Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hoping Kroenke's 12th Night Gift Becomes Our Epiphany

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. - Matthew 2:10-11

It is the Feast of the Epiphany - the day we remember rich and powerful people traveling far to lay their treasure at the feet of a refugee child in an occupied land. 

Not out of obligation. 

Not out of guilt or shame. 

Out of joy.

That's right. It was their joy to lay their gifts at the feet of the Christ child. And it is ours as well. It is our joy to use all that we have in the service of the One who loved us so much he became one us as one of the most marginalized among us. 

Who took the blind man, whom others stepped over, ridiculed and spat on and put him in the middle of the community and said: "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51).

Who said of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

As we enter this season of Epiphany, it is good for us to pause and reflect on two events that happened yesterday, on the 12th day of Christmas ... and to see if they bear any epiphanies for us. 

When it came my turn to speak, I noted several things:

When I first came to Christ Church Cathedral seven years ago, I was told that "we've been having the same conversations about homelessness for 20 or 30 years with very little change." I can now add seven more years to that total. 

We spin our wheels. 

We complain about the ancillary effects of poverty and homelessness on the quality of life for those of us who are housed and the economy for those of us who own businesses downtown. 

We expend incredible resources fighting about New Life Evangelistic Center and complain about the city's short-sightedness and caring more about good press events than real solutions. 

And then we throw up our hands in frustration until the next firestorm comes around.

Except, it is not that we don't know what to do. There are data-proven, successful models of how to move people permanently from homelessness into housing (such as the model Iain De Jong laid out before us more than a year ago at Christ Church Cathedral, thanks to the work of Irene Agustin).  Models that we are using on a small, congregation-based scale with our Cathedral Housing Partnership. 

The problem is not lack of knowledge but lack of political will. 

The truth is, when we -- and by WE I don't just mean the "City of St. Louis" as an institution but ALL of us as the people of St. Louis -- when WE decide we want to do something, we do it. Whether it be renovate the Arch grounds, build a new stadium, give Forest Park a facelift or attract hi-tech businesses to the central core -- when we put our minds, our hearts and our money to something, it happens .. and it usually happens pretty well.

The question isn't "Do we know how to end homelessness?"

The question isn't "Is there enough money to end homelessness?"

The question is "Do we really care enough to end homelessness?"

And here, I suggested, our language is key.

With few notable exceptions (people like Teka Childress and Kathleen Wilder), those among us who are housed refer to those among us who struggle with homelessness as "them" or "those people" or "the homeless." 

When a problem is happening to "them" ... we usually care just enough about it to move it somewhere else or to kick the can down the road and assuage our conscience. But when something is happening to "us" -- that's a different story. When something tragic is happening to "us," -- like our football team leaving, for example -- we will move heaven and earth to make a solution happen.

We who are housed, we who have the resources and the access to political power, we will never care enough to end homelessness as long as those struggling with homelessness are a "them" or a "those people" or "the homeless." 

The first step to developing the political will necessary to end homelessness is to recognize that this is not an "us and them" situation. To recognize that God's dream is the building of the Beloved Community -- a community where there is no "them," only an all-inclusive "us." Where we know one another by name, know each other's stories and care enough about one another to speak the truth in love. 

Where those of us who sleep in warm beds at night cannot sleep because we care so deeply and personally about those of us who are on the streets.

Which leads me to the second event that happened yesterday.

Yesterday, Stan Kroenke sent his argument for the Rams moving back to Los Angeles to the NFL -- and distributed copies to all the major media outlets.  After politicians and power brokers in St. Louis have spent the past two years -- incredibly ill-advisedly, in my opinion -- throwing hundreds of millions of dollars in real and fictional money at him for a proposed new stadium, Kroenke's official response was to kick St. Louis in the teeth and trash us in what he hopes is his way out of town. 

This is the man at whose feet we were willing to lay our city's treasure. 

Which brings us back to the Epiphany -- and what I hope can be an epiphany for us as a city.

We love the Rams -- or at least we used to when they were winning and more lovable. We knew their names -- Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and on and on and on. They were OUR team. We took pride in them. And because of that relationship, we were susceptible to arguments that were highly questionable economically and utterly indefensible morally to try to keep them here.

There's nothing wrong with us loving the Rams ... or the Cardinals ... or the Blues  -- in the same way that there's nothing wrong with volunteering at Stray Rescue when there are human beings starving and abused. Love is always good. Love shows us what we are capable of doing when we care enough.

The Epiphany reminds us that the height of wisdom is to recognize that our greatest joy is to meet, love and give all we have to Jesus, who is present not on the thrones of the world (or in the stadiums), but on the streets, in the shelters and in the prisons. 

The Epiphany reminds those of us who, like the Magi, have great power and privilege, that our greatest joy is to open up those gifts and lay them at the feet not of the Stan Kroenkes of the world but at the feet of those of us who sleep on our Cathedral steps. 

The Epiphany reminds us that just as it was the Magi's joy to lay those gifts down in front of the Christ child, it is our joy to recognize that as the Body of Christ we get to to take the Bartimaeuses among us, call them by name, bring them into the center of the community, ask them "what would you have us do for you?" and tear down all the walls that would ever make them a "them" to someone else's "us" ... so we can together all "follow Jesus on the way." 

Stan Kroenke has given us a great 12th night gift -- one that today I hope becomes our Epiphany. That our greatest joy as the Beloved Community is not to build another palace for those of us who are the richest but to cultivate the relationships that will turn into the political will to lay our treasures down in front of those of us who are the poorest. 

Not out of obligation.

Not out of guilt or shame.

Out of joy.

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