April 26, 2009
There were two days this week when the windchill was 32 degrees as I left for my 3 ½ mile walk with our dog, Irie. One day, it was perfect to wear three layers under my winter coat, a scarf, and hat. The other, I took off my hat within a block of the house and wished I’d skipped a layer by the time I was downtown. What was the difference?
The first day, the wind was blowing about 17 miles per hour and it was cloudy. The other day, the wind was nearly still, and the skies were blue and sunny.
I realized, at the moment I began shedding accessories on the second walk, how intricately aware I need to be, each time I leave with Irie in the morning. What is the difference between a -17 temperature, and a -17 windchill? What coat do I wear for -17 to zero, zero to 20 degrees, etc.? Walking Irie has given me a profound awareness of gradations of temperature and windchill I would never have otherwise.
Without that experience, I might never tolerate extreme cold or heat. I might dash in and out of places in the winter, rarely staying outside for long. I might never feel the gentle spring rain, or make tracks in the virgin morning snow. Awareness is everything.
Awareness is also the key to our resurrection story today. Sure enough, the Eleven disciples and their friends are aware that Jesus died. They are aware that the Romans, afraid that an insurrection is in the works, might be looking for his followers. They are aware that their hopes for the overthrow of the Romans are dashed, and they are full of fear and confusion.
Then Jesus appears! Whoa! All their former awareness is called into question. What should they think? What should they believe?
Not only does Jesus appear, but he offers them peace. Peace? They don’t “deserve” peace! Not from him, anyway! They deserve, at least, a good scolding, probably much more than that. They deserted him when he needed them the most. First off–why would he bother with them? Secondly–why in the world would he come to them in peace?
Crazy enough, the answer to both is the same. Because he loves them with an enduring love, and he needs them to carry forth his work on earth. Even crazier, he is willing to entrust them with that work!
Can they believe that he is real, not some ghost who has come back to haunt them? “Touch me. Feel me. See my hands and my feet,” he encourages them. “Oh, and by the way, do you have any food around here?” he asks.
As he eats, he reminds them to look again at the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, and to search for signs of his coming. He charges his disciples with developing a new awareness while stripping away their old understandings.
An insurrection, yes–they were prepared for that. But a resurrection–well, that’s a whole different story! Awareness can take time to develop. Eventually, their minds will grasp the import of this event, their hearts will begin to claim it as part of their own faith stories, and their lives will begin to spill out resurrection at every turn.
Today, as we participate as a congregation in the 2009 CROP WALK, we are charged with this same call to awareness that the disciples faced. We are asked to be aware of our neighbors around the globe who walk for water every day–oftentimes miles and miles. We are asked to hold in our hearts the 854 million people around the world who remain hungry in 2009–about equal to the population of the western hemisphere. We are asked to be advocates for the 16,000 children this year who are expected to die from hunger-related causes.
Closer to home, I spoke this week with Kathy Burns, Client Services Coordinator for Oberlin Community Services Council and Board Member for Oberlin Hot Meals. “We are seeing the first wave of people who have run out of unemployment insurance,” she said, “and now they have nothing. It is so tragic.” New faces continue to appear at OCSC, and numbers are up at Oberlin Hot Meals. One-quarter of the funds we raise will stay in Oberlin to help our neighbors here.
Everyone can do something today for the CROP WALK. We can walk; we can rock in rocking chairs; we can sponsor; we can pray; we can provide encouragement. We can educate ourselves about hunger around the world. We can help our neighbors in big and small ways.
Let me share a story from my time at the Global Baptist Peace Conference–a story that I am not proud of, but one that bears telling because it is instructive for both me and, I’m sure, you as well.
Before traveling, we read the warnings in the tour books about beggars and pickpockets, particularly at bus and train stations. I do not remember them saying, “particularly at historic churches where tourists gather.” But that was the truth.
I was completely unprepared for the aggressiveness of the beggars. Women, slight of build, faces lined with creases, babushkas on their heads, pushed pictures of young children into our faces, repeating phrases in Italian with their raspy voices. At times, they followed us. Some prostrated themselves fully on street corners near the Vatican, cups nearby for change. “How can these old women even stay in such a position for very long?” I wondered. “Who are these women?” I needed to know.
So, at the hotel, I asked the receptionist. “Who are the beggars? Where are they from? What are their needs? In America, many of our homeless face mental illness, substance abuse, or other difficulties,” I said (although this is changing with the economic downturn). “What are the stories of these people?”
“I’ve never really thought that much about them,” the receptionist offered. “But they are the Roma. They come from outside of Italy to scam people,” he said. “Don’t pay any attention to them,” he warned.
I was conflicted. Sometimes I put change in a cup; sometimes I ignored a woman pushing a child’s picture in my face and haggling me in a foreign tongue. I yearned to be able to converse in a common language, to stop the beggars and ask, “What is your story? Tell me about this child whose picture you hold. Where do you live?”
At a conference two or three years ago in Indianapolis, I stopped and sat with a beggar on the street and did, indeed, ask her story, which turned out to be about an abusive boyfriend and being put out on the street—if she was telling me the truth. But, here, in Italy, with the language barrier, I was lost.
The last day of the Conference, we visited the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome. We were given box lunches to take for our day in the city. As we left the church, there were Roma children running to and fro, clanging their cups, seeking change from us tourists. There were women, pushing pictures in our faces, pressuring us in a foreign tongue. I pressed my way through the crowd onto the bus.
Later, in Assisi, I talked with some Peace Fellowship friends from the USA who also came to Assisi. Katie Cook, the editor of the BPFNA Magazine, mentioned that someone had pointed out the Roma camps–a tent village near the basilica–on the way into Rome. I had not heard about them or seen them from my vantage point on the bus.
Then, I poured out my conflicted feelings about helping the beggars on the streets of Rome, my conversation with the receptionist, my patterns of both helping and ignoring them. “At the basilica, I gave my lunch to a beggar woman carrying a child in a cloth sling. She began feeding the child right away, and the toddler seemed so hungry,” Katie said.
Instantly, I was ashamed. What a Gospel response that was! If Jesus had been on the bus that day and passed the Roma camp, he would have called out, “Stop the bus!” Then, he would have asked us to put together all our boxed lunches. We would have taken them to the camp and invited everyone to a feast. Jesus would have raised one of those submarine sandwiches that day, broken it, and blessed it. Who knows how many loaves would have been left over!
Alas, events did not unfold like that. The international group of Baptist Peacemakers headed on to their tourist day in Rome, with the first stop being the basilica where Katie shared her sandwich with the beggar and her hungry child.
I determined not to forget the Roma when I came home. So, I googled “Roma in Italy” on my computer. The first story was a scandalous story about a Roma teenager who was beaten to death on a beach while other beach goers just kept bathing, sunning, playing. The author saw this incident as a wake-up call for more attentiveness to the plight of the Roma. I kept reading…
The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Church at Corinth, “We see through a mirror darkly.” This is ever so true. And yet our call as disciples is to keep opening our eyes, keep asking to see, keep confessing our ignorance and blindness, keep learning and changing, and keep loving our God and the world Christ came to redeem. Amen.