Midwestern Soul

Part of my job is to help facilitate “street retreats,” which are the foundational practice of the Faithful Fools. Participants (typically people who are housed and roughly middle-class) spend a day walking the streets of the Tenderloin, eating lunch in one of the soup kitchens, and observing what arises in themselves. What fears, what judgments, what surprises. Yesterday, we hosted a retreat for 23 students from the University of Montana, sending them out into the streets with the day’s mantra: “What holds us separate? What keeps us separated? As we walk the streets, what still connects us?”

Now, I’ll be honest. I saw myself as very much separate from these people. Yes, my bias against “flyover country” reared its head. These middle-America white folks are about to be scandalized, I thought. Horrified at the unChristian hustles of the big-city neighborhood. Let’s just hope they don’t run into a trans sex worker.

I also had low expectations about the group reflection that would end the day. The Tenderloin is the most diverse neighborhood in one of the most diverse cities in one of the most diverse states. Would these Montannnins be open to seeing and appreciating its nuances?

And wouldn’t you know it. This turned out to be quite the brilliant, thoughtful, insightful, and yes, soulful group. Wonderful reflections. Courageous. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable with the rest of us, enthusiastic about all that they witnessed during the day, and eager to translate the learning back into their lives at school. Just fabulous.

And so, even though I spent the day indoors, making soup and bread for the post-reflection meal, I got my own taste of the street retreat: challenging my own judgments, and rediscovering the truth in the Faithful Fools’ credo: “On the streets we discover our common humanity.”

Hats off to these Midwestern fools.

4 thoughts on “Midwestern Soul

  1. bohemiankitsch March 31, 2010 / 7:57 pm

    WOW! it’s just CRAZY that you would post this today! for me today has been a day of reflection on my own racism and classism, and my feelings of discomfort around large groups of people who look like me.

    what a beautiful practice, Katie. truly. i hope you don’t mind if we steal it! ;)

  2. kloncke April 1, 2010 / 8:50 am

    Mmm, so glad to hear you’re into that work, too! Of course you should steal this! hehe

    Would love to hear about some of your reflections sometime.


  3. Ryan April 1, 2010 / 11:04 am

    see, middle-class white people can be cool sometimes. I think the types that are interested in a street retreat are a very specific variety however.

    In my experience, sheltered people who are aware and actively attempting to combat their sheltered-ness are cool types. It’s a process that requires humility as a basis, and I really like the humble types.

  4. kloncke April 1, 2010 / 12:44 pm

    Yeah, I think it’s true that it’s somewhat self-selecting, but oftentimes (and in this case, for sure) most of the retreatants have no idea what they’re getting into before they start the retreat. Even when we try to explain it, they have no clue, and many people think that the point is to “play homeless for a day.” So the fact that these folks avoided that trap, and really grasped the spirit of the thing as they were doing it, really speaks to their credit.

    And yes, I think humility is a huge part of that: recognizing and admitting our own ignorance, and seeing ourselves as imperfect works-in-progress just as much as anyone we might encounter on the street.

    Also, there is one particular middle-class white guy I am looking forward to seeing tonight! ;) Drive safe, darlin.

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