The day had finally come that I had been waiting a couple of months for, I was going home. I was nestled comfortably back into the the Flint Hills in the lovely city of Manhattan, KS. I went to my favorite places to eat, got to see friends and family, and enjoy other local things (Bloody Mary’s with Kevin on Thursdays). It was like nothing had changed, but I had. When I moved from my home answering a call from God to serve I knew that I would experience life-changing things however, I didn’t believe that I would be ready to leave Manhattan when I returned.
I was back for 15 days, 10 days too long. I was so happy to see everyone when I returned and got all the hugs from clients at Big Lakes, shared memories and stories with friends and family. After five days of being in Manhattan I was ready to go back home to Austin. When I first thought to myself “I miss Austin” after being home for only a few days I was shocked. It wasn’t just because of the weather either. So the next 10 days flew by and I continued to think what is it about Austin that I missed. What is it that I would rather be there and called this new place “home” over the place where I was raised for my entire life; made friends, had family, went to school most of my life, and started a very fulfilling job. I talked to friends about living in Austin and reflected on the few months that I had been in Austin. Then I realized what it was; I was uncomfortable back in Manhattan. I was uncomfortable because it was so comfortable. I left my bubble that sheltered me from the real world, everything was so other to me. The hurt people experienced, the natural disasters, and the injustice people endured that I saw was from a screen. I was aware of the reality of the world, but it wasn’t in Manhattan. I donated monthly to causes, shared an article and volunteered as much as possible. The people who are in need in Manhattan either have services to assist in someway or are out of sight of the public for the most part. I am not nor do I want to make sweeping statements that Manhattan is this little utopia where everything is perfect and nothing bad happens or there isn’t hurt there.
When I think about my (un)comfortability in Austin I think of two situations: I have a pretty set schedule for Sunday mornings. I walk to church after going to the ATM to take some money out for those who ask for money on the street, attend a great service, then go to wait for the bus after church. So really the 30th of October was no different, it was another warm “fall” day in the heart of Texas. At noon on the last Sunday of October it was already a warm 80° and was going to go up and settle at a heat index of 90° . The metal of the bench that I sat on was rather warm, but this is not the uncomfortable seating. A man with disheveled hair, dirty clothes, tore up shoes, and a tattered bag, walks in my direction; a sight that I see almost everyday since moving here. The man walks up to a trash can, reaches in and is looking for something to either eat or drink, and he pulls out a to-go coffee cup and begins to drink the last few drops of the drink before putting it in his bag. I reach into my wallet and take out the last few dollars I have left, and call out to him “sir, here is something for a coffee or food.” He turns toward and looks at me with a look that I will never forget; a look of shame, sadness, and defeat. He shakes his head, turns, and walks away. The bus pulls up, I get on, find a seat, and sit in my uncomfortably.
In Austin there is a “no sit/no lie” ordinance, it is unlawful to sit/lie on the sidewalks in the city, but sleeping on benches legal. The reason for this law is that it “obstructs pedestrian traffic” so to “help” they put up more benches however, businesses complained that people were sleeping outside their business and the city removed most of them. I have seen this first hand shortly after moving to Austin. A man was laying down on the sidewalk on Guadalupe, a street I travel frequently, and there were two officers attempting to remove him from the sidewalk, I slowly walk by. Officer 1: “You need to get up and move, you already got a ticket. You want to be arrested too?” Man experiencing homelessness: “Come on I don’t have anywhere else to go. What am I supposed to do?” Officer 2: “Get up and try to get a job.” My heart beat races and blood boils; I want to go over and intervene however, “I don’t want any trouble.” I was uncomfortable with everything this man’s situation and how he was treated, the officers’ response, and my lack of response. I continued to walk trying not to cry or throw-up at what I just witnessed.
Anytime I see an injustice and do nothing for whatever reason; I don’t want any trouble, I don’t have time, I don’t have money, whatever unacceptable reason I give; I think of “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” “30…Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” Luke 10:30-35 I have not been in a situation I perceive to be as drastic as this however, there have been situations such as the one listed above that I too was no better than the priest or Levite in the parable.
When I read, recall, or find my truth in the parable I have to remind myself that there are a number of situations in our lifetime that we are given a chance to help someone and it is our calling to help someone out. In this opportunity we are given the chance to help or stand-by, no matter what we do we take an action. Since leaving Manhattan there have been a myriad of chances to help others. This can be at work, at home, in my faith community, and/or when interacting with strangers. It is important to realize the opportunity given and to utilize it to help.
I have been thinking about churches and their response to the need in the world and communities. There are plenty of communities that are in need of help and advocacy as we are seeing lately. I see churches and Churches taking action and do the “Christ like” thing; I define this as standing up for those who need help being seen and heard as they are pushed down by the privileged. However I see the flip-side there are churches who sit idly by and watch the injustice happen. There is a church that I walk by frequently and they have two signs laminated and posted on their doors; “No sitting, no loitering, no sleeping” and “All items found on property will be thrown out.” These signs are meant for those experiencing homelessness, instead of welcoming all and helping people these statements say “you and your things are not welcome here.”
It is one of the reasons why I chose the statue of the homeless Jesus sleeping on a park bench. I find myself uncomfortable everyday, it is how I stay woke with everything that is happening everyday in this messy broken world. It forces me to find courage, anger to use in a constructive way, compassion, hope, and love for God and people.
Peace and Love,