Face Us - Jon Dengler
There are many in our city that have no clean clothes, no bathroom that they can use and no bed to lay down in at night. They often struggle to find food or a few dollars to spend. Beyond any of these challenges though, one of the worst things a human can experience is isolation and rejection. When these folks look at you they see a possible friend or help but too often you see something that makes you uncomfortable. You are sometimes afraid and avoid their glances. Maybe they are aggressive but our real fear is usually that they will open their hands to us and say ’please’. Our city officials take our discomfort seriously and so employ officers to shoo them off. We pass laws that make it a crime to go to the bathroom outside, sleep in a park or ask for help on the side of the road which all become necessities when you have nowhere else to go. We, as a society, do not want to face them.
Many who come to eat with us on Thursday nights at The Banquet have expressed to me how this feeling of rejection has been growing over the last few months as the RNC approaches. Our city has been ‘cleaning up’ and doing everything they can to put their best foot forward as the nation, even the world, turns its attention here. As people talked to me about feeling like the city ‘was trying to make them invisible’ I longed to stand with them and make their plight visible.
One night at The Banquet I showed a video about a street artist who has been traveling the world posting pictures of people as a statement. He has gone into Israel and Palestine and posted pictures of Israelis and Palestinians of the same profession on both sides of the dividing wall. He went into a favela in Brazil where many women had been killed and posted the faces of women from the community all over. This artist has been making waves all over the world with pictures of people’s faces and has recently started The Inside-Out Project which makes his technique available to everyone. After we watched the video I asked people if they would be interested in doing something similar here. Do you want to be visible I asked? We can do this here. People got excited about the idea and so we had Drew Coffman come in one night to take portraits of people that wanted to participate. We decided to name this project ‘Face Us’ because it seemed that was exactly the thing that nobody wanted to or would do. They are saying we exist, we are human beings, we are created in the image of God, we will not be erased. Face us!
We decided to post the pictures right before the RNC because it was such a catalyst to the pressure folks were feeling to move along. It was such a privilege to help this community make a statement like this and I pray others will see what I see in their faces, the image of the invisible God.