We Don’t Live in Kansas Anymore…


Tiffany1

Note:  The following was the sermon presented upon my recent return from Seminary in DC, and the last trip required for 2012.     I had planned on taking the Sunday of my return off as well, but my oldest daughter had volunteered to deliver part of the message, so there wasn’t a “Snowballs Chance” of me sleeping in.   I think that when all is said and done, its fitting to repost it on MLK’s birthday.

~*~

Washington DC is one of my absolute favorite places in the world.   I love it, because of the history that you virtually trip over as you go about your business.    Then somewhere along the way, you realize that DC is the most powerful city in the world and you suddenly realize that you are in the center of it.    Beyond those reality, the city is truly one of the neatest places ever to people watch; one of my favorite of past times.

With that said, the seminary sits on the very edge of DC amidst one of the most beautiful sections of the city.   The school sits at the very center of the American University Campus and almost directly across the street from Georgetown School of Law.  

The area abuts what is commonly referred to a Embassy Row, and in addition to walking by various mansions owned by foreign countries, you can quickly get lost in countless brick and brownstone neighborhoods.  Tree lined streets and flowers constantly in bloom add to the unique charm of the neighborhoods.    Add to that the realities that on one corner you get the intrigue, mystery, and awe of power, and the next; you are walking through any Keene, NH neighborhood.   It’s often an unsettling juxtaposition.

The hotel is about a mile and a half from campus.  If it’s nice and you leave the car parked, you can make the trek by foot through this gorgeous area, in a little over a half an hour.   If you think I painted a pretty picture of the area call Embassy Row, the area surrounding the hotel is prime hotie-totie-ville.   The hotel is located in Chevy Chase MD the richest suburb of DC, and one of the wealthiest in the country.  One national survey has Chevy Chase as the Sixth wealthiest community behind places like Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and the Hamptons. 

The median income in the area is $206,000 and the average home is worth just shy of a million dollars.    The hotel I where we stay is on the same block as Vera Wang, Gucci, and a bridal boutique where you have to call ahead to make an appointment just to walk through the doors.  When you are in Chevy Chase, you are reminded that you are not in Kansas Anymore.  

With these images as a backdrop, picture the following series of events;

I arrive late in the evening on Thursday and immediately go to bed.   The next morning, I awake at 5am, a full six hours before class starts, and I decide I am going take advantage of the weather and take a substantial run, to loosen up the muscles made stiff by 12 hours in the car.  

It was a picture perfect run.  

Watching the fog away, and discovering new neighborhoods open up at each corner, I instantly lost track of the ache in my ankles or shins.    I had classical music playing and it was a surreal run.    At one point, I looked down at my watch, and realized that the legs were aching because I had clocked 6 miles, several minutes faster than my normal time.    Not wanting to leave it all on the road, I stopped and decided to take a minute or two breather.

As I did, I turned and saw this beautiful house.   

With the sun rising behind it, it just seemed like something out of a movie.    I stopped and leaned on the wrought iron fence that surrounded it, and sighed at how pretty the house was.   As I stood there, I said I had to show this to Stacey and the girls.    I pulled out the phone, snapped a picture, and before I could put the picture away, I had a pair of men in suits beside me.  

 men in black

Rule number one; for all of us in the Monadnock Region…  When you go to DC, remember there are rules that we don’t think about back in Keene or Chesterfield.   After I explained my innocence, revealing that country bumpkin side of me, I never realized I had, they made me delete the picture.    I happily did so.  

As I hit delete, I again revealed my naivety by asking a question.   “Who lives there?” I said.   The response was about as direct as you get.   “If I am not going to let you keep the picture, am I gonna tell you who lives there?”  

Duh.  

I ran fast back to my hotel room.   I was not in Kansas anymore….and I am now sure I have been tagged on some no fly list…. 

After a quick shower, I still had time to burn, so I decided to pretend I was of that hotie-totie class.   I wandered through the shops, intimidated to go into most.    Those that I did enter were astonishing.   In one store, I held a $900 tie!

A $900 tie, which once I buy, ends up stained with coffee in mere moments!  

It was in Tiffany’s where I saw a $93K Blue Sapphire necklace.     I tried not to look silly or surprised when they told me the price…  but I did feel like putting on the  ever condescending, Thurston Howell Lock jaw and saying something akin to “I am looking for something… a bit…less common, lovie.”  

 lovie

Despite that initial desire,… I had to admit the necklace was gorgeous.    I imagined – for a moment – what it would be like to buy it for Stacey.  She’d look good in it.    I grabbed my phone to take a picture of it, but as I did,… 

I said… “Wait a minute….”  

This time the phone stayed in my pocket, as again, I reminded myself,….I am not in Kansas anymore.

I do wish, I could paint a truly accurate picture of the craziness that is this area.  Beyond marveling at how Chevy Chase is a place you can buy a $100k necklace, there is no real way for me to stress just how different it is there.  

In the end, it’s an expensive enclave of an expensive city.  Being Cheap, the first time I was there, I discovered I needed an alternative to paying hand over fist, to live.   Most importantly I needed to find a pathway to inexpensive eating.   I went to one restaurant and with the bill they handed me a heated napkin with a lemon wedge, to freshen my hands… 

(Really?    Give me my tie.)

It took some searching, and multiple visits, but I got this down to a science now.   I have found the DC equivalent of cheap man food, and I frequent each time I am there. Hidden next to a subtle entrance to the metro station was a long hallway that took you down into the basement next to an escalator that brought you to the Metro landing…. 

About halfway down that corridor, you can take a left, and there is a McDonalds and next to it a Subway sandwich shop. Although the Egg McMuffins were still three times as expensive as the one on in Keene, NH it was still cheaper than the $20.00 bowl of fruit from the hotel.  

When I do go to DC, spending each Morning at the McDonalds has become a highlight.   I sit there for thirty minutes and drink my coffee.   Why 30?  Thirty minutes is the maximum you are allowed to stay; otherwise the homeless will take up residence there.  

The poor, the immigrant, and the homeless all congregate in that basement McDonalds as the rich pass by the window.   I sit and have my breakfast in one booth while the booth next to me is a temporary place for someone to sleep in thirty minute increments.   I wonder if the 30 minute rule is really enforced. In that poetic way that the universe has of slapping you in the face, the $900 tie was sold three floors above and the $93K necklace sits three stores away. 

We are not in Kansas Anymore.  

It is a compelling juxtaposition between the power and privilege and poverty and pain.    In DC, 110K live below the poverty line.  In DC you are four times as likely to be functionally illiterate if you were born in DC, than if you were born at Cheshire Medical Center in Southwestern, NH.  In DC, 1 in 8 families are food insecure or are unsure of where their next meal is coming from.  1 in 3 children live below the poverty line. 

On a Prior trip, I was blessed to visit the ‘SOME’ Facility.   SOME is a Soup Kitchen serving the homeless of DC.   SOME stands for “So Others May Eat” and it is a Jesuit mission in the basement of a church, and the shadow of the capitol dome falls on the front entrance to the dining room.   

Although, it is my favorite place in the world for an assortment of reasons, I am not sure I would want to live there, because when I leave I am always a little broken hearted.   I get mad.     I love DC.   No, I hate DC.   No… I love, I hate, DC.

I hate DC because DC is a broken place.   When I am there I cannot help but be reminded that the world is broken.    I hate that so often I need reminders to see it.   I start to wonder, if I moved there, which person I would be.   Would I be the one who expected the heated napkin or the one who had no idea about what it was for, and who was thankful that others have the chance to sleep in the far corner of McDonalds.

As I go back and forth, I find myself filled with contempt.   I get angry that people don’t notice.   I get angry that people drive Bentley’s while the man next to me has his possessions in a cart.   I get angry, when I see someone sleeping steps away from the front of the Seminary.    In the end, that anger turns to something else very quickly;  it turns to shame.

I am ashamed that it takes that Subway McDonalds to open my eyes.   I am ashamed it takes a soup kitchen.    I am ashamed that I have never grabbed that person on the street, made them stop, and said to them; “LOOK!   WHY DON’T YOU SEE HIM!”   

I am ashamed that I walked into the seminary – past that homeless man – and didn’t do anything. 

I am ashamed that our neighbors live in poverty right here, but I never realize it, unless its over the top extreme.    I am ashamed that I have to find ways to help, and that my life isn’t all about it.   I am ashamed because Jesus told us this was what faith is all about and I am missing it.    

What I do for and to the least of them I do for him.    What I don’t do for the least of them, what I don’t do for the least of them, I don’t do for him.    I am ashamed, because sometimes it doesn’t even seem like I am looking that hard.

A week ago Friday, this was the state of my heart.   Homesick and broken I started to think I was a fraud.   Things have got to change.   I got to start doing things differently.  This breaks my heart.    It’s not fair.    It’s not fair that someone thinks that the $93K necklace is an appropriate gift for anyone.   It’s not fair, that people sleep in the cold.   Its not fair that children go hungry.   There is gotta be something that can be done.  This was what tossed about in my head for the rest of the day.

As it did, I started to look for answers.   Who can we be?  Who are we?   What can we do?  What can I do?   Where am I being called? 

For those of you who haven’t heard the rather unique personal theology that I have come to embrace over the last decade, I call it “God’s Flicks”.   I believe that sometime God tries, with increasing volume to get your attention.   I believe that eventually, you’ll get it.    Sometimes it comes with a gentle nudge and quiet whisper, other times it comes with a flick of the ear, or even a giant kick in the butt.

That night in DC, I got my answer.   As usual, it came from a rather unusual source;  Spike TV.   Now before you think I have lost my marbles, believe me it was as if a light when on for me.     I was lying in bed having just finished my five dollar foot long, when I clicked to a new station on the television.   I don’t know the name of the movie, but as usual it with some down on his luck, heavy into the booze cop.   His job was on the line from constant mistakes and he was basically the precinct screw up.  You are all familiar with this type of plot; maybe even the movie.

I turned to the movie, and suffered through the horrific dialogue and acting for a lone scene.    This cop was called to a NYC apartment building, where someone was threatening to jump.   Not waiting for the suicide negotiator to arrive, the cop decided to take it on himself and hang his head out of the window, and try his own tough love on the jumper. 

He yelled and barked.   He even pulled a couple of insensitive and rather crude insults about the mess he would make below if he jumped.  Finally, his mood switched.  He looked at the jumper and said;  “Just don’t do.   Nothing is worth this.  You are important.    You will be missed.   Don’t do it. You are worth more than this. “  

After saying it to the jumper, he went silent for a few seconds before he started to climb out the window.    Panicked the jumper looked to Bruce and demanded to know what he was doing.    His response was God’s flick to my ear.   

He said;  “I told you, that you were worth it….   I’m proving it to you.”

We too have something to prove.  We need to prove our love.   We need to prove it to the man who slept at that McDonalds or at the front door of the Seminary.   We need to prove it to the family whose bellies ache from lack of food.   We need to prove it to the woman who has the sole choice of a shelter or the man who beats her.    We need to prove it to the people who use our food pantry.    We need to prove it to our children.   We need to prove it to each other.  

We need to prove it to Him.

We got to trust that we can do this…  We can trust ourselves, and who we are.

I would like to close with the words of one of my heroes; Martin Luther King Jr.   It is an exert of a sermon that was delivered in Georgia 45 years ago; almost to this very day.    They seem to be written for us;

“I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90, 100, or 110. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

Its my prayer that we will be better that walking blind.   It is my prayer that we can be about living.   It is my prayer that we can be about proving it, because we don’t live in Kansas Anymore.

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