Howard Thurman taught that God is found among the oppressed and in the struggle for freedom.
At times, being present where God is feels like stepping on sacred ground. Every day I experience greater joy, richer community, and deeper faith than any I have ever found. While joy is grasped in one hand, the pain of struggle is held in the other. To place oneself among the most vulnerable, is to care deeply for people experiencing violence, addiction, mental illness, and abuse.
Three weeks ago I ate dinner with Carol Herbin at the Reeb Avenue Center community meal. I have known Carol as a gifted singer and gracious personality with a smile as big as her huge car. Carol shared with me the story of how she had become a member of the Church for All People. Initially, she came only to eat breakfast and left. On several occasions she had been invited to stay for worship, but politely declined. That is, until she heard the voice of Eileen Howard rehearsing. It was the music that first caught her and it was through the music that Carol shared the gift of grace she had received.
I responded to Carol that it was because of Eileen’s husband, George Howard, that I ended up as a missionary at the Church for All People. In this conversation, we also learned that we were both adopted and shared our stories. Carol did not have children or a large family where she found love and support, the church was her home.
Less than four days later, Carol died too young and too suddenly in a tragic house fire.
As I sat in church yesterday, I kept looking and listening for Carol. She often sat two steps outside the door to my office and in my denial I keep expecting to find her there.
Before the start of yesterday’s sermon I looked down at my phone to discover a message that said one of my closest friends from the homeless community of Albuquerque, Lauren Jim, died. Lauren grew up in an abusive childhood, his bed as a child was often behind the jukebox of a bar. Despite this background that led to his own alcoholism, Lauren filled the world with the art, music, spirituality, social justice, and love from his Native American background.
I remember asking Lauren about being homeless, he said the stars were his blanket and he felt claustrophobic indoors. However, in the last months of his life he had moved in to an apartment. He found shelter and warmth and home. While the clutches of addiction took his physical life, he now found home.
There is no better place to dwell than within the house of the Lord, but our home feels very empty today without the love and music of Carol and Lauren. Yet, amongst my broken heartedness, I know that for the first time in their lives, they are home.