The OCP Blog
“As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” –John 9:1-3
I had a frustrating interaction at the community center a couple months ago. A local pastor, who I’d never seen before, stopped by OCP one morning to invite our community members to a revival his church was holding that evening. Afterwards, he lingered for a while asking me questions about our work and community members. His line of questioning drove towards two main concerns: personal salvation through Christ, and the development of personal responsibility and a strong work ethic. He repeatedly asserted that our society has a major problem with able-bodied folks living off the largesse of society and service agencies because such folks don’t want to work.
As he made this claim his eyes scanned over the room and came to rest on a young man (we’ll call him Nick) sitting by the wall. Pointing to Nick he turned and said, “He looks able bodied. What is he doing here?”
I was stunned by the question.
I pointed out that many of the wounds people carry are invisible.
I didn’t have the right to break Nick’s trust and tell a stranger his story. But what that pastor didn’t know was that Nick has a history of trauma, and that he was here to rest because he barely sleeps at night due to being in a cold, often wet tent, and that he suffers from a debilitating mental illness that prevents him from gaining or maintaining employment. That pastor also didn’t know that Nick is one of our most faithful volunteers who brings a peaceful presence and a ready smile to our community.
The pastor’s question was representative of a kind of violence repeatedly enacted by politicians, pundits, and the privileged towards the poor and homeless in our midst: he gazed on Nick’s body and assumed he was entitled to Nick’s story. While perhaps well-intentioned, his ideas of individual responsibility and hard work prevented him from seeing Nick as a person, but as an object. In his eyes, Nick didn’t belong at OCP.
Let me be clear: OCP does have an agenda, but it is not to try to “fix” people (this rarely works). Rather, our goal is to be a community of restoration and hope. We are working harder than ever at the restoration part, but we don’t require anyone to be worthy of our community. People come to us carrying heavy loads, both visible and invisible. We don’t put healing on a timetable. And neither do we ask people to become self-sufficient. None of us are. We all need community to sustain us and give us hope.
Why is Nick hanging out at OCP? Hopefully it is because we are his community, and we will be his community even if all he can do today is sit by the wall.
Eric Olson-Getty, M.Div
Director of Development & Administration