Like many places across the country, bitterly cold weather is moving into our area. There’s even talk of snow…. Which, in this part of the world, means that most people start thinking about a few things: Worrying about bad roads, hoping for school closings, and trying to get to Kroger before they run out of bread and milk. I made the mistake of stopping by a Kroger after Church yesterday, and the bread aisle was one shopping-cart-collision-with-a-mom-having-a-really-bad-day away from turning into a scene from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” For most of us, the cold weather is little more than an annoyance we must endure between the time after we leave our warm houses and the time it takes for our cars to warm up. But for some people, a stretch of cold weather is way more than an annoyance.
Yesterday at our Church, a man named Steve stood up and told the congregation that he needed our help. As he told us about the cold weather coming this way and the desperate situation that the homeless community in Nashville faced, he seemed visibly shaken. He talked about how there were more people on the streets than there were beds at the mission…. But he didn’t say it like someone telling a congregation a statistic–His words had the urgency of someone who was worried about his friends. And that’s probably because many of those people needing a place to stay WERE his friends. And so he asked for our help. And after the service was over, he was surrounded by about 30 people who were asking what they could do. It was unorganized, and it was beautiful. There is nothing so holy in a Church service–no prayer, no song, no bread and wine–as a time when someone in need is surrounded by people asking how they can help.
And so, once again, our Church made some make-shift beds out of the chairs in our sanctuary. They had people show up with a bunch of blankets and pillows and toiletries. Some other folks brought some amazing food. The whole scene looked like this:
Our Church is in the suburbs in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and there aren’t nearly as many vulnerable people in that area, so we picked up folks from downtown Nashville and drove them out to our church to sleep. I’ve got myself a really nice 1997 GMC Safari that fits eight, so I volunteered to be a driver. There was a young woman named Lindsey who had found the folks who needed a warm place to stay and introduced them to me before I drove them out to the Church. I think I expected…. well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected more B.O. in my van (more than normal, that is), but most of the folks just smelled like campfire–Which makes sense, because it was cold during the day too. Cigarettes are definitely a currency in those circles. There were things that people needed that I never even think twice about–A bandaid, a comb…. well, I’m bald, so…. anyway, but you get my point. I was just surprised by how normal everyone was. From the people needing a place to stay, to the people taking the lead who were in relationship with those folks, to the people who were working together to make it happen–They were all just regular folks, doing nothing particularly spectacular. But everyone together was something…. beautiful. It was Church.
Some of you who read my stuff regularly already know that my Church came out in support of LGBT inclusion recently. I wrote about it HERE (and if you haven’t already, you should go watch the updated link at the end that explains how you can completely value scripture and still end up as an open and affirming Church). Through this painful process, there have been a lot of people who found it necessary to find another place to worship. It’s weird, because you don’t want something like this to divide people, but also it’s something that is important enough to take a stand on…. So I get it. But as I looked around our sanctuary, transformed into 20 beds for people to sleep on, I couldn’t help but think about how little the people staying there probably cared about our Church’s stance on LGBT inclusion. If someone is giving you a hot meal and a sleeping bag, you probably don’t care if they believe God blesses same-sex marriages.
So I’m thankful tonight for all the regular people–People on both sides of this whole “gay marriage” debate–who take the time to cook some food, who take the time to gather some blankets, who take the time to go buy some pillows, who take the time to stay at the Church all night long…. And I’m thankful for the chance to meet some new friends, and sing some Journey song in my minivan with people I’ve never met before, and even hear the sad stories of kids kicked out of their homes and families…. But today I am especially thankful for those regular people–For Steves and Lindseys who are in relationship with folks most of us have thrown away a long time ago. I’m thankful for the ones whose hearts break when the weather gets this cold, the ones who are spurred into action, the ones whose passion inspires the rest of us to get a little less comfortable. And I’m really thankful for the Church.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”:
“I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”