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Making It Real: Barbara’s Story

December 30th, 2011 by Alison · 2 Comments · community, spirituality & religion

Barbara Kutasz penned this post about the unlikely, vibrant venue in which Christmas became real to her this year. Barbara is a friend and fellow member at  Lincoln Street Church here in Portland, Oregon. (If you thought us pretty picture of Barbara KutaszPortlanders are too liberal to embrace church, please think again: some of us progressive folks love God and love church.)

Each year, if I’m fortunate and paying enough attention, there comes a moment when Christmas becomes real to me.  I’m not referring to getting the presents wrapped, the house decorated or finding just the right size turkey, though in good years I thoroughly enjoy each of those rituals.  I’m referring to the moment when the gifts of Adventhope, joy, peace and love – cease to be a marketing scheme for selling more purple candles and take up residence in my heart.  One year the moment came as I walked home from the Christmas Eve worship service at my neighborhood church in a light snowfall.  Often it comes late at night when I tiptoe around the quiet house enjoying the sounds of a home filled with sleeping loved ones.

This year it came in a most unexpected manner.  I’ve lived in Portland for over 25 years and in that time have never  attended a Multnomah County Board of Commissioners meeting.  Then, this week, I received emails  about two agenda items  I care about – Multnomah County Libraries and the Common Cup Shelter – along with invitations to attend.  And so it was that I went to my first County Board of Commissionersmeeting.

First up was the library.  Portlanders love their libraries, so it was no surprise when 14 people stepped up to wax poetic about the virtues of the library system.  I myself stated that support for the libraries equals support for our struggling school districts.  Katie, a church friend, chairs the Library Advisory Board and gave powerful testimony.

Next on the agenda was the idea of turning a piece of surplus county property into a multi-cultural community center.  Stakeholders groups spun an exciting picture of a space that could serve a community dedicated to sustainable practices, local food, accessible community education and common ground.  The delightful Café-Au-Play space in my neighborhood was repeatedly used as an example of what community groups can pull off with the support of government and non-profit partners.  Much of the hard work behind Café-Au-Play came from Josh and John and their families, also friends from Lincoln Street church.

The two issues on the agenda that impact homeless families included still more powerful testimony. City Councilman Nick Fish introduced a resolution to allow churches and non-profits to permit homeless persons to car-camp in their parking lots.  A similar resolution was passed the previous day by the city of Portland.  There were a few extraordinary moments in the testimony.  First, a representative of the sheriff’s department supported the resolution, lamenting the situation that criminalizes the homeless for trespassing when all they want is to find a safe place to park their cars for the night.  The care and compassion expressed by the sheriff’s representative and the county Commissioners was remarkable.

Then, when a Commissioner expressed frustration with  band-aid approaches to the problem of homelessness, Councilman Fish poke eloquently. He said the root causes of homelessness are outside the scope of the city or county, but the local governments do have to deal with its effects.  Approving the emergency funding for the Winter Shelter-to-Housing system involved still more touching testimony and still more consensus that we are called to care for those among us in need.

At the end of two hours I left feeling a sense of connectedness to my community, and pride that we are, indeed, a caring people.  I saw my tiny church in a new way, as an integral part of the web of connections that makes our city a vibrant and livable place to be.  I was struck by how fortunate I was on that Thursday morning before Christmas to get this window into the soul of my community.

On how many other Thursdays do similar meetings take place – full of good people doing good works – that I will never know about?

And so it was that the gifts of Advent came to live inside my heart this year. I am filled with HOPE that together we are going about the business of building the best community we can.  I feel the JOY and PEACE of knowing that so many people are engaged in this work.  And how profound to know that we are fulfilling the commandment to LOVE our neighbors as ourselves!

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Christina

    Lovely blog, Barbara. I shared your swell of pride at knowing good people involved in good neighborhood work and finding a route to be part of that as well. The fact that it’s happening all over the city in ways and at times we mostly don’t ever hear about is so hopeful. And what a luminous photo of you!

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