I’m gonna make this place your home

From left: Tammy, Orianna, and Dan McKanan

From left: Tammy, Orianna, and Dan McKanan

This February at The Sanctuary Boston , we’re exploring what it really means to be a welcoming community. We say “bring your whole self,” and “whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.” Those are good words, and we say them because we mean them … but what exactly do we mean when we say them?

Tammy McKanan (pictured right with her family) brought us in with an amazingly thoughtful and provocative reflection this past Wednesday.

Tammy told the story of working at a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. She came in one day and was greeted with the strong smell of peanut butter. She followed the smell to the dining room, where she saw folks eating sandwiches, but no peanut butter.

As she headed toward the kitchen, there were the gallon buckets of peanut butter, standing empty just outside the kitchen door. Here’s what Tammy saw:

All of the peanut butter is now covering the walls of the upstairs kitchen from floor to ceiling. No one is talking about this. No one seems particularly concerned about this. No one even seems unhappy that she will not be eating peanut butter for lunch today.

Evelyn turns to me and in a quiet voice explains. “The new guy, you know the one who’s waiting for admit to psych, he says he’s pretty sure that this will keep the Nazis away. He seems less agitated now. Everybody helped.”

Tammy continued:

… for the people staying there, it was home. We provided the space, but they made it a welcoming sanctuary. They knew intuitively that what they had was each other and the way to gain power and a sense of safety was to meet others where they were and offer the best of themselves to one another.

They didn’t have to agree with the new guy, or tell him Nazis were not much of a problem in Iowa in the 1980s, they didn’t worry that they might get in trouble. They knew only that he was scared and they had the power to make him feel better, and after they helped him their power grew.

It is an illusion that our power comes from holding on to who we are without bending or from hiding parts of ourselves to avoid attack.

So much has gone into our reputations, our causes, our triumphs over victimization or oppression that we do not want to risk losing them. It takes a great deal of courage to lay them aside, expose ourselves, and truly meet another where she is without feeling threatened.

The folks at the [shelter] had little left to lose and everything to gain by extending themselves.

But what if instead of having the capacity for radical welcoming coming from powerlessness, it came from the power we gain by being together, being held, and loved so well that we can let in the other even if doing so threatens us.

To welcome is an ongoing process, at every step it is a maybe. But it really takes off when we discover that we are only free to be fully ourselves if we willingly allow another to be fully herself. And whether or not we are ever able to say I do, we will at least be able to say, while I am with you here, I am home.

Dave Ruffin, Mark David Buckles, Joanna Lubkin, and guest musician Krista Speroni shared a musical response: the song, “Home” by Philip Phillips. Dave introduced the song by saying that many of us in this room have been giving this message, this invitation to be at home — but he invited us, this time, to really hear it for ourselves, to be invited home.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home