At the homeless shelter where I volunteer, they offer an occasional “snack and learn” session where volunteers and staff can come to listen to a leader (from a particular department at the shelter) share about their work. It’s a great
way of learning more about the various areas of the organization and the community it serves.
This week’s session was facilitated by the leader of Spiritual Care Services, a lovely, caring woman of Christian faith,
and of an open mind and heart supporting the full range of physical, mental, and spiritual needs of the community, no matter the personal faith, belief, culture, race, history, or sexual orientation of any individual. The homeless and suffering community at
the shelter come in every human form, and her mission is simply to provide room for all of it with safety, love, respect, compassion, and understanding.
At the same time, a significant part of her focus includes fostering
reconciliation for the harm done by Christianity toward the Indigenous community, since they make up a significant portion of those suffering; a direct result of their history of colonization and marginalization, and the cascading effects on each subsequent
generation for the last 200 years or so.
Overall, the feeling she was coming from as she spoke was soft and kind.
At the session there was a wide range of volunteers and staff workers from
various faiths including at least two volunteers who’s view of Christianity was primarily of winning the fight between good and evil and doing so by bringing individuals to their specific understanding of Christ and the Bible’s teachings. One of
them was a “not-yet-started-volunteer-and-checking-it-out-first” person who explained his own faith, and then seemed genuinely curious in asking how the shelter manages the balance between helping the suffering but not accepting or supporting their
non-Christian faiths or evil behaviours. Where does the shelter draw the line?
The other one had come to the shelter over a year ago, helping out in the facility that sorts and distributes clothing. She talked about her sense
that the homeless shelter was being intentionally misleading, purporting a Christian faith, but only under the guise of getting more financial help and services from the surrounding Christian community. She seemed somewhat tense and unhappy, but advised that
she continued to volunteer despite eventually discovering that the organization did not hold or administer to her Christian beliefs.
As I listened to everyone’s sharing, some of them pointing to the universal nature
of God, and many giving their advice and sharing their own beliefs, I noticed the feeling in the room. The tension in word and tone would rise and fall based on wherever each person was coming from, and how they were engaging with others. There wasn’t
much asking out of genuine curiosity. There was more just telling… sometimes in a more neutral or lighthearted way, and sometimes in a subtle or not-so-subtle judgmental way.
The Spiritual Care leader and several other
shelter employees did her best to calmly and pleasantly navigate the conversation and share their own understanding of the shelter’s mission.
Initially I was feeling pretty uncomfortable and judgmental about the two
individuals with their fundamental beliefs. At the same time, I felt that I knew enough to NOT jump into the middle of the discussion, sharing yet another version of what appears to be “right”. Instead I just sat, attempting to listen as best as
I could, and in an odd way, enjoying the observation of the feelings in me and in the room. I was aware that at the most fundamental level of life, I was simply experiencing the richness of humanity in all its forms (me included), just as I experience it with
the guests I get to meet at the shelter.
After the meeting, with time to reflect, I got a little clearer. I realized that although I had some level of understanding of what was happening in the room and happening within myself
(which is already something I’m incredibly grateful for), I hadn’t been at all curious about those who were sharing their fundamental beliefs. I wasn’t considering being in their shoes, feeling the struggle of fighting against evil and working
with a genuine and heartfelt desire toward the salvation of mankind. It didn’t occur to me to ask them questions to learn more about what they see and how they see it, and to give them the same love and understanding that I offer to the guests that come
to the shelter.
It’s not uncommon for me to go in this direction. It easily occurs to me to offer love and understanding to “those on the front lines of vulnerability and injustice”, but rarely to offer
the same love and understanding to those I deem as “should know better”, either because of their apparent privilege or their apparent status.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered enough about life and love to continue
to receive little nudges from the universe about which direction to look in. I eventually somehow fall out of my head and into my heart, fall out of my disconnect and back into my connection to our common humanity, and remember again that my only job is to
love with understanding and without condition. From that place, everything easily and beautifully takes care of itself.