Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—
A few days ago I picked up a book called God in the Alley by Greg Paul (you can find the book on the Indigo website here). Greg is a pastor who has, for many years, worked with the Sanctuary community in Toronto. I've met Greg once or twice, and I vaguely remember reading this book when I was in seminary. It seemed time for a refresher.
This week, finding myself in ongoing conversations with folks about homelessness in Castlegar, and with folks like our neighbour tenting on church grounds, it seemed vital to reawaken my imagination. How do we approach situations—and people stuck in situations—of homelessness?
The thing about God in the Alley is that it's not a how-to guide. It's not a ten-step approach to ending homelessness now. If it had been so, we could wonder at the plan's efficacy. There are still plenty of homeless people in Toronto, and many more across the country. What Greg does in this book is humanize people who are homeless. He tells stories, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people he's met and ministered amongst over the years. And, he tells the story of his own responses—sometimes loving, sometimes angry, sometimes frustrated—to these very same folks.
What I appreciate most about this book (and it's a short one—126 pages all told) is the loving narration of these stories, even as they touch on deep hurt and conflict. There's something about the way in which the author writes that betrays his deep love for the people he encounters on the street. The theme offered with the book's subtitle ("Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World") is woven throughout.
As he shares his perspective on the Sanctuary community, Greg Paul remarks at and meditates on instances when he feels as though he is receiving visitation from Jesus through his homeless friends. At other times, he tells of the opportunity to speak a word of love or kindness or affirmation or challenge, wondering if these have been opportunities to embody the Christ life in particular ways.
Towards the end of the book, the author writes,
These stories of my friends reveal a peculiar paradox: I am more likely to have Jesus revealed to me and through me in weakness than in strength, sinfulness than in purity, or doubt than in perfect faithfulness. If I can sum up all these "failures of the spirit," all these ways in which nothing ever seems to work the way it should—not the people around me, not the sequences of events that I witness or in which I find myself engaged, and certainly not the operation of my own contrary heart—if I can sum up all these things with the single term brokenness, then I come to this astonishing conclusion: Jesus is found in brokenness.
And oh, what a challenge this is. Not just to see that Jesus is present in the brokenness of our homeless neighbours, but that Jesus is present in all brokenness—ours included. When we are at our end. When we feel hopeless. When we are down on ourselves. When we curse our frailty. When we are overwhelmed by our addictions, and the many ways in which we cover up our loneliness. When we feel distant from others or from God or from ourselves. This is where Jesus is to be found.
Jesus is found in brokenness. And isn't that good news? Isn't that good news for us and for the rest of the world? When Jesus pronounces the Beatitudes, that list of blessings he proclaims in his sermon on the plain (Luke 6), he shares a series of counterintuitive truths.
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh."
Jesus pronounces blessing upon blessing, and he pronounces these blessings—in the hear and now—to those with far less than enough. The blessing doesn't wait for everything to be right, or comfortable, or whole, but it comes for us when we are at our lowest, when we are in need, when we cannot go it alone.
And that, I think is what this book, God in the Alley bears witness to. We cannot go it alone. We need to journey with Jesus. We need to journey with one another. We need to journey with our true selves.
Together—in the midst of our brokenness—God shows up. God shows up for you, and for me, and for those who access the Food Bank, and for those who have no place to call home, and for those who are sad, or isolated, or alone, and so many more besides.
And where does Jesus invite us to go? Jesus invites us to walk with him and his friends. Jesus invites us to join with his gang of misfits (broken and beautiful as we are) to embody a new way of living. A way of blessing that is marked by brokenness. A way of blessing that calls into question the lies of our culture (you'll know you're blessed when you have all that you want) and replaces them with the blessing of a broken and vulnerable community inspired by Holy Spirit.
I am grateful, this week, for this book. For Greg Paul's story, and the story of his friends. I am grateful for his story because it reminds me—it reminds us!—of how we are to be with one another. God in the Alley reminds us that Jesus has come for us, not when we have it all together, but especially when we don't. Such vulnerability is so difficult to enter into. And yet, isn't it what the gospel requires of us?
Aren't we called to inhabit the world in ways that bear witness to the wholeness that comes when we allow God, others, and ourselves into our brokenness? And isn't this the very place that we often find that Love was there all along.
Valhalla Parish Missioner