Washing dishes and bursting bubbles

Washing Dishes

As my time at the Haven progresses, I find myself becoming accustomed to the daily tasks required to make the day shelter run. Especially in the kitchen, I often feel like there is a certain rhythm that characterizes the hours leading up to and during the preparation and serving of the meal. Akin to the motion of the waves, a circular pattern of preparation and clean-up has emerged that is only strengthened by the ebb and flow of the guests filtering through the breakfast line from 8:00-9:00 AM. This timing is a credit to those who run the kitchen and the countless volunteers who frequently give their time to learn the rhythm of the kitchen, making sure that breakfast runs smoothly. I too have felt swept up by this perpetual, almost musical tide of the Haven’s routine. I know that the coffee mugs must be placed, the fruit salad must be cut, eggs must be fried and served, and all the dishes must be washed and sanitized and that it will all start again tomorrow. This organization is what makes the Haven work. It makes sense in my head. It is, dare I say, comfortable?

The last thing that I would ever want is to detract from the routine. It is both logical and rational and allows the Haven to run efficiently both in terms of providing for immediate needs and balancing its budget. This organization is essential and any shelter could not succeed without this forethought and planning. This order is wonderful and fits seamlessly into my comfort zone and personality. At the same time, that’s the problem. I entered into this internship to step outside of my realm of comfortability because I believe that that is where God is found. If reading Loring, Nouwen, Day, and Ekblad have taught me anything, it is that working with the poor and oppressed is an adventure. It has intense moments of jubilation and theological breakthrough coupled with heartbreak and mourning, but it is only possible if we step out of what we deem is acceptable. We are entering into the lives of those on the margins with humility and respect, weakness and trembling, hoping to glimpse God’s Kingdom in the here and now. We open ourselves to be vulnerable and empathize with those that God created. But how can this be done when the novelty of our circumstances wears off? How can I interact with homeless folks when the routine I have created for myself creates two distinct social spaces; the work of the kitchen where I am secure and the true lives and stories of those being served? I, at times, perform my work, “serve” those who are in need, and then leave with nothing to think or write about. Within my security bubble behind the serving counter, no true theological reflection occurs. My bubble needed to be burst, and Lee helped that to happen.

Lee is one of the homeless men that frequently comes to the shelter for breakfast. He has done so for years and has also become accustomed to the receiving end of the Haven’s routine. The novelty for Lee wore off long ago. Last week, he showed me that the bubble of security that I unconsciously put up would and could not stand. After breakfast, Lee asked to come help me with the dishes. While this was a task that I usually performed alone as another fixed part of my routine, I was eager to have extra help, and we began to clean. Clunky and awkward to start, we soon developed our own rhythm. We were no longer two people on opposite sides of a counter living in different worlds, but rather two people working together. As previously explored by the likes of Peter Maupin, Clarence Jordan, Dorothy Day and countless others, the communal aspects of working for a common goal became evident quickly. Lee and me: talking, washing, and building community through work. It was a small moment, but profound. Maybe that is what hospitality fosters at the Haven. An opportunity for me to enter into a new situation, become lulled into a comfort zone and then humbled. A chance for God to crash into my bubble and dare me to step out to where Lee was–and where God was. Similarly, hospitality at the Haven gave Lee a place where he was treated with dignity and respect so much that he had the confidence to burst my comfort bubble with no fear of judgment. Meeting his immediate needs led to an outpouring of generosity and an opening for God to teach me incredible things through his actions. Perhaps God uses a theology of hospitality to dignify the margins, use the unprivileged to humble and teach the privileged, and to build community and friendship in the place of and across perceived social, racial and economic barriers. Bob Ekblad in his time having Bible studies in prisons said, “In my years visiting people here in the jail I have learned more from inmates than I ever learned in seminary” (Ekblad, 23) and I’m beginning to see where he’s coming from.

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