I worship with a small group of Friends in the heart of Baltimore's inner-city. One First Day in April, I knew that several of our regular attenders would not be coming to Meeting. It was a weird day were the Evangelical Black Church that meets in the same space as us was having an extra long service. As a result we had to meet in the class room building nearby. I placed a sign on the door of the Meetinghouse, and went to meet with the leader of the NA meeting that was finishing up in the class room building to make sure I knew how to lock up the building. It was a nice cool spring day. I decided to wait outside to make sure anyone coming to meeting would not be confused by the locale change. One of the guys from NA stayed around. He seemed to be carrying on a full-blown conversation with someone only he could see. I had a feeling he and his friends did not have anywhere to go.
I waited outside for about 25 minutes, no one showed. I went into the classroom building to read and optimistically hope someone would show up to worship. The building is older, and has few windows, even fewer people walk by it or come in during the weekend. It is very secluded in its own way. The man from NA came in and sat in the back, I figured he was as cold as I was and he seemed to know I was waiting for other church members. I figured he seemed pretty harmless. We sat in silence, with his occasional mutterings to his friends. Another man entered with some take out food from a chicken place nearby. He made himself comfortable at one of the tables and asked what we were doing. I explained that I was waiting for people from my worship group. He started talking about his divorce, but it was in that way to say, "I am single and you are pretty." It was getting close to an hour of waiting. The man finished his food and began to ask me questions about myself. I continued to talk about the worship group. I was getting increasingly uneasy.
I texted "Elizabeth Bathurst", asking where the line was between christian charity and safety. She replied, "where three are gathered in my name…." but then added that if I was uncomfortable I should leave. Part of me was rather irritated with our regular attenders, no one had showed up and I was alone in a situation such as this. That there is an expectation that since I am "clerk" I have to show up every week and they can show up as they choose. That as a result of this I as now alone in what could be a dangerous situation, though, thus far it was fine.
I decided to ask the guys in the building with me if they wanted to learn more about Quakers and perhaps participate in Worship together. They both said no and both got out of the building pretty fast after that. I had a twinge of guilt for putting the guy from NA out on the street, but I also couldn't just sit there all night.
Maybe this was an opportunity to minister to these men and I did not follow through due to my own fears of being alone with strange men in a secluded building. Does this make me a bad Christian? Or am I a bad Christian, because I decided to go to my favorite bar/restaraunt for dinner and a drink afterward?
This weekend I had the strangest day I had in Baltimore in a long time. I walked by a man twice, we said hi both times. The second time he noticed my tattoo and suddenly we were engaged in a rather deep conversation about spirituality. He was homeless. Though he made a comment about how men with men made him uncomfortable and half of our attenders are gay, I invited him to worship. Should he ever find himself down that way on a Sunday afternoon. He seemed like he wanted to have more discussions about how the spirit manifests. I felt like the cosmos were testing me. However, then he started telling me how he could fall in love with me. Why does it always devolve into that? Kindness is often mistaken as weakness or as sexual invitation.
So now what do I do if he comes to Meeting? And what do I do if I am in a situation where it is just he and I in Meeting? Do I assume that God has my back? How does one tread that line of Christian love and charity, finding that of God in others, and staying safe?
I have been involved in several conversations recently that have in their own ways have led me to think about how we are all called to different things. Each of our gifts have unique qualities that through community and accountability give strength and allow us to make a whole. I was lucky to learn early through my experiences at the Catholic Worker that there is a need for all our gifts and callings. Some people are led to direct civil disobedience and others are the ones who get the phone call about who got arrested where and keep the community running in the interim. These pieces make a whole. One set of gifts is not more important than another--though through our own earthly egos it may be hard to remember that.
Right now, I need time to myself. I need to turn inward and do some hard work. I have always given greatly of myself to others, sometimes to my own detriment emotionally and psychologically. Now is a time for me. I have recently had less patience with others, especially my friends, I hear what they are saying but instead of the advice and solid support they are used to I get snippy. I say things like, "Life sucks, shit happens all the time, you just have to find a way to make do and not dwell." Or when it is relationship advice I say, "Really, you think you are the only person who is alone that doesn't want to be? You think that I want a life where I am alone and have no one to give me a hug or lie next to me on a 'dark night of the soul'"? I have been accused of being callous and going too far with my tough love of late. I have distanced myself from my family too. A family I have always been close to, a family I have always taken a role of responsibility with. A family I love, but after our loss this summer, it is something I need to have space from to grieve and to nurture myself rather than them.
My last post was about how all my life, I have searched and yearned for community, only to find that I do not want it any longer. What I really need is more time for inward reflection. I need time to learn to be still after so many years of flitting here and there. I need to relearn to listen to my "still small voice" and to nurture my spirituality. I think I need to figure out what it means to be the most at peace with myself that I have ever been. The irony, is that as I am having a harder time relating to others and less desiring of community, I need more than ever my spiritual community. I have recently agreed to take on a leadership roll with the group I worship with. I need to be accountable to my spiritual community, my spiritual development, and this group of seekers. I need to keep them at the center of my life. In order to do so, I felt that the spirit was guiding me to accept--that I am prepared to be in such a position as I have never been before. The need I speak of is not out of ego or something worldly, but a deep spiritual need driven by the Divine.
However, I have begun to doubt myself. I feel like I can't keep up or on top of things in my day-to-day life. I don't know that I am prepared enough (spiritually, emotionally, etc) or seasoned enough. I am new to the YM and I haven't been involved very much in the Quaker-world for nearly 10 years. I hope it is natural to doubt oneself. I know experientially that I must follow where I am led. I know that I must stay connected to God. I know that I have those I worship with for support and guidance. After all we are a community and no Quaker is an island. I take heart in the responses I got when I told some of my Elders from my home meeting and some of my F/friends about agreeing to the position. I was told, "if you listen to your leadings you will lead the group well. Don't second guess those leadings because as far as I remember your spiritual direction when followed was truly that, spiritual direction" that "I should continue to follow in my grandfather's thoughtful and challenging footsteps."
I have felt God move through me before. However, it wasn't till this summer that I learned what it is to surrender to that power and to follow God's direction. It was liberating in a way. I am finally coming to a place where I am open to learning how to be God's vessel and to do God's work. I am sure I will have many mis-steps but that is what community is for, keeping you accountable, helping to guide you, and checking that you don't out run your guide.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;
a time to be born, a time to die;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I've been thinking back to the flood that followed Hurricane Floyd in Eastern NC back in 1999. That's my reference for disasters. I'm thinking about the disaster recovery work that I did in the wake of it and how important it was for me to help my community in our time of need. I want to help out with Haiti, but it seems that all I can give at the moment is an insignificant amount of money in the face of such devastation.
So I'm doing the only other thing I can do. I'm praying for the relief efforts to go as smoothly as possible. I'm praying that the death toll with be lower than anticipated. I'm praying for my friend, that he will continue to be safe and have the strength to do the work that is needed in the days to come.