Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sometimes Jesus talks to himself

So the ideal with ministry, particularly in a place where you're working with the disadvantaged, is to see Christ in the face of every person you meet. A professor once gave us a hint for this task. The face itself is a cross. The nose leading up to the forehead, intersected by the eyes forms a cross able to be seen on any person's face. A reminder to others that this person is loved. Also, like any muscle, you need to exercise your heart on this. You need to look past the dirty clothes, the skin color, the gender, the rotting teeth and disabilities. It's tough work, but in time one gets better at it and is able to conjure up some love that has long been repressed by the teachings of a fearful society. In other words, in rare moments, one can feel onself simultaneously looking at Christ and being Christ.

This gets easier working at a place like BSM, where I'm working this summer. Everyone here has committed their life to this task -- to being welcoming and loving to those who have been tossed out by the world. In fact, the love is so overwhelming that I'd nearly forgotten that the rest of the world isn't actually like that. Good thing it only took a trip to Starbucks to remember.

This week, while waiting on line for my coffee, I realized our BSM friend, Pat, was ahead of me on line. He was counting out his money while the young lady behind the counter grabbed his coffee. Simultaneously, however, the manager (I guess) began loudly, so everyone could hear, to inform him that he couldn't stay. Pat asked if he couldn't just stay for a few minutes to drink his coffee. The manager said no. Pat asked for his money back and didn't take his coffee. When it was my turn, I grabbed his coffee with mine and ran outside to find him. I told him I knew him from BSM and asked him to sit with me at one of their outside tables. We sat for a while and talked. He seemed to know the area I was from. Then Pat drifted off. He seemed to be getting angry at people who weren't there. I went back to work and when we saw him later he was full out yelling at invisible enemies.

Two things, then, are causing me trouble. I don't feel like my sitting with Pat makes a difference. He's still homeless and he won't remember me tomorrow. I mean I can rationalize it and I know it's better to sit with someone than to not sit with them, but the problems seem neverending. Secondly, I don't know how to transfer the love and passion from someplace like BSM to the people at Starbucks and the people at City Hall and the people at the White House. How do we expand the bubble of faith and love and hope?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

(Melted) Reflections on a Summer Heat Wave

To preface: Many of you know that I am tolerant of the heat. I like it even. I love feeling warm and not having to worry about a jacket. I like wearing tank tops and flowy skirts as often as possible. To that end, I had no trouble moving to Mississippi. I loved sitting outside even on the hottest days as long as I had a cool drink in my hands.


Then this happened.

Three days after moving to Philly, I realized the AC in my apartment wasn't working. No sweat (pun intended) I thought. I have a fan and like the warmth and its not even that hot. My mom advised me to have it looked into anyway. Yeah, yeah I said. When I have time.

Then two days later, the worst heatwave Philly has ever experienced descended upon the city (I may be exaggerating this statistic -- I'm no weatherperson or historian, but I'm sure it was close to the worst if not actually THE worst). If you live in the Northeast, you know. The week went like this:

Sunday- Phone call #1 placed to management company. They promised to be there the next day. I also triple check to make sure the windows don't open. They don't. That's right, the windows don't open.

Monday- No evidence of anyone having fixed the AC. Call #2 placed. They say the guy works until 7 and he still might show up. 7 comes and goes without a rescuer.

Monday night/Tuesday morning- I believe that the whirring of my little fan meant for a small dorm is actually crying. I don't think the poor thing can take much more.

Tuesday/Wednesday afternoon- We go on a welcome retreat to the shore from where I place a phone call (#3) to the manager of my building. She informs me that she hasn't heard anything of my complaints and not only that, through a series of complicated situations (ask me about that on a rainy day) she doesn't have a key to my apartment so they can't get in. I call her back saying I will sit there all day or give her a key or beat up a grandma if she can fix the AC. I don't hear back from her.

Wednesday night- As my thermostat is pushing 90, I read that several people have died in the city due to the heat. I call the emergency number of the building. About an hour later, the general maintenance guy shows up and is able to get a small amount of air moving, so at least I know I'm not breathing my own carbon monoxide, but not much else.

Thursday- Finally success. After dropping my key off. I see results and sleep under my covers for the first time in a week.

While this incident was more of an uncomfortable annoyance for me than anything else, it did teach me something about not being listened to by the only people who have power to change the situation. I think this is the case with a lot of the people we're working with. With no voice to represent them, one leap forward (finally talking to the bldg manager) is often met by a set back (she doesn't have a key). For many of our homeless friends, loss of a job combined with mental illness have allowed them to fall off the grid. I'm learning how easy it is to fall off, but how incredibly difficult it is to come back.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The City of Brotherly Love

This past weekend I moved to Philly to begin an internship. I'll be working out of a church that is trying to build a community between the homeless and the artists that live in Center City. For the summer, they're having youth groups stay at the church to do service projects in and around the city. I'm facilitating that and I'm slightly terrified.

The four of us doing this program are living in a very swanky apartment that shares a building with Banana Republic. That's right -- I live in Banana Republic. My co-workers seem great so far and I can tell that we were chosen for our unique gifts, hopefully leading to a cohesive whole that will run like a well-oiled machine. Hopefully.

Back to my job specifically. I am to be the non-anxious presence as I take groups of kids around the city to various service projects such as soup kitchens, shelters and parks. While on the move, I need to be asking them such as questions as "Yes, why DO you think that sign says no shopping carts?" or "Well, actually this community used to be fairly run down and now its what we called 'gentrified'. What do you think happened to all the people who lived here before?" and the classic, "Ok you're angry about this, what do you think God is challenging you to do?" And when plans fall through or buses are late or someone gets the one and only recorded snake bite in the history of Philadelphia, I need to be the non-anxious presence that calmly says, "Oh snake bites? Happens all the time! This way to the hospital, team!"

Yup, its gonna be tough. Its going to be a summer of leading with faith and trusting that God is there before us, paving the way.