by Sherie Heine, Assistant to the Bishop – 1/22/2015
This walk through neighborhoods a half a continent away had me considering – and comparing – what is happening in many of our communities. . . What I do know is change is real, and it can be painful and scary for everyone involved. I also know that Jesus is in the midst of it all – in the seen and the unseen.
I’ve seen Jesus in so many places and faces – many of whom you see as well… Our parents. Laughing children. Friendly neighbors. All faces of Jesus. Each face a gift and each an image of Jesus so very easy to recognize and so very easy to look at…
Others, well, not so easy! That Jesus. He has this uncanny habit of showing up in the most unusual and unexpected places. If only we were able to recognize him! Most recently, I saw Jesus in some new faces and some new places… An 80+ year old women from Minnesota with a passion for hunger ministry. A pastor with a storefront church who for 15+ years has ministered to whomever walks through the doors. A homeless man smelling of the streets but with a mile wide smile and grace-filled heart…
“Where do you see Jesus?” This was the question posed to the attendees at the recent ELCA World Hunger Leaders Gathering in San Francisco. This question – and its converse – “Where did you not see Jesus?” – was our charge as we were sent out on neighborhood walks in some of the many neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland. Each of these neighborhoods, with an ELCA congregation (or two) in the midst of them, had a story to tell. Neighborhoods with the names “Polk Street Gulch” or “Castro” – some are in the midst of gentrification and some struggling with identity.
I found myself at St. Paulus Lutheran , a store-front church with 150 years of ministry in the “Polk Street Gulch” neighborhood. After an introduction to the neighborhood, we embarked on our walk… in search of Jesus in the midst of a neighborhood that was the first identifiable “community” for the LGBT people of San Francisco. The sights, the sounds, and yes, the smells of this neighborhood were a study in extreme contrasts. From the many locally owned coffee shops with their fresh baked pastries, French press coffees, and lines of people in their designer boots and clothes waiting for their Saturday morning “fix” to the theatres with marquees advertising “The Wild Women of San Francisco” and others boldly posting signs banning “in and outs” (live pornography), men looking for their next “fix”, humans lying on the sidewalk covered with tattered blankets, and random piles of human excrement. Any or all of these often in the same block… even at arm’s length apart…
And I walked. And I listened. And I found myself praying for all of those I saw… I prayed for those I didn’t see. I prayed for those serving in this place. AND… I prayed that I would see – really see – my neighborhood and hear my neighborhood… in all of its beauty and yes, its ugliness too.
This walk through neighborhoods a half a continent away had me considering – and comparing – what is happening in many of our communities. Perhaps the changes are not as extreme. Perhaps they are. What I do know is change is real, and it can be painful and scary for everyone involved. I also know that Jesus is in the midst of it all – in the seen and the unseen.
I returned from my experience of a neighborhood walk with the pastor of St. Paulus with an awareness of how easily we can become accustomed to our surroundings and with the knowledge of how quickly we can not see our neighborhood. I wondered when was the last time I walked my neighborhood and watched and listened? When was the last time I was mindful of where I see Jesus in my neighborhood? Quite honestly, and sadly, I don’t remember.
I’m going to change that – this week – one block at time; I’m going looking for Jesus. Will you join me? Whether it is one block or one mile at a time… Where will we see Jesus?