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Saturday, March 30, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I don't usually share much church-related stuff here on the blog.  I used to, here and there, because I was involved in setting up church events that drew on my crafting abilities...things like outreach picnics and VBS.  In the past year, however, we have transitioned to a new church environment.  
One where I was no longer on committees, helping with Sunday School, or planning events.
One that has stretched us into a less traditional, and more progressive, faith experience,
and also, provided us with opportunities for being immersed in a new type of community.

So, today I'm sharing about one of our recent opportunities, because it's relevant to the season,
and it was a new adventure that challenged me at my core.  Sit a spell and I'll tell you about it...
If this isn't your thing, I won't be hurt if you take a pass and come back next week for more crafty stuff.

Our family had a unique Good Friday experience,

walking an urban stations of the cross.
Say what?  Mini history lesson:  I had heard of Stations of the Cross services at Easter-time before,
 but had never been to one.  It's where you physically walk around the interior of a sanctuary, 
stopping at "stations" where artistic depictions of Christ's last hours are on display - 
a way to take a pilgrimage, of reflection and prayer, meditating on Christ's final day.  
This practice has been around since the 15th century, mainly Catholic (also Lutheran and Anglican) 
and usually during Lent, or more specifically, Good Friday.

Back to the present - What is an URBAN version of the stations of the cross?  
Well, it was this - taking the stations to the street, walking through parts of the city, 
to explore where Christ's journey to the cross met us, here in our current setting.
With one significant addition...
We did this with a church group that ministers to the homeless.  
More than that, their church primarily IS those who are homeless.

I don't know how long you've been here on the blog, but I've mentioned in the past that my Hubs occasionally assists in collecting items such as blankets, coats, hats, etc., to give to local homeless folks.
At our prior church, he organized donations and joined others in a city parking lot, personally handing these items out to the needy.  HE got to do this, several times a year.  *I* stayed home with our Little Men.  He offered, of course, to switch and let me go in his stead, but...I wasn't ready.  

Fast Forward to our current church family - Hubs goes to a shelter every other Saturday to help teach the in-transition residents computer skills for job hunting.  It's been pretty incredible, by his accounts, and some exciting growth is brewing which I will be sharing more of on the blog someday...mainly I'm giving this background, to point out that this wasn't his first time interacting with homeless.  But it was mine.  
And that meant confronting a lot of uncomfortable stereotypes.

I smiled and nodded and herded my children along, in typical mom-style, 
while in the back of my mind replayed my own mother's warnings about the big bad city,
and every made-for-tv movie on Lifetime that I had ever seen...
those people aren't trustworthy
they're dirty
they're dangerous
be careful

You know what my husband was doing?  Shaking their hands.  Hugging them.  Looking in their eyes.
He's come to this pool before.  I'm nervously testing the frigid water with a few bare toes.  

I'm noticing the stashes of rumpled clothes and bedding behind bushes, people's storage spots,
while trying to keep my curious, exploring boys under my hawk radar.
I'm cringing over what my outdoor-loving sons may be digging up on the ground just off the park path.
I battled against preconceived notions.  I struggled for a balance of caution and selfless acceptance.

And then we began our journey together, and it didn't matter.
We walked as a group, maybe 30-ish altogether, following the cross to the other side of the park.
We passed people sleeping on the ground, and they were invited to join us.

I'm going to share briefly below, from the Leader's Guide that I got a copy of. 
 Parts of the meditation for the stations help explain how this translated to our city environment and our unique group of individuals - what they could relate to, and what we need to start accepting.
I'll be honest, it was hard to swallow at times.  This is America.  This is our backyard.  
These homeless souls, not just temporary shelter folk, but truly weathered on-the-street people...
 are people just like us.

We went slowly, staying as a group, offering assistance to those who may need it.
We went with song, guitar, drums, tambourines, maracas...
And we pulled in together, shoulder to shoulder, to listen, in both English and Spanish.

At each "station," we gathered to listen to scripture passages and pray...
"Thank you Jesus, you show us the way.  Help us to follow your steps today."
We talked about being like Jesus, doing God's work, healing and feeding, welcoming...

We talked about selling one another out, using the violence of the system against each other, but then knowing that love faces up to the violence, even suffering, yet winning out in the end...

We stood by the Bridge Sculpture by Thornton Dial, remembering protests for equal rights,
confessing that, like Peter, we are afraid, and would perhaps rather pretend 
we don't belong to the poor man Jesus and his revolutionary ideas either.

We walked to an alley entrance in a busy neighborhood, high-price rentals and businesses
overshadowing the fact that for some, the alleyway is home...admitting that we must choose - 
choose to appear "clean" while hiding our true selves, choose to ignore, 
choose violence to cover up the truth, or choose the way of the cross...

We walked the alley with our homeless brothers and sisters -
a hiding place, from humiliation and bitterness, but also home and a place of relief.
"In the crucified people of history, the crucified God becomes present to us."

Our group journeyed on without us at this point, because our Little Men had had their fill.  Little Man wanted to be carried, Middle Man was close to laying flat out on the ground of boredom at the next stop, and Junior Man had climbed 12 feet up a tree, scrabbled through brush, collected sticks and rocks, and at one point was walking with a makeshift staff of a branch with an empty mini liquor bottle dangling on the end.  *head slap*  It was time to get that kid back in the car.  These type of life experience adventures always have an interesting twist with a literal, impulsive child along.

We said our goodbyes as the group began the longest stretch of the journey, to the site of where an old empty house burned down.  It was a place where many on the street sought shelter at night, and one died in the cold of winter.  They remembered Jesus dying the death of the poor and rebels.

I would have liked to finish this journey with our group, ending up at the church of our homeless.
Death is real and final.  Even there - no jobs with dignity, no housing for the poor, violence, hatred because of skin color, control and abuse - there we lay Jesus in the tomb, and wonder if it is the end.

We know it's not the end.
Don't we?
Thank you Jesus, you show us the way.
Help us to follow your steps today.

We, as a family, are trying to challenge ourselves and be exposed to...more.
You know what's interesting?  Our boys didn't even notice that we were in the company of street people.  They didn't notice that the woman hugging everyone and dancing with the maraca was drunk and occasionally cried.  They probably didn't wonder if the soup served beforehand was the only meal the young man in the hat may have that day.  They didn't realize that, while we tucked them into a warm, safe bed that night, most of the people we shared part of our day with were sleeping in the alley or park.
Middle Man said "Oh.  Well I did see that sleeping bag in the bushes."
Yes.  Yes you did, sweet innocent boy.

We hope that they will start noticing these things, and think about how much we take for granted.
We hope to lead them in an example of loving acceptance and community service.
But you know what?  It's kind of cool, in a way, that our boys didn't bat an eye.
They were just their usual young silly selves, having roll-down-the-hill races and enjoying the sunshine.
They brought some smiles out of tired faces.  They brought back memories of family,
and one particular gentleman tenderly watched them and
made sure they were out of the street as he recalled his grandchildren.

One of the songs we sang said...
The only thing that we did right
Was the day we began to fight...

The only chain that we can stand
Is the chain of hand in hand...

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
hold on, hold on

There was one man in particular who had such joy as he belted this out, clapping and tapping.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.
This performance is from an unrelated event, but it's a wonderful rendition so I'm including it here.

Liana Stampur, Andrew Kober, Ato Blankson-Wood, Clinton Curtis and Dana Steingold
 perform at the NYCLU's Broadway Stands Up For Freedom benefit concert on July 20th, 2009.

I hope that we can do this again next year, because it was humbling and beautiful.
For more info on Mercy Community Church in Atlanta,
visit their website and/or facebook page.

Happy Easter friends! 
Thanks for letting me keep it real today,
now back to our regularly scheduled crafty happenings.


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