I really shouldn’t be doing this.  I have a day job.  I try to limit blog posting to my non-work work hours.

This is the situation faced by many of us who are Salvation Army officers.  As an ordained minister we feed the poor, go to city hall, clean the tables, pray with a dying parishioner, examine the financial reports.  Then, in the evening, on Saturday morning if we aren’t still working, we prepare sermons, Bible studies, and pray as we stare into the darkening corners of a room at home.

But a scrap of paper scribbled with

‘the Ministry of Engagement’

Under it are other words –

   ‘singletons‘               ‘isolation in the midst of density’           ‘alienation’               ‘racism’              ‘exclusion’

with an arrow pointing to

‘inclusive’

which has a big arrow circling from under that word back to ‘the Ministry of Engagement’.

Wouldn’t that catch our attention if we walked past the complex of buildings in our government centers and saw Ministry of Engagement on signage in front of an impressive edifice?  The name has a sort of Harry Potterish sound.  To some maybe Orwellian.

At the end of my scribbling of words on this scrap of green paper (insert from a Sunday worship service; I recycle immediately) is one last set of words.

‘dystopian’  ‘Batman’    ‘worldview’

‘Christian anarchy’        ‘isolating’   ‘Ellul’

These final six words are all clumped together.  And what they represented to me during a worship service (my Rorschach test) was the condition presented to dwellers of cities.  Humans in cities, in the thick density of humanity, are alone.  And while I am not convinced that being alone and loneliness are necessarily the same thing, some of the city’s alone struggle to stave off loneliness.  If you are part of a family living there.  If you have resources that enable you to be part of something other than your own lonesome self.

But even if at the moment you are family, are part of something more than just you, you are yet surrounded by a deep, complex sea of humanity and all its wonderful yet bewildering structures.  Look up.  From the base of the Willis Tower, CN Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree.

The Ministry of Engagement doesn’t exist.  At the government complex.  But our cities yearn for the Ministry.  Drawing people together.

Last night, Gail and I waited for an appointment in the city.  Early, way early.  So we found the Starbucks and sat with good hot coffee on a cold Chicago night, our first of the season with snow in the air, with people.  We read, caught up on work.  But we were with fellow human beings.  Lots of them doing the same thing.  Alone together.

As a minister of the gospel in the city, in places where there are lots of people, I need to find the ways that bring presence, companionship, warmth of being with others.  That there is a place for every person in this world so loved by God.

Here’s my favorite quote from one of the first leaders of our Salvation Army.  It is 1878 and George Scott Railton is trying to defend our movement against criticism that it will become just another strange religious institution –

say many of our critics … you will become another sect.  What is a sect if not an association of people who separate from others for some reasons and purpose of their own?  But here is a vast organization of people moving at command to get closer and closer relationship to everybody.

Loneliness is especially painful surrounded by so many.  The business of our Army is salvation.  On the go, giving so that people might come into closer relationship with God and with all he loves.

I really have to get back to work.  email …

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