Street

Church to Go

IN HER LATEST book, Sara Miles—author of the spiritual memoirs Take This Bread and Jesus Freak—goes where traditional and liturgical churches don’t regularly go: into the streets to push the boundaries of public worship. City of God chronicles a day in the life in San Francisco’s Mission District, on one Ash Wednesday when Miles and others from St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church offer “Ashes to Go,” a growing national movement within the Episcopal Church to perform the imposition of ashes outside the church walls on the first day of Lent.

Ash Wednesday works on the street because it has a broad ability to speak to people with “different beliefs about God and very different relationships to the church.” Even so, carrying the observance away from the altar has generated critics. Some liturgists have wondered if, without a proper church context, “the ashes become a meaningless affirmation of our earthly life,” or whether regular folks on the street can really appreciate the profundity of the human condition and mortality without the church to explain it to them. Trusting that people on the street will “get it,” Miles embarked on a day of crossing the traditional borders of worship space to smudge foreheads in McDonald’s, taquerias, hair salons, and botanicas.

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Word on the Street

This month, as we enter the high season of the church year, the common lectionary offers an overwhelming number of biblical passages for our consideration. We leave Matthew temporarily, the gospel assigned for the year, and focus on the gospel of John. Certain aspects of Johannine theology dominate our understanding of Lent and Easter, and the church’s focus is on Jesus’ suffering, death, and divine nature. As a counterpoint I have chosen to reflect onthe life of Jesus and the community around him. Some threads that run through these reflections are resistance, action, and a rag-tag community of outsiders.

Although it wasn’t my plan when I started writing, another uniting factor in these offerings is the street, a place where I have most consistently found, or been found by, resurrection. Life in the urban core of modern cities is worlds away from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and more different still from the rural life of peasant farmers and fishers like Jesus and his friends. But in the inner city, these margins at the center of our world and the biblical world intersect. The fragility of lives, the killing effects of poverty, and the stark reality that in the eyes of empire our lives are cheap—these are true in both places. In the city our sacred story encounters the sacred stories of the people who live there.

Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is author of Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus. www.laureldykstra.com

March 2

Panhandling

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“Any spare change? Can you spare any change?” When we hear the words do we look or turn away?

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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