I hate brokenness. I hate brokenness and I really, really hate seeing people in pain. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), my days are spent surrounded by both. My 45-minute commute takes me from my home in Germantown, smack through the middle of North Philly, to my workplace-- situated between Chinatown and Kensington. It would be so much easier if I could hide from all of this, right? Maybe I could take a job or live in a neighborhood where I don’t have to encounter these realities daily. Like the Jars of Clay song says, “If I don’t want to, I can drown this out.”
Welp, I’m not doing a very good job of that this year. My placement is at a men’s homeless shelter. My time is mostly spent coordinating volunteers and donations, but I also get to spend time with the guests who live there. Each guy has their own story of how they ended up at the shelter, and each has their own (very) unique personality. There is a lot of brokenness, but also a lot of hope and joy. In addition, I facilitate a group of residents that meet once a month. It’s a loosely structured group that gives the members a chance to address things that are on their mind. This could be anything from a vent session about chores not getting done, to telling the group their life story. These stories are often brutally, painfully honest. I’ve noticed a common theme in many of their stories is how important their faith is to them. Because of their faith--many of these guys would say-- they are able to stay in recovery or begin to mend broken relationships.
So what’s my point? Actually I have two. First of all, brokenness is a part of life, and hiding from it isn’t going to make it go away. We are not called to put our headphones on, and “drown this out” (Jars of Clay, again). We’re called to be with the poor, and do something about the brokenness around us.
Second point: Jesus is really good at showing us that our social structure is all messed up. The fact that I went to college, have a supportive family, and am privileged in so many other ways, means that society sticks me higher on the social ladder than many of the residents. But. But. But. Jesus does this crazy thing where he places the same value on everyone. No matter what. He sometimes even flips the social ladder around. That man who is telling me his story of addiction and recovery probably has a better understanding of just how gracious and loving our God is. His faith could be stronger than mine, which, in that crazy role-reversal thing that Jesus is so good at doing, means I should take notes from him.
So maybe being surrounded by pain and brokenness 'ain't so cray' after all.
* I give credit where credit is due. Thanks, Kanye. This title is totally a riff off your lyrics.
Emily's ministry placement is as the Community Life Assistant at Bethesda Project.