This morning I attended a zoning hearing with my dad in the St. Louis City Hall building. I felt like I’d been in this same spot before. My dad the dangerous threat to property values. Blah. . .blah. . . blah.
The last hearing I was at was in Chicago. The hearing was to allow Cornerstone Community Outreach to make much needed repairs. Neighbor after neighbor stood up to complain that our homeless shelter was a crime magnet. Then, one local philanthropist’s words really stung: “The homeless are better off in the streets than in your shelter.”
But this hearing was hardly about the homeless. The proposed center would be used as an education facility regarding Renewable Energy. Several stood to say, “We don’t mind this idea, it’s a good one. Just not here.” There you go. Those magic words “Property Values” were spoken again. After the hearing, where twenty-seven people volunteered to sign a blank steno piece of paper in order to make their opposition official, we got up and walked out to the lobby where we were met by two reporters.
“So now what are you going to do?” They wanted desperately to hear the words from dad, “Just for that, I’m going to turn that property into a homeless shelter!” They kept reasking the question different ways to get him to say that. I couldn’t stand it and I butted in twice:
“This is about fear. It’s not about this location or Renewable Energy. It’s about what this man represents. To their minds he is a gauntlet, a red flag.”
I doubt that will get printed. We’ll see what happens.
It never ceases to amaze me what kind of fear my dad inspires in people. New Life Evangelistic Center began in 1972. Some talk about him and this work as though he is a bumbling, inexperienced, neophyte who needs to be kept away from decent, civilized people with property values to protect. I’m surprised at myself on this trip. I’ve really felt quite calm. Taken in stride, NLEC has seen much bigger battles.
I’m rereading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out and Jean Vanier’s Community and Growth. I hear the Holy Spirit shouting at me in their words. Jean Vanier writes:
“Cultures in rich societies are inciting people to an easy way of life. The values of wealth, power, and pleasure are seductive. But the gospel values are calling us to love, and to love even our enemies; to be present to the poor, and to live poorly, trusting in God; to be peacemakers in a world of war. . .
Each individual person in a community must be nourished in love. If not, he or she will sooner or later find him or herself in opposition to the life of the community and its demands of love and forgiveness.” (pg. 166)
Amen. Lord, grant me your love, open my heart to this nourishment. Give us this day our daily bread. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!