So I’m answering phones at work over lunch…(It’s one of those egalitarian things that everyone at my work shares, in case the world falls apart while we are taking a break and we don’t know about it.) Mostly I’m doing my best impression of a Dial-M-for-Murder operator from the 1940s … “What extension please? I’m sooo sorry. She’s away from her desk right now or perhaps downtown destabilizing the International Monetary Fund. Would you like to leave a message on her voice mail?” And, even though we are a magazine, I for one am not at all capable of handling a simple subscription question, so I leave the real receptionist something under 100,000 renewal requests on small sticky notes casually plastered across her desktop.
So this time at lunch…with the handset already warm and sweaty, I yank it off the cradle and hear a broken down man’s voice saying, “Is this Sojourners? I need you to pray for me.” Then the line went dead.
Even though I am Catholic and there’s probably something in the rule book against “laying hands on” inanimate objects, I put both hands on the phone and prayed with all my might.
Where ever you are sir, may the angels escort you..
Here are answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions about traveling on the Jesus Road.
1. Who else will be going with us?
Well, some guy from the IRS signed up. A couple of machinists (one’s even non-union). There are some middle-aged women who knew how to buy low and sell high, kicking in a little cash for the trip. A girl in the sex trade business who might bring a couple of her friends who are exotic dancers. A few 20-something anarchists who want to yank the hinge pin out of the whole damn Pax America project. A soccer mom. One guy who identifies himself as a “pretty much reformed” sex offender. A Gulf war vet. A minister or two who will hook up after their evening church meetings are done. We’ll most likely pick up more folks as we go along.
2. What do I need to bring?
It’s pretty much a come-as-you-are arrangement. Good walking shoes. Maybe a water bottle. We’re not sure how far we’re going so it’s best to pack light. We can get what we need along the way.
3. What will we talk about?
What things make you happy. Who you love. Who you hate. Why cities are so tall. What to do when so many people come to the picnic that you run out of food. How to be a good person. What to do when your friends leave you high and dry. How to fight for what’s right without using your fists. Who God is. How to deal with a bad boss. How to tell the difference between a phony bill of goods and the genuine article. How to mourn. How to get rid of money so it doesn’t weigh you down. How to pray. How to forgive. Why people are poor. How to die. How to live.
4. What will we do on the road trip?
We’ll talk in the mornings, get to know each other better. In the afternoons we’ll see if any of the folks in the town we’re in could use a helping hand. Sometimes they just need somebody to watch the kids or get groceries. Sometimes you find people who are real sick and we’ll try to make them well. We’ll check out the jails. See if anybody needs us to trade places with them. We’ll try to help folks turn their lives around. Occasionally we’ll come across a town (and maybe a whole country) with a real devil on its back—we’ll do our best to get it off. We’ll do a little tearing down of old buildings and raising up new ones. We’ll have bread, cheese, and fruit for supper. Drink a little red, red wine. Sometimes we’ll go hungry. But every night we’ll sing, dance, play charades, make up poems, sleep under the trees.
5. Where exactly is it that we are going?
Well, the destination is a little uncertain. We’ve got a map and some pretty good guides. The guy who’s been there before died—got shafted, actually, on a trumped-up felony charge. Didn’t even get “life without parole”—just slipped him the needle. Turned out later he was innocent. Well, innocent of those trumped-up charges, but guilty as hell of wanting to turn the whole “protecting our way of life” enterprise on its ear.
6. What will I tell my family?
By all means, bring them along! But if they won’t come, are too busy, or need a lot of time to pack, then leave them. They’ll come along when they’re ready.
7. Do I have to have special qualifications to join?
Not really. There are no academic requirements, no social status prerequisites. It’s mostly for any kind of folk who want to shed their old life and get born into a new one.
8. Will it be dangerous?
Could be. The police get antsy if the crowd starts getting too big. There’s not really a permit for this kind of thing. But the folks who’ve done this before say you just deal with the danger when it comes along. No need seeking out the authorities. When the time is right, they’ll find us.
I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1986 for a nine month internship with Sojourners community. Twenty-two years later, I still live in D.C. I’ve lived in three different houses, all in the same neighborhood of Columbia Heights, all within four blocks of each other.
I still work for Sojourners. Over the 22 years, I’ve had five different jobs for which I was more or less paid: peace ministry intern, director of the internship program, assistant editor, associate editor, and poetry editor. (On the side, I also freelanced as a pastor/worship leader; had a few horticultural gigs working at the greenhouse and herbarium on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral and a landscaping job for a military retirement home; taught poetry classes; led retreats; and proctored the tests for those taking the GREs.) I live six blocks from where I work.
Even though I live in the capital city of the most militarily powerful country on the globe, my “world” has remained relatively small and contained. I didn’t intend to stay in one place for so long. My desire was to be much more itinerant—owning little, moving frequently, living in the moment.A “bird of the air,” a “lily of the field.” More along the lines of a free-wheeling St. Francis, rather than a cloistered St. Clare.
But, it turned out to be “otherwise,” as poet Jane Kenyon puts it. And I’m extremely grateful for the “otherwise.” I realize now that this accidental vow of stability has rooted me in a neighborhood and given me a perspective on events that I might have missed … otherwise.
It’s given me a perspective on empire and Pax Americana from the vantage point of those who live 20 blocks from the White House, in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood that has had a 30% poverty rate and 11% unemployment rate all the years I’ve lived here.
This experience now leads me now to explore a “theology of place” in urban America from the vantage point of my 100-year-old row house in Columbia Heights.
That’s what you’ll find on this blog … questions about place, people, transition, rootedness, dispossession, owning, stewardship, urban biophilia, green cities, blocks abandoned by empire, oral histories, cracks in the architecture of despair, city planning, urban ministry, city theology, the art of the unexpected, indigenous urban worship, beauty breeding hope, poetry, murals, magical urbanism, guerilla gardening, bible-busting, and tracking Jesus through the back alleys and side streets of “the most important city in the world,” as an obnoxious advertisement for Riggs Bank used to say.
I’m hoping it’ll be the most amazing pilgrimage one can take without ever leaving home.