Last Thursday, I learned what was across the street from Town & Country: a homeless shelter. Actually, it is a homeless drop-in center (there’s a difference). This world is new to me; I’m still figuring out how it works and how best to navigate it. It’s another world, even though it is right in the middle of ‘my’ world.
I had to go back. These are my observations from yesterday’s return visit to the Opportunity Services Center (OSC).
- That song again…. Am I the only one who has conversations with myself in my head?? As I’m getting ready, I’m asking myself…. should I wear less make-up today…..would it be better if I wore plain clothes, etc….??? The men out there probably have no idea the process women go through in deciding what to wear. #TheStruggleIsReal. As I’m contemplating my choices, I recall the song that hit me like a ton of bricks last week….You/they are my treasure and my reward. I realize God and these folks alike could care less whether I’ve opted for minimal makeup or not. What matters a whole lot more, is whether I still see them as people who are precious and worthy, regardless of where they are in life right now.
- Just Ask On a mission to NOT valet park my car again, I arrived super early, with time to grab a bite to eat at LuLu’s. Sometimes, the center gets donations from restaurants at Town and Country. As I’m sitting there, enjoying my chicken and brown rice soup, the thought occurs to me, ‘You should ask them if they have anything they’d like to donate!’. It only takes me half a millisecond to think of five solid reasons why that’s a BAD idea. Maybe someone has already approached them! I have no idea what kinds of donations we can and can’t take! And so on! But, here’s the thing. The real reason I hesitated, wasn’t because of my smart questions – it was because I was embarrassed. God tends to have a way with timing. As luck would have it, while I was eating my soup, I had just started reading a
book called, Doing Good is Simple. Lovely. Thank you, Lord. You give me no choice! So, I swallowed my pride, and asked the guy behind the counter if there was anything he could donate to the homeless shelter across the street. No….I didn’t secure donations for the next year. I didn’t even walk out with a bag of free chips. But, I did learn that I need to sometimes stop over-thinking and just ask.
- Some people really like blueberry muffins. The main components of the meal we serve come from a place called Loaves and Fishes. Last week, we had meatloaf and mashed potatoes. This week, we had roasted chicken and rice. We usually supplement with fruit that we bring, or other donations. Yesterday, we had a bunch of day-old pastries from Starbucks, plus some Costco muffins. As this one gentleman made his way thru the line, he spotted the blueberry muffin….I wish I could adequately describe the expression and tone of his excitement. He was over the top in his gratitude, thanking me and repeatedly saying, ‘God bless you’. It’s a muffin. Just a muffin. But, it made his day. And, his joy made mine.
- Some people can’t eat apples. As I said last week, there are many folks who come thru the line, and they look like super normal – they don’t look like your stereotypical homeless person. But, other folks have been living with poverty for a long time, and it has taken a noticeable toll. Minus proper dental care for many years, some folks don’t have a full set of teeth. I always ask folks if they want an apple, orange or grapes….it finally dawned on me why some decline the apple.
- It’s sad….he’s a nice kid…. I got to meet the director of Services Center, Philip Dah.
He came over to say hello, just as a young man was making his way through the lunch line. After the young man walked away to find a seat, Philip, said, ‘It’s so sad….he’s a nice kid.’ He went on to explain that this fellow had lived for years with his grandfather, who recently passed away. At some point long ago, his parents had divorced and started new lives. After his grandfather passed, he had no place to go and his parents didn’t want him disrupting their new lives and families. So, the dad drove him to OSC and left him. Thankfully, there are people like Philip. But, the world needs a lot more Philips. One of the most famous verses in the New Testament comes from Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
- KQED does it again. Whether they realize it or not, my local NPR station inspires my spiritual growth. Their reporting through the years on issues of poverty, racism and injustice has motivated me to take my faith from the church into the world. As I drove home from the OSC, I heard an author and poet talking with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross, about his latest book, Blood at the Root. The author, Patrick Philips, writes about an event that took place in his own hometown of Forsyth, back in 1912. White mobs set fire to black churches and black-owned businesses. Eventually the entire black population of Forsyth County was driven out. I missed the first part of the interview, only catching the end, as he talked about his family and faith. Patrick says, “I don’t go to church anymore, and I don’t have faith, so I miss it in some ways.” That line struck me – I don’t have faith, so I miss it…. He goes on to share how his father was a Methodist minister, who also left the church. It seems father and son held similar sentiments. He ends the interview saying, “So in some ways, my father also had a rift with the organized church, and I think that is not unrelated to the Civil Rights movement and some real disappointment and disillusionment about the response of white churches during some of those darkest days.” Where we are on the darkest days says a lot.
- Today, I met three Philip’s. The first Philip was Philip Dah, at the Services Center, who added a story to the face of the man in front of me. The second Philip was the Philip on the radio, the one who told both the story of racial cleansing in America, as well as his own narrative of how he lost his faith in the face of Christian indifference to racial injustice. The third Philip was in the Bible. Actually, there are several Philips in the Bible, but two play a prominent role (stick with me here, folks). The first was Philip, the Apostle, who had also been a disciple of John the Baptist. Philip is the one who calculated how much it would take to feed the 5,000 (Interestingly, it is Philip who coordinates services at the shelter, including meals….which come from a place called Loaves and Fishes). There’s a second Philip in the Bible, called Philip the Evangelist. He went out, he cared for the poor, he preached. He met and baptised an Ethiopian man, a eunuch, in Gaza, marking the start of the Ethiopian Church (Acts 8). I’d forgotten the details of the Biblical Philip(s) – but, we got reacquainted today (thank you, Google+Biblegateway). We are all Philip. Maybe we are the young man struggling. Maybe we are figuring out how to feed or assist those in need. Maybe we are out there, trying to share our faith. Maybe, we have lost of our faith.
- His words haunt me. Radio Philip has stuck with me….I don’t have faith, so I miss it. There’s a hole in our heart that only God can fill. Religion will always disappoint, but Jesus will not; the chasm between the two lies in mistaking modern Christianity with true discipleship. Philip is not the only disillusioned by modern Christianity and disappointed by the white church. Google ‘Nones’ and Pew Research Center. Dallas Willard said, “A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do.” And, newsflash – it’s not wearing a WWJD bracelet. Jesus stood with the oppressed. He fed the hungry. He loved those everyone else had rejected. Brandon Hatmaker, husband to the very-popular Jen Hatmaker, writes in his book Barefoot Church, “We live in a world that is watching the church with one eyebrow raised. When Hollywood is viewed as doing more to feed the hungry and fight human trafficking than the church, we need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and ask if it’s enough. Jesus taught that when others see our good deeds they would assign value to God (Matthew 5:16). I can’t help but think that the same is true for his church.”
You are my treasure and my reward. It’s more than a song; it’s a mantra. If it stays on the radio, then I am but a clanging cymbal. Go back. Try again. Ask the question. See the humanity. Let your heart be broken. Let your life be the song. Change the story. #BeginWithHumilityEndWithGlory