I Wasn’t Supposed to be There….Right?

A few months ago, a friend in St. Louis asked me to contribute books to a new children’s library in the St. Louis area.

books from my childhood susy morris flicker

The Sweeney’s managed to pull together two full boxes to contribute.  I loaded the boxes in my car, where they stayed for two months.

This last week, we drove to St. Louis for a wedding.  My friend Tom wasn’t supposed to be in town.  He was supposed to be at a conference in Squaw Valley, but scheduling conflicts caused a last minute cancellation.  I arranged to meet Tom for coffee on Friday morning, to deliver the books personally.

Thursday night, we stayed on the Illinois side of the river.  Tom had arranged for us to meet on the west side of St. Louis, so on Friday morning, I notified Google of the destination address, and let the phone navigate my way there.  Heading into St. Louis on IH64, however, there is a lot of construction.  Google decided to route me a different way – up St. Clair Avenue, which would lead me right into East St. Louis, or at least to the edge.

East St. Louis – in 2007, it had the highest crime rate in the United States.  The city still struggles with high crime, and I knew I needed to get back on the highway before I put myself in danger.

Because I wasn’t supposed to be on that road.  I wasn’t supposed to be delivering books to my friend Tom.  He wasn’t even supposed to be in St. Louis.

But I stayed on St. Clair Avenue for awhile.  I saw the burned houses, the blight, the vacant stores and the vacant streets.

abandoned home in St Louis ken fager flickr

I heard the silence.  I felt the pain.  But I got off the road and back onto the highway as quickly as I could.

After coffee, I decided to drive back the same way I came.  This time I noticed more:  boarded up windows, rusty metal buildings, and a man pushing a shopping cart with all of his possessions.

I asked, ‘God, I’m not supposed to be here.  What are you asking me to do?”

On Friday afternoon, we moved closer to St. Louis.  We were going to stay in the hotel with other wedding guests, but at the last minute, we decided to rent a nicely renovated townhouse that was made available for us.  We checked with local sources – the area was “in transition,” but considered safe.

934 Rutger St Louis

But God wasn’t finished with me yet.  God had a place for me to be.  God wanted me to see something.

As I drove down the street to the townhouse, I realized that we would share sidewalks for a few days with Peter & Paul Community Services.  PPCS provides housing and support services to the homeless.  During our stay, on some incredibly hot days, we encountered volunteers handing out bottled water to those who needed it.   Across the alley from us, there sat a building that housed the Society of Friends (Quakers), who are known for their community outreach to the needy.

We shared sidewalks and parks with people who lived in housing sponsored by the St. Louis Housing Authority.

And across the street, behind the house, we had perfect access to Saint Vincent de Paul Parish, a Catholic parish whose members serve hot meals to the hungry one week each month.  Every day of the week, volunteers at Saint Vincent de Paul’s Parish provide sandwiches and fruit to the hungry at lunchtime.

church of saint vincent de paul

We walked the streets, smiling back at our new neighbors.  We greeted the children, playing on the swings.

I wasn’t supposed to be there.  But where else would I be?

This is, after all, where Christ is found.  Christ is found with the poor, and with the orphan, and with the widow and with the sick.

Highway construction caused Google to push me onto St. Clair Avenue and near East St. Louis.  But I believe God, not Google, was my navigator in the LaSalle Park area of town….God showed me where I was supposed to be that weekend.  Now I am charged with being the hands of Christ in my own city.

Tell me, God, where am I supposed to be back home?

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Photo credit:  “Books from my Childhood,” Susy Morris, Flickr; “Abandoned Home,” Ken Fager, Flickr; “Little Red Church,” stlouisreview.com.  All other pictures original to Cathy Sweeney.

A Living Wage

A Living Wage

Still more to be said on the unrealistic McDonald’s ‘living on a part time wage’ budget.  Looks like Costco’s compensation plan works – and the employees seem loyal because of it.  Click on “A Living Wage” to read more from Rev. Gerald Britt at CitySquare (@gleebritt)

Stephen Colbert Debunks McDonald’s Budget

http://bit.ly/1bJmA7B

I am a big fan of ‘The Colbert Report,’ a tongue-in-cheek ‘news’ show aired nightly on The Comedy Channel.  Colbert has a way of sharing the ridiculousness of our nation’s news, in a very humorous way.

Last night’s monologue focused on the minimum wage and a recent online educational tool that McDonald’s corporate office created for its part time employees.  McD’s objective, it appears, is to educate the poor on their unreasonable request to raise minimum wage.  Clearly, under the hypothetical budget discussed in this clip, anyone can survive on minimum wage, right?.  I’ll let Colbert do the talking for me; he easily debunks the assumptions in the budget.

As for some of the commentary that proclaims minimum wage workers as “irresponsible with their money,” I say – let’s see you try it, Mr. O’Reilly.  I’ll bet we don’t get the opportunity to see O’Reilly try.  It’s a whole lot easier to point fingers and assume we would act differently in the same situation.  I don’t think I’d fare any better than most.

Documentary director Morgan Spurlock put it to the test.  In the introductory episode of his TV series, “30 Days,” Spurlock and his wife spent 30 days living on two minimum wage earnings.  [I can’t bring myself to call the earnings ‘salaries’.]  The challenge was much more difficult and enlightening than either spouse realized.  I encourage you to watch it on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.  The challenges they faced ended in 30 days; for others, they must find ways to end the cycle themselves.

How can we help them?  Will we answer as Christ asks us, in Matthew 25:35-40?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Quite a bit of media coverage has been dedicated to Chick fil A President Dan Cathy’s comments denouncing same sex marriage.  Mr. Cathy’s statements have been interpreted as a company wide position, resulting in a worldwide media barrage of political posturing.

Many people have supported Cathy/the company in its definition of ‘Christian values.’  Others have spoken out against the commentary, claiming Cathy’s words promote “hate and inequality.”  Former Arkansas Governor, and popular conservative, Mike Huckabee joined in the fray by encouraging a “Chick fil A Appreciation Day” on August 1 – with the stated goal to support Cathy’s (and the company’s?) right to free speech.

The day after, it is hard to open a newspaper, in print or online, without reading about the groundswell of response from Huckabee’s call.  Waiting times of 30-45 minutes were common, as customers voted with their pocketbooks – large purchases from the Christian right; orders of water only from those opposed to Cathy’s comments.  Many others, I would imagine, came out in support of the original call – free speech.  And my heart goes out to anyone who was not aware of the onslaught of controversy, finding themselves inside a Chick fil A yesterday, with no knowledge of the political fray.

I avoided Chick fil A yesterday, but watched the ruckus through online media outlets.  I listened while a friend shared his voice on camera in Austin.  I watched my facebook feed as many of my friends accepted the invitation to the Appreciation Event of the Year.  I saw Twitter light up with debate.  And I was thankful for that freedom of speech.

But when the time came for me to eat my lunch, I sat quietly at my desk, and listened to my heart on the topic.  My heart told me this:

‘The Spirit of the [Lord] is upon me, 
  because [he] has anointed me
   to bring good news to the poor.
[He] has sent me to proclaim release to the capitves
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
   to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the [Lord’s] favour.’  (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)

Had I braved the crowds, I would have done so in support of free speech.  And perhaps I would have been thoughtful enough to purchase a few sandwiches for that mother down the street who can’t feed her children.  That is the biblical value I choose to support.
 
In all things, Love.

Celebrations and Reflections

We celebrate the Risen Christ, and that is appropriate – every day.  We feast on banquets with our families, and share in God’s wonderful blessing.  That, too, is a celebration available because of God’s unceasing and immeasureable love for us.  Every Day.

It’s easy to celebrate, and forget that there are children who live in hunger, in fear, in pain – in our state, in our city, in our own neighborhood.  Think it doesn’t happen, ‘not in my neighborood?’  Think again.  Who do you see reflected in this short video reposted from Larry James’ Urban Daily blog?  As I watched, I wondered.  As I watched the words trail by……’too many are born too soon’…….I realized – that voice of an angel I heard singing this morning is the same voice that was crying to be heard, 18 years ago, when she was born at 3 1/2 pounds, 8 weeks early.

We were fortunate to have insurance.  We were, and are, fortunate to have a network of family, friends and coworkers who rallied together to help.   They were Christ’s hands for our family.

Other children are not as fortunate.  Other families are not as fortunate.  As I reflect on the beautiful words and music and flowers and love we shared this morning, I am compelled to ask you to consider this thought provoking and short video, and reflect on how you might be able to share the heart and hands of Christ with any of the least of these.

Christ is risen!   Christ is in each of us….as I heard this morning, “WE are the gardeners.”  I pray that we can continue to make the flowers bloom for all God’s children.

Amen.

Larry James’ Urban Daily: Choices we face in Texas. . .: The Center for Public Policy Priorities is the Texas home to KIDS COUNT , a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of child…