- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

The following are excerpts of a recent sermon by the Rev. Robert M. Hardies at All Souls Church, Unitarian, in the District.

Life in the city moves fast. Perhaps not as fast in D.C. as in other big cities, but fast nonetheless.

If we don’t pay attention, we live in danger of the world passing us by. I see it happen all around me. People shuttling back and forth from their homes to their jobs and back again, their bodies encased in tinted-window SUVs, their faces buried in the morning paper, their ears plugged with an IPod, their noses tucked into a steaming cup of Starbucks coffee. There’s a way that city dwellers have of blocking out all the stimuli around them.

I call it Urban Tunnel Vision. This is a dangerous phenomenon. Because in the city, so much of life happens out of the corner of our eye.

It’s easy to ignore the glimpses. To fail to see the city life that teems in our peripheral vision. To refuse to acknowledge the people with whom we inhabit this tiny square of earth. But more and more I’m convinced that the key to living a faithful and whole and holy life in this city is to pay attention to the glimpses.

Pry our eyes from the headlines. Take in the city in all its contradictions. Its brokenness and its glory. Its hypocrisy and its integrity. Its imperfect reality and its utopian aspirations. From the khaki pants and blue blazers on Capitol Hill to the pierced noses and used record stores of Adams Morgan. From the tree-lined neighborhoods of Brookland to the Clintons and Kerrys of Georgetown. All of our city.

If we are to build the neighborhood and the city that we desire, we have to pay attention. We have to pay attention to the glimpses. To city life in all its fullness. So that we as individuals and as a church can respond. I want to share with you a few glimpses of the city that have struck me over the last few months.

I’m thinking back to last winter. It was the day after one of the blizzards we had. I was at my computer writing a sermon when out of the corner of my eye I saw one of these human figures outside lunge into a thigh-high snowbank. When I looked up, I saw that it was an older woman, dressed in a knit hat, a thin scarf and a man’s trench coat. I couldn’t see what she wore on her feet, because by now she was at least knee-deep in snow.

“What is she doing?” I thought to myself. “She just walked right into a snowbank on the coldest morning of the year. She’s gotta be freezing.”

I stood up from my desk to peek further out the window, and I saw on the other side of the snow bank, idling in the street, a bakery truck. The driver had opened the back of his truck to make a delivery at the corner store, and with an outstretched arm, he was offering the woman a loaf of bread. She had lunged into the snowbank for the loaf of bread.

Even three floors above it all in my warm apartment I could feel the chill of what I’d just seen.

When I notice the glimpses, I notice a city where lots of people struggle just to survive. Where everyone struggles against loneliness and meaninglessness. I am surprised by the resiliency of the city.

For 182 years now, the people of All Souls Church have caught glimpses of this city and have responded with a ministry of compassion. The church and its people were here when 14th Street burned after Dr. [Martin Luther] King was assassinated, and it was here when the Pentagon smoldered on September 11. It was here, ministering to the wounded when blood was spilled during the Civil War, and it was here ministering to the frightened when blood was spilled last month in a gang shooting across the street.

That is our calling as an urban church. That is our calling as urban dwellers. May we find in these glimpses the truth that shall be revealed to us this holiday season. Love and peace to you all. Amen.

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