So I sat down across the table from David and Carlos and Juan for lunch today. We were at San Lucas Church in west Chicago today to learn about their social advocacy and work in the neighborhood and to help serve the noon meal to neighborhood patrons. In my conversation with David I find out that he lives in Humboldt Park across the street. He hasn’t had a job in years so when he leaves the table he will go back across the street and seek shelter. Anticipating the arrival of bad weather in a couple of days, I asked him what he would do in the cold weather. And he said, “I find a warm hallway.” You see, in this poverty stricken neighborhood, health clinics have been closed, shelters have lost funding, and rundown housing has been replaced by highrise/low income housing. The problem with these new high rises, is that people can’t afford to pay the increased taxes to live in them. So in a community of predominantly people of Puerto Rican descent, where diabetes and high blood pressure are escalated, there are no jobs to pay for healthcare or wages to cover housing. So to the street or park he goes.
Then there’s Carlos who spoke for his other two friends who had limited English. They wanted to know what we were doing there. Upon telling him that we were all preparing to be pastors and had come to Chicago to learn about urban ministry, he said, “What made you want to be a pastor?” Imagine my surprise! Here I am trying to be hospitable to him and he’s asking the questions! I told him it was God who steered me in this direction, and his next comment was, “Are you all gonna come work at this church?”
So we talked some more about what it’s like to live in the city. “Hard, there aren’t any jobs,” he said. “But it’s better than it was.”
I wasn’t able to get out of him why it was better, but if I was to ponder that, I would say that perhaps the presence of the church and a voice advocating for the oppressed and downtrodden have made the difference.
We were told to sit down and eat with the patrons. I must admit that some of my friends took their lunch anticipating that the food would not be good or enough or for other dietary concerns. I was even apprehensive about what I would eat, though I did not take my lunch. I wondered to myself how I would hold out a welcoming invitation to lunch so to speak. But as it turned out, I wasn’t the one extending the welcome. Carlos and David and all the others greeted us with welcomed smiles and hand shakes and some hugs as we sat down at the table together.
We spoke today as a class about solidarity and seeing the other as equal. Only when we are able to rid ourselves of the stumbling blocks of racism can we truly follow Jesus and be Jesus’ hands, feet and heart in the world. Only when we name and claim our own prejudices are we able to truly treat each other with dignity and justice and with equality. When we sat down at the table, it was a level playing ground. People on both sides of the table – mutually respecting each other as a child of God.
When it was time to go, I was asked to give a blessing in the crowded room. Asking folk to touch the person next to them on the shoulder I offered this echo blessing in which they would bless each other: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace.”
Peace in Humboldt Park tonite Lord. Peace and protection and warmth and comfort for my friend David and his friends. Peace.
Tomorrow: Take it to the Street