Sunday 18th Feb 07
For a while now I had a growing desire to do some work, but not regular work, something manually labourous, like when I enjoyed moping the floor at CoH last year. A while ago I had contacted a couple of churches with an offer to help out with 'anything', and while they were grateful, no immediate requests for assistance had materialized. Then about a week ago I was sitting on the steps of St.Pauls (Swanston St side) and noticed how dirty and grimy they were, it looked as though they had never been cleaned. To the side of the steps was a church billboard which read "Church Restoration, can you help?", so I resolved to do something about it..
Later in the week I was sitting at Small Group and they asked me if there was anything they could help me with. At first I said "no, just prayer" but as I sat there I remembered the idea to clean the steps and thought perhaps I could ask them to buy me a bucket and some cleaning materials to do the job. I normally don't like asking for a financial type of assistance, but the more I sat there and thought about it, the more excited I became. In fact I became so excited and energized about asking for their help I could barely sit still and wanted to jump up and run around, what was going on? It took all my effort to contain myself and after the prayer I asked the question, and of course they were more than happy to help, and down to the supermarket we went. None of us had much of an idea what cleaning agent was best for stone steps, but after reading a few we chose Sugar Soap (if anyone knows of something much better, then feel free to let me know). So soon I headed back into the city with a bucket, detergent, scrubbing brush, and gloves.
I carried around the bucket of things around for another couple of days, before I found the time to give it a go. But first I came and sat on the Flinders St Steps at midnight Saturday night. Ethan was there, called me over and asked where I had been the last couple of days, as he had been looking for me. I explained that after being up for three days straight, during the middle of the week, I had crashed at a friend's place for some rest (and to write the big 'catch up' blog - a big thanks to that friend). He reminded me that after our talk last week (when the Justice sign was being put up on the Church wall) I had then shown him the ACME Centre in Fed Square where you could watch students' animation and film work in couched booths, and play video games for free. He said he had been looking for me to thank me, as the cool air conditioned Center had provided him and his gang members with a perfect entertaining escape from the extreme heat that week. He said he had told his gang all about me and then called them over to introduce me personally. The gang members were pretty shy and formal, shook my hand and then moved on to chat among themselves. I let Ethan know it was Jason that had first shown me the Center, and so to pass on his thanks there. Then he asked what I had the bucket for? and I told him I planned to try cleaning the church steps, and right away he asked "Can I help?", surprised I said sure, and that I might try it later that night, and then he headed off with his mates.
An hour later (1am) things grew quiet, and I went over to St.Pauls. I looked at the steps and decided to just clean just one of the stones on the bottom step, at the end, so I could look at it in the light the next day, and check the result. I didn't want to come by the next day and find I had used the wrong agent and turned a whole step green, or something, overnight. First up I had to find some water. The taps around the Church were the kind that had the top bit missing, so I couldn't use them, and I was too shy to ask the fast food stores across the street, and so I headed up to Colins St, where there were some 24hr public toilets, and filled the bucket there. I came back, soaked the stone, and started scrubbing. I took my time, there was no rush, and I enjoyed the work which acted like a meditation. Back and forth, circular motions, patience and thought, it felt good just to sit there and drift away, my mind floated back to St.Francis. He had a vision where God had told him to 'build the Church', which he had taken literally, and then went back to where he had seen a deteriorated Church earlier, and rebuilt it over the next year. Scholars now look back and say God's request was probably metaphorical and that he wanted St.Francis to rebuild the Church as a religion and community, an impact he certainly had during his lifetime, and long after, perhaps even now. So I felt good there, scrubbing away, as it also felt like a literal action of restoration of the Church (stone), which metaphorically reflected my exploration/restoration into the gospels call of direct personal witness to the poor and marginalized. Which in a way was even a restoration of my own relationship with God, which had been lacking these elements in recent years.
An hour later Ethan came across, sat down, and we started scrubbing together (I had picked up an extra pair of gloves, brush and sponge, earlier in the day, in case of this scenario; I just hadn't expected it to happen so soon!). He asked me further about God and told me more of himself. He had a basic understanding of Christianity as his Aunt had taken him to Sunday School as a child for a couple of years, but which then stopped as his Dad was a Buddhist. He then lived on the streets for twenty years, was illiterate and was now about 32. He built a good reputation as a fighter, often attacking first to build fear with reputation, taught Ninjitsu for a while, and now was a Gang leader and respected street identity, occasionally drinking with Robbie's crew, where I first met him. He said he had been watching me for a while, and recently felt touched by my preaching (actions not words). He told me that he was only respected out of fear, and people wanted to know him, but only because of his fighting reputation. No one would do what he said out of love. For example he didn't want the young street kids to go through what he had and so he often wanted to send them home. But they would never go because he asked, he would have to threaten to beat them up if they stayed, to get them to leave, if only for a few days. He said he learnt from me that the greatest power was to make your own decisions and follow your own path, regardless of what everyone else said. In the last couple of weeks he had tried not fighting by 'turning the other cheek', or just running away. He was sick of his world of violence and self interest (to the point of suicide) and he now wanted to try something new, and to change. He said he believed in Jesus but didn't believe he could be forgiven because of the bad things he had done (some of them against the Church).
I explained to him the metaphor of the Crucifixion. Jesus was on the cross and with two robbers, one on each side. One robber criticized Jesus and the other admitted he was a sinner and recognized that Jesus was innocent. Jesus told the humble robber that he would be with him in Heaven later that day. It was the same with us. If we criticize Jesus then we won't be forgiven, but if we admit our own sin, and believe in Jesus (having an attitude of changing to follow his ways), then we are forgiven and will end up in Heaven. I told him, from what he had told me, he had fulfilled both these criteria and so he was forgiven and a Christian like me! He didn't sound too convinced and so I asked him if he would come to the Alpha course (Christian intro discussion group) at my Church in a few weeks. He said sure, he would follow me where ever I went, and do whatever I asked..! Um right, I'm not sure I wanted that kind of responsibility, so I just left it at doing the Alpha course together.
We then washed off the stone and as he left he said I shouldn't clean any more as it was 'beneath me'. To which I tried to explain about servant hood but I'm not sure it sank in. He headed off and sat there amazed. (At first I became a little suspicious as too whether I was being played, it was all too good to be real, right? Always my top tickbox, to feel I've directly, person to person, helped someone to become a Christian. Was it a tick? But over the course of this week we have met a couple more times and he still has the same resolve. We even read some Bible together!)
I sat nearby as the morning sun came up and looked across at the stone. It was a little bit brighter :)