Saturday, June 02, 2007

You know their names?

The demolition process has continued this week at Mount Vernon Place. Bits and pieces of the two additions are being stripped away from the historic church building. It is a fascinating process to observe, and we see people stopping all throughout the day to simply watch the buildings coming down, piece by piece.

Enough of the buildings are down that the fence had to be extended yesterday. A tall fence now circles the entire church property, extending all along the sidewalk and park boundaries. It took nearly all day for workers to get the fence in place, and a couple of our neighbors got fenced inside in the process.

I was outside with some of the construction workers when I heard one of them say, "We are getting rid of all of the bums today. No one will be able to stay here anymore." Our administrative assistant, Carol, and I quickly corrected them saying, "They are not bums. They are our neighbors."

I then called out to Esau, one of the neighbors who was fenced inside - showing him how to get out. I then asked about Dennis' blankets and Michael's stuff. After mentioning three of the neighbors, one of the workers said, "You know their names?" He had a hard time believing that we actually knew these people - that we could call some of the individuals who sleep nearby by name. "Of course we know their names," I said. "We see them every single day. They are our closest neighbors."

The question has made me think a lot. Who are the people around me who go nameless? Who are the people around me who I conclude are not worth calling by name? While I loathe admitting it, perhaps I, too, have the ability to look beyond certain individuals instead of looking into their eyes, recognizing how they, too, are a beloved child of God - a child who God knows by name.

Often we are good at avoiding the people who are different from us - people who have a different skin color or economic background or moral life or sexual orientation. We are good at avoiding the handicapped woman in a wheelchair, the older woman who sits by herself on the city bus, the man who stays by his cart all day in the park, the person who approaches us in the Metro station asking us for a quarter. We would rather stay around people like us -- people just like us because these people don't make us so uneasy.

The construction worker gave me plenty to think about yesterday. I hope that we, too, gave him something to think about. While Michael, Dennis and Esau will no longer be right next to the church - inside the fence - they will still be in the neighborhood - just outside the fence. Perhaps the next time this worker sees them, he will call them by name.

Merciful God, forgive me for passing some people by. Forgive me for not seeing everyone with the eyes with which you see them. Forgive me for looking beyond some or around others. Help me to see every single person around me as you see them - beloved, precious, beautiful, and called by name by their creator. Amen.

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