On Saturday morning I began my day with two 4 year olds making a fort out of discarded cardboard. Twelve hours later I was using discarded cardboard to build myself an urban camping fort, to make sure that my sleeping bag was protected from the dew of the morning and to give my tired back a small cushion. I slept behind First Unitarian (a church affiliated with the Welcome Ministry) under a tree next to the busy traffic, trying to sleep as the noisy buses ran every 20 minutes through out the whole night.
Unfortunately I didn’t sleep much since the food I had consumed at the airport on my way back to San Francisco made me sick. While it normally takes me a couple of days on street retreat to realize that I am not in control, my body left no room for me to wonder who was in control. It wasn’t me. It was my stomach. Sometime in the middle of the night my body got rid of what was offending it. This morning, it got rid of the rest.
Living on the streets there is a different rhythm to life. Instead of waking up to the alarm clock or hitting snooze, I got up with the sun hoping to get my space cleaned up before the police could come. There are no trespassing signs in each of the windows of the church where we are sleeping, so we could get a ticket or taken to jail at anytime for sleeping there. We sleep there in protest of the signs. What would it mean if their former minister of justice ministry, a nun and I got arrested for sleeping in front of the church? Why should it matter more that it is us then anyone of the other creations that God has made?
The laws about sleeping on the streets in San Francisco are much more foolish than my retreat. The city has been sued in court by the ACLU five times (and lost every time), because the right to assemble has been ruled to mean that you can assemble on the sidewalk and sleep there. So, many silly laws have been created to try to chip away at this right to assemble. For example: its’ illegal to sleep in your car, but not illegal to sleep on the sidewalk in front of your car; and it’s legal to sleep on the sidewalk, but not legal to block the cold wind.
Last night I was grateful that I had the ability to sleep under the no trespassing sign undisturbed (except by the frailties of my own body). If we would have gone across the street to St Mark’s (ELCA), we would have been moved by the night guard that patrols the outside of the church.
I don’t have it all figured out yet. I know that it is important to keep churches safe sanctuaries, just as it is important to care for the least among us.
I am thinking deeply about the experience of wondering in this wilderness of the Tenderloin during Lent. I only have my few scraps of cardboard and a sleeping bag, during the Exodus they had tents. Jesus even had tents when he and the disciples were in the wilderness. Peter offered to put up three when Elijah and Moses showed up. Yet, now the urban church is anti-nomads. We put lots of locks and security on our doors. We push away those who sleep in the wilderness (even during the time of Lenten alms giving!), even those who don’t even have a tent to sleep under.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure yet, but I will continue to walk with the questions, remembering the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew (6:19-21): "‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."Prayers:
Today I remember in prayer all of the queer individuals and "throwaways" who have fled unjust, un-supporting and unkind families, communities and churches to come to the city of St. Francis in hopes that in this city known for it's queerness that they would be made welcome here. I pray for those who found a much harsher reality. Some found that they were only visible as long as they were beautiful, young, sexually available, high, tweaked, employed, able to pay or for sale. Some found they could not be employed during or after their transition. Some found that the value of property is sometimes more important then the value of community. Some found that they were stuck in the muck and mire that surrounded the webs of injustice that held them fast.
I pray as the Maccabean mothers prayed wailing for the destruction of it all. I pray to remind God(dess) of God(dess) promises. I pray for justice. I pray for peace. I pray for health (mine own and for all who are sick, afflicted or addicted). I pray that as I am on these streets, and when I move back home that I may be part of the unloosing, the unbinding, the re-orienting of the world toward the kin-dom of God(dess). AMEN