We held hands. Eighty or so people. Black and white. Male and female. Straight and LBGTQ. Housed and homeless. We held hands in the circle of prayer that begins each morning at Manna House.
“God be with the family and friends of the two African American men killed in the last 48 hours by the police.”
Heads were bowed. Several gave their “Amen.”
“Can I get a witness?” I asked, “How many of you have been stopped or harassed by the police? Raise your hand.”
Every guest raised their hands. So did several volunteers.
“God keep our guests safe on the streets.” And then our usual blessing for coffee and the sugar proceeded and the blessing for the creamer took on additional poignant meaning, “God bless the creamer. May it take all life’s bitterness away.”
After the prayer a few guests came up to me, one by one, all African American.
“You know it happens all the time.”
“I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been stopped.”
“They just ride you and ride you.”
“I try to stay low; out of sight.”
“Doesn’t matter what you do, they on you.”
I thought of a friend of mine, a black mother, the wife of a minister. She told the story of how yesterday she and her son (he’s not yet even a teenager) were riding their bikes in their neighborhood. The police stopped them. Questioned them. As she said, “I hate being stereotyped by cops in my own neighborhood.” And today she said, “Trying to find the words to explain to my son.”
Where’s the Gospel in this? Where’s the good news that can be shared? Where’s Jesus?
In “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God,” Kelly Brown Douglass writes, “What we know for sure is that God was not a part of the crucifying mob. Thus on the night when Trayvon [and Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille and the hundred plus other African Americans killed by the cops this year] was slain, God was where life was crying out to be free from the crucifying death of stand-your-ground-culture.”
And this brings me back to Manna House.
Twenty five men, mostly African American, all without housing, showered at Manna House this morning. They all got fresh clean clothes. Many got shoes to replace the ones worn out from walking the streets, looking for work, looking for food, looking for a place to stay.
Another fifty-one or so got “socks and hygiene” a few items to be able to wash up elsewhere plus a fresh t-shirt.
All of these people and more enjoyed the backyard of Manna House where the shade provided some relief from the heat, coffee was served, haircuts were given, and conversation or sleep came easy.
This place is a sanctuary.
And this also means the police are not allowed to freely come onto the property. Our guests know this and are thankful. We have turned police away on a dozen or more occasions.
As a sanctuary, what we seek to do is rather simple: be a place for resurrection instead of crucifixion, be a place for life instead of death, be a place of welcome rather than rejection. And we’ll keep doing this as we also join with others to change the systems that make such place of sanctuary necessary.