I wish I had been posting more this summer, like I did last summer with my Beatitudes Fellowship blogs. Unfortunately, though I have one reflection and a sermon up I have not even posted once a week! I have been working as an intern for the Communities of Shalom in York City and Delta, Cardiff, and Whiteford for five of six weeks now. I have been writing a lot, journaling way more than I normally do, but I have felt like posting little of it. And I don't know how much of my final reflection I will want to post either. But I do want to share my reflection from last Monday because last week was a powerful one for me, and I think this reflection captures some of what I have experienced.
11 July 2011
All I wanted today was a piece of pizza. Actually, I don't like paying for food if I can help it, but I need to go talk with folks about what they see as needed in the Delta community, yet instead I've been piddling around. As I did again today. See the two pizza places I was going to go to are closed today! But I walked a ways from Delta United Methodist Church to Delta Pizza, and what I learned then was worth the failed attempt to get some pizza.
It was actually pretty horrifying. I was walking up the street, watching the sidewalk because it is in really bad shape (apparently the borough got some money from the state to fix it but they declined as it would mean they would have to put some of their own money into it as well), and on one of the slate slabs of sidewalk was written in big chalked purple letters, “FAG,” right in front of a house. And then I noticed that again it was right in front of another house written on a telephone pole. And another place where blue chalk outlined something about someone fucking someone was being worn away. This normally would not have horrified me except that the word “fag” is so ugly and used so violently in this community. And it was coupled with a picture that Richard had painted for us today in bible study.
I started the day in bible study at the Senior Center. It was a beautiful group of folks, most of whom I met at church or the senior center already. We read Matthew 25, the parable of the bridesmaids, the parable of the talents, and the judgment of the sheep and the goats.But in the beginning we went around and talked about those blessings we have seen in our lives. Richard said that Sunday morning he woke up and went outside to go to church, only to see that his car was egged. This upset me--- it is different when kids egg each others' cars, or when kids egg someone's car who they don't like, but a stranger's car? Maybe Richard isn't a stranger, but I can't imagine how he would have contact with some kid and incur their wrath enough to have them egg his car! I just shiver to think about how people do certain things to one another, how they think it is okay to egg a complete stranger's car? This is what went through my mind. But Richard saw it as a blessing. He said on his drive to church he saw a car where someone had thrown rocks and not eggs and the windshield was broken. Still, I am left with the fact that there is so little to do around Delta that kids see their only outlet in such destruction, and in the violence of the act of labeling someone as a fag so publicly.
I spent the evening in York with kids who are being kept busy, given an entirely different task than those in Delta. Asbury United Methodist Church, in collaboration with First Presbyterian Church and Yorkshire United Methodist, was hosting 67 youth for the York Mission Week, a week of working on homes and community gardens and at soup kitchens, reaching out to do mission close to their own homes. The bishop and the cabinet were working at the York Mission Week, which is how I got involved. Each night after dinner, they have a time of sharing, a few group games, and then worship. I went today to the time of sharing, listening as the kids talked about what they had done that day. I am certainly not called to youth ministry because I have very little patience for 13 year old boys, but there were a few moments in this time of sharing where some of the kids did voice meaningful experiences and others tried to but couldn't really articulate what had happened. But such moments are still beautiful.
When we were sharing, one of the girls talked about working on a fence to keep a big dog in on Chestnut Street. I told them I had talked to that woman several weeks ago at Northeast Neighborhood Association. She had talked about submitting the application. She said she was glad she had the opportunity to get some help, but she hated to let her landlord get out of his responsibilities. She said she wanted to hold him accountable, but at the same time, she needed her fence fixed. I don't think this story really resonated with the kids at my table, but I think it is a story that is important to remember. We as the church can't just go around fixing stuff without holding the principalities and powers accountable. Otherwise, we are always about being bandaids, which means we aren't really living the kingdom of God!
The powerful part of the evening, though, was when we went out on a silent walk circling around the church, taking the time to really look at these neighborhoods they are working in, rather than narrowly focusing on our tasks which is so easy to do. And the kids really were silent, really were keeping their eyes open. But the sky was getting darker and darker and we heard thunder and began to see lightning. And yet, I couldn't turn back. So I continued to lead the kids until suddenly the sky poured water down on us and so we ran down a little back alley to get back to the church. But after the long hot day, our bodies welcomed the rain, I think. People ran smiling into the building.
When Kristin, one of those the mission week, had us all back and dried off in the sanctuary preparing for worship, she spoke of how when things like this happen, we just have to laugh in the devil's face and not let it get us down. Now, that is not my theology, and I think it would have been better to lead the kids in thinking about all those homes they were in today, how those roofs were holding up, or in thinking about all the people living without homes in this city. But even beyond that, I saw the storm to be of God. Here we were, eyes opening to the neighborhoods around us, and it was as though God sent this rain to wash us. To wash the dirt from our eyes so we could better see around us. To cleanse us from the old way of doing mission, to cleanse us of our savior complexes, and rather invite us to enter into a different attitude for the week. One in which we were open for transformation, open to the ways God would work in these young people's lives.
And that same rain fell in Delta, washing the glass out of the street, the chalk off the sidewalk, the egg off the cars...maybe even bringing those kids some relief from the heat, a smile to their faces.
I did not get to go back to the mission week, so I do not know how the rest of the week went or if such transformation took place. Too often in my own week, I was not open to transformation in my own life. But I can still feel that refreshing rain on my face. And I know God is still working within me to change me.