I love living in Boston. It feels like sacrilege for me to say that since I always thought NYC would be home. But, I love living in Boston.
Until now, I haven’t had a chance to experience the mundane routines of life here. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but after being in a different state almost every weekend, the mundane has become precious. Having time to buy groceries (as much as I started out hating it) has become one of my highlights of the week. It sounds lame–and maybe it is–but I enjoy it.
To avoid being a hermit, I decided to work on my final papers in a cafe downtown near the commons. It’s about a 20 minute ride on the T, Boston’s subway, from where I live. Boston doesn’t really get the subway like New York does. Many of the trains only have two cars for a platform full of commuters. Today, I hurried on to one of these small two-car trains and sat down without looking around.
As the train lurched forward, the man next to me bumped into me. I moved over to give him some space. He was wearing a tattered Celtics jacket and a soiled brown hat. As I moved, he muttered under his breath, “I’m not gay.”
I kept looking down at the floor and said nothing. The train stopped and then lurched forward again. He bumped into me but I didn’t move. “I’m not gay. Go find another seat. Those gays…” he kept muttering under his breath.
Talking with folks who are currently without homes is somewhat anxiety provoking for me. After I preached at an outdoor service in Rochester, NY last summer, a woman who was without a home came up to me and said, “Repent you Sodomite.” She wouldn’t leave until the pastor kindly moved her along.
The train emptied so I turned to him and softly said, “Would you like more space? I can move if you’d like.”
He looked at me and his expression completely changed. “Oh no, I’m sorry,” he said. “I get anxious around all these people and I just start saying things… I can own up to my mistakes when I make ’em… You were just minding your own business. I’m sorry.”
When I first entered the train, I didn’t look at this man, and as we sat next to each other I felt fear welling up because of the biases I held. And yet, one kind question and some short eye contact completely diffused the situation. I got to hear some of this man’s story. But this episode doesn’t show the systematic motivators behind these encounters.
Because of our lack of care for those in poverty, this man wasn’t able to receive care for his anxiety, and in turn, he lashed out with homophobic slurs. We live in a society that perpetuates these situations. Someone is pushed to the margins of society, they’re uncared for and they reach out for an easy target to blame (which is easy when our President constantly bullies those who are different from him). Then, the people being unfairly blamed respond out of valid fear/anger to the person. The cycle continues and so does the deeply dividing apathy.
Jesus said to those gathered around him, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9) The very next verse says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…”
To be a peace maker requires building bridges even across the chasms of our differing perspectives–even when we’re being persecuted. I recognize that not all encounters are like this one, and that different identities face a very real danger. In this situation, the man on the train was a victim of a system that enables us to go on with our days while he sits alone and uncared for on a public train. Though his words were offensive, I understood that his issue was not really with me. I had to overcome my own righteous indignation–and my own biased apathy–to see this man as equally deserving of God’s compassion.
When we’re able to truly see God in one another, we build bridges that connect folks whom our society has systematically kept apart. Together, we can be healing balm for the world, peace makers who call out injustice while loving the neighbors whom they were previously conditioned not to interact with. We can move beyond barriers and build a better world, together.