Last Sunday a few of us from MBCC joined San Francisco Network Ministries for their annual Christmas Caroling in the Tenderloin.
We have not been for a few years and I had forgotten what a powerfully simple experience it is. The biggest thing that hit me as we walked through this part of the City was that I have gotten soft. I have in so many ways been removed, disconnected, sanitized – however I want to say it – from those who are truly in pain.
As we walked the streets I was reminded not only about homelessness, drug addition and mental health issues, but of the isolation, despair and general bleakness that this neighborhood radiates. Also knowing that the highest concentration of children in SF is in the Tenderloin reminded me all the more why I need to NOT be so disconnected.
At the same time, there were great glimpses of grace. As we walked the streets singing carols of peace and hope in Christ, all that I could think about were the looks of gratitude, the kind "merry Christmas" greetings, the random extra singer, the waves from the windows of the SRO’s and how, over time, I have justified NOT being in direct contact with this part of the body of Christ as much as I need to be.
Yeah yeah yeah . . . I know the arguments.
- Work through the system;
- Band-aids don’t work;
- Think big picture;
- Our power is in our wealth;
- I am just not called to this kind of ministry;
- I only have so much time in the day;
- We need to focus on us first, before moving out;
All true and worth some energy and focus, but at what cost?
Now I can boldly say that I do my share of "street" stuff: I will be working in San Quentin prison in the Fall, I am a chaplain for a local union workers strike team, I will show up at actions, etc. Woohoo. Give me a freakin’ medal!
I have become in some ways the disengaged, intellectual activist that I used to complain about. When I was walking through the TL, I was shocked at the realization of how systematic my thinking and actions have become. Face-to-face interaction and the simple ministry of presence is missing from my life. This must stop.
And when it comes to the church I serve, I think we know it too. Again, we have some very good reasons why we as individuals and a community are not engaged in this level of service and ministry. Again all understandable, but seriously people, as a corporate body of believers, not justifiable.
We do a great many things at MBCC very well. Up to this point in our life together this is generally not one of them.
It is my hope that as we grow as a community we will move out in the world in ways that God would hope us to. Often we will be called to step out in ways that we can be most systematically and institutionally effective. There will be times though, that our calling will be far less grandiose, far more risky, far more personal. We will be called to meet the stranger with whom have NOTHING in common other than inclusion in the community we claim to be part of, the Body of Christ.
Understandably scary stuff, but I think below all of our hipster bellowing we are a pretty compassionate, risk-taking group of people simply trying to figure out what it means to be faithful people of God. I have no doubt that when the time comes and we are ready, we will step it up.