A month ago, my team at work moved to a new building. The University of Washington is a sprawling, urban campus, and my old building was on the far edge with close proximity to the freeway. I’d drive in on the freeway, quickly enter my building, perhaps emerge for meetings throughout the day, and leave the same way.
My new building is simply two blocks east of where we were previously housed. Instead of being in a huge tower complex that generally blocks out the non-work sounds and “interruptions,” I’m in place that has impacted all my senses.
As I’m writing this, it’s not even 7 a.m., and yet the loud, intrusive sirens of the local firehouse have come blaring by my open window. I hear them several times a day (hearing is an understatement, as literally no other sound can be heard in my office as they pass). I hear the constant noise that being on the corner of a busy bus route brings. I know the barking dog, whose owner must leave every day about 1:50 p.m. And my student graphic designer and I laugh daily about the myriad honks of drivers irritated at others, and how some of their horns are so wimpy.
The view is quite different than the windowless cubicle farm from which I came. I have my own office with a window that overlooks a campus museum and green space. If I stand up from my desk and move to the window, the urban environment catches my eye. It’s a great place to watch people. More than the view from my office, I take in the view as I walk from the parking garage at my old building to my new location each day. In the mornings, I leave the tower and encounter different university personnel than I did before. One man has the lovely task of picking up garbage that others leave behind during the court of the night. There is the local deli on the corner, where the proprietor always smiles and waves at me as I pass by. And then there are realities of life that confront me. The homeless, who sleep in the covered entry way to keep out of the rain. The young people, who may or may not be university students, who stand in groups smoking pot with their hippie attire and numerous piercings. The garbage that is dumped on the ground just feet from the garbage can. The insane drivers trying to make it through the intersection on red lights without getting caught. The graffiti that invades random corners, window sills, and roof tops. And bars on the windows reminding us of the life that emerges long after commuters are gone.
The smells are generally jaw-dropping. In the tower where I worked before, I could smell the coffee shop on the 4th floor and the chemicals that were used by custodians. In my new reality, I’m overwhelmed with the smells of different kind of smoke, body odors of those with no place to bathe, the putrid smells that emerge from the alley behind our building, and the general odors of a busy city, such as vehicle exhaust and the intertwined smells from local restaurants.
Taste is a little harder to describe. I’m a block off “The Ave” — a major avenue by campus that is characterized by its slew of international restaurants. But it’s amazing how a different building can change which businesses now capture my eye. I typically bring my own lunch, but there are new taste options should I venture out.
The final sense — touch. You may be thinking of this in terms of physical touch. But I’m thinking of the touch to my heart and my emotions that I’ve experienced being in this new place. My heart aches for the homeless — for those who are here of their own volition as much as for those who have no place to go. I am so aware of how different people are, yet how similar they are as they shop, wait for the bus, or hang out. I’ve witnessed the goodness of some, the hope of others, and the utter desolation in spirit of others.
Yes, if anything, moving two block east has reopened my eyes to the need all these people have to know unconditional love. Love that accepts them where they’re at. Love that covers them in the darkest hour of their night, in the gentle light of the morning, or as the heat of the day or the rain of life unfolds.
It brings to mind the words of a song from my youth by Joel Weldon:
I want to be a candle in the dark, a flame that’s in the night. And I want my friends to know that Jesus saves. Don’t want to be afraid to say his name or stand up for what is right. Help me, Jesus, to be bold and to be brave.
It’s hard to be that candle in the dark. Many forces want to extinguish it and dampen the wick. So we often retreat to places of comfort — places where we don’t have to face the realities of a spiritually dark world.
We were told by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into all the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But as we do so, we need to go in with eyes wide open. Consider the story of Paul in Athens. He didn’t just go on a corner and start preaching — he looked around, sought to understand, and brought Jesus to the world as they knew it.
In the same way, I encourage you to go. Shake it up. Get a new perspective on the world. Take a different path on your walk. Eat lunch on a different bench. Look in the faces of the people you pass by. Meet them where they’re at. Then, and only then, can you truly share God’s love in an impactful way.