on Psalm 10
New Revised Standard Version
I sat this morning watching a video (below) that highlights the last five years of a homeless ministry that houses and feeds the homeless in churches every night of the winter months. My mind went back to one evening about six years ago spent with Jonathan Stewart and Wes Gristy; we had been making and serving sandwich dinners on Friday evenings in a parking lot downtown, and our question had become “are there homeless in our community?”
In following that question and other rumors that accompanied it, we met at the church late one evening, made a pot of decaf coffee, and headed to the amphitheater where we had heard those who were homeless stayed.
I remember conversations about exit plans, what we would talk about, how we would find them. We parked facing the main road, flashlights in hand, and started walking through the damp ground toward the amphitheater calling out in the darkness.
“Are you there?”
“We won’t hurt you.”
“We aren’t the cops.”
“We have coffee.”
There was, of course, no one there.
Six years later, with churches across the community working together to host those who are homeless in their buildings night after night, what seems most certain now is that we were, indeed, calling out in the darkness.
We are, those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in church, blessed with a great deal of treasured heritage, and at the same time plagued by a deep spiritual paternalism that we can’t see until we are staring our ignorance straight in the face.
Were I to ask “Are the homeless christians?” the answer would no doubt be, “not necessarily.”
Were I to ask “Are the homeless not christians?” the answer would no doubt be, “not necessarily.”
But were I to have asked “Why do we serve the homeless?” the answer might have likely been “to show them Jesus.”
We are still often calling out in the darkness.
Six years later, I can say that I have learned more about who Jesus is and what he has done from the Christian men who are homeless in our community. Their homelessness is not a result of their not-Christian-ness. And they were not necessarily waiting around for me to show them Jesus.
They are often showing Christ to me, as even Jesus made clear that when we interacted with them we were interacting with him.
But we say we serve to show them Jesus, so we do little looking to see him in them.
But that is changing with those who are willing to open their eyes and see that when we have experienced relationship with those in need, we have experienced relationship with Christ.
Here’s to a future of continuing to open our eyes more and more, and continuing to call out in the darkness less and less.
Theirs is the kingdom, of course.
South Church St.
We listen long enough to get the details needed to tell one story about those around us, and then we move on. It’s more about coping for us than about knowing another.
Someone is allowed either to be awesome or horrible.
Either cool or sketchy.
Either generous or greedy.
Either loving or hateful.
Either honest or dishonest.
Either strong or weak.
Either whole or damaged.
Either victim or perpetrator.
Either faithful or unfaithful.
And so we only give the humans we find ourselves in life with the opportunity to plead their cases for one or the other. And as soon as we have enough information to sort them into single categories, we do so.
And then we stop listening.
But we don’t stop talking; we often then take our labeling into conversations with others and inform them of where and what certain people are…and only are.
We get to stop listening, you see, and then those around us get to stop listening as well. We become a community of talkers.
We can see it clearly in global narratives about genocide, xenophobia, welfare and war.
But we don’t see it clearly in our conversations over coffee, in our sermons from our pulpits, in our clients in our offices.
Because we’ve been taught to stop listening once we’ve heard a single story about someone.
And then we imagine the way that King Jesus managed to interact with women and men in ways to suddenly surface more than single stories that had been communicated about them. Tax collectors become humble and generous. Centurions become sensitive and scared. Prostitutes become beautiful and hopeful.
But only after an opportunities for actual conversation. Only after listening. Only after assuming we may not know more than only one story about someone.
May we work to listen to those we think we already know. And may we be eager to have stories rewritten by the characters themselves rather than histories and jargon. It is part of living in the kingdom.