disconnected salem reflections
last night we offered peace to the city of salem, watched our beloved brooke perform on the fountain stage and, finally, shut down the confession booth for the season. serving in salem is such an overwhelming experience that i am hesitant to offer a benign summary. so i’d like to offer a few disconnected reflections instead.
when the temperature was at or above 55 degrees i choose to walk the streets barefoot. this discalced look reflects my love for the early franciscans, never fails to elicit comments from curious onlookers and provides conclusive evidence, due to the remarkable length of my toes, that i am indeed the missing link. last night i had a number of people take pictures of my bare feet, received the requisite amount of admonitions from senior citizens, had a passerby warn me about a pile of horseshit that blighted my intended path and a smartass kid share his hope that i would step on a hypodermic needle. today my feet hurt, so i guess i should give the old ladies their due.
okay, i'll admit it. next year i would really like to have placards and signs that proclaim: "blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God;" "blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven;" and "what does the Lord require of you? to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
on a couple of occasions last night i was almost certain i was about to get my ass kicked. fortunately that didn’t happen.
throughout the day yesterday the cliché office conversation focused on the fears that there would be a gang battle in salem on halloween night. there was a grandmother worrying about her grandchildren, receptionists responding to the fear mongering on “news” radio* and a few people expressing amazement that i would spend time in salem on halloween. today, after hearing the reports of the relatively minor incidents that took place, people still can’t talk enough about the police thwarting the evil plans of the chelsea crips or recounting the stories of the two minor stabbings that took place. maybe i’m being an arse for saying this, but whenever i hear people obsessing about possible gang wars in salem or the supposed “lights out weekend” gang initiations that people worried about during my youth i hear a whispered subtext that sounds something like this: THE BLACK PEOPLE ARE COMING TO TOWN! WATCH OUT FOR YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE! HOW CAN WE KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE WHEN BLACK PEOPLE ROAM THE STREETS? maybe i’m misinterpreting the subtext, but i don’t think so. the overwhelming presence and subtle power of white, suburban suspicion is so strong that i caught myself doing a little freelance racial profiling last night. that makes me ashamed.
i must say that the haters, er…i mean the street preachers, were remarkably restrained last night. one of them was speaking so reasonably and persuasively about sexual ethics that a couple of young local women** stopped and told a group of our monks that if young men actually lived in line with such ethics “a lot less women would get hurt.” these young women were of eastern orthodox and coptic christian ancestry and shocked our monks by telling them to affirm the street preacher for “speaking the truth.” i was also surprised that by the end of the night several of the street preachers came to the gathering space seeking reconciliation with the church leaders and, to my knowledge, none of our monks were openly denounced or had a negative word spoken against them.***
i also ran into a guy that i spent talking to on monday night and he asked me how he could get in touch with me in the future. i suspected he might have been a tad too inebriated to either remember my phone number or write it down, so i told him to visit my friends at the gathering space if he wanted to contact me. at that he smiled and said “hey, if those guys are anything like you, they’re totally cool with me. i’ll stop by.” i must admit that i found that encounter rather gratifying.
we were fortunate to have a number of young gordon college students with us last night who entered into intriguing spiritual conversations with people by simply asking questions. i was impressed by their generosity of Spirit and genuine interest in the opinions of those who walked the streets of salem.
ok, that’s about it. i’m exhausted, my feet hurt and my voice is shredded. once again, it was a blessing to us to work beside the gathering as they seek to bless the people of salem. it is intoxicating to partner with a church that is on the mission and we’re looking forward to serving again next year.
* why would anyone in boston listen to a “news” radio station other than npr? one has to wonder.
** a couple of whom were sporting the almost requisite “i’m a hottie whore” outfits.
*** which is all the more intriguing since i went out of my way to wander into their preaching pit and shout things like “if you’ve heard enough condemnation from the church, come to confession,” “it’s time to purge the pulpits, it’s time to clean out the vestries, come to confession” and “if you’re sick and tired of Christian hypocrisy, come to confession” on a number of occasions.