Tuesday, October 26, 2004
The least of these
The first thing I noticed upon entering the Catholic Action Center was the stench. The rank odor of human urine envelopes me, billowing, rolling like a swelling wave, building, cresting and finally crashing over my head.

If I filmed this, imagine the scene in Jaws when police chief Martin Brody is on the beach and realizes the shark for the first time. The camera swiftly zooms in as the background seems to be falling straight at the frame in the old Hitchcock trick. It's that dizzying, vertigo moment of epiphany.

I do not want to be here. It's early. Okay 10 a.m., but after 4 hours of sleep, I'm not awake yet. The tex/mex food I had for dinner last night is still sloshing through my insides. I'm feeling crummy. Worse than that. And here I am, suburban whiteboy Christian tourist, here to save the day and help the poor. What right do I have to be here? What can I say to these people? What possible difference can I make? I do not want to be here.

God, am I really cut out for any kind of social work? What a bullshit question. I've become such a soft Christian over the past five years. There was a time I would have invited this, sought it out. I wouldn't have needed it to be required by a Vocation of Ministry seminary class. I have seen the destitute barrios of Tijuana. I have seen the barren adobe communities of N'Djamena. I have seen and tasted the poor. I would not trade it for anything.

The Spirit of YHWH, the Master, is on me
because YHWH anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
pardon all prisoners.
YHWH sent me to announce the year of his grace--
a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies--
and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit (Isaiah 61, The Message).

I saw Jesus this morning. Whether I was paying attention or not. Whether I wanted to be there or not. And it doesn't matter the last time he bathed. And it doesn't matter the highest education he had. Hope and redemption are the only language I need.

In Vocation of Ministry, our small groups are required 4 hours of community service, so we--Bethann, Gil, Rick, Sergey and myself--chose the CAC, expecting something of a soup kitchen. Theresa, the CAC volunteer, leads us out of the room that smells like someone peed in it, outside and then back inside another part of the building and up the stairs. We can help by sorting and folding clothes, she says. She opens a door and plastic bags of fashion donations nearly come rolling out. What a load of junk. This is our community service. Our "ministry."

After clearing some space to even walk in the room, we then spent the next three hours seperating the men's clothes from the children's and women's. Apparently, 99% of the shelter's "business" is to men, seeking clothes, showers, food, etc. Folding shirts. I'm working at Old Navy all over again. Only the musty smell, I swear, was visible.

The highlight definitely came as we stumbled across a handful of pink shirts. Are these men's or women's? Sergey has no issue with a pink men's shirt. I myself would never wear one and would probably mock a friend who did. Understand Sergey is from Russia. According to him, a guy wearing a pink shirt is not gay. However, to wear one of these Hawaiian shirts over here, that will get you called, how you say... "playful." I gotta use that sometime.

For lunch we expected to somehow assist with the shelter's meal. Not so. They told us to get our own damn lunch. Okay, maybe not in those terms exactly, but it was clear we weren't needed for the afternoon meal. Gil, being a Lexingtonian, then guided us (despite much weeping and gnashing of teeth at one-way streets) to Charlie's Diner--a hole-in-the-wall joint so hole-in-the-wall we missed it the first time. After handling used clothes from god-knows-where for the past three hours, washing my hands sounds like a dandy idea. But the bathroom is back outside, around the back and in another building. Now I really feel like I'm on a mission trip. I hear a voice coming from inside the diner: "Dey ain't frum round here. Dey gotta warsh dey hans."

No, sir. I am sad to say I am not from Kentucky.

It was a good burger, though. And free of musty, used clothes taste, I might add.

Intramural basketball was tonight. Six points. My first game without a dunk. I'll try not to blame the section that cheered my every move--Nintendo, Big Ben and The Nett. We lost by ten.

And who knew Wesley was a Sox fan?

Don't ask who's responsible. I just take the pictures.

posted by Peter at 1:31 AM
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