Thursday, December 27, 2007

My neighbors are aliens [Cody, UHW staff]

In some recent reading I have been doing on a "Christian perspective" on the US Immigration issues, I have come upon this very crystal-clear passage, and in light of new events in my neighborhood, it takes on equally crystalline implications:

“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34).”

You see, my new neighbors are "aliens." In fact, aliens are transforming my block.

Thanks to one of the top 10 or so snowiest December's on record, I got to meet the newest addition to our little "United Nations" block in south Minneapolis. After the most recent fluffy deluge, I was outside shoveling my walk, and I saw my newest neighbors attempting to clear off their sidewalks. I say "attempting" because they were trying to shovel 6" of snowfall with a spade shovel, which is all they had. And as a native Minnesotan, I am sort of a snow shovel savant , so I had to step in (any seasoned shoveler would have done it). And that is how I met Ali and Hayat, the Somali family that now lives two doors down.

The house they moved into is more than just the new neighbors house. It represents a lot microcosmically about certain 'issues' that are impacting our country:

-The last people to own the house were a Mexican family [issue: immigrants, documented and undocumented most likely].

-They lost the house due to both immigration paperwork issues (the father was deported) AND the resulting inability of the now abandoned mother-of-three to pay her escalating mortgage payment on their adjustable rate mortgage they got talked into by some modern day carpet-bagger [issue: foreclosure epidemic].

-The house sat vacant for over a year. The copper was stolen [issue: globalization. One of the reasons copper prices have escalated is due to the massive amount of copper needed for construction projects in China, India, and South America]. Eventually it was boarded up.

-Then signs of new life! Hammers a-pounding! I went to over one day to see who was building, and try to get a little inside information. The construction crew were all Ecuadorian workers, led by a Mexican guy who had great control of the English language [issue: immigration, again].

-The house was completed, and Ali, Hayat, and their brood moved in [issue: refugee/immigration, again. And in this case, if you know the reason Somali's got to MN in the first place: US Foreign Policy, East African national and ethnic tensions].

So, now I have new neighbors, and I look forward to seeing how our paths will cross again. And if I ever wonder what attitude I am to take concerning these 'aliens' who are my neighbors, I think that passage in Leviticus makes it pretty clear: I am supposed to love them as much as I love myself (which is an awful lot, I must admit) and to treat them as "native-born." Welcome to the neighborhood, Ali and Hayat.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Come Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest [Oakland Avenue house]

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and turn this food from damned to blessed." -Thanksgiving Prayer, Latarra age 11

Gratitude, credit, merit, appreciation. So many words exist to express thankfulness. Yet I have a hard time describing the feelings that overtook me last Wednesday. Let me explain. A while back my roommates and I decided to throw a community Thanksgiving meal. It started small; the family downstairs (we live in a UH duplex), maybe a significant other, and ourselves. But I think more than one of us has the spiritual gift of hospitality. For when we tallied the final guest list we realized 25 adults, 4 babies, and a pre-schooler were coming for dinner!! I’ll also note at least 5 people were invited but couldn’t come.

So before all the tryptophan lulls me to sleep, I will indeed count my blessings instead of sheep and share with you all the experience that has left such a big impact on my gut . . . and my soul.

Blessing #1: Generosity of others.
The idea for this meal came when Youthworks, a partner ministry of Urban Homeworks, offered to provide Thanksgiving meals for urban neighbors wanting to invite over those placed in the “have not” category of life.

Blessing #2: Increased generosity of others.
When some folks working at Bethel Seminary got wind of the meal, they chipped in and made homemade pies and side dishes for the feast.

Blessing #3: Beauty
We were very intentional to create a beautiful environment for our guests: white table cloths, candles, fresh cut flowers, and place cards adorned our tables. Beauty spread from the table to the faces of our guests. When you are valued enough to be invited to a beautiful banquet, it says that YOU must be beautiful to have deserved the invite in the first place.

Blessing #4: Diversity
Our guests were a mixed group of Section 8 families, poor high school students, lonely neighbors, and friends.

Blessing #5: Love
There was nothing in the Wassail, but by the end of the night we were jolly enough to clink glasses with our neighbors and embrace one another. Babies were passed around the room, numbers were exchanged between possible mentors and mentees, and a spirit of service and sacrifice led many to stay for hours to help clean. Relationships were formed and strengthened, and God’s Spirit of Love was present.

As I said earlier, words don’t do justice to the true emotion of the night. I remember reflecting on it all as I drove my students home. It was more than a magical Disney feeling, more than just a good time. I know God blesses those who take care of his poor. So maybe the feeling is blessing #6. If so, it’s the best one. It’s been the longest lasting. I don’t have all the right words to describe it, but here are a few: grace, fortitude, peace, hope.