So what’s happening to us when a group of middle and upper class church people learn to actually have fun sharing food with street friends? It’s one thing to show up at some place of human need and distribute a tiny portion of your wealth as though you are superior to the recipients. I’m not sure that actually helps people much. But what’s going on when people start having fun as they rub shoulders with our city’s poorest neighbors?
In case you can’t tell from the pic above, the latest food team from Rayne United Methodist Church seemed to really enjoy themselves while serving today’s meal at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. The meal was good, according to all our friends who tasted it. But what if the team had served it in a snotty way, looking down on our street friends, talking bad about them in the kitchen, and presuming they are all just lazy, (you know, the kind of stuff politicians and other stupid people say on talk radio all the time). I can tell you that would’ve ruined the whole experience. And according to Christian scripture, all the good we do without love is like a clanging cymbal.
Or how about when Rev. Sonya Lars, pastor there at Mt. Zion, led the prayer. How much harm would’ve been done if she had adopted the us-against-them stance and prayed in a condescending way? Does God even hear those kind of prayers? In reality, Rev. Sonya prayed for all of us in our times of need. She spread the table wide to include us all as the people who really need divine assistance and each other’s help. Now that’s the kind of speaking from the heart that unites us all, and I expect God’s ears, if God has ears, perk up at something like that.
Then there was the way the pastor from Rayne, Rev. Callie Crawford, quietly slipped in, started serving alongside the rest of the team, and made sure every single person there got everything they needed, right down to the last pieces of bread. It’s sad to have to admit that many pastors wouldn’t be caught dead getting anywhere near street people. Many might preach sermons about “the poor” but have never actually had a poor friend. Rev. Callie is thankfully on the other end of that spectrum. She challenges her people to give, puts the ministry in the budget, keeps the issue before them, and then rolls up her sleeves and dives in to help whenever she can.
I love it when I see these women clergy join in the service in such a way that no one can even tell they are pastors. There is no strutting around, taking charge, calling attention to themselves, dressing up to impress, and in fact, I see no signs of ego at all. I wish people like them would be on the nightly news as representatives of the Way of Christ instead of the talking heads who love to say outlandish things, as though they speak for Christ. Sonya and Callie are practicing what they preach first, and we could all take a lesson from their examples.
I say there is some “personal transformation and radical engagement with the world” going on in that room. It’s one thing to adopt a motto about these things, as our ecumenical School for Contemplative Living has done, and it is another thing to live it out in the real world with real people who have real problems. We started our School with a motto that included “serving in joy.” And I saw that joyful service happening today. Transformation is contagious, and so is radical engagement. This love thing is spreading, out here on the streets of New Orleans, as we’re smack in the middle of the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And love is what will carry us forward as one city, one people, one dang resilient bunch of people who sometimes remember we are ALL the children of God.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, also available as a Kindle book.