Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dirt That Cannot Be Cleaned: Wednesday, March 14th

Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...

Last night I realized that in the past four years when I have been on street retreat I have only be living out my own stereotypes of what it is like to be homeless. When I believed that homeless people suffer all the time, then I spent 7 days suffering. When I believed that the homeless spent all their time going from food line to lines for other services, then I spent my time going from food lines to lines for other services. When I believe that being homeless was being miserable in the rain, then I spent my time being miserable in the rain. I faced hopelessness, I have become mean and snappy, I have hoarded items that I may need some other time. I dug through garbage cans to find bus transfers that had not expired to use the bus. I panhandled (more than $45 this retreat so far – all spent). I sang in the subways. I got smelly. I did all the things that I attributed to homeless people.

And while we all know street people who exhibit these characteristics, there are as many ways to be homeless as are homeless people. I know this from the last four and a half years that I have been listening to stories of the homeless and hungry and the Welcome Ministry and the time that I have spent walking with them.

But yesterday, I figured it out in my body. I kept wondering if I was having too much fun? But, I know homeless people that have a lot of fun. And of course I know people on the other side of the extreme as well, who are so depressed that they run from the things that haunt them into the arms of medications or mental illnesses that allow them to forget – for awhile.

So, today I acknowledge that I am living out my prejudices and that I can only see what I have eyes to see. I seek to let go of my expectations and experience the freedom of the streets. This is not all that there is to being homeless. This is not an exercise in what it would be like if I was permanently homeless – since I walk knowing my privilege. I have someone who will listen when I talk/type and I don’t have to only talk aloud to myself. I have the love and support of friends, family, congregations that have called me and the Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries. I have a condo a few blocks from where I sleep outdoors and of course an impatient kitty who does not understand street retreats.

Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...

Three other noticings: I can’t get the dirt out from under my nails no matter how many times I wash them. It reminds me of my grandpa’s nails. He is a mechanic and I never understood why he couldn’t clean the dirt out. I get it now. It’s a great Lutheran symbol for my simultaneous saint and sinner nature. No matter how much I try to make myself clean, I can never make it happen.

Second, I was amazed to see that there were about 50 people waiting eagerly for the library to open this morning. If only the lines at the library equaled the lines at Starbucks every morning. How different would our society be then?

Thirdly, our group of fools have seen different car accidents each day where a car has hit a pedestrian or someone on a bicycle each day for the last three days. I’m beginning to think that I am safer on the sidewalks then in the road. Two of the accidents were hit and runs. This brings us a couple of lessons – 1) watch out for your neighbor; 2) slow down (peace be still); 3) take responsibility for your actions (confess and seek justice)

Today I remember the Japanese Saint Ambrose Fernandez, who was imprisoned for his faith. I remember my own brother Robert who spends his last year in prison in Springfield, South Dakota. And, I remember today that if many of the saints and prophets lived today that they would be imprisoned (either in jail, psych wards or by drugs or addiction). There are a good number of homeless individuals who live on the streets because they not only believe the words of the Bible, but they also live them so completely that they gave up all that they have to follow Jesus/God(dess). What if we all did what is written in Luke/Acts and gave up our property when another in our community was in need?

What if we all did what was written in Mark when Jesus asks the rich young ruler to give up all he has and follow? If we all did this, would we all be homeless? Or, would we be able to trust that when we were in need that our neighbor would do the same for us? Do we trust God(dess) enough to give up all our possessions, retirement funds, insurance policies, nest eggs, bank accounts and "securities?" Pastors that come out of the deep dark closet of the ELCA and come out or who work at congregations that call ECP pastors face the prospect of losing all of these things. Some pastors who are outed lose them too. I might get locked up to if I suggested that we all give these things up - since it is neither reasonable nor practical. Don't get me wrong, I deeply believe that we are only able to take care of others if we are actively taking care of ourselves. Yet, I/we must also be real and confess that I/we do NOT fully trust God(dess) to be our sole source of security.

I pray, trusting in the faith of the Saints who have gone before, that I may be able to live fully in the mystery of God(dess)'s creating love and that I may begin to trust the One who birthed me/us. AMEN.

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