually need to imagine a whole new institution and guess what? You still have expertise and something to offer this group, but take some time to listen. You need to have that slowing down so that way we can design together. So I just think this is a moment of invitation for us to rethink what it means to be community together.
Kristen Verhulst 17:52
Absolutely. And what encouragement do you offer to the youth right now in high school, in college, going to seminary, who are so eager to help make this change, but yet still face that very real system that can often be against them? What do you offer them as encouragement of really staying with it even when it's difficult?
Patrick Reyes 18:24
I write about this a lot in Nobody Cries, where no one really gave me permission for anything. The funnel for BIPOC students and young people is not toward positions of power, leadership, institutional change. We're seeing a lot of the activism that's been going on the last couple of years; I was deeply involved as an organizer when I was younger. That work is all important. And there's also this sort of generativity I want to offer for this next generation that really is an invitation to design and imagine the institutions they want to serve in and to be relentless in their quest to take leadership on those things. You know, the biggest thing I've learned about being in a predominantly white institution . . . is really the challenge of institutions having barriers. They've been doing things for a really long time. Systems and structures are designed to keep them going in that particular generation. They're not really equipped to shift very quickly. And for those who are on the brink of survival, for those students of color who are coming in these places, young people are coming to these institutions, really be OK with the vocation that they're called to. Some are called to be reformers and change institutions, some are called to be revolutionaries and dream up new things. Some are called to be middle managers of the system that is. But to be understanding of what your role is and then being OK with what comes back. You know, it took me a while there . . . to understand that there is an institution that was just absolutely sucking the life out of me and treating me awful, like as a subhuman person. And I could have continued to try to be a reformer in that place , but I had no allies, there was no critical mass of people of color. My supervisor didn't get my back on a whole bunch of things. So I had to say, “Hey, for my life and for my kid's life and for future descendants, this is not going to be the place where the change that I want to see in the world is going to happen. I'm going to have to go somewhere else,” and being OK with that and being confident in how I am called to make change, and called to create conditions where people of color thrive. So if I'm going to do that, I need to find a place where I'm actually equipped and resourced to do that work well. And that takes a little humility because we get into places and we're like, “Hey, why can't you serve all my needs?” For young people, find the places to give you life and then go pursue that with earnestness.
Kristen Verhulst 20:54
Community, familia—these are very important themes in your story. And I think I'm hearing you say too, now, this generation that is involved in so much change and these systems are shifting. I sense, though, that the community and familia rootedness is going to be a part of the change. What have you learned from your own experience, and as we look ahead, what could you offer those mentors, leaders in young people's lives that would encourage and guide deeper bonds of community or intertwining relationships?
Patrick Reyes 21:37
I hate to sound trite, but we know what works: shared food, community share time. . . . If I could tell my mentors two things, one is really think through how much time you can give your mentees, and then I always say to whether it's our doctoral initiatives or our young adults, if they're mentoring someone that after a young adult has a conversation with a mentor, they have five fingers on their hand. They should be connected to at least five other people or resources to really expand their networks. That way, they can expand who they belong to. So for me, it's always been around this relationship piece. That's from my grandma's table, that's from her cooking me tortillas, having my aunts and uncles around, my cousins around, her hosting all the conversations—I talk about the vocational conversations we have at the table where no one can get away with anything. You’ve got to offer it up and then see what comes back, whether or not people actually think, Hey, you're actually equipped to do that, and being OK with active, ongoing life and conversation, like I had growing up; to me, that's just foundational to who we are. And I would also say this: that Gen Z and Gen Alpha that's coming up behind, they're connected in ways that previous generations just weren't, with social media, with internet, with all the online learning opportunities that they have available to them. The fractured notion of community and space and place and people, it's a challenge right now. And I think if institutions can really start finding ways to help young people really say, this is a great place—not to come because we have all these resources, we are what you need, but actually to be a place where you come from, where you say, I'm really proud to be an alum or a participant or community member of XYZ institution. That's never going to be tied to like one of your programs or your mission statement. It's going to be tied to the relationships they have with the people in the building. It's going to be tied to the ideas that were generated and the resources that were given for them to follow up on those ideas. It's about empowerment, which is just such a different orientation that if we're really thinking about building communities in which people are really proud to be from, that they're able to claim, I lift that up at the beginning of Nobody Cries; for me it comes out a gang context, of people asking me, What do you claim? You know, that's a matter of life and death. Now the flip side, it can be a matter of life. I would love to claim this institutional climate, the people that I met here, the folks that really inspired me and continue to inspire me in my life. And that's such a different radical reorientation as opposed to coming up with solutions for a new generation. It's really about coming up with what are the conditions in the community that are needed for those young people to thrive?
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Kristen Verhulst 24:56
If I could take us just a little bit into the worshiping community, which now connects directly with our work here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: We think a lot about practices in the context of the gathering of God's people in worship. Do you find certain practices in worship better feed into community building or this network of intertwined relationships?
Patrick Reyes 25:24
Yeah, this is a big challenge with worshiping communities. . . . One of the great markers of failed imagination is the North American, specifically U.S. church. If you go and look at the design of our buildings, there's such a lack of diversity of the way that we design our worship structures, the places where we actually come together. That, to me, is just a failed imagination of ways in which we can worship together. So it has taken on very specific forms, whether it's hymns, or singing, or the preaching moment, all of these things that give us structures that we think we need on a Sunday. And my research suggests the opposite, that that failed imagination—which can be beautiful, . . . can actually be really, really cool, like a great preaching moment I can name in my notebook, or those great singers that I know, the great choirs that I've worked with, or that great worship moment where we've had some sort of communion together or some shared practice together—but the best thing that I've seen in my research, at least when I was looking at folks who are really on the brink of survival, these are folks who we call essential workers. These are the farm workers and their families who are out there putting food on our table, and last year, in fires and a pandemic and racial uprisings so that we can eat. And I asked them what in their spiritual and religious lives keeps them alive, and all the places they named are places of communal gathering, and not one of them was a church. No one named Sunday as a place. They named the soccer fields on Saturday. They named the public library, the community center. And it was all these things that we know are important to worship as I read the worship literature, like intergenerational gathering, elders and young people gathering together to watch and have joy in the moments where they can laugh without the gaze or the violence of the world upon them, where they can hear from their elders the stories that keep them alive, where they can actually talk and ask questions of their faith and learn about practices people are doing at home. And so for me, I just get really, really excited about the best practices, really actually taking inventory of where people are congregating. What are they talking about, and how can that be an act of worship? Redefining it as worship where young people have agency and are able to really define and shape that, and granted it’s probably not going to look like our Sunday buildings, it's not going to look like our Sunday moments of worship. But if we can redefine that and have a moment to really reflect and engage with those young people in those places, there’d be a lot less talk about the decline of the church, because the church to me, my research suggests that it's actually thriving. It's just not thriving in those modern buildings that First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth enter in the name of the church. Their best practices are copies of one another. If we can go to Saturday, which is a biblical principle, to do some rest and Sabbath, and find out where people are going, I think we can redefine worship, and that takes a practice—that is a practice to actually do that sort of searching.
Kristen Verhulst 29:00
And for congregations who are struggling perhaps with reaching youth or engaging well with youth to make sure they know where are the youth gathering and then try to find those points of connection to the worshiping community so that they are not lost and certainly not unaware of what is captivating youth now. I was struck again and again by this line you use: “We are all running our own race together.” Probably the single most important part of a lot of faith communities is still that Sunday morning or Saturday night worship gathering. Do you have thoughts on how those who right now are in leadership positions in churches that gather people together for worship, how they can bring youth right into that central worship practice that we do together around the Word, around the table? Any thoughts about ways to bridge the gap where youth are perhaps finding themselves at other times and places, but always wanting to bring them still together with this worshiping community?
Patrick Reyes 30:27
I was just talking about this with where I'm at and going to Mass on Sundays, about Roman Catholicism, and talking with a local priest about the way that he sets the table, the way that he prepares the sanctuary for Mass, the way that we all do this. And I think what a failed opportunity we've had to inspire young people because we keep it all hidden behind a veil. Like, I don't understand why we don't invite people more into the mystery. The practice that we have, the prayers we say, the way we prep the table, the way we gather folks across all denominations, ecumenical denominations, however you gather for worship. It's very different from a Quaker community to a Catholic community to a Presbyterian sanctuary; they have times, they’ve got formats, they’ve got ways to do it. But if you are thinking about how do you bring in tradition along a new generation, the more that they can lift up the hood, for example, and explore and be excited about it. . . . I'll just say this: as a Catholic we talk about communion, and I was reflecting back to the priest that he was saying the same question: How come my young people are leaving, or how come they're not showing up at all? This is really a big question. I said, “Because you mumble and whisper everything that you think. . . . That's not how this group is wired. They want to know, and actually they're really excited about, what you're doing, that it is mysterious. The way you prep the sacraments is really cool. Like, do a workshop on that. Do what we know best, what we're trained to do, and share that with the world because there's something that's inspiring for them. So I would say that, as they prepare those things of worship, that the more active engagement . . . And this is also to say like, I don't know who this who needs to hear this or what choir director needs to hear this: Your songs are going to be worse. I don't know if that's possible, but the singing might get worse for a little while because you're going to have a bunch of people in there who don't know how to read music, who don't know how to carry a tune. I'm one of those people. But inviting them into the worship space actually makes it for a more human moment where folks in the pews and folks who are singing, the people who are gathered together go like, Oh, we are a community together, and actually, it's OK that Pat can't hold a tune and that he maybe squeaks on a saxophone every now and then when he's playing music in the background. At least we know that's Pat. That's our guy! And we can actually bring our friends and say, “Do you want to hear the way-whack saxophonist? Pat's our guy, he's out there, he's going to play anyway, he’s going to be super excited about it. He doesn't care.” And I think this is one of those human components that we just seem to have lost because Sunday has become a business meeting as opposed to a worship moment. And the more that we can unpack that and say, like, Hey, we are gathered here to be human together and not sometimes stick to the bulletin, I think we can we can really crack open a space for what people are hungry for and why they even show up to church in the first place, which is for the community, for the connection with the divine, and for their hearts and souls to be heard and listened to. And I think this is just a great invitation, a great moment for us to do that invitation probably in the ways that it was done way back when.
Kristen Verhulst 33:36
Let me bring it back a little bit now again to your book. You talk about your story as being a story of survival, a survival narrative. Yet all along the way, your story had these deep moments where you weren't just surviving, but you were actually flourishing. And I wonder if you could just speak especially to young people. How can they be attentive to those moments of deep flourishing? What can they look for? How can they name it? And also this idea that it's going to be very different, we're all on these different pathways. There'll be some similarities, but yet a lot of difference. What can we be attentive to?
Patrick Reyes 34:23
It's about putting our conversation, our own narratives, in the context of the greater community. You know, in this book is a whole bunch of different prison settings. I've had folks who are incarcerated, and I’ve gone to talk to them. They're like, “What a privileged life. I mean, he says survival, but you don't know what I had to survive,” and I hear their stories that are even more traumatic than anything I ever can imagine for my own body or for people, for my community. So, you know, one of the things that I try to say is to put these conversations, the moments that you have in conversation with the greater community, to find out where survival makes sense and where you are thriving. And I say this in Nobody Cries, it really was for me about interventions. That's the reason why I had to write the followup book, because if you took my cousin, whom I write about in the book; that's how I open The Purpose Gap. He recently just passed and passed in some ways because my grandma intervened in my life in a way that my family just didn't intervene in his life. And so having access to these opportunities and resources and people, it’s not guaranteed for so many from my community and for young people to be aware of that, that that's happening. Hopefully, we'll put in a context when they're in leadership roles to redefine them, . . . specifically to BIPOC young adults. You are not called to be the first and only in the room. You are getting through the system so you are not the last or the only, that you're supposed to be creating conditions for future generations to come through, that you're ceding ground in these places of vocation and call where it's not just supposed to be about you as the one bright shining star, but really it's about the constellation of stars that is in our community. And I think about this only because so many people that I wrote about in Nobody Cries when We Die I did my best to allow them to have as much freedom to live into their own call so they're not captured by my memories of our events, our shared events. But those are also some of the most brilliant humans I have ever lived and worked with, even in the most tragic of circumstances. They have gifts and talents and just brilliance that we are all missing out on because of the way the systems are structured. So for me, it really has been about how do we put my story in context of my greater community? I'll just say this: both books, for my writing, the first peer reviewers are my community, and let me just say that's a wonderful, heartfelt, no-nonsense, no-B.S. conversation around where memory works and fails, and that type of conversation where you can get called out for those moments that . . . the way that I got it best was, Nobody Cries comes out and I get a phone call from one of my best friends. I put them on speakerphone because we're driving; my kids are in the backseat. And he goes, “Pat, I just need to call you out. I read your book.” “OK, cool, what's up?” And he goes, “You're a liar.” I go, “OK. You know, this is pretty serious. I don't like being called a liar. So tell me, what’d I miss?” And I’ve got my kids in the background, and he’s swearing. And he goes, “People are going to read this book and think you're hard. Man, you were the first one to run away!” And I go, “Yeah, however, I write about that; I'm a runner in the book.” But it's that type of relationship with my community where that was really the only thing that he had sense of. Like, yeah, I had it hard; he had it hard as well, but I wasn't sitting around trying to fight anyone. I really was taking off or running all the time. And so really having those conversations in the community about what does survival look like in this moment, fight or flight, in these kinds of moments? And how we tell these stories is really important to the communal engagement around vocation. And for me, capturing that and having those conversations? It was life-giving, just so fun to hear, to go down memory lane like we all do and say, like, “Hey, what was your take on this happening?” . . . And those conversations, because of social media and everything that’s happening in the world, we can get into our own echo chambers, but to invite our own stories back into community is an important part of the process.
Kristen Verhulst 38:41
Indeed. And I love that image in the book of these coastal redwoods where the roots, not so much that they go so deep, but they go so wide and they get entwined with each other, and that's how these mighty redwoods stay upright. And that was just a beautiful image.
Patrick Reyes 39:03
Yeah, that's right. I mean, that was really coming from . . . I was in Boston at the time reading about Howard Thurman, who was the dean of the chapel there. And he gives a beautiful image of how folks, especially on the margins, have deep roots, how we can go down and tap into those wellsprings because we're a tree in the desert. And I just said, “I love that image.” And yes, that can absolutely be true. And I grew up around the redwoods. They center around a mother tree, which to me was my grandmother, whose roots are pretty shallow, and they spread out, and you can see how they hold each other up. And they’re the tallest trees in the world that are fire resistant, that can withstand generations of trauma that have happened on this land. And so I just love the idea that my community is more like the redwoods than just trying to survive, that we actually have a communal network that talks to each other through our roots, that’s intertwined, that holds each other up, that are centered around our mothers. I mean, that just to me was both what is happening in my community and what I want for all communities, that we can kind of interlock our roots. That way, we can all stand up.
Kristen Verhulst 40:11
That's great. Patrick, I just want to say thanks again for sharing your story. It's a beautiful story, and it's one filled with so much hope. What final words might you give to anyone who's involved in shaping, loving, forming young people? What encouragement do you want to give them?
Patrick Reyes 40:31
Have humility. This is multigenerational work. This is about loving the next generation into belonging, into a people, into a place. And my encouragement is really about taking that work seriously and realizing that this is also not a zero-sum game for right now, that it is about spending multiple times, multiple mentoring hours, sitting with young people over the arc of their lifespan and really forming them to do the same for future generations. Because at the end of the day, I opened with my introduction, that Carmelita that's yet to come in five generations, she may not, she probably will not know my name or what I've done in the world. But I hope the seeds that we've planted now in this generation to love, to care for this place and the people that surround us will trickle all the way to her so she'll know that she was loved into being. And for those who are working with young people, I really hope that we recapture that: love them no matter what. This is not about achieving anything. It's really about making sure they understand that they have a community that's got their back, and that this is multi-generational work.
Kristen Verhulst 41:46
Thank you so much, Patrick.
Patrick Reyes 41:49
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