“Christianity is Too Hard”
The man and I sat down at the art table, staring at the chip bags we would turn into crosses, when he asked, “What led you to do this?”
I was preparing to give him my standard spiel about how the tragedy of 9/11 led me to make crosses from broken and found objects. But something made me ask, “Making crosses, you mean?”
“No,” he said, gesturing to the church’s fellowship hall full of currently homeless men and women eating breakfast. “What led you to come out here among the people?”
Earlier during the church service preceding breakfast, I’d been squatting on the floor in the crowded chapel, my back against the wall. All the chairs were taken; plus, I wanted to leave chairs for those who didn’t have access to chairs, beds, tables, etc. and couldn’t sit their asses down whenever they wanted, like I could. This decision put me at calf level to most of the group (except for the man who was squatting next to me). I knew it was where I was supposed to be; for several years now I’ve believed in—and responded to—the Christian call to form relationships with those pushed to the margins. But squatting there in the tiny, crowded chapel where folk slouched on chairs willing the service to be over so they could eat breakfast or maneuvered their shopping carts full of possessions through the narrow aisles or sneezed into their palm—the palm that would later be offered for me to shake as we passed the peace—I thought, “Christianity is too hard.”
Jesus hung out with the poor. The sinners, the tax collectors, the ceremonially unclean. The great unwashed, as it were. When we read this about him, we think, “Of course he did, he was Jesus!” But the clear implication is that Jesus hung out with people different from him. He chose to put himself with a group he wouldn’t otherwise have naturally associated with. People he was not used to. People he might have been uncomfortable around, particularly when he looked, not across the table at his friends, but over a jostling, crowded mass of folks. Maybe when that happened he had to force himself to begin: “Blessed are the poor.”
The men and women from the church service snaked past the art table, on their way to the fellowship hall. As they passed, we talked art. I explained about the chip bags; they gave me advice on what a cross was supposed to look like. They said good morning, their faces broke into smiles; they broke down from a clump of folks into individuals. One man, curious about the objects, asked why I picked them up from the sidewalk.
“To make crosses out of,” I said.
When he continued to wait for an answer, I added, “Because God is in everything.”
“Now that’s the truth,” he agreed and, satisfied, moved on down the line.
When the man said, “among the people,” I realized that I live my life in my privileged world and dip into service, believing I’ve left the normal world and encountered a special group of folks for whom life has not been kind. Really, I’ve left a rarefied world of safety, love, acceptance, regular meals, a hot bath, and such abundance that I can afford to select trash as my medium of expression. Crossing a chasm as wide as the one that separated the rich man in Hades from Lazarus seated on Father Abraham’s lap, I’ve entered the world of the people. Thankfully, when I crossed the chasm, I was greeted by those who smiled at me in the hallway while I made my insubstantial art.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .