Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cold as Ice

A couple of weeks ago, it snowed in Portland.  It snowed a lot.  I have some friends from Minnesota who would laugh when I say this.  In fact, I'm from Klamath Falls, OR originally, and I want to laugh when I say that this was a lot of snow.  Depending on who measured, we received between 10" and 13" of snow in one night.  Each year, it snows about 1-3" in the winter.  Even this 1-3" of snow is crippling for the people here.  10-13" is a lot of snow.
In Portland, nobody knows how to drive in the snow, businesses don't know whether or not to stay open, and people hole up in their houses until the rain takes it all away.
The rain didn't take it away for over a week.
Nobody plowed the streets in North Portland.
Everything iced over.
Portland is not good at dealing with snow.
We had it for over a week.
National news said that we might be the most winter-fatigued city in the US.

I saw much of this fatigue up close from our homeless population.
Portland has a tremendously large population of homeless people, and the snow affected them greatly.
North Portland churches have come together for the past six years to provide a warming shelter for those who need refuge from the cold.  This shelter is open any night that the temperature drops below freezing.  On a typical year, this happens sometimes, but not terribly often.
For a few weeks in a row, it was every night.
The snow has been gone for some time now, and the warming shelter is still regularly open.
It has been a tough winter.

The shelter met at St. Johns Christian Church a number of times during the snow.  We have a very large church building, and so many people were in need of warmth during this time that we needed a larger meeting space than the one that's normally used. SJCC was happy to open and provide this shelter.

I stayed late at the church to help set up whenever the shelter met at SJCC, and while we were setting up, folks would begin staking out places to sleep.  Each evening, without fail, somebody would cuss me out.  Each time, it was for a very minor reason (i.e. we were meeting upstairs instead of downstairs, and the person didn't realize this).  Each time, I wanted to react.

As a pastor, I receive criticism on an almost daily basis.  Recently, I've been hearing a lot of criticism. I have become surprisingly good at taking people's criticism.  However, no matter how much you hear it, it is never fun to be cussed out and/or screamed at by a person.  I'm a pretty sarcastic person at times, and each time that I was cussed out, I wanted to respond with something like, "I'm glad you appreciate the heat and the free housing that we're giving you. You're welcome." I didn't say it, but I wanted to.

Did I sound like a jerk just now? I feel like one.

Here's the thing: in prayer and reflection over the last couple of weeks, I was reminded of a few things:
1.  Each day that we hosted the warming shelter, I was surrounded by people I love.
2.  Each day that we hosted the warming shelter, I was inside of buildings with central heating or space heaters.
3.  Each day that we hosted the warming shelter, my belongings were safe inside my apartment; the apartment with a locked door.
4.  Each day that we hosted the warming shelter, there were people who had neither heat, nor people they loved around them.  These folks' belongings were often elsewhere, possibly in the tents that they had to abandon because they had to travel to our warming shelter.

Had I been in their situations, I would probably be on edge as well.  Between the cold, the worrying about their belongings, and the fact that they're taking all of this on by themselves, it would almost certainly be too much to handle.

The first half of the book of Psalms has many moments in which the Psalmist cries out to God.  The Psalmist often feels forgotten or abandoned by God.  Psalm 13 is a good example of this type of Psalm.  When there are others who are feeling forgotten or abandoned by God; when there are those who are feeling unloved, cold, and fearful, our calling as followers of Christ is to serve and love.

It is easy to want to respond in anger or sarcastically when we're attacked. In these moments, it is important for a follower of Christ to remember that we're often speaking to people who are hurting, who are scared, who feel unloved or unheard.  I needed that reminder a few weeks ago.

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