Over 5 years ago, I was hired to be the Assistant Director of the Shalom Community Center, a day shelter and resource center for people experiencing hunger, homelessness, and poverty in Bloomington, Indiana. I started on the job on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which felt like a humbly auspicious beginning to some powerful, new work.
After a year on the job, Joel Rekas, our Executive Director at the time, announced his resignation. I was shocked at his decision. While I had certainly thought that I might be interested in the Executive Director position some day far into the future, I was very content in the job I had. Joel had worked with Shalom since the very beginning. He was an icon in the community and would leave behind big shoes to fill. When the Board asked me to take over as ED, I hesitated, prayed, meditated, and listened to help make the choice. It was a big job with much more responsibility, time demands, and a lot more stress. After much discernment, I decided to take the role. My first day was April Fools!!
And you could say the joke was on me.
I have at times felt like a fool taking on this larger role. I have learned more about prejudice and hate directed at the hungry and homeless than I would care to share. I have seen the profound challenges of trying to raise money to help people that others openly despise. And I’ve witnessed the life-and-death struggles of people who consistently do not have enough. It is hard work, painful work, perhaps even foolish work.
But, I’ve also come to embrace a different side of the fool – the faithful fool, the one who stands for the marginalized and maligned, the one who stands counter to a society that would judge and hate.
In a society that worships wealth, it is foolish to stand alongside the poor.
In a culture that deifies success, it is foolish to stand with the disabled, the mentally ill, the traumatized, the addicted, the unemployed, the unskilled.
In a nation that loves its stuff, it is foolish to surround oneself with people who have so little.
Yet here I foolishly stand alongside those whom Jesus called the least of these.
Because I know a deeper truth… I am the least of these, too.
And so are you.
I guess the joke is on all of us.
We might as well laugh and take our place with our people.
Happy All Fools’ Day… the holiest day of the year.
This piece was written by Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center. To contribute to Shalom’s mission to aid and empower people experiencing homelessness and poverty, please mail in a gift to PO Box 451, Bloomington, IN 47402-0451 or donate online at www.shalomcommunitycenter.org.