Monday, September 24, 2007

a city of relationships

funny that i've been reading articles all day (seriously since 9am to 9pm) about empathy and prosocial action...and at the same time I can look back over this single day and see the manifestations of this working in my life. I love it when my tedious research comes to life and gets me all jazzed about people. it's a little nerdy...but wonderfully rich and good.
I bumped into Will again today. He came to COA a long time ago pretty consistently and then just stopped. Susie and I have seen him over on 7th and pch, I saw him on 2nd street with my mom, and I had a very short conversation in the middle of an intersection by my house today as I rode to school. I've never met someone who so blatantly and hopelessly describes his life as a nightmare...and believed them. I invited him to come wednesday...he said he would. I've been talking to a mentor/friend lately about how this fellowship has affected the way I see the city. My response was very honestly, "I don't know how I see the city, but I know have relationships within it." Previous experiences with people who are homeless in a different city were very different. I was "friends" with a woman named Donna. What this meant is that I knew her name, maybe she'd remember mine for a week, and we'd have a little more than the standard "hello" interaction. and to be truthful, for that year, and maybe even now, it was more about my ego than loving her. I walked those same streets not that long ago and felt no connection to the people I passed on the street. I walked past probably 20 different people in sleeping bags and blankets in that same city...and I was sad that homelessness exists in the world, but I didn't even really feel much when Donna passed me and we had a quick exchange. I don't think she recognized or remembered me really, but was just surprised that someone knew her name. And then I thought about Phoung. I was suddenly moved to tears at the thought of my friend from Long Beach having to sleep on the streets. And it clicked inside. I don't go to COA at 6am when I'm exhausted because it's the right thing to do or someone's watching or so I can write about it on a blog or tell about it in church. Phoung's there. I hope and pray that Will's there. I want to see my friends if only for an hour...not because I think I can fix their problems with some food, but to let them know I care. I don't have much to offer...I don't know how to fix things for them or take them out of their nightmare, but I hope they feel noticed and loved and accepted and wanted. And without those relationships, I might as well be there for court ordered community service for a few weeks tops.
I care about a group of students downtown not because it's my duty to pray for a new nonprofit at my church, but because I know it's my friend's first day running this thing. and because he's my friend I want it to go well. and i want the relationships he builds to be formative and redeeming for the kids that are there.
I'm not sure how God's changing this city...but I know that my life is intertwined in a beautiful mess of relationships...and I have faith that those relationships are slowly changing the way that I live...
When asked "why have relationships with these people? what does that have to do with the kingdom of God at large?" my friend answered, "because by being in relationships with these people, I'm doing exactly the opposite of what today's culture says I should be doing with my time."
there's a long conversation in that alone, and I agree with that statement. I want to be compelling and different and counter cultural and when that's noticed--whether it's who I'm friends with, what I'm eating, what I'm driving or not driving, or where my time and money is spent, I want to be able to answer, at any given time when asked "why do you do that?" --"because I'm a Christian". too often I talk about social responsibility or environmentalism or simply say "i'm a volunteer". but that's not true. and merely "being counter cultural" isn't complete either. I love and serve a wonderful God, and I want to share that. I don't just want to give a hungry person food...I want them to realize that I care and be able to share why. Evangelism and compassion...I've seen that either can be empty practices. God teach us to keep these together.