The Creche went up last Saturday, occupying our front parking lot. I appreciate how excited the guests of our Saturday Cupboard are to help build a facsimile home for the Christ child, the holy family and guests. There’s something touching about people who are barely, if at all housed, building shelter for a faithful ideal.
On Sunday evening, I joined other clergy at Dilworth Plaza and Occupy Philly. The city had announced evictions would begin sometime after 5 p.m. Many people who could not risk arrest were packing and leaving. The number of tents had decreased noticeably. So too had much of the infrastructure of the encampment… such that I wondered how those who vowed to would be able to stay on. The clergy hoped that, come what may, we might serve as both witnesses and a calming presence.
5 o’clock came and went. I enjoyed talking with colleagues and protestors until about 11 o’clock — there’s something moving about people waiting around in the cold to insist on a faithful ideal. But then — the police still not having made a move — I decided I needed to get home (and warm).
Yesterday, in the middle of the night, the police began to clear the plaza of the remaining protestors. It’s reported there was a lot of noise and commotion, but that the end of the encampment was less violent than in other cities.
Ironically, later that same day of the eviction, I closed on the property I have been working on purchasing since last winter. (Next week, I will be writing the membership an explanation of my decision to purchase property prior to the end of the Covenant Ministry.) I own a house again — an ambiguous experience: exciting and nerve-racking; feeling as if one’s putting down roots and simultaneously fantasizing about running away!
Last Sunday morning I woke up early… wondering what the day and this week would bring! My first shadow of an answer was an imagination of our front courtyard, ragtag tents and homemade shantys encircling the Creche, offering home to refugees from Occupy Philly.
If I understand correctly, a few summers ago, while Jeff was here, the courtyard became a temporary overnight spot for homeless folks. On Tuesday, I noticed a tent encampment along the northside of U.S. 30, across from Campbell’s Soup, on the way through Camden towards the B. Franklin Bridge. And as soon as the Creche is up, people take advantage of its blocking sight lines to take up residence on the CE building’s porch again. There are so many dispossessed people in our world, and the Creche is our faith’s focusing on their plight.
I thought about sharing my “Occupy Old First vision” in worship on Sunday. But some were already excised about the new age limit for volunteers making dinner at the shelter; I worried that, even if I were careful and clear, it would be easily misunderstood. It was not a proposal… never my hope or any half-brained plan.
Instead, it was just a unconscious connection, or the Holy Spirit troubling my waters.
It isn’t accidental that the Christ child is born to an occupied, impoverished people. It isn’t inadvertant that he was born to a poor, peasant family, put out from their home by a colonial government’s need to tax. It isn’t just dramatic tension added on in Matthew’s Gospel that next this young family is to be driven to flee, made refugees by a despotic ruler’s fear and jealousy. No, none of those are incidental or random details of the sacred story. They are instead, at its heart.
As Christians we often disagree on politics — what we see as the best responses or the most effective strategies to remedy the troubles facing our world. But one can’t claim “the story” if one refuses to care about the issues. Because the story itself is unavoidablly a challenge to the social isolation and selfishness and want that become normative, even acceptable in our world.
Jesus — though scorned and forced to live as an outsider… from stable birth to death on a cross… witnessed to a love of self and other that defeats the fear and hatred that decay our souls and the world around us. The Creche is both a judgement on a world without enough room or love for all of its inhabitants and our greatest hope to change it.
See you in church,