FEET & KINGS
By Brad Abare | Church Marketing Sucks.Com
"I have the shoes you gave her if you want them back," said the trembling voice on the phone.
Every fall for the past few years, my wife Jamaica and I pack our bags and make the long 12-mile car ride up the freeway to Pasadena, not far from our home in downtown Los Angeles. We check into the hotel for what will be a series of weeklong meetings for me. With a schedule that runs from early morning through late evening, I usually stay at the hotel, which provides a variety of conveniences, including a commute that lasts as long as an elevator ride. It's also nice when Jamaica can stay with me, which was the case on this occasion.
On one evening during the meetings last fall, I returned to the hotel room after a long day of deliberations. Jamaica had arrived a few minutes before me, herself returning from a home(less) group we're a part of. Our small group consists of people with homes and people without homes. A handful of us gather at a local McDonald's each week—a hub for many homeless in the area—to share fries and friendship.
One of our friends on this particular night was barefoot and had lost her shoes. In a blink, Jamaica took her shoes off and gave them to Medea. If you don't know my wife, this is the way she's wired. It's second nature for her to live and give sacrificially.
The funny part of this story is when Jamaica came back to the hotel. As she got out of the car and gave the keys to the valet (the only way to park at this hotel), the attendant noticed she was barefoot. "Are you a guest here?" said the inquisitive valet guy. "Yes, I'm in room 621." Jamaica proceeded to collect her things and walk through the fancy lobby, up the elevator and to our room. Barefoot.
We received the tear-filled call from Dottie the next day. Dottie and Medea are a regular part of our home(less) group that meets each week. Because of my all day and night meetings, I was unable to participate in the previous evening's assembly. I later learned that Jamaica and Medea spent an unusual amount of time with each other that night. Come to find out, giving her shoes to Medea was the culmination of a strong bonding time they shared through conversation and the care-filled presence of one another.
The call from Dottie, in a voice that choked with emotion, was to inform us of Medea's sudden death. Medea was found face-down in the dirt. She was still wearing Jamaica's shoes that she had received the night before. From what we can gather, Medea died of liver failure.
For reasons different than the passing of those familiar to our lives, it's challenging to mourn the life of an invisible person. Who witnessed her life? Where is her family? Who will miss her? What impact did she have on people for the last half a century? Was Medea even her real name?
Several of us gathered the next week in a small open field under some power lines. It was the space Medea called home, just a few feet from a major traffic intersection. Huddled around the glow of a few candles, we read Scripture and prayed. We shared memories of the Medea we knew so briefly, and ended with a group recitation of the Lord's Prayer.
Here in the U.S., we recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The annual holiday to honor a man who believed "that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." As I reflect on King and what his life meant to the marginalized, I can't help but think how much work still remains to be done for you and I.
For all the Medeas in the world, we need more Kings. We need more people who are summoned to action. "One of the great tragedies of life," said King, "is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying." "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."
I end with a few choice words from the prophet Amos, words quoted many times by King himself. My prayer is that The Liberating King would continue to take residence in our doctrine and our deeds.
"I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice-oceans of it.
I want fairness-rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want."
-Amos 5:21-24 (The Message)
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination, founder of the Center for Church Communication, Church Marketing Sucks and president of Personality, a consulting firm that helps organizations figure out who they are. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles.