A Riff of Love:Notes On Community and Belonging

A Riff of Love: Notes on Community and Belonging

by Greg Jarrell–A Reflection.

Matthew 20:1-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

Laborers in the Vineyard

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[a] a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”


Jarrell’s book is a story about living in community in a changing neighborhood in Charlotte, South Carolina. It is a book that for me was difficult and I cried as page by page,  it describes his neighborhood of Enderly Park, a neighborhood of black people seeking to make ends meet. Jarrell, presents stories of death and life, and of a neighborhood that is being gentrified, in other words the poor blacks are being pushed out by the rich whites. He also describes how the Civil Rights Movement brought certain freedoms, and yet at the same time, the white power holders, codified the law where Blacks remain segregated. 

Same old story as from the first day slaves were brought into this country, just a different name. Same old story as we read through out the Bible.

The book calls us to convert, to turn around and face the reality of the pain that is being caused, and in which many of us participate unwittingly, and walk with our neighbors as peers, as equals, and like the workers are treated in our Gospel.

For me I see Polk Street and the Haight. When I first came Polk was an edgy queer street, gay bars, hustling and drugs. There was a mixture of people. Rent was inexpensive. Through the years Polk has slowly, changed, to a street of wealth, privilege. It is called “Middle Polk Blvd.” rather than Polk Gulch. Several years ago a group wanted to paint a mural honoring the queer community and those who were sex workers, for which  Polk was known, and that in many ways was an expression of the Gay Liberation Movement, and they were told “no”. A portion of queer history is lost. Polk played a key role in the queer liberation movement. It was the queer street before the Castro. All of that is lost. This past must be forgotten, it might threatened the economic rise of the area. One organization’s  aim is to see that Polk is profitable, and the poor, the disenfranchised are pushed out. Only those who have money are welcome.

Haight Street is similar. It is now a “tourist mecca” celebrating the 60’s in artistic ways, especially in ways to make money,  rents are sky high. The old shops are gone. Street youth are harassed. Little assistance is offered.

Through the years in my ministry I have tried to live as close to the people I serve, and I do. I am living more simply than ever before, most of my finances goes to providing for their needs, and I have been where they are in sex work and poverty. But there is still a difference, I am privileged: the best health care, support from friends, a nice place to live, and freedom to go where I want. Today I received two pairs of glasses–one for everyday use, specially equipped for driving at night, and another pair for computer use and reading. Privileged I am, and their are times I feel guilty, but am learning to use that privilege to help others have the same privileges as I do. Most importantly I am “white”, and educated. I can move where I want and the police and people want label me or be nervous when I am around. Racism is alive and well in San Francisco, we just choose to ignore it. I have friends in Marin who are Mexican, and the racism with which they are treated is really difficult to watch, because it is under the surface. Never directly, but it is there.

Jarrell has stopped having youth groups, and individuals volunteer, because in coming, they bring their privileged, and see the poor as separate, and than leave ‘feeling good”. There is no connection–but a separation into the privileged and under privileged.

  We watched a group of young people on Polk recently trying to “preach Jesus and save souls,” and one person they spent time with was an elderly, alcoholic, who is homeless, and after the group left he said to me: “They think they are fu..king better than us, and I accepted Jesus and took their twenty dollars.” The youth went home feeling good, they saved a soul.

One of Jarrell’s suggestions is that we truly walk with people, that we seek conversion, “to turn around”, and change the systems that destroy neighborhoods.  The Fillmore is a good example, it was once a scene of music, fine foods, but when the City moved into to change, the blacks were moved out. It is now truly a place for people with money.

We can blame President Trump all we choose, but the truth is that this is within us. He may have made it easier for people to express their ism’s, but it is within us. We need to convert, to turn around, and walk out as our parable tells us today treating everyone as equals. In the eyes of God all of us are the same, we are loved, and cared for equally, and his/her call is for us turn around, and do the same. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min., D.S.T.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164


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