We Are Scum and We Belong
The atmosphere in the park is heavy. Several police officers and park rangers stand nearby, ensuring that bags are being packed and that everyone is moving along. It’s been a good afternoon, nonetheless. I meet a young couple named after trees, both deciduous and coniferous, whose dogs know who to bark at and who to sniff approvingly. Rounding the corner in front of the library I run into a friend. He warns me to be gentle with his arm which is suffering from an abscess. I’m reminded of an old John Prine lyric, “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes…” He is visibly disappointed as he explains that he has slipped back into old habits, yet he is hopeful, “I’m not going to fall back in as far.” I assure him that he is capable of making positive changes in his life and ask how we can best support him. He tells me, “I really need my father.” Whether that be earthly, biological, surrogate, or heavenly, I don’t know. I walk with him for a time and pray that he encounter ones that are loving and safe. He is shuffling madly across the lawn, his arms full of blankets and bags and his hood pulled down low across his face, a shrouded saint scrambling in search of his next fix. Another friend rides up on a BMX bike and he scurries away, lost in the throng of rush hour commuters, his spirit joining theirs in the chase for fulfillment. They say you can’t fix what’s not broke. Neither can you mend what’s broken with an easy fix. The bike falls to the ground as he sits down on a park bench and unburdens himself of the pack on his back. I offer a sack of cookies, an apple, and a smile, the weight of which he is quick to accept. It’s the weight of weariness, a heaviness of heart that he longs to be free from. He moves his sunglasses from the brim of his hat down over his eyes, hoping to hide the sadness that is clear in them. Motioning to the cops and park rangers, he tells me they have been there since morning. “I don’t know where they want us to go, all we have are public parks. There’s no place for us.” I join him on the bench, our hearts joining in rhythm, syncing and sinking. As I assure him that he belongs, and as I do so I am reminded that I belong. These are my people, this is my place, we are given to one another. “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment”, despised and thrown away in Denver, Colorado, Civic Center Park. Lord, have mercy on us and grant us strength, that our endurance bring glory to your name. Amen.