The following article appeared recently in the Delta County Independent.
A call for ‘Love in Action’
By Tamie Meck, The Delta County Independent
Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018 8:03 am
“Wherever you go, wherever you look, you’ll never find anyone more worthy of love than you.”
— John Records
So, you’re driving home. It’s late, cold and rainy, and your car is warm and dry. You see a man you don’t recognize. He’s holding his thumb out. Do you give him a ride? Or do you keep driving?
John Records faced that same decision many years ago. A lawyer making good money, he didn’t pick up hitchhikers. But that night he decided to “err on the side of kindness” and gave the man a ride. He saw the scene as one of “painful disparity. I was safe and warm in a cozy car and it was a cold and rainy night outside. Somebody was asking, with his thumb out, for me to share what I had. So I did.”
It turned out to be one of the most important decisions of his life. Picking up the hitchhiker, he said, led him to a life of giving that began with 21 years of working with homeless people in the San Francisco Bay area. Homelessness is everywhere, he said, but in San Francisco in the 1990s, stories of overwhelming suffering made the news daily. “There were children eating out of dumpsters,” he said. “That really broke my heart.”
In 2017, Records, a North Fork Valley resident, published Love in Action, a “practical and simple guide for living through the heart and being of service.” Giving selflessly, he says, “is love in action.”
Mother Teresa found that when she gave until her heart was broken, “there was no longer pain, but only love,” he says. One of his book’s messages tells readers to look for what breaks their heart. “That’s a call to you, to us, to respond … That broken heart can be the call of grace in our lives, asking us to do something.
“When we hear that call and we act,” he says, “That’s love in action.”
That selfless giving, he says, is “profound fulfillment.” Most people are happiest when they give, he says. There’s a story that says that just before we are born, “an angel comes up and whispers one word to us to prepare us for our life. And that word is ‘Give.’ Because we dare to give, we kind of overlook that which divides us.”
“But I’m kind of a slow learner,” said Records, 68. He became a lawyer, he says, for money and prestige, and dedicated 17 years to the profession. “I found it a very expensive way for people to make decisions,” he said. “I was kind of ramming the square peg of my soul into the round hole of my legal profession, to my detriment.”
It’s a decision he doesn’t regret, because it gave him valuable perspectives and skills. Love in Action distills his work in helping more than 20,000 people and his decades of spiritual practice into 34 brief, easy-to-understand chapters. “Love in action is the antidote to the poison of hate in action we’re seeing a lot of,” he says.
Love in Action is not a money-making project, he says. It’s available in numerous formats, including paperback, audiobook and Kindle for less than five dollars through Amazon. It’s also available for free download in ebook and mp3 format through his website, johnrecords.com. Root & Vine in Paonia also carries the book. Any money he makes goes to his work with Love in Action.
A self-described “reformed lawyer turned nonprofit leader, spiritual teacher, and transformational coach,” Records is also a Hospice chaplain and volunteer for HopeWest. For the past several years he has taught meditation and Love in Action classes at The Hive Paonia. He also teaches at the Center for Spiritual Life in Delta.
Love, he says, is a common denominator of religion and spirituality. The message is all around. “Examine any religion, and it’s about love.” Ghandi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King all shared this message.
If it sounds idealistic, consider that, not so very long ago, yoga and meditation were seen in Western society as esoteric and derided as foolery or hokum. Today, they are mainstream and practiced in schools, hospitals and nursing homes. “They’re in the military,” says Records.
Love in action — as paths to healing and living a long and healthy life, he believes, will also soon be accepted as mainstream. “I think there’s certainly research that supports that,” he says. Studies on longevity shows that if people engage in social connectedness and have a purpose, they live longer and happier lives.
Among the tools the book offers is the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. “It can be used as a roadmap and compass for our lives,” he says. It also includes the Bodhisattva’s poem and the Tikkum Olam, which refers to the healing of the world and the self. The exercises included in the book help bring these messages into daily life and help to understand what we see in the world.
“We are here to mend the world,” said Records. It’s in the book title: heal the world, heal yourself. “We mend it in ourselves, we mend it in what appears to be the external world.” Conversely, “When we hate like those who hate, then we become them.”
For those who feel overwhelmed by the endless stream of negative news, he urges hope. “The Berlin Wall came down, Apartheid ended in South Africa. In the 1980s the threat of a thermonuclear war was very real. There are many examples of important change that has happened,” said Records. “We’re still here. The important thing is, when things seem grim, don’t give up; don’t despair.”
Love in action can happen anywhere, he adds. Some people, he says, are already practicing it and don’t know it. “You may not have to do anything different. But it can be helpful to you, though, to realize this is what you’re doing.”
Records knows through experience that reaching out to homeless people can result in profound human connection. In the 2008 recession, as people lost jobs and careers they thought they’d have forever, he realized that, “Wow, anyone can be homeless… We don’t know what burdens others are carrying. And those of us who are well off need to be particularly careful not to assume that other people have the same capacity that we do.”
“Seeing each other as people” can begin with something so simple as giving a homeless person a dollar. “Our thought is that denying somebody a dollar because they might use it for alcohol or drugs is not going to transform their lives,” he says. But that dollar “can be a small price to pay to open the door to making that human connection.”
One way to look at someone who is begging is to see them as drowning, he says. “They may not look like it, and they may live a life we don’t agree with. But if we err on the side of kindness” rather than turning away, for a cost of a dollar, “That connection can be a lifeline.”
Of course, he adds, stopping to talk to a homeless person or picking up someone hitchhiking isn’t for everyone, and some situations can be dangerous. “If you’re in an unsafe situation, it’s fine to move on.”
Records aspires to complete a series of books, which he plans to introduce as YouTube videos. His goal is to touch a million people through his books, videos, blogs, Facebook page, and calls for love in action. He estimates that to date he has made upwards of 280,000 connections, about 10 percent of whom have liked, shared or commented.
Records said he’s fortunate to make a living doing what he loves. He also volunteers for the North Fork Ambulance and Western Slope Conservation Center, and for those who can’t, he urges volunteerism. In Delta County, opportunities include schools, animal shelters, HopeWest/Hospice, the Salvation Army, and The Abraham Connection Homeless Shelter in Delta.
“I think that volunteering is so good for everybody concerned,” he says. “Part of what we receive is just a good feeling of knowing that we’ve helped somebody else. Speak to any volunteer and you’ll find that most of them say they get back more than they give.”
Back to that late night when he picked up a hitchhiker, the man’s name was Joe. He was an out-of-work contractor needing a ride to the local shelter. This was before Records realized that becoming a homeless person can happen to anyone, something Joe knew from experience. On the way to the shelter he gave Records advice on what to do if he became homeless.
“I thought I was being the Good Samaritan, but he was helping me out,” says Records. Joe had nothing of monetary value to give, but he was giving what he could in a very personal way. “And I was really touched.”
He decided to follow Joe into the shelter. Joe checked in for the night, then asked for a meal. He was told he was out of luck, that dinner had been served at the church that night. His body slumped in defeat, recalled Records. Another man sitting nearby, looking quite disheveled, overheard him and retrieved from his pocket a hardboiled egg he’d saved from his dinner. It was all he had to give said Records. Joe gracefully accepted it.
“I felt really privileged to see that,” he says. “The man’s act of kindness, giving up the food he’d saved for himself, was love in action.”