My neighborhood is diverse. Within the past hour at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts in my neighborhood, I have encountered barista's and bakers from Indian descent, African-American women, a couple — likely from a Muslim-populated European country — with the wife wearing a hijab, international college students from a variety of nations, and an African-American male assisting a young caucasian, developmentally disabled woman.
Since moving to Buffalo a few years ago, one of my goals was to find a local coffee-bagel hangout where I could read and write, and see people in my neighborhood. I wanted to find a place that was (for the most-part) considered part of my immediate neighborhood, had wifi access for the work that I often do, and coffee that was not priced through the roof. I basically wanted a place where I could be a cultural observer of my neighborhood (people-watching fascinates me). But, I was also interested in investing my time in a place where I could become a frequent visitor and possibly meet and get-to-know others who frequently visited that establishment. It seemed like a way to be present in my neighborhood, other than just my bed being located in that neighborhood. And, I had found that place. It was the Manhattan Bagel at Main St. & Harlem Rd. In Snyder. But, it has since closed a few months ago. So, while I wait for that space to re-open as a Bagel Jays franchise, I have been searching for a new place to frequent. But, in the mean time of looking for a new place to frequent, it has come to my attention that there is another quality I should consider in finding a place to frequent. I will come back to this quality in a moment.
But first, this quality was mad known to me through the writing, speaking, and podcast appearances of David Fitch (one of the most influential thinkers on my life). In his writing and speaking, Dr. Fitch points to the importance of being in Christ’s presence. More specifically, Dr. Fitch describes the importance of placing ourselves in relation to the presence of Christ, as it is revealed in the world. In his writing/speaking, Dr. Fitch highlights how Christ’s presence is often relegated to a gospel presentation (Evangelical Protestant thinking), or the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper (Roman Catholic thinking), or social justice (Mainline Protestant thinking). In reality, as we read through the gospel’s, Christ’s (Jesus’) presence is never relegated to any one of these areas. Rather, his presence is found in all of them, but they are never detached from the concrete reality of the gospel message exhibited in Jesus’ life. If we take serious the belief that God has indeed become incarnate (entered into the concrete reality of flesh and blood human existence), that the fullness of God’s presence was revealed to humanity in his Son, Jesus — then we should take notice in our reading/hearing of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life of the ways in which Jesus is present to people.
As we’ve been reading, Jesus’ presence is known to people in a variety of ways. Just a few of them are the following. Jesus’ exudes the presence of God in his teaching and his preaching (e.g., gospel message). God’s presence is made known in Jesus through the meals that he shares with people, especially with sinners and outcast’s of society (e.g., breaking bread — the Eucharist; later, more directly connected in the actual last supper with his disciples [including his betrayer, Judas Isacariot — if going by Luke’s account]). God’s presence as Father is made known through Jesus’ baptism. God’s presence is made known in the reconciliatory acts of Jesus’ followers (Matt. 5:21ff; Matt. 18:18). God’s presence is made known through prayer (“Your Kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” — asking for God’s presence on earth). God’s presence is found among children (when Jesus scolds his disciples for keeping children from coming to him; and the many children that Jesus heals throughout his ministry — God is present in these moments). And throughout this past week’s readings, we also had one such account of God’s presence,
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:24-29)
Jesus’ very presence in the world was not hidden, and beyond that, the end of this account shows Jesus’ presence extended into the life of Gentiles — here, a woman and child, who would not have been considered worthy to enter the presence of a Jew, let alone the presence of God (which Jesus was claiming he was the Son of God — God’s very presence in human form).
This account is one more incident showing that God’s presence is found in a variety of places and situations. All of them are connected to the gospel message, but that message is never disconnected from the concrete avenues of human life: baptism (immersion in water), meals, reconciliation, prayer (speech/language), being with children, being with the poor/outcasts/minorities of society.
So, the quality that Dr. Fitch’s writing/speaking has brought to my mind in searching for a new coffee-bagel shop to frequent is that of being in the presence of those different from me — as Jesus often was. Now, I still plan to return to my old hangout spot, once it reopens. But, I am thinking that I will also begin to make space in my routine to frequent a space that brings me face-to-face with others different from me. And for now, it is the Dunkin’ Donuts, near my house at Main St. & Bailey Ave. Here is one place that I anticipate encountering the presence of Christ in my neighborhood. It is a place I anticipate encountering Christ in the midst of those who look, speak, dress, and behave differently than I do — because these are the kind of people that Jesus — God in flesh — seemed to make himself known during his ministry on earth. And, if I am following after Jesus, why should I expect anything different to happen in my life? I hope you are able to find such a place in your life as well!