Sunday, May 15, 2011

Los Angeles Excitement

Know what I love? I love meeting people who challenge me to see the world in a different way.  I had the privilege of that experience on my recent trip to LA.  The trip was for a conference, but I went a day early to visit my cousin who is interning at the LA Catholic Worker.  They're a group devoted to social justice and serving the poor in downtown LA. They live in a big community house and practice living in community with each other as well as serving the poor.  Community is something I've been thinking a lot about lately (more to come on that later in another blog post) so I was really interested to see how their community is structured.  But in my time there I learned a whole lot more.

Let me take you on a chronological tour of my day there.  On Wednesday morning, we woke up at 6:30am and went downstairs to have breakfast with the rest of the residents of the house.  This includes not only the staff and interns, but those who are staying there for a variety of other reasons.  I talked over breakfast with a woman who had moved there when one of her loved ones was in the last stages of terminal cancer (if I remember correctly).  The house also serves as a hospice for those who are dying.  She shared with me about the pain of watching him pass on, but told me that his ashes are buried in the garden and she walks out there to talk to him regularly.  She herself is an ex-convict and hasn't been able to hold down a steady job recently with so much turmoil in her life, but I could tell that at the Catholic Worker house she was loved and supported.  I could see that she still has an amazing future ahead of her, and that the LACW is helping her to get there.  

After breakfast we all piled into a couple of vans to drive over to Skid Row and pass out breakfast to the homeless there.  There was tension in the air as we pulled up because earlier that week the police had basically told them that if they came back, they'd take all their stuff.  However, there's nothing that can keep them from fulfilling their mandate of feeding breakfast to the guys on Skid Row twice a week as they have always done.  They came armed with a letter from their lawyer stating that nothing they are doing is illegal, nor does it violate food safety standards.  The police didn't show up however, so we didn't have to implement any of the emergency plans they'd come up with, and everyone had a very peaceful breakfast.

Following that we walked over to the government buildings for the LACW weekly vigil for peace.  There was a giant bag of protest signs to choose from, including such slogans as "Stop the war in Afganistan!" and "Who would Jesus bomb?"  I chose a sign that I felt I could agree with completely and wholeheartedly (see below) and my cousin likewise had her favourite Spanish sign.
Perhaps I've just been in the charismatic church for too long, but I was expecting a prayer vigil to involve like, praying out loud, maybe making declarations of God's peace or something.  So I confess to feeling a bit judgemental when I found out that it involved silent contemplation and very slow walking around the block where the government buildings are.  But as we were walking, I was praying about it, and I felt like God wanted to teach me about faithfulness, by seeing the faithfulness of these people.  Maybe it didn't look exactly like what I imagined a prayer vigil to be, but they have a level of commitment that's far and beyond anything I've ever done in my life. 

After circling the block of government buildings, we stopped out front, and one man read out a name of all the soldiers who had been killed in the past week.  Then he offered up a prayer for them and their families and a prayer for a peaceful future.  I thought that was a really cool way to honour the soldiers and not to minimize their sacrifice.  

After lunch back at the house, we went to the weekly community Bible study, which actually turned into a strategy meeting about what to do when the police arrived next.  There was talk of chaining themselves to oatmeal pots, how to best accomplish such a task, and whether a practice run would be helpful.  Despite all the differing opinions in the room, when the question was posed who was prepared to be arrested to continue serving breakfast to the homeless, nearly every hand went up. (An update from their website indicates that there has been one arrest so far.  The full story will likely come out soon in the next issue of their newspaper publication, the Catholic Agitator.)  Discussions were concluded with glasses of wine for everyone.  

Reflecting on my day with the LACW, I was thinking about how much Christians like to talk about helping others, but how little we actually put that into practice.  Sure we do sporadic events, but let's face it, we haven't been very good at building long-term relationships with people that need it and walking with them through the hardships of their lives.  Making someone a sandwich is easy, but building a relationship and investing time into them is much more difficult.  Preaching someone a sermon is easy, but standing with them in the midst of divorce, grief, addictions or whatever else can be hard and painful.  I might not completely agree with the theology of everyone at the LACW, but regardless of that they are not people of talk, they are people of action.  They are people of love.  Not only that, but they are incredibly faithful and trustworthy.  They're not content to sit back and be comfortable while others in the world are suffering.  They are prepared to sacrifice their comfort and even their freedom on behalf of those they are serving, to the point of being arrested and imprisoned.  I want that for my life.  I want that kind of faithfulness.  I want that kind of commitment to the kingdom of God, where serving those this world considers the least has the greatest reward.  Jesus said that whatever we do for even the least of people, we do it for Him personally.  What an honour!

I'm not sure yet how this will tangibly affect my life, but thinking back on this experience unsettles me.  It unsettles me in a good way (not in a guilt-inducing way - I live in a condemnation-free zone as per Romans 8:1), because it challenges me to change how I think and how I act.  I wonder, what will I pursue at all costs, no matter what opposition comes against me?  What will I cry out to God for day and night until He answers me?  Who are the people that I can serve, who are waiting for me to stop being self-absorbed and step up into being a woman of action?  What do I want to accomplish with my life?  Some people have an unmistakable calling of God on their lives to a specific thing which God makes clear to them at an early age.  Then there are others of us who find God asking us the question, "What do you want to do? What do you love? I will bless you in the things you choose." I find, I still don't yet know what I want to do when I grow up.  I'm still trying to figure out the things that I want, that are most important to me.  But when I do decide, I want the commitment and passion I saw in those at the LACW.  So that people will look back on my life after I'm gone and be inspired by my faithfulness and perseverance.  I want to leave that kind of a legacy for my (potential) children and grandchildren.  

Alright, that's enough for tonight.  I'll write you again soon, blogland.  Until then, be safe, be joyful, and spread a smile to someone else.

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