I lived on the streets while lobbying in DC for a month this spring, sleeping in my van, using public restrooms, and even spending four nights in the parking ramp of Union station. While in DC, I was struck by a chasm between races that I had not felt as deeply any other place I have been. I have struggled since then to put my finger on what it was that was different.
One thing I noted was that, while DC has varied heritages in high positions, they don’t so much in the lower, service related jobs. That in itself brought a disturbing, unspoken stress within me. I not only felt uncomfortable being served, but felt a hostility toward me at times – seeing the change in a clerk’s face when switching from serving someone of darker tone to serving me.
Secondly, it seemed like DC nurtures, encourages, and supports a homeless population in a way I have never seen in other places I have lived. It brought the phrase “DC loves its homeless to death” to mind.
Not only were ample free services available for the homeless, including grey wool blankets provided as needed, but also there appeared to be an elevated assumption of strange entitlement and an expectation that even more should be done.
People were begging everywhere. Within and without Union Station and around DC, people would stand with a cup, or go from person asking for “Money for the Homeless.” I saw men in the subway going from train car to train car asking for money – stopping momentarily in front of every passenger, holding out a bag. A man approached me while I was sitting in my car at a stoplight and put his cup up to my window. I was approached while walking on the street, in a grocery store parking lot, and even when using the Wi-Fi at Starbucks.
All the while, I was living in my van with just a few dollars in my pocket. When one woman asked me for money on the subway platform so that she “could get out of the subway” and I honestly told her I had none (other than what I needed for my own fare), she scowled and walked toward a group of black people…but then walked past them and instead hit on another white person.
There was definitely an assumption about who was low income and who was not. Early in my stay, I searched for a place that offers showers for the homeless and heard of one within walking distance. When I entered the building, I was immediately asked if I was there to volunteer. “No,” I responded, “I would like to use your shower.” They looked at each other as if they didn’t know what to do with me. I suddenly realized I was different – and might not be welcome by others in the shower area. So I left and didn’t go back. (I ended up staying out in a suburb and showering at a State Park, taking the metro train into DC.)
I had to wonder if liberals encourage and support both dependency and separation in DC on purpose. Whatever the genesis and nurture, it is a growing, divisive cancer.
It made me wonder, in light of Baltimore, if these cities have an entirely different dynamic going on than many of our communities in the rest of the country, and if people in these cities just assume all communities carry their same level of stress.
Well… not to say there isn’t any stress at all. There was the time we were kids visiting Uncle Jim’s house in north Minneapolis, when my little brother was kicked around near a park… and the time, in the same neighborhood, when I rescued my cousin from someone who was chasing us from a park and grabbed her hair. But that was immature kids (except for the grown man sitting in a lawn chair, saying nothing while I struggled to free Nancy.) Of course, these incidents have come back to mind in the last few months. But they have never been the norm of my experience – and that’s why they stand out.
Ferguson shocked us last year – and Baltimore shocked us while I was in DC. In all honesty, it was hard during that time to look people in the eye while passing on the street or standing close in a line. This was due to not knowing how the person feels about me – a white person. Maybe that person feels just as the people in Baltimore do. Maybe that person hates me and wants to hurt me for being white. Mistrust took root.
One day, I came up from the subway escalator and happened upon a woman with a mike on the street, near the top of the escalator. A group of very tough looking men, facing the crowd with their arms crossed and scowls on their faces, protectively surrounded her. She was yelling to the crowd about evil white people, Jews and Christians. She said, “White man has not yet paid for all that he has done.” A couple of policemen stood watching, and a couple others walked nearby. The woman had a right to speak – but I did not have to listen. I turned around and got back on the train to go to a different stop.
It felt good to get back to my cousins in Ohio, where everyone of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds seemed to be responding to each other normally, and there were just as many Caucasian bag-boys at the grocery store as any other heritage.
At least, I hoped things were as I had always assumed them to be. Now, I wasn’t quite so sure.
I had been wondering for the last couple of months how to write about all this – the growing monster of hatred and division within our country.
Now – the brutal massacre in Charleston
I hadn’t even heard about it until Friday morning, listening to the radio while on the road traveling. Hearing the broadcast of the bond hearing – I was beside myself. God has raised a Phoenix from the ashes.
Where does one begin with describing the tremendous blessing these Godly, grieving families have given us?
Such an important – wondrous – blessed gift they gave our nation – the gift of forgiveness. My mind rushed with each added fact about the events that occurred Wednesday and Thursday. From what has been reported, the murderer had originally intended to shoot at the college. But instead, for whatever reason, went to this magnificent church instead. Then, it was reported he told authorities that after hearing the Bible study, he almost changed his mind and didn’t shoot them. But…hatred and evil was in his heart, and he did it anyhow.
But he wasn’t to get away with it. God nudged one of his servants to see the murderer’s car on the highway. Praying mightily to God, she overcame her fear, called her boss, who called the police, and she continued following him and assisted in his capture.
This Christian woman has publically stated she gives all Glory to God in the capture because she would have been too afraid to do it otherwise.
Then… the magistrate, in front of the world, asked everyone to remember the murderer’s family as some of the victims as well, and in a move few have ever seen before at a bond hearing, asked the victim’s families if they have anything to say. Many of them did… and what they said will be remembered in the hearts of millions for a lifetime. They gave us the healing words our nation most desperately needed. They did this, before they had even buried their dead.
In the face of the most blatantly real racism, they did this.
They did this, despite… despite – for all the talk of racism in this country, the myriad faux offense and accusations over the most inconsequential – and at times purposefully exaggerated, misconstrued, trumped up, and even deliberately falsified events… here we had an event that was absolutely, without a doubt, pure, unequivocal racism. It was the most unarguable act of racism we have seen in a long time. Here, the Al Sharpton’s of the world would have finally had a real peg to hang their hat on.
But the families stood up and forgave – and told the murderer he needs to turn to Jesus.
After what these families said, is Al Sharpton even invited into this?
Where are the protests this weekend that many of us expected?
Praise our Lord for having answered the prayers of His people in relation to the growing hate in our country. None of us wanted this to happen to these Godly people at this wonderful church. None of us would ever WANT for anyone to die in order that others might be saved from the growing rage in our country… but this sure seems like God knew what was happening and guided this man to exactly the church that was strong enough, grounded enough, mature enough, Godly enough….to respond in the most unexpected, loving, forgiving, healing, Christ-like manner.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the Mother Emanuel Church – you have taught all the rest of us a huge lesson. You have just this week mentored millions. You have raised all our churches across North America and perhaps the world up to a higher level.
Loving the Lord, we know you are right and want to reach up and grow into the Christ-like maturity you have achieved.
Praise God for that Church. God bless and protect that Church and its families immensely. Bless it, bless it, bless it.