This past Saturday my spouse and I, along with a couple of really cool women from his congregation, had the privilege of preparing and serving the noon meal at the Gettysburg Area Soup Kitchen. Another generous family from the same congregation funded the purchase of the food.
We made Sloppy Joes (a.k.a barbeques) from scratch, and served them with salad and chips, and homemade peach pie and zucchini bread for dessert. We served 36 people, a dozen of whom were young children. Including the four of us, 40 good meals were enjoyed.
Some of the dinner guests share their stories; others choose not to divulge much about their personal lives. Medical difficulties are a common theme, and several of the guests have chronic conditions that compromised their livelihoods and ability to work or have been devastated financially by healthcare costs. One guest was dealing with a medical issue but had no health insurance. Among the guests were single parents–both male and female, white and of color. The youngest guest was a toddler, and the oldest appeared to be several years past retirement. All were courteous, polite, and gracious.
It was humbling to realize that it is only by the grace of God and the help of family and friends that I was able to serve. Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time I was in seminary, had just gone through a rough divorce, and was rearing two daughters with no child support. I was riding the razor edge of financial insecurity, but thankfully many hands and hearts helped us through that rough time. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, work to do, and more than enough. It was tough sledding for awhile, but we were among the fortunate ones. Not all are so lucky, and times are even tougher now.
It’s too easy to make sweeping generalizations about poverty and those who live close to the margins. When we do, however, we don’t see the whole picture or learn the story behind the person. The New York Times featured a fine photo essay about homelessness on Sunday, and the latest edition of American Life in Poetry featured a striking poem by Minne Bruce Pratt entitled “Temporary Job.” Both the photos and poem help put a face on a complex issue and remind us that each person, regardless of station in life, is a beloved child of the Creator of the universe.
Mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, and relationship are among the world’s greatest needs. Yes, we all need the basics–food, water, and shelter–but we need more to thrive. We need each other, the richest and the poorest among us. We have much to learn from one another, and all of us have something important to share and contribute. When we stand (or sit at the table) together as equal partners and children of the Creator amazing things can happen.
Small acts of kindness can spread sweet like honey between the most unlikely of folks. Sloppy Joes shared with strangers and friends can be a feast of love and grace. When hearts and minds are open barriers fall away and basic human dignity blurs the lines between serving and receiving. That is how it should be; all of us need to give generously, and all of us need to learn to receive gratefully. Above all, we need to learn to love and serve one another lavishly. That just about covers the basics, doesn’t it?
(Photos courtesy kirinqueen and sblezard. Thanks!)