Today I woke up and walked Flop around the neighborhood. It was a beautiful, clear morning, and since we are surrounded by preserved land, there are green trees and brown hills (sometimes they’re green hills, but goodness knows not in this heat) where ever you look. It was totally quiet, save for the birds.
Yesterday morning I woke up and peered over the wall of the roof of Union Rescue Mission to the street below. I watched as people packed up all their belongings methodically, preparing for the day, relieving themselves in a corner or against a tree. Personal space or peace and quiet are long since forgotten options, replaced by a constant stream of people walking by, often calling out to each other.
Last night I had Mexcian food and frozen yogurt with a friend. Then we watched Bachelor Pad. You can judge, I judge myself a little.
The night before I skipped dinner, as quietly as I could, because corn, noodles and a hot dog didn’t sit well. And because I knew I could.
Last night I fell asleep in a king size bed with clean white sheets. The A/C was on and the only noise was the hum of a room fan. I woke up at 1:30am when Flop decided he was thirsty and panted a whole bunch. He’s the loudest panter ever. Then I went back to bed.
The night before I woke up so much that if it weren’t for the fact that I knew I was waking up I would never have believed I was asleep at all. (Ever have those nights?) From the way I hurt from sleeping on hard ground to the seven sirens to the four helicopters to the lights that stayed on all night, it was not happening. Then I wondered how to process my almost innate desire to complain, when the people below me try to find rest on hard ground amidst the noise and lights every night.
This past week, twenty of us spent one night on the roof of a mission on Skid Row as part of a day devoted to learning more about our city. On any given night, there are between 4-5,000 homeless persons sleeping in the 50 square blocks of Skid Row. From the roof, we stared down at the street for hours, talking in low voices about the people or cars that passed below us. Late in the night, one student remarked, “They’re just people, and we’re watching them like it’s an exhibit. But they shouldn’t be different us.”
Greg Boyle writes that knowing the stories of the homies calls us to kinship, to moving beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’ until there is only ‘us.’ This is true of the stories of every person who experiences material poverty as well. “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories,” Boyle writes, “it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”
Throughout the stay, I kept returning to the lyrics of “God of the City:”
Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done here.
There’s so much I cannot do about the challenges of poverty, but I keep trying, because I want to be part of the greater things that will be done in this city.
If you work with high school or college students, take them into your community. Create experiential learning opportunities for them–a poverty simulation or an overnight at a mission. Let them engage their five senses and interact with people who are sometimes treated like their lives matter less. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my college students came in the hours that we stared over that wall. Challenge them to really get to know the city, so they can draw closer to the heart of the God of the city.