Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 4 Comments
I spent Thursday night on the frigid, stone-cold ground, lying underneath a frozen,
snow-covered Army lean-to. All on the front lawn of a local church at the corner of
Tulane and the Turnpike. As a pastor, I’m accustomed to being inside the church not
locked outside shivering in the cold. Just the realization of being on the outside
“locked out” gave me a sense of isolation from help. I had to admit I don’t always
feel as deeply as I should the pain of people who find their way to my church asking
for help. It’s easier to give a pat answer about the agencies where they can get help
than it is to take time to talk to a real person with an empty stomach-full of feelings.
I arrived at the sleeping grounds a little past 6 pm. After parking at Robertsville
Baptist Church and walking a couple of miles down the Turnpike carrying all my stuff,
I was tired, hungry, and cold. The coldest part of the night wasn’t the temperature,
though it was cold. The coldest part was the walk from 251 Robertsville Rd. to 1350
Oak Ridge Turnpike. I had set my mind to walk, not drive, to where I was to sleep
overnight. I wanted to feel the difficulty of not having transportation and speedy
transit. It was most impacting to walk, all by myself, carrying only what I could,
blinking away the spitting snow. I felt alone, like I was temporarily in that empty
space with nowhere to land, in between places. As I walked, I had the sense that I
was being stared at on one hand and avoided on the other. The people around me
were in cars, speeding by, people going places, in between places, but with a
destination, with a place to land, insulated from the snow, insulated from me. And so
I walked alone needing a place to land, needing shelter. There was only one instance
as I walked when a driver pulled up beside me and asked if I needed a ride
somewhere. I said that I didn’t, and kept walking. That little bit of interaction with
a complete stranger but with someone who expressed some concern was like a drink
of water to a parched mouth. Just having someone notice me was uplifting.
My temptation was to take the back streets and cut across empty parking lots to stay
out of sight. I was embarrassed to be walking and to only have what I could carry.
However, I walked down the Turnpike so that I would be seen. I wanted eyes to stare
because I wanted people to think about what they were seeing. “Is that guy
homeless?” “Where is he headed walking in weather like this?” “Is he dangerous?” I
wondered if these were the questions drivers-by were asking.
It came crashing home that Jesus Christ, the central figure in my personal life and
religion, had probably felt the pain of needing shelter, of people keeping distance
through their questions and glances. That Jesus felt great compassion on the needy,
the homeless, and those who tend to be avoided, hit home. My walk down the
Turnpike was a sacred moment where Jesus came alive to me.
My take away is that, though homelessness is a complicated issue and not easily or
quickly solved, shelter is not. For me, shelter was what I longed for. Shelter is a
place to land, a place to be embraced, a place to be accepted and welcomed, a place to rest, a place to find the soul’s salvation, a place for nourishment, a place to rediscover the goodness of life, God’s forgiveness, and his purpose for living. Last Thursday night, for about 13 hours, what I lacked was shelter. I had a sleeping bag. Ihad a lean-to. I could survive. But what I didn’t have was a place to land.
Friday morning about 5 a.m. I woke up, packed my stuff and headed back down the
Turnpike to Robertsville Baptist and to my car. When I got there, I knew I could crank
it up and drive to a warm house. But I also knew that I would walk into that house
changed. The shelter I have, the shelter I lacked, is the shelter I am called to give.
By Brian Scott, Pastor
Robertsville Baptist Church
Oak Ridge, TN
January 21, 2015