Thursday, June 2, 2011

Table Ministry

Last night was the last night we'll feed the homeless at First Lutheran until September--this night brings us to the end of our third year.  As I watched people eat, I thought about Jesus and his table ministry.

I am not the first person to see the radical nature of this table ministry.  Radical and radicalizing.  It's hard to continue to think of the destitute as "Other" when we've eaten dinner with them.

Our table ministry falls a bit short here.  The homeless folks eat, and we serve.  Jesus would have pulled up a chair and broken bread.

Still, even the experience of serving would radicalize me, if I wasn't already radicalized on this issue.  It's easy to dismiss the homeless as drunks and weirdos, if we only see them from our car windows as we whiz by.  It's harder, when we hear their stories.

I used to think that the problem of the homeless was one of affordable housing.  With enough units of affordable housing, I assumed that most of the homeless problem would be taken care of.

Now I realize that many homeless people have a variety of problems that oppress them.  We used to take care of our mentally ill until advocates protested the cruelty of mental hospitals.  Now we let them wander the streets.  Many of the homeless people who come to dinner have addiction issues.  We see people with a wide variety of disability issues too.

And then, there's the issue of jobs.  I remember one night when one of the homeless women was so thrilled because she had gotten a job at Subway.  That's great--but it still won't pay the kind of bills she'd have with a home, even a low cost one.  Still, I smiled at her news--and offered a prayer for her.

I remind myself that I'm following the way of Jesus, who lived in a hierarchical society more stringent than ours.  Jesus didn't solve those social issues either.  I follow his way, preparing a meal, chatting over coffee, praying without ceasing about problems I can't solve by myself.

I also console myself by thinking about various people who did transform society, like all those Civil Rights workers.  They met, they strategized, and thus, they were ready when history offered them a chance to change the world. 

If that chance for historical change doesn't come, at least I can take comfort from the fact that I've created a refuge, if only for an hour.

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