Un/Sheltered

I grew up sheltered.  I grew up with the shelter of a house and home.  I grew up sheltered in a neighborhood of care and protection where almost everybody knew your name.  I grew up sheltered in a religious community that sought to enrich and nurture me in safety and solace.  I grew up sheltered by educators who cultivated an environment of learning and growth that presented challenges but at a “rate I could handle” with all the abundant resources of a high property value school district.

But I also grew up sheltered… buffered. Insulated. Because all these people and things that loved me and wanted to protect me and my childhood buffered me from realities of the world I wasn’t “ready” to experience or weren’t considered “safe”. I was buffered from racial diversity.  I was buffered from poverty.  I was buffered from almost everything that didn’t conform to the norms of my safe world. I was buffered so well that I find myself at times a resident alien to the world – an anomaly poorly trained at a fundamental level to engage and connect emotionally with the broad diversity of life.

I don’t fault anyone for that – who doesn’t want to protect our children?  Who doesn’t choose to live in comfort?  Who doesn’t secure abundance if that choice is available to them and the resources required to make it happen are given to you?  And if to do that we shelter our children from the wider world, where is the harm in that?  Is that not the job of a parent? There was no intent to harm here… but harm did happen.  I was raised to care.  But I was insulated enough that my circle of care was very small and occurred at very little cost to myself.  A little hyperbole that is in fact closer to the truth than we want to admit: at best I took field trips to a different world (resident alien that I am) so that I could do some safe caring for a moment and then go back to my haven feeling better about myself.  And because of this, I have come to believe that I grew up in the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel: a place crafted by well-meaning people to secure an unchanging posterity-revering life of prosperity with high strong walls to keep the insiders safe from all that was outside. 

What happens when the outsiders come in? 

The larger Boise community has been caught in a deep and revealing conflict for the last year. A beloved institution broke an unwritten rule: they brought outsiders to our front door.  Interfaith Sanctuary has been a valuable and highly lauded member of the Boise community for years.  It is our city’s only no-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness.  It provides shelter for people who have none.  It is hard work. It has not always gone well. But loving and dedicated servant-leaders made sure to create an environment of dignity and health for those who too often were only shunned. And their work was recognized, and they were a respected leader in our city… and I think now I recognized that part of that was because it existed outside our walls.  It was in a place where many of us never go… and it kept people there who we would rather not encounter on a daily basis.  I didn’t realize that – I’m not sure Interfaith realized that – until they tried to move to a new location. A location INSIDE our walls.  And then the community erupted.

picture of a house with the name of the agency on it: Interfaith Sanctuary.  The tagline is, You are welcome here.
Interfaith Sanctuary provides Boise’s only no-barrier shelter to ensure all our residents have access to a place to sleep.

I have friends and congregation members who do not approve of the Interfaith’s move proposal.  They are still my friends and I’m still their pastor.  I understand their reasons and sometimes I’m inclined to share them.  I have friends and colleagues who are part of planning and supporting the move.  I think they made some missteps and assumptions along the way, and I think the process has been obscure and poorly handled by various parties on all sides (and there are many sides to this one)… but I don’t think it means it’s not the right idea, nor do I doubt any of the motives to create well-being for all the residents of Boise. All the residents.

This conversation is a volcanic whirlwind and since we cannot go backward, we have to move forward from where we are… and the only way we can even begin to do that is if we first all put down our stones we are slinging at each other.  The most hurtful part of this whole process for me, other than the stripping of dignity and worth of my neighbors who already have been stripped of house and home, is the way we have treated and characterized and bullied each other in the process.  I realize that the neighborhood I live in now, like the neighborhoods of my childhood, is a construct, a house of cards – and I know now that I do not like what I see when the cards all get thrown on the table.  We are harming each other by exclusion, by name-calling, by celebrating the dehumanizing of our neighbors, and by making it clear that some people are only welcome if they stay outside our walls… in other words, they aren’t welcome at all.  The excuses we tell ourselves and each other are poor covers for the truth and I do not think any of us like the truths we are learning in this process.  But a core value of my life is putting myself in places to grow and expand my worldview and to let go of the curtains I have used to hide the more shameful truth claims I cling to.

Since my childhood I have spent time in the rural Philippines learning and being taught by many wonderful people to see the world from other eyes, I worked as a chaplain in an inner-city hospital in Atlanta rapidly expanding my experience of diversity on all the spectrums.  I have been a church pastor, a legislative advocate on behalf of the underrepresented, and become deeply involved in the work of trying to end homelessness – a goal that is laudable, and I believe achievable, but is long and hard which means in the meantime we NEED no barrier shelters that are working to maintain the dignity and health of our neighbors, friends, and family.  I have learned a lot since my childhood… but that kid is still in me.  I still fear.  I still feel like a resident alien.  I still yearn secretly for an insulated and buffered life. And I still have a temptation to “other” people who don’t look, speak, and act like me.  I’m not proud of it – but it happens.  I am not done learning to be more than that… I have a lot of growing and experiencing still to do.

I want to build a world where children do not carry the trauma of homelessness in their bones for the rest of their lives.   I want to build a world where children do not learn to fear people who aren’t like themselves.  I want to build a world of bridges and a diverse community.  I want to tear down all the walls… even my own.  I hope that Boise can be that kind of place.  We have a lot of work to do.  It will be hard.  It will be scary.  And that is why we have to do it together.  And together starts when we all lay down our stones, come out of our glasshouses… and welcome one another in vulnerability and grace.  Let’s build that Boise together.

About Andrew Kukla

I am the proud father of four wonderful children, loving husband to Caroline, brother to three mostly wonderful sisters, and son of two parents that gifted me with a foundation of love and freedom. I also am a Presbyterian pastor and former philosophy major with a love of too many words (written with many grammatical errors and parenthetic thoughts), Soren Kierkegaard, and reflections on living a life of discipleship that is open to all the challenges, ups and downs, brokenness and grace, of a chaotic and wonderful life founded upon the love of God for all of creation.

Posted on January 25, 2022, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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