This past weekend, Hilary and I made our annual holiday pilgrimage to the Bay Area. Our primary purpose was to visit Hilary’s 92- year-old mom, Virginia, and have lunch with Hilary’s family on Sunday. We were also excited to meet our recently found 52-year-old nephew and his fiancée—but more on that later.
Saturday night we had dinner with our dear old-over 50 years of friendship old- friends, Stan and Robin and Mike and Yvonne at Sociale, a charming Italian restaurant in upscale Presidio Heights.
The next morning, as is our custom, we attended the 9:00 a.m. service at GLIDE MEMORIAL CHURCH in a vastly different part of town at the corner of Taylor and Ellis Streets in the Tenderloin District.
Glide was founded over 50 years ago by the revered Rev. Cecil Williams and is the epitome of diversity serving the most underserved, downtrodden, addicted, homeless, and sexually and racially discriminated communities in the Bay Area. Their mantra: Everyone is welcome at Glide.
On my left sat Erin, an openly gay older gentleman decked out in a very natty faux-leopard skin sport coat. In front of us was a multi-generation family visiting from Madrid. To Hilary’s right was a young black man, Darnell, who had spent the previous night on the streets. Behind was a young white couple from Marin with their three restless children all under the age of 5.
The meet and greet at the beginning of the service goes on for over 5 minutes. It’s a huge hug fest. Everyone holds hands as songs are belted out by the best gospel choir-ensemble in the Bay Area, backed up by the renowned Change Band.
We arrived early, and soon were greeted by a very nice woman, Mary, who looked like one of Hilary’s sisters, and the effusive Reverend Marvin K. White, Glide’s Minister of Celebration. He said he was very nervous and woefully unprepared to deliver the morning sermon. Turns out he was pulling our leg. Here’s Reverend White talking about World AIDS Day.
Luke 2, the Birth of Jesus, was the focal point his sermon. His seemingly effortless ability to draw parallels from the past to the present reminded us of our own intellectually gifted pastor, the Reverend Jack Baca, of the Village Church in the lily-white, exclusive community of Rancho Santa Fe. That was perhaps the only thing these two houses of the Lord have in common.
Full-term Mary and come with her husband-to-be, Joseph, to the town of Bethlehem to register as a member of the David tribe in the census ordered by the then-ruler of Syria. They were there to be counted. They could only find a manger—back then the equivalent of the streets—to sleep. And that is where Mary delivered her Son, Jesus. Rev. White queried:
If the purpose of the census today is to allocate resources to those communities who need it the most, then why do we make it so hard for the homeless, the undocumented, the mentally-ill, those on the run, the non-straight, the unemployed, the unplugged, to be counted? Don’t they count?
Sleep deprivation is now recognized by the Center for Disease Control as a disease. On any given night there are over 7,500 people living on the streets. The homeless are severely sleep deprived and their erratic and—to many—frightening behavior is directly attributed to the inability to get enough sleep. The Census isn’t high on their list of priorities.
He went on to talk about light and love. Rev. White observed that:
Everyone is full of light and love, just like Jesus. Yet we have a woefully hard time showing and sharing our light and looking into the eyes of others for their light. Rich, poor, sheltered, unsheltered, gay, straight—we’re all born with the same amount of light and we’re ubiquitously and woefully guarded, protective, selfish and afraid of our light and the light of others. Many of us live in darkness or the dimmest of light. When the light breaks through, as when the angel appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Messiah, and the glory and light of the Lord shown around them, we can begin to see that which has been hidden from us. And when our eyes adjust to the light we have to see things differently.
All people bring good news. There is good news in everybody, if we will only unburden ourselves with the baggage- the prejudices, the false assumptions, the baked-in preconceptions–and really look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters no matter if they sleep in the inn or outside of town in a manger on a bed of straw.
[If you would like to get the full dose of the service and listen to Rev. White’s sermon, click on this link to the Glide website, go to Church/Celebrate Online and navigate to the 9:00 a.m. December 15 podcast. ]
Throughout Rev. White’s sermon, a grizzled, toothless black man who has always been there when we are, frequently shouted out encouragement and agreement, “COME ON, NOW!”
I’ve never heard that at the Village Church. Nor have I ever heard or seen anyone like Stacy get up and tell their story.
That’s why we love Glide and why we always walk out feeling a little more hopeful about our species and our planet.
Luke 2 New International Version (NIV)
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.