Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I saw them at the convenience store, putting hot water from the coffee machine into a styrofoam cup. The man was shirtless, with tatoos all over his arms and torso. His hair was matted and dirty, along with the rest of him. His female companion wore camoflauge cutoffs and a tank top, revealing ample cleavage. Their sunbaked skin was smeared with dirt and sweat, brought on by the sudden onset of summer. I had taken Sister and one of her friends to the restroom. We had just come out when we spotted them. "Ewwwww," said Sister's friend. Sister joined in. More than a little embarrassed, I steered the girls in the opposite direction, glancing to make sure the couple hadn't heard. They didn't appear to have noticed. "Why are you saying that?" I asked them. I was afraid they were going to say something about how dirty the people were. "That man wasn't wearing a shirt," replied Sister's friend. "He was nek-kid!" chimed sister. I felt somehow relieved by their answers. As we were leaving, I held the door open for the couple and a some of their friends, all in similar condition. My gesture was met with something kind of like surprise. The man's eyes met mine and he thanked me. But it wasn't just any "thank you". He looked at me...really looked into my face, with a gaze that spoke volumes, though I found it difficult to return. I looked down and mumbled "you're welcome" as they filed out, all thanking me with sincere appreciation and clutching their cups of hot water.
We loaded up and headed out of the parking lot, passing the group as they got into their car. It was old and dirty, filled with what looked like some clothes and other belongings. In the back window I saw a cardboard sign that read, "Will work for food".
Over the weekend I've seen bits and pieces of "Remember the Titans" and "The War", both set in a time where people were seperated by skin color. Though I find it easy to draw back in horror at segregation in that setting, it strikes a chord about segregation in my own life.
I segregate myself from people who are not like me.
Whether it be, faith, financial standing, physical appearance or marital status, I gravitate to those I find "relate-able". Yeah, it's somewhat natural. We all do, right?
I heard on the radio today that people who live on the North Side (impoverished side) of our city have a shorter life expectancy than those further south. The radio news personality said, "...and what does the city government plan to do about it?"
Why is it the government's responsibility? If you want out of that life, then get out. Move. Sounds simple. But I know it's not.
It got me thinking about why community is important. Why we need to be involved in people's lives. Why if I'm going to say I love God and put my trust in Him I need to share that hope.
But I'm not talking about selling Jesus.
I've read a few blogs lately about "what to wear to church". (Please don't take offense it was your blog I read.) And I'm wondering why we worry so much about this. If some woman walked in wearing next to nothing, how much time would people spend trying to help her see the "error of her ways" and show her how to respect God in his house as opposed to befriending her, caring for her...letting her see Christ in us and let the Holy Spirit convict her of her clothing choice?
What? Let the Holy Spirit convict? As someone who has grown up in a traditional church, I know...this is a novel idea.
Somewhere along the line we have missed the point. We spend so much time looking at people's behavior instead of seeing what lies beneath. We don't see the internal agony. We don't see the struggle of the heart.
If community were working the way it should, the people on the North Side could find a way out. The panhandlers might be living a different life.
All this to say, I'm guilty. I find my comfort zone and park it. But there is something within me that yearns to widen that space to include the world around me. Not to bring them to church. Not to make them moral. To show them if God can love me, He can love anybody.
God, forgive my apathy. Forgive my complacency. Give me brokenness for my neighbor. Give me a heart for people.