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  • Ginny Barnhart

Lenten Reflection: Fourth Sunday in Lent

One of the books we read during our “Sacred Ground” course was Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman’s other writings have long stimulated my spiritual journey through his passionate accounts of the frustration that he felt in trying to reconcile modern Christianity with the ways of Jesus, his struggle to surrender that challenge in prayer, and his path to prayerful listening and response. His writings have been both provocative and opening for me, and Jesus and the Disinherited was no exception. It begins with suggestion that:

“Those people who live most obviously with their backs against the wall – for instance, the homeless, the working and jobless poor, the substance abused and abusers, the alienated, misguided, and essentially abandoned young people – are rarely within hearing or seeing range of the company of Jesus’ proclaimed followers. The keepers of the faith of the master often find it very difficult to follow him into the hard places inhabited by the disinherited of America.”

This passage stirred a disquieting reality in me, as I suspect it may for many “followers of Jesus” who are concerned about the social, economic and racial disparities we see and converse about with like-minded people in the communities, churches and places we inhabit. Those concerns and conversations often stimulate us to donate monies or serve in ways we hope better the lives of the “disinherited.” But if we ask ourselves how comfortable we are being in communion with the homeless, poor, addicted and abandoned who live only a short distance from the places we frequent, many of us “keepers of the faith” – myself included - have to admit a greater comfort in “keeping” to the familiar.

This realization hit me two years ago when I began a new job downtown. In my early 20s, I often took the #8 bus into the City down York Road to Greenmount Avenue and then over to the Inner Harbor for work or law school. I became friends with a diverse group of regulars on the bus and played Pinochle with a group of them for several years. But as my work centered in Towson, my trips to the City became less frequent and by car down the JFX. I volunteered at soup kitchens, in legal clinics and for other non-profits in the City, but I rarely spent time more than a few hours each month in the “hard” places, after which I quickly returned home to my softer suburban life.

After I started commuting downtown two years ago, I realized that the fastest way to my office was either via York Road or the Alameda, both of which ultimately connect to Greenmount Avenue. But now instead of conversing with the regulars on the #8 bus, I drive past people waiting for the bus and see how much the houses and businesses along Greenmount have changed. Need and abandonment reflect from the faces and facades I drive past, and I realize that the streets and people that were part of my daily interactive journey 40 years ago have become distant to me since, even though they are but a few miles from my home.

And so it no longer feels enough to contribute money and “serve” occasionally. I know we are called to move beyond the comfortable into genuine communion. My prayer is … How?

-Ginny Barnhart

When have you moved beyond the comfortable into genuine communion? What other opportunities do you have to build on that experience?

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