Monday, May 31, 2010

Encounter with Bruce

Last week I attended the Anchorage Assembly as they dealt with the issue of homeless camps. Rev. Michael Burke, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage, is a good friend and articulate spokesperson for the homeless. He has the credibility of 20 years of visiting homeless persons around Anchorage. Several of his members do not have a place they call home.

At a recent forum on homelessness the leaders at St. Mary’s taught me that it is very important to be in relationship with the poor, to look them in the eye and speak their name.

Recently I was coming out of Fred Meyer with my lunch in hand, headed back to the office. A man approached me in the parking lot and asked me if I had 20 cents. I had become used to projecting my steel side that protected my wallet and I really did not have 20 cents in change and told him so. I was surprised that he did not follow up with another request. As I was securing my lunch in my motorcycle bags he was admiring my bike. I asked his name. “Bruce,” he said. “Hi Bruce. I’m Dave.” We chatted for a bit and then parted.

Okay, before I pat myself on the back for this response, let’s fast forward to later that night. I’m lying in bed trying to sleep when I heard God speak. “Why didn’t you ask Bruce if he was hungry? You could have given him your lunch.” I pounded the bed! Why didn’t I think of this?

I share this with you because I have much to learn about the poor. I have so many layers of white middle-class privilege that need to be peeled away. Being a Christ follower does not always make me comfortable. But facing up to the ways I have been shaped by my culture can help me see the humanity in another child of God.

So what barriers do you automatically erect in such circumstances? Friends, we really need to be in authentic relationship with all of God’s children. This is especially true for the poor.


Jim said...

A lot of the Shane Claiborne stuff gets at this. Americans believe in helping the poor but never actually know them. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Your post resonates deeply with me but ministrial practice can be difficult. As a woman (and older!), I am more physically vulnerable in how I provide compassionate outreach to the poor and disenfranchised who, unfortunately, are proportionately men. Additionally, substance abuse can impact how they may ask for help and how I can safely respond. Finding a 'safe' context for outreach ministry is not as easy for women. Thank you for your thoughts... Jean

dave said...


Thanks for reminding me that universal statements that preachers make that are meant to apply to everyone need to be filtered, in this case through the experience of a Christian woman.