god in the house

I stopped by the front desk yesterday on my way out and noticed a big stack of magazines from a religious group. Titles like “who is God” and “what happens when I die” While forcing myself not to pick up the latter I asked the folks at the front why they were there. Some people drop them off regularly one of them said. It’s the eternal confluence of church and state, folks from faith based organizations help us a lot, but the sometimes covert and often overt tension is ever present. Without the support of local churches and religious organizations we would suffer, they offer donations and groups of folks to help with food and supplies. Their service is invaluable and yet I’ve never been able to reconcile the underlying mission of saving souls. Raised on the bible, I know the call for witness but I also know the deeper example of compassion and service to the poor and I wish the latter didn’t always mean the former had to crowd its way into the room.

So I said I’d prefer they were moved, that this information shouldn’t be the first thing folks see when coming to us for help because we are not a faith based organization and if we were representing one faith I’d prefer to represent them all. We have generous folks from Buddhist communities, from synagogues, a very large group of supporters who follow a guru rather than a deity but there is a subtle difference, their service is the highlight, service based on the strength of their convictions with virtually no proslethysing, a standard that settles better into this heathen’s soul. So one of the guys grabbed the stack and tossed them into the trash while another gasped out loud. Some folks want to read that, she said. It gives them comfort.

And I thought he’d acted hastily, I didn’t ask him to toss them, (at the very least I’d insist on recycling) and the divergence of beliefs settles itself right there at the counter, all eyes waiting to see how we'll be splitting this baby. So I asked them to place them in the back where other referrals are kept, so at least they’d be part of a larger representation even if none of the other information is religious. He looks at me and shrugs and digs them out and walks off.

I rail against knowing our place in the fight to save souls, if we stand merely as a staging ground for salvation or if we should simply chalk all of it up to free will and make sure our soup is always hot. We need these groups to keep the wheels turning and yet I know I don’t want the people we serve feeling that they have to subscribe to a belief system and I don’t particularly want volunteers acting as crusaders, offering to drive folks to their church with the promise of a Sunday meal means some might go just for the food and will have to tolerate your message in order to fill their bellies and others will feel full from both.

The ironic thing is that after a lifetime of church I see more faith and hope inside these walls than any service I'd ever been in. Folks who give thanks to their God for giving them the most humble of mercies, people who give the shirt of their back for their brother and will do without instead. Folks who accept their poverty with thankfulness and find ways to do good amidst the relentless struggle of being ostracized in a society who'd rather walk around them than look them in the eye.

It's not lost on me that this compassion is exactly what these volunteers offer, the kindness of their actions means more than I can say and yet I still feel protective of the folks who congregate in this house. And my own struggles with what I believe will forever press me, the fire and brimstone have shaped me in ways I sometimes wish it hadn’t and will forever keep me pulling my own hands away from the heat that others find comforting and to some, the very calling of their lives.

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