Month: August 2019

Shining Through The Cracks

This summer I have been able to work at many agencies across Memphis.  One of my favorites is The Manna House. People in the community can go in the morning to the Manna house and drink coffee, play board games, and maybe take showers or get a new pair of socks. The youth get to connect with people who have lived lives very different than us. Two people I had the pleasure of meeting were Paul and Otis*.

 Paul has always lived in Memphis. After completing his associate’s, he had plans of returning to school for his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Unfortunately, before this was ever able to happen, Paul lost his job and has been homeless ever since. He keeps journals and books with him, including a bible in which he said he read in its entirety over the course of nine months. 

Otis was very open telling me about how he has struggled with crack addiction for many years now. He clearly recognizes the damage it causes his life. He shared with me that after a drug deal went wrong in his hometown of Little Rock, a church bought him a bus ticket to Memphis so he could escape those who wanted to kill him. He first was incarcerated at the age of 15 and started using hard drugs soon thereafter. 

Memphis has a rich history in the civil rights movement. Naturally, this history seeps into our program. We talk about the roles religious leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference played in desegregation. Many churches at the time supported segregation as they believed in separating “us” from “them.” Although segregation might be a thing of the past, it’s not difficult to see how we might still have an “us” and “them” mindset.

For example, it can be easy to tell stories and advocate for people like Paul while ignoring the “Otises” of society. Someone’s struggles become something we think we can judge as “more” or “less” Christian.  We tend to believe that God exists only in perfection, not the cracks in life. This mindset is easy to fall into, but is the opposite of what we as christians are called to do by many biblical passages such as Proverbs 31:8-9. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Of course Otis is able to speak, but he doesn’t have the same opportunity to speak to our friends and congregations as we do. While there are struggles the majority of us do not face, we as christians are called to address them in our world.

This is the final week of MYM this summer and I spoke to Otis and Peter at the manna house for the last time. Since I last saw Peter, he picked up a job teaching Sunday school at a church. He prayed with some people at the Manna House and said Otis was one of his good friends. He even gave him some money to go get lunch.

(*Names have been changed for privacy.)

 

Edward Blount is a summer intern at Memphis Youth Mission.  He attends Radford University.

Love and Grace

My favorite passage to use during Bible study with my students is Matthew 20: 1-16, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. To put it simply, this passage compares the Kingdom (or as I like to think of it, Ecosystem) of Heaven to a landowner and his workers. Early in the morning, the landowner hires several daily workers who agree to the usual daily pay. Then the landowner hires more workers at mid-day, and even more towards the end of the day. When it is time to be paid, the full-day workers are disappointed upon realizing that all workers were paid the same amount. The landowner’s response to their distress at the unfair nature of his payment scale is that he did not short the full day workers of the money they were promised and that he is allowed to do what he wishes with his money.

 

One of my favorite memories happened as I was conducting the Bible study and I felt that, though they were trying, my students were exhausted and completely disengaged from the entire program. After only a couple, painful minutes of slow discussion, I defeatedly asked “Alright.  Does anyone have any questions or comments before we wrap up?” Fully prepared to end the Bible study there, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my students raised her hand and rather timidly stated “I have something to say but it might sound controversial.” She then spoke about Christians’ views of the LGBTQ+ community and said “I don’t understand how you can be a Christian and hate people.” Though her words were simple, her sentiment got me teary as I saw the effects of this student’s faith on her world outlook taking shape.

 

Throughout my life I have been taught to be the type of Christian who loves, and shows love to all of God’s children. Before interning with AYM, that meant donating to coat drives at school, spending afternoons at food banks, and leading groups to plant trees with Trees Atlanta, which are all awesome things, but this passage is about more than just love. It’s about grace. Grace that isn’t deserved.

 

This summer I have seen snippets of some harsh realities of life that often shake both my students and myself up. After each of the occurrences, I muster up whatever strength I have to lead my students in what we at YMCo call a “debrief” to help them understand and interpret what they just saw. For example, if we see someone yelling we discuss how, though their behavior is not okay, all of us have felt that way inside at some point or another, but we have the privilege to go to our homes and be upset in private.

 

The hardest debrief I have led was with a group of students who thought they saw a man using marijuana in one of our agencies, 12 Baskets Café, and could not understand why the agency staff would not kick him out of the restaurant as he no longer “deserved” to be there. I spoke with my students about how, while 12 Baskets does not endorse drug usage, they believe in extending God’s grace to all of our neighbors, especially those who are marginalized and in our eyes don’t “deserve” it. We thought about how giving imperfect people grace is what the Bible all about, which is exactly what 12 Baskets was doing. This discussion took a lot out of me as I felt that my students were attacking this man who I personally felt had done little-to-no wrong, however, as I listened to myself speak about grace, I realized grace was what my students needed from me. I can’t expect them to be perfect any more than I can expect neighbors at our agencies to be perfect, but I must still strive to show them grace

 

The idea that the world should be “fair” is so deeply ingrained in my outlook that it is often difficult for me to practice what I preach and find love in my heart for those who don’t “deserve” it. But the fact is, people are lame. All of us. We all make mistakes and none of us can ever live up to the God who created us with their own breath. However, as The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard tells us, God really doesn’t care if we “deserve” love. Though our individualistic world often pushes the message that if someone is not directly improving your life right now they are not worth loving, God pushes back by demonstrating radical, underserved, and truly amazing grace.

 

In following the essential Christian call to be more like God and make the earth more like Heaven, we must all strive to push past the idea of “deserving” to get to the idea of “loving all” by showing grace to ourselves and all other wretches, no questions asked.

 

Laura Cain is a Summer Intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends Agnes Scott College.