Americans tend to see the “hero’s journey” as a solo expedition. Patrick B. Reyes wants us to rethink that journey as a communal one. He will talk about that as one of three keynote speakers at the Perkins Fall Convocation, November 15-16. Reyes is a Chicano educator, administrator, institutional strategist and author of The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive.
Perkins Perspective interviewed Reyes about his planned topic for the Convocation; here are excerpts.
Perkins Perspective: You’ve written a book about “the purpose gap.” What is it?
I define the purpose gap as all the education, opportunity, resource, housing and wealth gaps that exist in the country. For young people of color — who are more like the community I came from, who are more likely to go to prison than go to college – there’s an opportunity gap. The purpose gap is the limitation on their imagination to dream those big dreams, to do what they want to do in the world, to imagine all the many possibilities in their lives, that some of us just haven’t had access to. Some people in our communities are staring down what it means to survive, as opposed to, “What do I want to be when I grew up?”
Could you summarize for us what you see as the key tasks needed to begin to close that gap?
We need to reimagine the hero’s journey. In this country, we think of the hero’s journey in terms of the solo individualist. You go on a quest; you get the resources and people that help you imagine your future. Or, as Paulo Coelho says, “The universe will conspire to help you on your journey.” Well, that is just bogus b**t for so many people in marginalized communities who are just trying to survive.
Closing the purpose gap closing is about re-imagining. How do we think about this less as an individual journey? How do we recapture vocation as a communal venture? How do we create conditions for all of our people to thrive? How do you connect to ancestors? How do you connect to your descendants? How do we take care of this earth that we live on? We will be re-imagining purpose, so that all of our children may thrive, so that way future generations will thrive in communities that we built together.
Your book tells the story of your cousin, whose life turned out quite differently than yours, and that led to a revelation for you. Can you share that briefly?
After my first book came out, I was touring the country and talking about meaning and purpose. I was talking to first-generation college students, to Latinos like myself, and I was really excited to have this conversation. And then I get this phone call from my dad that my cousin, Bro, had passed away.
I had reflected on him in my first book, about how he went to prison. The story that immediately came to mind was my grandma telling me, when I was staying in her house, “Mi hijo, that bed is not yours.” The bed that I was sleeping in could’ve been [my cousin’s] as well. I couldn’t help but feel survivor’s guilt. What was I doing? Talking about meaning and purpose, when my cousin, who was equally as gifted, joyful to be around, just a loving person, when he wasn’t here, wasn’t breathing?
I realized, this really isn’t about me. There’s no reason why I’m alive and he’s dead. We should be thinking about meaning and purpose in a way that would mean that you could be talking to Bro now. I would love for you to have met Bro. He was a great dude. I want to think about meaning and purpose in that broader sense, for the whole community
In addressing the purpose gap, do faith communities and faith leaders have a specific role that perhaps other institutions (schools, social services, etc.) can’t easily provide?
Yes. It really is about the spiritual and religious leaders, the practices, the traditions that we inherit, the traditions that we’ve been charged with, preparing a community, leading a community. This is what’s in the Hebrew texts. This is what Jesus was doing, wandering around. When he went back home, they were like, is this really Joseph’s son? Who’s claiming that he can lead all of us? Then Jesus collects some homies and goes on a journey of healing and restoring the community. For me, that is what we’re called to as religious leaders — to leverage those spiritual religious practices to heal our communities. To help folks find their place in God’s story and our story and our communal story.
So many religious leaders are trying to figure out how to survive right now, about how to keep their doors open. But, at least as I read scripture, we are called to the spiritual and religious transformation of our communities. That means addressing these deep hurts and deep needs. If we got back to that as our core vocation, as a church, we could close the purpose gap. I have a whole chapter dedicated to the vocation of the church, the call of the institution. I absolutely believe the church is called to do this work.
What about churches that are largely white, affluent, suburban churches. Do they have a role to play?
Yes. Those churches are absolutely implicated in closing the purpose gap in this country.
When I was a teenager, I remember sitting at the dinner table with an Anglo friend’s family. My best friend’s little sister said, “Patrick, we got a new pig. We named it Patrick, because it eats like you, it smells like you and it’s from the same part of town that you are.”
This is a tiny kid, maybe first or second grade. She didn’t know that, as a Latino, when people put food in front of you, you eat it. I was being polite. It was just such a cultural miss, this lack of imagination, this lack of understanding that we were part of their community. So, yes, affluent white churches absolutely have a role to play in closing the purpose gap. It is to expand the imagination about who is human for their people.
We later had intervention with my friend’s little sister, where the mom said, “Look, Patrick’s a beloved member of this family. He’s not from pig fields. We should’ve never done that.” It’s about restoring the humanity of other folks and not just assuming that they deserved inequality, that somehow the privileges, the wealth, the opportunities, that come with being in a wealthy white neighborhood should not apply to everyone in this country.
Who should come to your keynote?
The two audiences that I’ve focused on are youth ministers and educators. These are the folks who are in the community talking directly to those young people who are on the margins, who are wondering if they’re going to make it another day. That’s the primary audience. The secondary audience would be all of those adults, those parents, those family members, who have young adults or children trying to dream and imagine new ways of being. I think of my grandma, Carmelita, who barely had a high school education, but she was doing my religious and spiritual training daily. I have a lot of education, but I got my formation from her. I think there are many folks like her who are doing that work daily.