~A few evenings ago I was sitting at coffee and a totally drunk homeless man stumbled into the café…walking up to table after table he begged for money. Normally, the cafés in my neighborhood don’t tolerate panhandling inside the establishment but the café was packed and the employees didn’t notice.
Watching the homeless man interact with the various patrons at the café was tough for me. Yes he wreaked of alcohol and I could smell it from across the room; but the despised scowls which sat on the faces of nearly every man and woman he walked up to… was disheartening. Normally, when the homeless sit on the sidewalk asking for money the average person is able to walk by and completely ignore them…..but when the homeless person walks up to your table in a café; you can’t pretend that he’s not standing there looking at you face-to-face……
After he left the café I overheard a couple of the patrons talking about him, “God, I really hate the homeless around here, they are so annoying” said a middle aged man to his friends. And if I’m going to be honest; the looks on the faces of the rest of the people in the café conveyed the same attitude.
Besides the fact that I worked with the homeless at the county jail and at the rehab clinic last year…..I have been having coffee with the homeless every morning for the past five years. One of the coffee houses I frequent early in the morning lets the homeless come in and sit as long as they buy a cup of coffee.
At 5 AM an assortment of homeless people come in and sit by the fireplace to drink their coffee. Some of them have spent the night sleeping in shelters, some of them have been sleeping on the streets, some of them get a small pittance from the government and pool their money together to rent hotel rooms a couple nights out of each week.
By 6:30 AM the homeless slowly begin leaving the café, this is the time of the morning when the morning rush of suburbanites flood into the place with their Gucci suits, Prada shoes, and designer labels……although I should be careful what I say since I’m wearing a Calvin Klein jacket as I type this.
Oddly enough this article isn’t about changing the world or ‘how to help the homeless’…..its about the strange disconnect that exists in Western Culture.
Growing up in an Evangelical Christian environment I rarely interacted with the homeless at church. Truth be told, I can’t recall any church related functions in which I hung out with anyone that didn’t fit our Conservative Evangelical Christian mold; homeless people, homosexuals, the extremely poor, fill-in-the-blank……Church life for me as a child had more to do with the ‘quality of worship service’, ‘hearing a good sermon’, or ‘attending bible studies and gender related fellowship groups’…….and for the precious few times that my church community did something for the homeless; it was more like an event as opposed to a lifestyle.
The reason I find my Christian background strange is because the hero of my faith, the man whom it is all about; spent every waking moment of his life hanging out in the ghettos.
—) Jesus went to parties where people got wasted…and I mean wasted
—) Aside from a couple exceptions, Jesus chose disciples among a culture of people who were poor and despised by the suburbanites of his day
—) Jesus hung out with really sick people that none of the healthy would come close too
—) Jesus talked with women privately (which was a major taboo in his culture) who were equivalent to modern day hookers and the openly sexually licentious
Its a bizarre disconnect that I grew up experiencing….every week on Sunday morning I would listen to sermons about this dude that lived a tremendously amazing sacrificial life…..and then we would go back home to our suburban lifestyle that was entirely removed from the type of people Jesus was intimate with……..And then for the really strange disconnect; Jesus was homeless.
Of course, its not merely Evangelical Christians who live with this strange disconnect in relation to the poor and lowly…….people of all sorts of life in Western Culture go about their day-to-day life entirely oblivious to what life is really like…on the other side of town.
When I was younger I was taught to focus on rules; I spent much of my life thinking about what I wasn’t supposed to do……and then one day I started to spend less time thinking about the rules of my faith and more time thinking about my obligation to humanity.
Instead of spending every waking moment of my life thinking about whether or not I agree or disagree with someone’s lifestyle, sexual orientation, drinking habits, drug habits, religious beliefs or fill-in-the-blank……I simply started asking myself; “How can I love and serve my fellow humans“.
And so I started having coffee with the homeless, and with Muslims, and with Atheists, and with every other person who never walked through the doors of the conservative Christian churches I grew up in……and instead of arguing endlessly over doctrines and theologies….we talk about life; We cry together, we call each other, and we live life together.
I’m not trying to change people anymore……I’m simply trying to love them. Is that really so crazy?
Time for another cup of coffee……