Friday, September 12, 2008

On shopping carts, homelessness, and grace

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about this <-- I can hardly believe how often people complain about it's presence on the church property. It belongs to the homeless man who spends his days playing dominoes and cards on the steps of our chapel and his nights covered by the gazebo you see here. They say, "It attracts the wrong kind of people." My thought is, "The poor, the marginalized, the oppressed? Those "wrong kind of people?" I know we all come from a different place in life and I know that part of my journey has been overcoming my own prejudice against the homeless. And part of my process involved washing the feet of those who lived on the streets once a week for most of my senior year of seminary. I see things differently than many in my church. I know that. But even knowing that, their words still sting. Their words still get under my skin and I have to bite my tongue more often than not because using sparring words won't draw them through their prejudices, it will only make them resistant to me. So I save my words for teaching moments and pray that I will be able to offer grace to them as I hope they will offer grace to "that indigent".

I struggle because when I see that shopping cart, I don't see junk. I see 1/2 of all the belongings in the world that are A's. I see it and know it doesn't belong to some estranged "no-good-lazy-bum". It belongs to A.

It belongs to A, who is sweet, funny, and endearing. It belongs to A who spent years as a Sunday school teacher and was almost ordained in another denomination. It belongs to A who picks up trash on our property and helps clean up graffiti when the taggers strike. It belongs to A who helped me change a tire when a woman pulled into the bus stop in front of our church the other day with a flat. It belongs to A who came to worship as my invited guest and has continued to come back. It belongs to A who jokes with me and talks with me and looks out for me if I'm at the church late. It belongs to A who offers me something to eat when they're cooking on their little barbeque. It belongs to A who has been compliant whenever I ask a favor (like picking up cigarette butts, drinking only from a concealed container, or waiting to have a serious conversation when he's sober). It belongs to A whose ultimate trust truly rests on God. It belongs to A who is ready to present TRUTH in worship and to get people excited about God's truths in their own lives.

I'm sure I could have anticipated problems surrounding homelessness before I got to this church. I'm not sure I would have anticipated having more of a relationship established with "the homeless guy out front" than with the majority of my members. And I doubt I would have expected the ones who complain to be the ones to complain.

After three trustees decided to speak their piece at once about the *eyesore* under the gazebo, I told them I would take care of it and talk to A. At least that way I would know it would be handled with the amount of tact I thought he deserved. Immediately I went and spoke with him, and, of course, he understood. Expected it even. He was more than understanding and gracious. I knew that finding a new home for his belongings wouldn't be as easy as rolling it down the street and parking it. So I gave him 3 days. I even debated having him park it in my backyard. But then I figured the church owns that property and it would only be too long before I heard from the trustees again. He found a place the next day, but would take the two additional days to move everything. Of all places he will park it at Long John Silver's. As one member remarked, it's sad when a restaurant down the street does a better job of being the church than we do.

I don't think we're done with this discussion or this issue. I see this as a definite area of growth for the church. And growth in grace for me as I deal with them on this issue.

May God grant us wisdom, clarity, and mercy as we try and draw closer to God, to each other, and to the more gracious kin-dom of God.

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