Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Discipline of the Interrupted Life

I love my family, but I would be lying if a wee solo 24 hour trip to Manchester 2 weeks ago didn't fill me with a little excitement.  I love travelling.  I love all the arranging and organising and I really enjoy travelling by train (except the TransPennine Express which is absolutely awful).  I arrived in Manchester around 8pm on a dark cold November night and immediately got lost.  I walked up increasingly dark and deserted streets while google maps kept re calibrating or in my case not calibrating at all. Trams in Manchester seem to come from nowhere and I was almost flattened several times.  I was amazed to find a tent pitched on a postage stamp of grass next to a railway bridge and I met several people who were clearly homeless.  Despite all my confidence and resources I felt like a stranger in a strange land and not a little scared.  I didn't quite shout for my mummy but what I wouldn't have given to find a friendly face that night to guide me to safety.  The thought  of aimlessly walking those dark streets every night without the prospect of a warm meal and a hotel at the end was unimaginable.  Eventually the dim orange glow of my budget hotel came in to view.

It was my first time in an easyhotel which is essentially like a bed with 'walls'.  It would have probably been quieter without the wafer thin walls - at least if it was open plan you could at least shout at people for being noisy, but then there could have been some privacy issues.  I 'unpacked' in my tiny space and began to wish I had paid extra for luggage storage.  The orange glow of my room was beginning to feel like I was sharing a room with Tommy Sheridan so it was time to have a wander round the mean streets again.

My big challenge these days is eating.  Having decided to go gluten and diary free a few months ago, food involves a lot of forward planning.  After meticulous research on the TransPennine nightmare I decided I would hike across town to the Handmade Burger Co for their gluten free menu.  Having been in social work for around 26 years it takes a wee bit to shock me but my walk across town was like walking through a Charles Dickens novel.  The homeless were everywhere.  I saw young women slumped in doorways, lifeless bodies in sleeping bags on the street and huge packs of homeless people on the hunt for warmth and shelter. Beggars were everywhere. 

I arrived at my restaurant devoid of all gluten (and customers) and thoroughly enjoyed my piri piri chicken burger.  It was slightly eerie being in a restaurant completely on my own.  I wondered if perhaps there was some civic emergency that everyone knew about apart from me.  I figured that whatever disaster was coming it was better to face in with some piri piri chicken than on an empty stomach.

My walk back to the hotel was filled with more emaciated figures hovering between life and death on a freezing November night.  The contrast with some of the trendy bars and restaurants in a renewed and vibrant Manchester was very stark.  Bourgeois bars served unpronounceable European beers at exorbitant prices while 100's of 'Manchester's forgotten' shuffled through the night.

The following morning I had a couple of hours to kill before my meeting.  Recent research by Street Soccer here suggests that 41% of people in Scotland are frightened to talk to rough sleepers, 66% have never stopped and talked to a homeless person and 33% of people dismiss homelessness as a self inflicted.  As many people who are homeless say, the highlight of their day is when somebody stops and talk to them, reaches out in friendship and shows some genuine compassion.

The two men I ended up talking to had a familiar story.  Both had been on the streets for over a year.  One came to Manchester on the promise of work which fell through while the other, Scott, had been evicted after rent arrears accumulated.  Scott had spent the night in a multistory car park but had been kicked out by the staff in the morning.  Both were cold and damp by 8am and the next few hours would be a test of endurance both physically and emotionally.

In David Crouch's book 'Playing God - Redeeming the Gift of Power', he talks about the 'discipline of the interrupted life'.  We live our lives so driven and self absorbed that we don't always allow ourselves to be interrupted particularly by those who don't have power.  We are sometimes too busy building God's Kingdom for Him we forget who God prioritised for love and compassion in the Bible: the stranger, the poor, the widow and the orphan.  I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that not only do many Christians not allow themselves to be interrupted by those who lack power in our society but if the widows and orphans walked in to many of our churches they would not feel welcome.  The poor and the powerless make us feel uncomfortable which is why so few of our churches are in poorer areas.

Jesus didn't mind being interrupted.  He lived a pretty disciplined, God focused life and yet he was interrupted all the time.  We see in Mark 5, that Jesus steps off a boat and is immediately met with a  demon possessed man.  Next Jairus approaches him about his very ill daughter.  On the way to the religious leaders house a ceremonially unclean woman with an issue of blood touched Him.  Jesus didn't just allow interruptions he welcomed them.  He had time for the marginalised, the unclean and the outcasts.  Jesus didn't throw His power around as so many Christian leaders and Christians organisations do.  He didn't sit in an ivory tower or a book lined study, he was out amongst the people showing everyone exactly what power looks like.  The Kingdom of God has a very different power dynamic to the world, it cares about the people the world dismisses.  Its followers love the unloved and care for the downtrodden.  Jesus doesn't bully, threaten and scare people because they speak out or ask questions, he welcomes the lost, the lonely and left behind. We may not be able to solve all the worlds problems but we can learn the disciple of an interrupted life.