Social Justice


Monday night, my significant other and I worshiped with AfterHours Denver, a United Methodist Church which meets in a bar and lives into the motto: Love More, Laugh More, Judge Less. That night, a member of the AfterHours community shared about how serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Civic Center Park every Tuesday for the last three years has changed his life. During the message, there was time for people to talk with those around them. There were five of us at the table, strangers when we sat down, and by the end of the discussion time I had received these amazing stories of how AfterHours had changed the lives of those seated there-given meaning, made a difference, touched Divinity.

One man shared that he did not know the Bible very well, but that he experienced the love of Christ every time he made eye contact with someone at the park. Another shared that it had taken almost a year of weekly visits to the park before the folks there trusted AfterHours enough to come and receive. He seemed humbled and grateful to have been given that trust. At the end of service, people hung around for about an hour of fellowship. During that time, three other people dropped by my table to share about AfterHours. I could tell that AfterHours is the highlight of the week for many there: an evening of deep connection, Spiritual engagement and an open environment for questions and religious seeking.

I experienced a similar vibe at a Sunday School class in an Iowa United Methodist Church whose members requested that I not share their names or location. The Sunday I attended, there were about 13 people at that class. There were people ranging in age from 17 to . . well, it probably would not be polite to say. The group was sharing with me a mission project they had taken on a couple of years ago. The members of the group had read Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life: You Were Born to Make a DifferenceThe book had spurred a desire to do something more than simply read and discuss books. They started looking for ways to make a difference.

Inspired by a story they read in a newspaper, they decided to take up a collection. The money was then given to one member of the group who was tasked with keeping an eye open for a way to help out someone in the community. No strings, no names, no credit-simply to use that money to make someone’s day better or to help someone with a difficult situation. That member would report back to the group and the next month, a different member of the class is given the money to give away.

I sat for over an hour as the members of the class shared the ways they had been moved to touch their neighbors’ lives with the money their group collected: a family swimming pass, a Wal-Mart gift card, paint for someone whose home was damaged in a flood. The magic, they said, is in being anonymous. One woman shared how transforming it is to be used by God. Their words and stories tumbled over one another as they joyfully shared not only their own stories, but the stories from others in the group.

Their pastor said that the excitement that Sunday School class generates has had a significant impact even on the church members who don’t attend the class. It has created a bit of contagious generosity and has raised the congregation’s self-esteem, but the members of the class are clear: participating in this ministry is not about them being generous benefactors. It is about being people called by God to make a difference, and the overwhelming generosity of God in supplying opportunities and resources to make that difference.

At a visit to Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, someone asked me how I liked the church. I said, “This will probably sound odd, but being here makes me feel homesick.” He said, “Not at all, Sister. You know what homesick is, don’t you? It is the feeling you get when you remember what it feels like to be loved.” I experienced that same homesickness in both Denver and that Iowa Sunday school class. It is the feeling, or thirst, if you will, that calls me into discipleship and out into the world with whatever of Christ I can manage to share.

I wonder where it is that you experience that “homesickness,” that feeling you get when you remember what it feels like to be loved. Do you find it in your church on Sunday morning or Saturday night? Do you experience it at your workplace or in your Sunday school? Maybe you encounter it while stocking shelves at the pantry or serving meals through some sort of outreach. Does it encourage you to protest and to disrupt? Does it keep you from losing hope when all the media knows to feed you is bad news?

If not, seek it out, because God is in it. Christ inhabits the homesick you feel when it isn’t home you’re missing, and the Holy Spirit breathes through communities of people all living into that same hope: a world where we can love more, laugh more and judge less.

Social Justice

Done with Table Crumbs

I’ve had this line from the Over the Rhine song All I Need Is Everything in my head this week:

And you’re whispering to me,
time to get up off my hands and knees,
’cause if I beg for it, it won’t come.
I find nothing but table crumbs.
My hands are empty.

I won’t swear to it, but I think it is a reference to the story of the Syrophoenician Woman found in both Mark ( 7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28). A woman’s daughter is possessed by a demon. She approaches Jesus who tells her “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Her witty comeback is that even the dogs get to eat crumbs from the children’s table and Jesus sends her on her way with the assurance that her daughter has been healed.

This is an underclass story. It is a story about how a disposable person* came to Jesus on behalf of her even more insignificant and disposable daughter. (*UN Women; Millennium Development Goals) It is a story about how Jesus challenged her right to his attention and her bold, sassy reply. It is about how her refusal to be put back into her place results in Jesus’ healing her daughter.

Sometimes, we act like the stories we read in the Gospels are not relevant to our culture and society today. We try to convince ourselves that our America has progressed past the point where there are any people left in the underclass. We have somehow internalized an identification with Sojourner Truth, and celebrate stories that suggest no one need ever again ask, “Ain’t I a woman?”

Yet, as I look and listen, it seems to me there are silent Sojourner Truths all around and silencing systems that don’t want to hear about their experiences of femininity; of, in fact, their humanity. These are the people we treat as disposable: female, fertile, or undereducated; unwashed, dark-skinned, or poor; transient, criminal, or First Nation; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning/queer; substance dependent, mentally different, or physically challenged; and when one of these folks raises their voice in mixed company to ask for full participation, we lift up the  example of the woman who makes more money than a man. We refuse to hear. We ask, “How on earth can there be inequality when there is an ethnically diverse ad campaign for the American Dream?”

To which I say, “Table crumbs!” and to which the Syro-Phoenician Woman would say, “The table crumbs are mine by convention. I want more.” To which our God in Jesus Christ replied . . .