Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shelter In The Cold

We went to a rewarding Christmas Eve religious service at a place called Nativity House. It's a daytime shelter for those living on the streets or otherwise in impoverishment. The people can drop in during the day, get coffee and soup, read books, play cards, and create art. --Or just hang out and stay warm, converse.

Those attending the service were chiefly members of a Jesuit parish, or affiliated with Nativity House (serving on the board), or just knowledgeable about what NH does. (It's been in Tacoma for 30 years.) A few drop-in regulars attended, too, and one played guitar.

Presiding were a Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest. The latter is Fr. Bill Bischel, known as Father Bix locally. He routinely gets arrested when he chains himself to a gate at (for example) the Bangor, Washington, nuclear submarine base. Bix's argument, among others, is that any nuclear weapon violates international law because it produces indiscriminate killing. He goes to trial again soon.

But that was not the purpose of this evening's Christmas service. Rather the purpose was, aside from the obvious, to consider those without shelter--no room at the inn, and all that.

The service featured many lovely "mistakes," owing to two ministers presiding (both pushing 80) and other factors. Also helping to preside were both Lutheran and Jesuit volunteers--men and women who had graduated from college and wanted to volunteer for a year. One of them told us, "I'm not a Lutheran, but I'm a Lutheran volunteer because I wanted to work with the homeless."

In place of the eucharistic bread was hard-tack; in place of the wine was cranberry juice. "The wine has been transformed into cranberry juice," observed Father Bix, calmly.

In that spirit, if you will, Nativity House never proselytizes or preaches. It provides the space, the warmth, the food, and the clothes. That is all. That is enough, almost. Too much need, not quite enough material and good will. As we wait for a better system, so to speak, we do some semblance of what we can.
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