The Curbside Chronicle represented my best find at the recent Indie Trunk Show at the State of Oklahoma Fair Grounds. Many of the handcrafted items, or locally produced products, lured us to a potential purchase. But, when Robert said, “I have an article in this one,” I was glad to have paid the $2.
Hiding Behind Helping
One of my most eye opening experiences came more than ten years ago. Our then Associate Pastor came to our Staff with the idea that we partner with a church in Metro-OKC to resource those termed homeless with food, clothes, and hygiene products. The occasion connected me with a couple of periods in my past. As a youth at Crestwood in OKC, we occasionally went to the Grace Rescue Mission to serve. Then, while working on my Master’s in Dallas, my “ministry post” put me in the middle of homelessness at the Inner City Chapel.
Over the years I have had a number of conversations on the subject. But any observations I made were from the other side of the experience, the helping side. I have never been homeless. Yes, we have been displaced, even recently, by a saturated lateral field. Never have we been homeless.
My friend Peter Rollins contends we often get homelessness wrong. Sure we want better for people. But, our interactions and ministries to the homeless often provide cover to avoid a moment of personal revelation. We think we show up to save them. If we are paid more careful attention, we may learn they save us.
Erase the Need to Save the Other
Here save would entail a personal awareness of all the ways we cover up our fragile, broken experiences. Such an awareness brings us into a form of solidarity with our neighbor that startles us when we think how we often love ourselves ignoring our own pretensions thereby making of our love for neighbor a thin, shallow veneer. Owning up to this personal revelation may mean an access to a form of love that is beyond sentimentality. We love our neighbor as we realize we are our neighbor. And in this sense I mean neighbor as different in all the ways we normally think our love for them would make them better. We often miss the way it makes us better.
What if Jesus’ intentional relationships with those who fit the description of neighbor fits? How would we adjust our own lives in relationship to our neighbors if we took them into our sphere and enjoyed the gift of friendship that erases either party’s need to save the other?
Even more, how disruptive would it be if we understood that Jesus’ practice was part and parcel of his humanity? That is, those relationships with the oft neglected neighbor, think sinners and prostitutes or tax collectors, formed and forged compassion and empathy under the tutelage of the Spirit. Faithfulness to the dream of God for human beings taken up in the life and way of Jesus might deepen our understanding of the present realities of salvation.
Garbage Reveals Our Lack
Slovenian philosopher, provocateur, Slavo Zizek shows up in the documentary, The Examined Life. Zizek is so bold to suggest that real love shows up in the trash of life. He says this as cameras roll recording him at a dump. Near the end of his segment he points to how love shows up in the trash of life. It is where we learn to love. On the one hand maybe Zizek would agree that what shows up in our dumps is actually what we love. The refuse of life points to the way we spend our money. It informs us of what goes into our enjoyments.
On the other hand, maybe, and more likely, he would assert that those who do without, those generally disregarded as trash, are really the ones who do not need saving. They are already well aware of themselves and their lack. Those of us who fill our lives with things and activities only hide from ourselves. There is a lot of time to think about life sleeping under a bridge. Even more, when we turn to take in those considered the trash of life we are then opened up to love those we really say we love despite all of their imperfections.
The View from the Curbside
And now we are back to The Curbside Chronicle. Robert is joined by a photographer and together they take the reader on a tour. Robert notes in his introduction to the photo journal,
No child ever says, “When I grow up, I want to be homeless.” Homelessness is a reality in our community. Many homeless men and women have lost hope. But through these photographs, I strive to restore their hope. Even in my darkest hours, I never gave up. And after living a year on the streets, I am back in housing. Homeless is just part of the journey and not a destination. People need to know about our journey.” (TCC, Issue 11, p.13)
My friend Tripp, likely both serious and intending provocation, often refers to Jesus as a, “homeless Jew.” He puts in a modern idiom Jesus’ remark, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” What if this illustrates the way One with no/thing presents to us the way out of the snare of we who have things that really only serve to mask our own lack? Now maybe Rollins and Zizek make more sense. That is, that maybe we have it backwards. Homeless-ness is the place where we come face to face with ourselves and we either cover it up or we look to the Homeless Jew for salvation. We long to be taken in as we are and not who we pretend to be to ourselves and others.
Take the photo titled Refuge as an illustration. Here is the description,
“This stairwell might look like it contains trash, but this is someone’s bedroom. The cardboard acts as a mattress that helps insulate heat. The Styrofoam block is the pillow. The box on the right is a dresser filled with personal belongings.”
Yes, you would look at the photo without its description and not think it much. That is because when we think of our bedrooms we cannot imagine them without pillow top mattresses, flat screen TVs and accompanying cable/satellite to watch.
Finally, the photo Landfill drives home what we find at the dump for our stuff.
“People use this place as a landfill. And you know what happens in a landfill? People bring trash, but I’m not trash.” (TCC, Issue 11,p.18)
Imagine showing up at a trunk show. The imagery obtains to one who presents their wares in a traveling trunk. Everyone brings out the items intended to make our lives better, cuter, kitschy- er. In some sense, the appeal to making our life better is little more than finding in an item something that makes us feel complete or whole, saves us.
Then, with only a table, a once homeless person invites passersby to be taken in by homeless-ness. Magazines written by those having homeless-ness as a real experience. The parabolic experience of the two – homeless-ness and crafty items for the home and life – may be the story of life that is taken up in the “homeless, cross-dead Jew” whom God raised from the dead.
Oh the parable . . .