new clothes

We watched her from our window. It was late in the night, but here she came—not on the sidewalk—right down the center of the street. It probably felt safer out there in the light of street lamps, rather than the shadowy walkways that lined its sides. And besides, no one was out driving the streets at this hour anyway; at least she probably hoped no one was.

 

As we watched her pass it felt a little surreal. Here we sit, in the home we’ve made with our little ones sleeping a few feet away and just outside a whole world we cannot yet fathom. Had I seen it in a movie I would have thought it too cliché, too over done with stereotypes. But there she was: hunched over old woman, shrouded in a long and tattered black trench coat, pushing a shopping cart filled with what I would assume to be all her earthly possessions. The consummate bag lady.

 

She was moving quickly too. Moving from one place—a place I can’t even imagine—and looking for another. Where does one go at midnight in the middle of the city? I probably don’t want to know…

 

Where does she “live” if she has no home? And what makes her move in the middle of the night? Again, it is easier just not knowing.

 

We prayed for her safety, for her life, for her soul. We grieved for the dangers she must face and the atrocities that must plague her in the darkness of night where it seems no good can happen. We thought of her and ourselves. Her life and ours—so different and yet so close.

 

She is why we came here. She is why we have moved to this place where all the people live such different lives in such close proximity to one another. We are in the center of the city now because of her, and all those like her. Our family is here because these people’s lives are so different from us. And because the people themselves are not so different.

 

I can’t help but continue to think of her tattered coat blowing behind here as she trudges up the dark street moving as quickly as her cart can be pushed. I wonder what she truly looks like underneath. Is she old? Is she weathered? Or is she young and still wrestling with how she got here?

 

As I think of here beneath that coat I think of the words of Paul.

 

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.       Galatians 3:26-29

 

She is shrouded in homelessness and poverty. I have put on the new clothes of Christ. Underneath though, we are not so different. She needs the same things I need. She has a soul broken and bursting with pain and sin and lost-ness. I have the same. I have taken off my clothes of poverty and put on Christ, but beneath it—without him—we are the same. And what I realize in thinking of her is what I wrote just a moment ago. She is why we came here; why we moved our family and home. She needs what we need. Since we’ve found it we’ve realized we need to bring it to her; to her and all the rest still wearing poverty of the heart and lost-ness of soul.

 

It’s so easy to look at people and see only the differences. To see only the ways we cannot relate. It’s even easier to find ourselves in circles that only reflect exactly what we are; to live in places that simply reinforce what we like about our own upbringing and hope to get for ourselves. It seems right to raise a family in a place where questions about sinful choices and lifestyles and why God lets people be homeless can be avoided or put off until later.

 

It seems easier and justifiable and in some ways it definitely is. But at some point we have to start living in a way that forces us to look past what shrouds the people who seem so different, whose lives we don’t know how to relate to. We need to see that beneath it they are just like we are. They need what we need. We look different and live differently because we’ve put on the new clothes of Christ, but their souls are frantically searching for the very same.

 

And when these who are so different do put on these new clothes, this Christ, they will be just as we are. Completely the same in the eyes of our Father. Why would we not want them in the family? Why would we not do everything, live anywhere, befriend anyone in order to offer them these new clothes?

 

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5 thoughts on “new clothes

  1. She’s, you got deep on this one! True word, though. A great read. Keep up the good works. David T

  2. jm, I understand that you moved to the inner City. I understand that you did that apparently as part of a formal ministry. I admire that you and your wife have made choices that have put you “among” the poor. This article leaves me with a sense of tension between being “with the poor” and “among the poor,” that is, the article raises for me the question of real connection. Beyond the choice of moving to the City, what were the choices facing you as you watched the bag lady? Those are the same choices we each face when a fellow human being is in our circle of encounter: how do we respond in action? It seems the heart issue each of us faces is what we do in the moment of that encounter.

    • Frank, great questions here. I’ll be honest, I’m glad it left you with some tension. I was tempted to flesh it out more, explain why we moved or what we were doing here in the city beyond just moving, but honestly, I was hoping it left those who read with some tension about those things. I definitely felt it — as though it wasn’t finished and needed further explanation. But in a sense, it isn;t finished because each of us have to finish it in our own lives. What do we do? What choices are we faced with? Your questions are right on.

      For us it looks one way, it won’t for everyone — nor should it! I can tell you for us moving into the city was a choice that had nothing to do with a formal ministry that brought us here, but more a conviction of where we should be living our lives and among whom we should be living our lives. It’s not the “right” choice for everyone, but for us, this is where God called us. We’re actually not officially a part of any city ministry. We belong to a local church that has a heart for the city, but we aren’t leading any sort of city ministry.

      What choices face us now is a big thing we are wrestling through. If all we did was move here and live in close proximity to the poor then we didn’t really do anything (at elast that’s how we feel about it). So we are wrestling through what it looks like to live out the gospel with these poor and broken.

      On a very personal note, my wife is going tonight to explore a ministry here in the city to prostitutes. A ministry that seeks solely to provide them with basic hygene needs and to befriend them. We’ll see how that goes. It’s not the answer to everything, but it feels like part of why we are here. We’ll see how God leads.

      Frank, thanks so much for the provocative thoughts and deep digging here. I hope the tension is not quick to disappear for you. It certainly hasn’t been for us. 🙂

  3. Frank, one more thing to add, as I’m still thinking through your comments and questions. I like the last line you wrote, “It seems the heart issue each of us faces is what we do in the moment of that encounter.”

    And I think you are right. What do we do at that encounter regardless of where we live or if the person we are encountering is physically in poverty or spiritually. I think what my wife and I are learning is that there is another level of choosing that we have to make as well. More of a life’s trajectory question. What macro-choices am I making (where do I live, what job to I have, etc.) that put me in specific places to encounter certain types of people in specific moments. For us it has lead to moving into the city, it won’t for all. But this was the “set up” so to speak so that we are where God wants us for the day to day moments of action that will come.

    Again, thanks for the questions.

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