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Robert Kinghorn: Streets are filled with many crosses

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  • August 8, 2019

I have always wondered what the conversation between Jesus and an image consultant would be like. 

“So JC, you don’t mind if I call you JC do you? Let’s start with the image that represents who You are and your message for the world? What do you think?”

“Well, I was thinking of a cross”

“Ooooh, I don’t know if that will cut it, big guy. I think we need something more upbeat. How about … let’s see … Messiah. That’s it. Let’s focus on that. You are the Messiah and that’s what the people want to hear and have been waiting for. The one who will bring them peace and victory. That’s it, let’s play up the Messiah angle. OK, so now we have the image. What will the Messiah do for the people?”

“They will find life; they will find peace”

“That’s more like it. Now we’re getting somewhere. So how will they find life?”

“They will take up their cross each day and follow Me.”

“Oh no, not the cross again! You are a loser. I think I’ll find another client.”

Jesus constantly said we have to break down the walls that surround us. Not the ones that keep others from us, but that keep us from others. Often these walls are chipped away by the faces and voices of those who are hurting. They cut through the theological wall that we hide behind and they teach us how to love as we see them take up their crosses of addiction, infirmity and poverty.

Recently I went to visit a woman I met on the streets 14 years ago and who is now two years “clean” and back at school to become an addiction counsellor. It was not long before her cross came bubbling to the surface as she talked of the past few weeks. 

She said that it had been particularly difficult because lurking beneath the exterior of “coping” are the dragons of violence and unspeakable injuries that she had endured. She had more than her fair share of beatings and “bad dates” which have left her emotionally traumatized. 

She had been a witness to violence and intimidation again recently and it had triggered memories that she had conveniently tucked away and labelled, “do not disturb.” The experience terrified her as she realized how easy it was to slip backwards in time. 

“But,” she continued as she looked at me, “I know that is not who I am now. Yes, the memories are there, and they will never leave me, but I have learned a lot about myself over these two years and I know that I am more than that girl who turned tricks on the street. I have my mother and my daughter back in my life, and I have my son right here. I pray each day and I am grateful for all that God has given me. I know I will have these moments when the past haunts me, but I am not going back there. But still, the memories scare me.”

There is a story about Revival Johnny, who lived on the streets at the crossroads of the town. In the good old days when the revival meeting would go through town, Revival Johnny would go and “get religion,” but it lasted a few weeks and then the pull of the streets and the wine were too much. 

This would happen again and again, and the good people would laugh at him and say, “When are you getting religion again, Revival Johnny?” His friends on the street were the people of the night, the drug people, the prostitutes. But they would not laugh at him. They knew only too well what it was like to be weak, and yet to be allowed into the meeting and to be accepted at the altar. 

They were thankful for such a small thing as to be included, to be called, even though they knew that it was a journey that they would take again and again so that they would have the courage to carry their cross in an uncaring world. 

Jesus said to each of us, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” It is when I am sitting with people like my friend that I realize that the cross I have been given is made of balsa wood compared with the cross carried by many of the parishioners of the Church on the Street.

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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