This past weekend was the weekend before Haloween, and as such, Gastown was flooded with people. I had the privilege of guiding some college students around the DTES, introducing them to my friends and to my neighbourhood. As we walked back and forth from Hastings to Gastown on that wet rainy night, we saw the crowds gathered, engaging in their vice of choice. On Hastings, the drug pushers and the addicted interacted, exchanging money and favours for a little bit of rock or a shot of heroin. On the streets of Gastown, in front of the Blarney Stone, the Whiskey Bar, and many others, crowds stood in the rain waiting for a chance to enter and imbibe. The girls wearing their ‘sexy’ costumes, the guys staring at them and playing along with the hope of some action (perhaps bought with a few rounds of drinks? hmmm.), the bouncers and the bartenders looking on, ‘just doing their job’.
Are we really that different? Is the upscale really less hurting because they happen to still have some room on their nearly-maxed credit cards for a few rounds of drinks? Besides the legality of the action, I don’t see a lot of difference. This isn’t just about alcohol though; it’s about filling a void.
While for some it’s alcohol, and for another it’s crack, for someone else it might be shopping, or work, or porn, or food. We hurt because we isolate ourselves, and because we have been hurt. We lack compassion because we don’t understand that compassion is being shown to us, if only we are able to accept it.
After a night of revelry, some will return to their rented beds in high-rises, and others will return to their shelter, or SRO, or chunk of cardboard under an awning. In the morning all will be hung over, all will be filled with regret. One group, however, is glamorized for its indulgences, while the other is criminalized.
It comes down to this: Who do we serve? the desire to serve the god of Self is strong. ‘I need this.’ I need that.’ ‘Finders Keepers’ ‘The Early Bird Gets the Worm’ ‘There’s no ‘I’ in Team, but there is an ‘M’ and an ‘E’.’ We are an egotistical and self-indulged people. We have no time for one another, no patience for anyone who thinks a little bit different, no care or mercy for the one who was abused and raped and molested by the very people that were supposed to care, protect, and love.
Why? Why can’t we look past the ends of our noses? Why can’t we engage the other as friend and ally? Why have we built an entire society which believes that helping one another out financially is wrong? I don’t know. I just don’t know. What I do know, however, is that God calls us to each other. He calls us into community, a community that transforms rather than condemns. A community that loves incredibly, stupidly, even at risk to itself. A community that gives passionately, and that loves unequivocally. Our commandments are these: Love God, and love the person in the ditch. The person that hates you. The person you despise. That’s your neighbour. Love them.
And yet our churches are full of ‘good’ people wearing nice clothes and singing songs that have the word ‘I’ in them more often than the word ‘We’… or even the word ‘God’, often. We talk about God ‘blessing’ us, about tithing so that we get something back, about how great we are and how terrible THEY are.
God forgive us. Please, show your mercy.