I wish this blog post was a little more cheerful than any I’ve really posted lately. Spoiler alert, it’s really not. This year is a journey of discovery and living into the reality that things I take for granted are not guaranteed. Things I enjoy and look forward to may mean harsh times for others. Fall/Winter weather has finally arrived in Tucson. Temperatures that make my friends up North scoff mean we shiver and put on jackets. And while our heat was broken and our maintenance man, Mike, was super concerned, I realized I was whining about how my blankets barely kept me warm enough in my house, where I have a bed, a roof, and food. A chance to take a shower everyday, and wash and dry my clothes whenever I please.
And I go to work everyday to serve women who don’t have those things. Tomorrow I’ll go in and sleep on a cot with a mat with the women we are able to shelter. And there will be many more who sleep on the street, in the cold. Unsafe and unsheltered. We give them what we can, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothes, and a breakfast and sack lunch. We hope to have enough time for everyone to shower and do laundry, but there is never enough time. Everyday I ask myself, how can anyone who has the ability to make this stop, the ability to make sustainable, long term change sleep at night if they choose not to? I can barely sleep sometimes for knowing I have tried to make all the change I can, for knowing that in the past two years I have realized more about my privilege, my ability to sit in discomfort and allow it to gnaw at me, and that it still isn’t good enough. That until every woman that walked through those doors today and the day before and will walk through them tomorrow and the next and the next and so one is housed, it will never be good enough. I am one small voice. But I will keep speaking. Because at some point those who sleep soundly in their beds writing policies that allow fortunes to pass hand to hand comfortably from generation to generation on the backs of the poor will have to answer to the poor who work for them. I believe it.
Enough listening to my soapboxing, I started writing to tell you a story, not to preach to the choir, because you’re reading this for a reason. Everyday, a mass of human experiences teems through our double doors. Right now, we’re decked for a myriad of holidays, Kwanza, Hannukah, Christmas, you get the idea. It’s light and bright in an attempt to bring joy. And it does help. So two more stories. We’ve had a new guest lately, I do not know her name, because she’s not in everyday and she’s very soft spoken. She wears full Hijab and I was curious how others would respond. She carries her prayer mat with her things. Somehow, amidst being on the street and experiencing homelessness, this remarkable woman still manages to do her prayers five times daily as she is called to do in the Q’uran. Today, I overheard her speaking with another of our ladies who was asking about her practice and how she does it. her first prayer time is at 4am. All of the ladies know her now and make space, allowing her to use the library for her prayers. They have learned not to walk in front of her when praying, that it breaks the direct contact with Allah (God in Arabic, for those who have missed that memo). It was one of those moments where you realize when people share being so very marginalized already, learning about another piece of someone’s marginalized culture is not scary to them. It made my heart feel light.
The other was watching a new woman come to the center who clearly needed much help and interact with our executive director. Hearing someone explain the pain that drove them to alcoholism, to drinking, to staying on the street away from family. This woman’s story of having been incarcerated, of learning of the death of her children while she was in prison, and being unable to do anything but attempt to numb herself. It was gut wrenching. I wanted to rip my heart out for her. To give her something that might be broken, but maybe a little less so. Jean found out what she needed. Not only got her those needs, but knew who would be a good person to help comfort her. And then did something that amazed me. “Promise me you won’t leave without telling me first.” She wanted to make sure to say goodbye. That has stuck with me throughout this day. She wanted to make sure, I think, that this individual was welcomed, and that she would know she was welcomed back. “I’m so tired.” That’s all I remember her saying, over and over.
Tonight, I want to pray, for those who are tired, weary, out in the cold whether it is their first night or their five hundredth night. They all have a story, whether someone has listened, another person experiencing homelessness or an angel on earth like Jean. We have no right to decide if they deserve help. They are human. They are us, with a different set of life circumstances.
I am so excited for being part of a church that stands for justice in this world. I am so excited to be part of a church who refuses to stand back and let the world just “do its thing” while people are being hurt, emotionally and verbally harassed, murdered, raped, persecuted, put-down and humiliated.
For the most part, I would like to say that the Presbyterian Church (USA) kicks serious butt at social justice.
However, just as any organization or institution has its flaws, so does the PC(USA), my friends. We are not unlike any other denomination because we are human. We put bumper stickers on our car which read: Coexist….Yet we cannot even get along with our neighbor. Things slip through the cracks. Gossip ensues. Communication fails. We get more relaxed in our attitude towards helping others because the problem or issue is “not as pressing.” We forget to remember the good we once saw in one another. We invest our finances in the ineffective investments. We bully each other. We mistrust each other’s judgment. We stand up for the victim just to suppress his or her voice.
One thing I learned from YAV Orientation (or rather “Disorientation”) is that we often “love justice” more than we “do justice.”
I have been guilty of these above things and we, Church have been guilty of these things. As the church (Presbyterian) and Church (all Christians), we sometimes are the MOST guilty of it as we preach and aim to practice our righteous and wholesome Christian ways. We all have fallen victim to the “easy” option.
Who could blame us really? Justice is really challenging. Justice is raw. Justice is messy. Justice is often choosing the more vulnerable, honest, uncomfortable choice.
But at the end of the day, I would rather stay with the Presbyterian Church in our efforts than to step away from all the good we are trying to do. Obviously, I am biased towards the PC(USA) because I have grown up in this denomination, however, I am still eager and joyous to call this church my home. Just check out some of the justice being done here through this PC(USA) video about the U.S.-Mexico border.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.” -Micah 6:8