So, I’m back at the pink chapel. It’s blazing hot outside and I’m grateful for the cool quiet of this space.
I am thinking about the man who told me about finding the Holy Spirit in this place. Or rather, the Holy Spirit finding him. His name is Sam. He came here one day and said a wonderful peaceful feeling came over him here. Better than any high he’d ever been on. I’m wondering if Sam is someplace cool this afternoon.
Sam doesn’t have a home. He does, however, have a bed, more like a cot, in a residence ministry. A ministry that works with those who are experiencing poverty and homelessness.
I’ve recently started doing some volunteer chaplaincy with this ministry. I lead a book/scripture study one night a week. It is similar to the one I host in my home. Only different. Because I go to their home…which is not really a home but a transitional space. It’s clean, cold, and temporary. Home or no home, we’re all seeking connection.
Recently I read them the parable of the Good Samaritan. You might remember it. Jesus told it in response to someone trying to justify his goodness and entitlement to heaven.
The story Jesus told goes something like this…a man was beaten and robbed and left to die on the street. A priest comes by and, in those days, a good religious person was not supposed to get anywhere near someone’s blood. So, like the good religious person he was, he crossed the street and walked away. Similar thing happened with the next religious person. And then, someone who was from the wrong religion, someone who was considered unclean just by being who he was, stopped and took care of the man. And, when I say take care I mean he really did all he could for this man. Took him to shelter, got medical care for him, and even paid for future care for him. After telling the story, Jesus asked the self righteous religious guy which one had loved his neighbor. It must have been difficult for the man to answer because Jesus was pointing a mirror to his heart. His stone cold heart. Jesus was clear, when it comes to showing God’s love there is no justification for exclusion. Or self-righteousness. Both tough mirrors to see.
After reading the story through twice I asked them if they had heard anything in this reading they hadn’t noticed before. I was interested in how people who are forced to live daily with their vulnerability exposed to the world would experience this story. One guy spoke up that he hadn’t realized the guy laying on the street had been beaten so badly. I wondered to myself if he has at some point recently suffered such a beating and thus found this connection to it.
I then asked if they identified with someone in the story and, if so, who. The same man who spoke before said he was the one who walked on by. He said he was raised to mind his own business and not get involved. And, from observing him I could tell he was trying to stay out of trouble in this place as well.
The man next to me, a weathered man with wild hair, few teeth, and a tired smell blurted out he was the robber, the one who beat and left the guy for dead. I was startled, and yet weirdly encouraged, by his honesty. He continued that until recently he would rob people to get money to feed his drug addiction. He said this was before “he saw the light”.
About this time another young man, someone you would look at and think what a nice young man, spoke up and said he had done the same and had taken money from people who loved him. That he had hurt those he should have trusted. I asked him if he has forgiven himself and he paused before saying he was working on it.
The discussion led into whether or not to give people money on the street when asked. I could not help but consider the irony of this conversation. Had any of them felt the need earlier this day to ask for money on the street?
The thing that struck me the most was, as they shared their differing opinions, some saying it’s always a con and you should never give out money and others saying you should just do the right thing and give whenever asked, this could have been any group of people of any economic status discussing this over a dinner table in any home. This was a conversation that transcended the present circumstances and this perhaps gets to the core of the struggle to be human.
Are we connected to each other or not? Does our survival depend on one another or not? Is it more loving to give when asked or to hold one accountable for their own survival? Should we decide who is deserving and who is not? What is empowering and what is enabling? So many questions race even now through my head. Lots of questions and absolutely no firm answers.
I looked across the table at Sam, the man who told me about the pink chapel. He told us he senses and depends on discernment from God when it comes to giving. His kind eyes seemed to pierce through all of the other comments and I really do believe he has a strong sense of connection with the Divine. So much history, pain, and hard won wisdom in that face. And, it also occurs to me that if I had seen him, or any other of these gentlemen, on the street I would not have noticed his eyes. Because I would not have looked him in the eye. I would have been afraid to. And, I would have missed something special.
I am not the good samaritan. I’m too selfish. Too scared. Too blind. I’m very thankful, though, to be able to journey with this group a bit. It’s unsettling, convicting, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at once. They are my mirror. We are the same. Created and sustained by the power of Love that holds us through anything. The Love that calls us Home. I’m learning what happens to them in some way happens to me.
I hope they all have a cool place to be and something that gives them purpose today.
Something to chew on…