Saturday, November 01, 2014

Love was the first motion...

I was sharing with a friend this morning about one of the most (of many) profound experiences I have had during my time in seminary.  It was the day I got to walk around downtown Portland, Oregon with Ken Loyd.  Ken is a hipster in his 60's with punk rock hair, pointy shoes and flames tattooed up his forearms.  He is also extremely humble and down-to-earth.  He spends his time hanging out among folks who live on the streets in downtown Portland.  He has helped plant a few churches which are specifically for homeless people (he hates the term "homeless"--preferring descriptors such as "friends without homes" or "people who live outdoors").  The most recent church plant he has been involved in, as far as I know, is called The Underground Portland--and is designed around providing safe community for young people who live on the streets. 

As I walked around Portland with Ken and he told me about his ministry, I was struck by how many street-people knew him and how utterly non-judgmental he was towards his friends without homes.  He would ask what they need--A little cash? A pair of clean socks? A pack of smokes?--and freely gave in a way that was not in any sense condescending or had strings attached.  The point was to appreciate the person and extend love in a way that preserves their dignity.  Ken confided that, like me, he is an extreme introvert and, even after all these years, has to reassure himself "you can do this" when approaching a stranger.  This surprised me because I detected nothing but ease in the way he interacted with folks--some of whom (as is sometimes the case on the streets) were a bit intimidating.  Ken says that what he has to offer those he engages (besides practicalities) is simply "my commonality with others in my broken humanity."

On the website for The Underground Portland, Ken says of himself and those who minister alongside him, "We are the guests in downtown Portland. We are the students in downtown Portland. We are the children in downtown Portland needing to learn and to be taught. We are the ignorant ones. So we ask, 'Can we be you? Will you teach us?'”

This reminds me a lot of John Woolman, an  18th century American Quaker whose journal is considered a classic of early American literature (I try to read it about once a year).  Woolman lived in what is now New Jersey and was one of the very first anti-slavery activists in America.  He also deeply respected Native Americans (at a time when there was much animosity between European-Americans and Native Americans).  Woolman decided to travel westward into Indian territory because he had "...for many years felt love in my heart towards the natives of this land who dwell far back in the wilderness, whose ancestors were formerly the owners and possessors of the land where we dwell..."  In his journal he writes, "Love was the first motion,  and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them..."

That humble, teachable spirit that I see in Woolman and Loyd, which perceives the value and dignity of every person, is what I aspire to.  I very often fall far short of it, but I tell myself, "you can do this."


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