Inner City Diary
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Vulnerability dressed in Bart boxers
January 20, 2002
We call it a “sharing time.”

The people in attendance talk about their hopes, fears, disappointments. This Sunday people talked about their job searches, wanting to do well on exams, waiting for results of medical tests, and gratitude for improving family relationships. Another person shared regarding the death of a friend, concerned about how life would change in the next while.

It has become an important and regular way in which we share a part of each other’s lives. When things are going well for us, we are humbled by the needs and courage of people who are struggling. When it’s our turn to struggle, we are encouraged by those whose lives are finally taking a turn for the better.

I remember the time one guy asked us to pray that he wouldn’t hit his boss again, because he was sure he would probably lose his job the next time it happened. One woman shared that her week went well. While she still got drunk a few times, she had stopped hooking and stopped using needles. Things were looking up. A businessman shared concern about the potential loss of his business. Several folk have sent updates for the group from the confines of prison cells or hospital beds. We have alternately laughed and cried with parents who openly shared some of the joys and frustrations of raising their children.

For years, this sharing has transcended the boundaries that normally separate people. Different cultural groups, white collar, blue collar and no-collar folk all find they have more in common than they first realized.

But last week we experienced something new.

As we came to the end of the sharing time, Maureen (not her real name)  – a first-time attendee - said she had something to say. She stood in front of the group and started by telling us about getting ripped off last week. She then talked about her loneliness and frustration with life.

Then, as if to illustrate something she had mumbled, she grabbed the top of her sweat pants and pulled them down around her ankles.

I wondered how it came to this. Here she was, a fifty-something year old woman, becoming increasingly incoherent, standing in front of the congregation in Bart Simpson shorts. I wondered if her bizarre behavior was caused more by mental health or substance abuse issues.

But right then it didn’t matter. We tried to find a way to get her to pull up her sweats and regain any possible dignity to be salvaged from the incident. One of the women helped her to the washroom where they talked for awhile.  A few minutes later she left.

At the best of times, Maureen lives a life of extreme vulnerability. Her bizarre behavior during the sharing time in our church exposed more than her shorts. I started to wonder what would have happened if she had done this in a back lane, in a bar or at a late night drinking party.

What struck me about the incident was the reaction of other people here. No looks of condemnation. No one laughed at her, not even the kids. Nobody yelled at her. A little embarrassment – but more for her than for themselves.

This is a gracious group, and I reflected out loud how we all have had times where our behavior made us more vulnerable than we needed to be. Thank God for people who don’t abuse or mock our every vulnerability.

We got a glimpse of a person who needs help but doesn’t even know how to ask for it. There are lots of people like that. Drunks sleeping on benches. Hookers on corners. Kids outside till the wee hours of the morning.

It’s easy to speculate about the causes of their vulnerability, but we are defined more by our responses than our speculation.

We’ll talk more with Maureen as we see her in the neighbourhood.

I know one of the things we’ll talk about is learning to express her needs in ways that don’t make her even more vulnerable. We’ll joke about Bart Simpson to get past that stuff, but talk seriously about being more the person she hopes to become.
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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514 Maryland Street
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(204) 775-4929

lehotsky@escape.ca